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My Toyota RunX has a ‘check engine’ light on throughout

Dear sir,
I own a Toyota Corolla RunX, 2001 model. Recently, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on as the engine was idling. Since then it has remained on whenever the engine is running.

Sometimes it goes off, but for a very short time. At first I thought it was the faulty battery I had which had problems cranking the engine, but after I replaced it, the problem persisted.

The car runs well, there are no funny noises from the engine, even at highway speeds. I haven’t taken the car to a mechanic (I’m low on cash right now), but I’m still bothered. Is there any cause for alarm?

Kenneth.

The best way to know what that ‘Check Engine’ light is all about is to do a diagnosis. However, these here are common causes of the light coming on out of the blue:

1. Faulty Oxygen Sensor: the device is not transmitting accurate information to the ECU and this is sometimes accompanied by a reduction in fuel economy. Cars have two to four of these sensors: the OBD code will identify the culprit for you. The cause is this: over time, the sensor gets covered in oil/soot and thus does not determine the quality of oxygen in the exhaust properly.

2. My research leads me to a very strange cause: a loose or cracked fuel filler cap. Apparently leakage of fuel vapour from the tank can very easily confuse the entire fuel system. This is also accompanied by worse fuel economy. Check the filler cap for cracks, or remove it and tighten it again, then drive a bit to see if the light will go off.

3. Faulty Catalytic Convertor: Failure of this device can be caused by 1 above (a faulty oxygen sensor makes the car run rich and this fouls up the plugs and the cat. Fouled plugs can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor too. As you can see, these problems can sometimes be interconnected in a veritable web of complexity)

4. Faulty MAF Sensor: This is NOT the oxygen sensor as some are wont to believe. The oxygen sensor senses the amount of unreacted oxygen in the exhaust and adjusts the timing accordingly to optimise economy and reduce emissions. The mass air flow sensor senses the amount of air going INTO the engine and instructs the ECU to meter out the fuel accordingly via the injectors.

MAF sensors tend to fail because of a badly installed or rarely-replaced air cleaner element. A once-annual replacement of the air cleaner is just about enough to keep the sensor from failing.

5. Weak Electrical Connections: Plugs and wires in particular. This is usually accompanied by the vehicle jerking while in motion. Since you have not mentioned this, we can leave that at that. Only Part 3 would cause you to worry because cats are expensive to replace and require specialised skill to install.

Hi, I hope you enjoyed your trip down south. I confess I did not take your advice to sell my Mitsubishi Chariot when it started giving me trouble. I had it repaired and, despite the cost of having to change several sensors, I still kept the car.

Call me names, but I had become accustomed to its comfort. Now, the mother of all problems has come up; the gear is stuck at Three. I have had several diagnosis from different mechanics until my head is now spinning, but none of them has been able to solve the problem.

I have sworn the moment the problem is solved I SHALL SELL it. What do you think could be the problem? This time I promise to heed your advice.

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

To reduce guesswork, obtain a code from the TCM (Transmission Control Module). This will give you a code from which you will know exactly what the problem is.

Usually this 3rd-Gear drive is the fail-safe, limp-home mode, which is usually triggered whenever the TCM receives an electronically generated error code. In case you cannot communicate with the TCM, then therein lies your problem: the TCM itself is cooked.

The transmission may have to be opened. A coil pack may have failed and overheated from an electrical surge, melting the module. Mitsubishi, for some reason, thought it wise to place the two in close proximity to each other. If this is the case you are facing some major (and expensive) repairs. I can bet the mechs will tell you: “Nunua gearbox ingine, Mummy!”

Hello Baraza,

Just to let you know, your column is remarkable! Here is my dilemma. I am looking for a seven- or eight-seater vehicle for airport transport business and car hire services, mostly around Western and Nyanza (as you know, Kisumu is now an international airport).

Comfort, reliability, availability of spare parts and a bit off-roading are important. I have in mind these cars: Toyota Estima 4WD 2.4cc, Toyota Isis 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Wish 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Sienta 1500cc 4WD.

I am aware they are all Toyotas, but you will have to forgive me because I am new in this. Any other suggestions will be really appreciated.

In an unrelated matter, there is this car I wanted to buy from a friend, a Skoda Octavia station wagon, 1.9 diesel TDi, 2006 manual gearbox model, for my personal use.

How would you size up this car in terms of reliability, performance, spare parts availability and fuel consumption. It is going for Sh650,000.

Thank you in advance.

Buy the Previa, also known as Estima. None of these cars will go off-road properly (what international airports are these you visit that require one to off-road a bit to get there?), but the Previa is the best in all the cars you mention.

You may have to compromise on economy (2400cc compared to sub 2.0 litre for the rest, and the bigger body); but not so you’d notice. And, believe me, that Estima is worth it.

It is roomier, more comfortable by far and better equipped. The Isis may have powered sliding doors as a boasting point (these doors fascinated me so much I took the car for a spin in the dead of night to find out what else was good about it) but that is just about it. It won’t do anything that the Previa will not. Thew same applies to the rest of the pack.

About the Skoda: damn fine car that is. Reliability is Germanic (good), as is performance, even in the diesel iteration you mention. It can outrun a Mk IV Golf GTI over the quarter mile, which is saying a lot.

Spares are also Germanic (a touch pricey) but CMC should have them. If not, try the Internet. Economy is superb. Just watch out for DPF failure due to our twig-ridden and waterlogged diesel, and there is the fear that high-altitude use causes the turbos to spin too fast and fail within a year.

Care should be taken. Invest in a turbo timer to be safe, use only high quality oil and, unless you are at the coast, keep the revs low. Avoid the temptation to drag-race a Golf GTI between red robots.

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your Car Clinic articles and I must stay I appreciate your work. Good job. I’m planning to buy a car but I can’t seem to make a choice between the Audi A4 (2005) and the Mercedes Benz C180/200 Kompressor (2005).

I am a Second Year university student and I want a car, between the two, that I can service well and move up and about with. Also, of the two, which one has a quick resale value?
Thank you.

Mwaura.

As a Second Year student, my choice of transport was to either walk or take a bus. Clearly you are facing a dilemma a lot different from that which I faced. Anyway…

Spare Parts and Maintenance: If this is a worry for you, then maybe you should be looking eastwards (read Pacific Rim/China/Japan) for a vehicle, not Germany; but here is your answer anyway.

Audi has no franchise at the moment; at least none that I know of, so getting spares may be a hit-and-miss affair. Also, these are not cars you want to take to the seedier avenues in lower Nairobi, or any other town, so getting someone to do a proper job of maintaining that A4 will not be easy.

You may have to queue up at Arrow Motors and wait your turn. Mercedes, on the other hand, receives good support from DT Dobie, so it wins this.

Fuel consumption: Again, if this is a worry, then maybe you should be making Second Year decisions like mine. Both cars will not hurt your pocket fuel-wise though: provided you don’t drive in a way that will fascinate your impressionable lady classmates.

Expect town-bound economy of about 7-9KPL and highway figures up to 16KPL. This also applies to the supercharged Mercedes. Keep those classmates away from your car though: extra weight is an enemy of good economy.

Resale: The Benz will fetch customers faster than the Audi. Kenyans fear Audis, except for the Q7, which for some reason (I don’t know this reason) they seem to love and worship. On the other hand, we also love Mercs and we are buying them in large numbers, especially the C and E Classes.

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

1.What determines the engine capacity of a given vehicle?

2.How is the engine capacity related to engine rating?

3.My car is a 1300cc Nissan B12. What is the typical fuel consumption rate of such vehicles?

4.What is the most economical speed one should drive at to ensure the car does not exceed the designed fuel consumption rate under ideal conditions?

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

1. The volume of one cylinder, which is got by the base area of the cylinder (pi multiplied by the square of the bore multiplied by 0.25) multiplied by the stroke of the cylinder.

The bore is the diameter of the cylinder and the stroke is the height of the cylinder. The figure you get from this calculation is then multiplied by the number of cylinders in the engine block (possible configurations are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16).

The final figure is the engine capacity you are talking about, usually expressed in litres (L), cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (ci, commonly used in the US when quoting the capacities of classic muscle cars/trucks).

2. By engine rating I assume you mean power rating. The general rule is: the larger the engine capacity, the higher the power output, but this applies up to a point. Other factors play an equally big role in getting the power of an engine: forced induction, material used to forge moving parts, valve timing/camshaft profiles, torque development of the engine, and how high (in terms of rpm) the engine can carry that torque.

3. There is what the rest of the world achieves when driving such cars, and then there is what I can achieve (if I may say so myself) when I go “economical”. Expect 10 or 12KPL in town conditions (this is greatly dependent on how bad traffic conditions are.

It could be as low as 5KPL in a particularly tight gridlock) and as high as 20KPL on the open road. I have once achieved 25KPL in a 1300cc EP82 Starlet without trying really hard. Typical returns should be about 17 or 18 KPL for “normal” highway driving.

4. Keep the revs at about 1,800rpm or slightly less in top gear. This avoids engine strain due to low-rev driving, and the revs are still low enough for the car to sip.

Whatever speed this occurs at is the optimum driving speed for economy. It is possible to get even better economy than this, but from there you will be straying into hypermiling territory, which is highly risky, a bit technical and sometimes dangerous.

Hi Baraza,

Greetings from southern Tanzania! Great work you are doing with straight-up answers to our motoring queries. My organisation wants to buy several double-cabs for a project this year.

The options are Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, Ford Ranger and the all-new VW Amarok. Kindly share your thoughts on power, off-road capabilities, comfort, drive feel and overall ranking.

Cheers,

Sam

Power: The Amarok Bi-Turbo and the Ford Ranger lead the pack at 176 hp and 197 hp (2012 model, 3.2 TDCi) respectively. The rest are left floundering at the back. The Ranger wins out on torque also: 470Nm compared to the VW’s 400Nm.

Off-road ability: All these cars will go off-road convincingly. They are all fitted with proper off-road kit in their 4X4 iterations, and they have ground clearance to boot. Seeing how none of them use fancy viscous couplings/torque vectoring technology with that 4WD, this makes them all equal players in the field.

Getting far from the beaten track in one will depend on how skilled the driver is.
Comfort: Interesting state of affairs here.

The Amarok I tested was the base model 4X2 diesel turbo, and it was the most uncomfortable double-cab I have ever driven, owing to a ride quality that was both bouncy AND hard.

A South African colleague, however, has driven the Bi-Turbo, and he, on the other hand, tells me it is the most comfortable in the pack of double-cabs he has tried. This may be true, as you will see in just a moment. The Hilux is next in line from the bottom, then the Hardbody is in third place.

Feel: Hard to tell. The base model Amarok is really not that good, but again, the Bi-Turbo comes with an options list like that of a German saloon: featuring things like wood and leather.

The Hilux has a bright grey interior that is not at all endearing while the Hardbody’s is a bit better and darker shade of grey. The Ford’s interior, judging from what I saw at the launch, could very easily be the best here (until I see that wood-and-leather Bi-Turbo, that is).

Drive: Both the base-model single-turbo Amarok and the Hilux suffer from tremendous turbo lag. While the Hilux stays breathless almost throughout, the Amarok will run off into the distance.

The Bi-Turbo should counteract this by having that extra turbo under the bonnet to reduce lag. The Hardbody is a bit so-so (definitely more involving than the Hilux) while the Ranger….

Overall Ranking: You might think this will go the Bi-Turbo way, but then you’d think wrong. You may have noticed that I don’t say much about the Ranger in Drive, Feel and Comfort; and there is a very good reason.

Even after promises were made, I am yet to drive the Ford Ranger. So I cannot rank it conclusively against the rest of the pack. Judging from what every other motoring journalist has said, however, the Ranger T6 is almost as good as good gets in the double-cab world. So it gets first place.

Then the Amarok Bi-Turbo comes second. The Hilux is stone dead last. Poor ride quality and the unresponsive, lag-plagued and underpowered engine are the car’s worst failings. A naff interior also doesn’t help matters. The Hardbody is much better.

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If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

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An SUV for less than a million? You are fishing for trouble

Dear Sir,

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla 110 that I love so much since it’s my first car, but everyone else thinks that’s wasted love — especially my mum and my girlfriend — so I want to sell it and buy a used SUV.

Considering the local roads, what should I go for on a tight budget below one mili, never mind fuel consumption and spare parts.

Mak

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A used SUV for less than a million? Hmm… I know of two or three Range Rovers (3.5-litre V8, 3-door, carburettors, from 1978) that are going for about 400K apiece.

Jokes aside, getting an SUV for less than a million is like buying meat at Sh40 a kilo — it could be from Naivasha and might not even be beef (maybe donkey).

In other words, if you want a big car, then you have to pay big money. An SUV for less than Sh1 million means a knackered example; the engine could be mere inches away from complete failure, the 4WD transmission could be dysfunctional or missing entirely and it might be having only one seat. Not to mention a family of rats living inside it.

Sh1.5 million is a better bet, and could net you the Prado Box (J70) or a V46 Pajero, the best bets so far and in good condition. An old Land Rover Discovery could also fall here, but running it might be beyond your means.

The same Sh1.5 million can also get you any number of 4WD double-cabs, also in good condition.

That is unless you land yourself a deal, following the advice I gave some time back on how to get the most out of your money when buying a car.

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Dear Baraza,

Many thanks for your very educative column. I want to buy a car that can accommodate a family of three soon.

Please assist me in choosing from the following in regard to maintenance, spares, fuel consumption and reliability: Mazda 2 (or is it Demio?) with a DHOC VVT engine, Nissan FB15, or a used 1998 Mercedes Benz C200.

Also, is it true that the bodywork of some of these cars degenerates faster than others even with proper care? And lastly, what is the difference between a four-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Joe

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Demio vs B15 vs Mercedes? Quite a diverse selection, I must say! If it was up to me, I would buy the Benz and live on greens for six months, but anyway, here goes.

Maintenance: The Mercedes should be the easiest to maintain, seeing as to how they don’t break down easily.

And in the late 90s, Daimler introduced this technology that informed the driver exactly when to service the vehicle, as opposed to after a given time or distance.

So, when properly handled, the Benz can go almost double the typical distance before its service is due.

The B15 might cause you a spot of bother given what I have gathered from readers, and the Demio might be a better bet between the two lowly Japs.

Spares: Of course you will sell your kidneys once the Merc’s bits start demanding replacement. Not so the Demio and B15.

And I don’t know if this still holds true, but once upon a time, whenever a busted headlamp or indicator lamp on a Benz wanted replacement, you had to buy an entire set of lights, not just the affected one.

The logic given was that if one shoe goes bust, it is atypical to walk into a shoe store and demand to buy one shoe; you normally just buy another pair.

Fuel consumption: Drive soberly and maturely and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. And yes, this includes the Merc! In C180 or C200 form, it will still do 16kpl. along with the other two.

Reliability: Benz is best, then Demio, then the silly B15. 4WD vs AWD: Here’s a quick differentiation; 4WD implies switchable 4WD (that is, can shuffle between 2WD and 4WD).

AWD, on the other hand, is a form of full-time 4WD, the difference with full-time 4WD being the use of viscous diffs to distribute torque (automatically) between axles fore and aft, and between sides, starboard and port.

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Hi Baraza,

I am planing to buy a VW Polo Classic 98, manual, with a 1600cc petrol engine and I will be the fifth owner.

That’s all I know about it. This is going to be my first car and I intend to use it within Nairobi and occasionally go with it upcountry.

My mechanic has convinced me to buy it, so what is your take on it?

Opondo

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Merits: It’s a Volkswagen, so bullet-proof build quality and good fuel economy.

Demerits: It is tiny. And it is a Volkswagen, so beware of costs. You are the fifth owner, which is never a good thing.

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Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a Suzuki Jimny. Could you please give me the pros and cons of this type of car in terms of spare parts availability, fuel consumption, engine problems?

Keziah

——————

I don’t like the Jimny, at all, but that is besides the point. The spares are available, second-hand or from CMC Motors, so no problems there.

The fuel consumption is manageable (1300cc) but could be a bit compromised by the breeze-block aerodynamics.

I do not know of any engine problems it suffers, but given how basic the power unit is, it is unlikely that anything would go wrong.

And in answering questions that you did not ask: The car is an off-road maestro, yes, but it is punishment on road.

The ride is hard and bouncy, the engine is noisy at cruising speed, the puny dimensions means you will not be spending a lot of time inside it and that tall ride height means you should take corners like a true Christian, lest you roll over.

——————

Hi,

How good is the 2000cc Avensis and what other cars does it compare to? Also, please comment on its fuel efficiency, D4 VVT-i engine and general handling.

——————

The Avensis is very good and compares to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and, in some cases, the entry level BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, so an Audi A4 also.

You could slot in the Volvo S40 too, and maybe the Jaguar X-Type; that Toyota is that upmarket. Fuel efficiency is at an optimum, what with D4 and VVT-i, and D4 does what D4 does.

Feed it the right fuel and treat it like you would your son and it should not present problems, at least not anytime soon.

Handling? Not bad, but nothing to keep your wife awake at night gabbling about. It is not, unlike the European competition, a sporting vehicle, so it will not tickle your fancy when driven in anger.

Genteel is more like it. It is an old man’s car, so drive like an old man if you want to enjoy it.

——————

Hi Baraza

I have a Toyota AE 111 assembled in South Africa and which I bought from one lady owner.

The car has given me good service for the last one year, but of late I have been experiencing problems with power steering oil leaking from the rack.

One mechanic told me nothing can fix the problem except a new replacement. Which is the best option?

——————

Did the mechanic make a roadside declaration like a past president of ours or did he crawl under the car and try to find the leak?

It could be a broken hose or bad seals causing the leakage, which would cost less that Sh1,500 to fix and replace.

What he is suggesting is much more costly; an appraisal on my own 24-year-old Peugeot lies somewhere in the region of 60K (replacing the entire power steering system).

The Corolla’s may be cheaper, but you can see where I am going… first make sure that it is not something fixable before opting for replacement.

——————

Hi,

I have a budget of 550K to buy a car, so would you advise that I go for a Kenyan used car or a new imported car like the Platz, Alto and such?

——————

Kenyan used, definitely. FSH and tropicalised, you can never go wrong. And more likely than not the franchise that sold it still exists, unless you buy something obscure like a Daewoo Cielo.

——————

Hi,

I own a VW Golf MK 3 ABD. For the last six months, it has developed poor combustion, producing sooty exhaust fumes and carrying a strong smell of petrol.

It has stalled in the jam a few times and then restarted after like 15 minutes. I actually suspect the previous owner may have sold it for the earlier versions of this problem.

But I believe I may have my finger on the problem. Being a single-point petrol injection arrangement, it is flooding the intake manifold at idling and intermediate engine speeds, though this seems to happen consecutively nowadays, with high speed running.

I suspect any of the relays/actuators/switches and/or sensors around the injector are faulty but the problem is that this model (1994) does not have a port for the diagnostic equipment to confirm or rule out my diagnosis. Any help out there?
Maringa

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It has sensors but no OBD port? Are you sure it has no port or it is you who cannot find the port?

Are the plugs fine? It is very rare for a fuel injected vehicle to flood; it used to happen back in the days of carburettors.

Find the port because all cars since 1991 have them, most of them at least (I doubt if crap like Mahindras and UAZ jeeps have them).

But the Golf should, even if it is OBD I (as from 1994 all cars conformed to the OBD II standard). And check the plugs because I suspect they may have reached the end of their lives.

JM.

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I intend to buy a car (my first car ever) for use upcountry and I’m split between a Nissan B15 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, both manufactured in 1999.

Please help me make a decision by highlighting the merits and demerits of each, including such things as fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, is there any other alternative in terms of acquiring, maintenance and running costs?

Kefa

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Lancer, any day. It is prettier, and I get more complaints about the B15 than I do the Lancer.

It is also a touch smoother: the shift shock I experienced the first time I drove a B15 as I switched from P through to D informed me that I was in a low quality product. The Lancer has a better interior too, only just.

Consumption is low for both (average of 12–16kpl) and spares are available at reasonable prices. The Lancer’s GDI engine, however, needs a bit more care. Alternative? Corolla NZE, or Honda Fit sedan.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I am considering buying either a 2005 Mazda RX8 or a 2004 Forester XT and I am mostly after speed, safety and at least 10 kpl in traffic. Oh, and I do not want to get stuck in mud, I find that embarrassing. So, of the two, which is the better bet?

——————

Of course the Forester. It is fast and won’t get stuck in mud. But forget about 10kpl in traffic — it will not happen. Consumption and power aside, there is one very BIG reason not to buy an RX-8, and that is the engine.

It is what we call a Wankel (the RX-8 was nicknamed the Wankel Wunderkind) and is not what you normally find under most bonnets.

Ordinary piston engines are what we call “reciprocating” engines, and have circular pistons that pump up and down and the crankshaft is below the engine.

The Wankel engine is a rotary engine; the pistons are triangular and go round and round, and the crankshaft runs through the middle of the engine.

The engine itself is the size of a good watermelon. I can’t wait to see the look on your mechanic’s face when you present one to him for overhauling!

The problems with the RX-8’s engine in particular, and rotary engines in general, are thus: they develop very poor torque, are quite thirsty, they consume oil heavily and the rotor (triangular piston) tips get fried every few kilometres, calling for an expensive overhaul every now and then.

That is why Mazda are the only ones dabbling in that technology. There is one good point behind the poor torque: to develop any semblance of power, the engine has to have the nuts revved off it, and the RX-8’s engine is redlined at a heady 9500 rpm. Yikes!

——————

Hello,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I have read reviews, especially on ex-UK vehicles ( VW Jetta and Toyota Avensis) using D4-D engines.

Would I be putting my money in the right place if I bought any of the above vehicles?

And which is better than the other? Do we have enough know-how on these engines in Kenya?

——————

Buying any of the two would be money well wasted, but the Avensis is a safer bet if only because Toyota is familiar to us and you can always swap the engine for an ordinary petrol unit once the diesel goes bang.

And, no, I am not too confident about our ability to handle this degree of boffinry just yet.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I own a 2001 Toyota Prius 1500cc/Electric. The car is good, powerful for its class and fuel efficient (16km/l). On the flip side, the shape is whack and it’s ugly.

I want to ditch the Prius for the 2005 Honda Accord 2.0EL (2WD) saloon. I have seen other Hondas on the road but the Accord is rare, any particular reason?

The other option is a 2000cc VW Golf wagon. I’m worried about two things though: fuel economy and, more so, availability of spare parts for both cars.

The Accord has an auto/manual transmission, any problems with these types of transmissions? I am not worried about resale value, what I want is a comfortable and reliable ride.

——————

The Accord is fast becoming popular, just so you know. If I get a Type R, I will not hesitate to buy one.

Fuel economy is nothing to worry about with these cars. Or any other for that matter; in this era where a 4.4-litre V8 Range Rover returns 10 kpl at 140 km/h on the highway, I wish people would just buy new cars and stop asking about fuel economy.

(The Range Rover is the new TDV8 though, a diesel). Spares are readily available for both, and no, there is nothing wrong with the “manumatic” transmission in the EL, that is why almost every new car has such.

I prefer the Accord on looks, handling and weight. The Golf would beat the Honda on build quality and maybe, just maybe, ride comfort. And carrying capacity; it is, after all, an estate.

Posted on

In motoring, many Kenyans want a kind of come-we-stay

Hi JM,
I have owned a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia wagon 1800cc GDI for more than three years with no problem other than the usual wear and tear, brakes, shocks, etc.

And so I fail to understand the Kenyan phobia for any car with an engine other than a VVT-i or stone-aged engines, minus some rare options like the smaller but stronger, faster and quieter engines.

I use recommended platinum sparks, Shell V-power or equivalent, and full synthetic oil to keep the car in optimum performance — these might be pricey for some, but I considered them while purchasing the car.

Most of the time, the petrol mileage pays for most of the maintenance cost, especially if you drive as much as I do; I bought the car with the mileage at about 110,000 km and it’s now at over 400,000 km.

I wonder why Kenyans always go with advise from Toyota crazed people, some of whom have never owned a car or who want a car that they can neglect.

People rarely ask what your needs are and what you can invest to maintain and repair the car.

My dad gave me six months tops on the car yet his 2004 Nissan AD VAN has cost him more in repairs and petrol than my Cedia, which offers me better options, safety, comfort and power.

My advice: There are better cars out there, just make sure you know what you are getting into, that is, the advantages and disadvantages.

Also, having a mechanic who knows the car’s ins and outs on speed dial helps. So, am I crazy like all the people (and the Government) who have cars with GDI, FSI and turbo engines or what?

————–

Nice one. There are several problems with Kenyans as far as motoring is concerned. That is why 110 per cent of the mail I receive concerns either “how thirsty is it?” or “are the spares expensive?”

We want the motoring equivalent of a come-we-stay marriage, getting the milk without buying the cow, colloquially speaking. That is why I once told my readers not to rush into car ownership if they are not ready for the commitment involved.

But what can I do? I cannot tell a person, “You are not mentally ready to buy a car yet, so don’t”; I will wait for them to buy the car, mess it up and then contact me for help. The variety of vehicles in South Africa is staggering and yes, there are Toyotas too, but they, surprisingly, are not the majority.

————–

Hi Baraza,

I religiously look forward to the Wednesday paper just to have a go at your column. Now, I have two questions:

1. I drive a Nissan Bluebird U11 1985 model, 1800cc carburettor engine. It does 7–8 km/l in town and 10–12 km/l on the highway. I am planning to purchase a new ex-Japan EFI engine for the car because I fear the carburettor is not 100 per cent reliable. I am torn between a Wingroad and a Nissan B15 1500cc engine. Most of my friends prefer the B15 engine while I feel the Wingroad one is more faithful. Kindly advise on which one would be best for stress free driving on such an old car.

2. This is a bit personal and I’m sure I will get it rough from you. What car do you drive because I got shocked to learn that you drive a Toyota Platz — in a previous article you really dissed the vehicle.

Akala

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First off, I don’t like either of the two Nissans, and sadly for you, both are prone to glitches.

From the mail I receive from readers, the B15 has suspension made out of used matchsticks while the Wingroad suffers electrical gremlins.

From what I see on the road, the Wingroad ages gracelessly while the B15 clings on tenaciously for a slightly longer time before succumbing to old age. So maybe you should go for the B15.

Now, about your second question: What I drive is not very important at the moment, but it sure as hell is not the unsightly Platz! Where did you get that information from? If a friend told you they know me and that I drive a Platz, lose the friend.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly offer your thoughts on the Audi A4. How does it compare with BMW 318i and Mercedes C-class?

Looks: Near tie between C-Class Mercedes (pretty) and Audi A4 (understated and classy).

Performance: The BMW 3-Series both handles and performs better than the other two.

They have recently started offering 4WD (x-Drive) versions, so Audi no longer has the advantage of traction.

The A4 can be a bit lethargic with the smaller non-turbo power units.

The C-Class is a pleasure to drive, such is the smoothness, and the supercharged Kompressors are plenty quick.

Handling wise, the BMW is best and the A4 worst, courtesy of its understeering tendencies.

Cost: When you buy a Merc, you will know, mostly from the moths that will fly out of your wallet and the echoes coming from the emptiness that is your bank account. BMW follows not too far behind, but is a bit more affordable.

A4 is the cheapest, generally. Where you buy and what spec you choose can easily swing the order one way or another.

These are premium cars, so you will fork out for spares. Good thing is it will not happen often.

—————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Wish with a 2000cc VVT-i engine. The vehicle has no overdrive button but there’s an ‘S’ button, which I presume stands for “sport”.

On engaging it, the vehicle becomes lighter and speed shifts with a lot of ease.

What I need to know is, how is the fuel consumption when I engage this gear, is it high or low?

Is it economical/safe for the engine if engaged at low speeds? There’s also another button labelled ‘Snow’ but I have never known what it is for. Kindly help.

Abdulrehman

——————–

When you engage this “S gear”, does the car leave a trail of your belongings on the road behind you? Or maybe a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of cogs, nuts, bolts, trunnions and wing-nuts? The car does not become lighter, it “feels” lighter, because the transmission is in a ‘Sport’ setting and so the vehicle’s performance is optimised, or “sporty”. The lightness may also come from the suspension stiffening, but I doubt this is the case for the Wish; such technology is found in costlier fare.

The consumption will definitely go up, but not enough to bankrupt you in one trip. It will also not damage the engine, or gearbox, at all; engines are built to withstand a wide range of performance parameters.

The ‘Snow’ setting acts as a sort of traction control for the gearbox, slowing down changes and sticking to higher gears at lower revs to minimise torque-induced wheelspin and skids.

————–

Hi Baraza,

Once, I went upcountry with a Toyota Prado and had no problem climbing the long hills.

But on another day, when I used a Land Rover Discovery Tdi, I realised its performance was weak compared to the Prado’s. Is it that the car had a problem or does it mean Prados are more powerful than Land Rovers?

Please compare the two. Also, I’m puzzled by words like supersaloon, special edition, splendid, and so on, that are used on Toyotas and Nissans. Do these cars have anything special?

Kahara

————–

Which Discovery did you use? And which Prado? The earlier Discovery cars were a bit agricultural, crap to be honest, especially because of the ageing 2.5, 4-cylinder diesel engine they used.

The new ones, on the other hand, are Range Rovers for those who cannot afford real Range Rovers. I will compare the two — similar vintage and matching specs — in a future road test, just give me time to set this up.

Those labels ‘SuperSaloon’, ‘Executive’ and so on are actually names for trim levels and specifications.

Instead of saying “this car has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, automatic transmission, sunroof, air-con, climate control, leather interior, alloy rims, six-CD changer, etc”, just call it SuperSaloon.

For the same model of car, the “Executive” could be the same as SuperSaloon but with no leather interior and no sunroof.

A lower spec model (let’s call it Deluxe) deletes climate control but maintains air-con and swaps the six-CD changer for, say, radio/tape/CD.

Follow?

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy my next car, either a Subaru Forester or a Toyota Kluger.

But the one I have currently is a Fielder, which is good when it comes to fuel consumption, spare parts and resale value.

I want you to advise me on the car (Forester or Kluger) that is fuel efficient, has reasonably priced spares and a good resale value.

————–

Just drive decently and both will not hurt where consumption is concerned.

Spares should not have too big a disparity between them, though I suspect the Kluger’s might command a slight (very slight) premium over the Forester’s. Asking around will clear this up.

Resale? It is hard to tell. Klugers have not been around long enough for statistical data on second- or third-owner territory to be gathered. And there has been a now-diminishing phobia of Subaru cars, so for now, steer clear of the Turbo.

————–

Hi,
I am importing a Subaru Outback and I want to use it for my upcountry excursions, which include a very slippery road to my upcountry home.

How good is it in wet, slippery, hilly roads? Can you suggest some modifications or areas to watch on this ex-Japan model?

————–

Smart choice. It has 4WD, so it should tackle the slippery stuff quite convincingly.

But no serious off-roading (fording rivers that have burst their banks or trying to drive up a sheer cliff), leave that to the Land Cruisers).

It can survive without any major modifications, but heavy duty suspension would not be money wasted when installed.

————–

Hi,
I intend to buy a second-hand car whose engine capacity is 1000cc or below.

I particularly have the Toyota Platz, Toyota Starlet or Toyota Alto LX in mind. Please advise me in terms of maintenance and performance.

————–

Once you go below 1,000cc, cars stop being cars, they become a means of transport.

As such, there is precious little to separate them, unless you go for mentalist hardware like the turbocharged Daihatsu Miras and “twin-charged” Fiat 500s. Otherwise, they are all the same.

I have had quite some experience with a Starlet EP82, which at 1300cc, could still run with the best of them (19.76 litres of fuel yielded 407 km, empty to empty. Try and beat that, even in a Vitz).

The three cars you mention should be about the same in performance and maintenance, so if you are hard pressed to choose, close your eyes, throw a stone in the air and see where it lands.

That will be the car to buy. Or just go for the Alto — it is newer than the Starlet (so obviously better engineered) and much, much prettier than the goggle-eyed “Platzypus”

————–

Hello Baraza,

I bought a five-speed 1996 Hyundai Accent car from a friend. The vehicle is quite okay, but I need your advice on the following:

1. Where do I get spare parts, such as door locks, water pumps and radiators, among others, at a fair price?

2. Is it possible to get a good place to refurbish its interior, especially the seats, floor covers, inside door covers etc?

3. What are the merits and demerits of this vehicle since I hardly hear people talk about it?

Yatich

————–

The reason nobody talks about the Hyundai Accent is because it is Korean, and 1996 is a clean decade and a half ago. Anybody born at that time would be in high school second or going to third form now.

Later iterations of this car have not been good either (there is a 3-cylinder diesel that takes 20 secs to hit 100 km/h from rest). So it is in this vein that I will answer your questions:

1. Fellow Hyundai enthusiasts will help with this, but until then, the usual trawl through Kirinyaga Road and Industrial Area will give you an idea on the rarity of spares.

2. Interior reworking can be done at any good body shop.

3. Merits: None that I know of. Cheap, maybe. Demerits: Not a feat of engineering, flimsy, performs poorly and not that pretty. And there’s also bad interior design and poor use of materials.

Posted on

The laughs, the goofs, and the plain horrible of motor vehicle adverts

It is not the first time that the comic genius of one Jeremy Clarkson from the BBC has driven my motoring thoughts in a particular direction.

Several months ago, I watched as he and his colleague tried to come up with a TV ad for the then recently released Volkswagen Scirocco diesel.

The brief was: be honest, do not put up any display of hooliganism, and no sporty driving. After several goofy attempts, his final creation was a video clip containing snippets of news footage showing widespread panic in various towns all over Poland: mass hysteria, people fleeing, riots, the works. Then came the closing shot of the car with the tagline: The new Scirocco Diesel. Berlin to Warsaw in one tank.

I laughed like a drunken horse for several days after that. I watched that particular segment over and over, all the while ROTFL (you need a teenage friend to explain those initials). I still laugh up to now, just thinking about it.

You need to have a bit of the world’s political history and just the tiniest bit of motoring sense to realise that was one loaded punch line. Sure, the man was risking offending the sensibilities of Polish nationals and reminding Germans that one of their chancellors painted them in the worst possible light by committing possibly the biggest crime against humanity in all of known history, but you have to admit it: the double entendre in that one statement and the impression that Herr Clarkson created of Poland in a panic was hilarious, in a diabolical sort of way. And he did manage to bring out the incredible fuel economy of the Scirocco, seeing as to how it is a small, diesel powered car.

So, back to my thoughts. When I finally stopped laughing (briefly), I asked myself: What in the world happened to motor vehicle advertising?

Not necessarily the world over (we still have very controversial ads abroad) but particularly in Africa, and especially Kenya. Is it creativity we lack or are we so strict in bringing out a car’s particular traits while avoiding stepping on toes that we forget that humour is what makes most people remember stories, experiences, or indeed advertising?

Here are some more lists, again, (one today, the rest later), and the first is:

Car manufacturers who have unwittingly shot themselves in the foot.

Laws or no laws, sometimes foresight goes out the window in the quest for amusement. For the sake of example, here are four ads, which, at first, look harmless but on deeper analysis, appear to have missed the boat by an ocean.

MG Midget

This particular ad is a poster from the 1970s, not even a video. It shows an MG Midget, a man sitting in it and a lovely air hostess in the act of stepping into it. She could have been a well-dressed meter maid though, given that the car is next to a parking meter, along a street with parked cars and one or two driving by. Not bad.

So what’s the problem? Well, in most street scene ads, the cars not being flouted tend to be from the same manufacturer, but this ad is a medley of bigger vehicles (the Midget is tiny, hence the name), and they steal the thunder from the Midget.

The ad is also not only sexist, but an outright lie — the Midget was not much loved owing to its frog-eyed countenance, wheezy A Series engine, Old Testament-specs, running gear, and leaf spring suspension. It also suffered numerous water leaks, unexplained oil dribbles, and was more than susceptible to rot. Not exactly a girl magnet then, but ironically, the tag line was: You can do it in an MG. Hmmm…

The minuscule print under the picture was equally sneaky, just like the fine print in a lengthy contract. A quick glance would inform you that 0-60 mph (roughly 0-100 kph) came up in 9.6 sec, which in the 1970s was rather impressive — until on closer inspection you realise that it actually said 0-50. They may have as well said it had a top speed of 800 kph, provided it was attached to a Boeing 747 at full thrust.

Dodge Challenger

A few years before the Midget, Chrysler in the US unleashed a trio of muscle cars to do battle with the very successful Ford Mustang: the Dodge Charger, the Plymouth Barracuda, and the Dodge Challenger.

The poster for the Dodge Challenger was a bit unnerving: it depicted the Challenger charging hard down a mountain pass, which was okay.

But in their quest to inject a sense of action and speed into the picture, it also showed the Challenger to be in a wild state of understeer, going round a corner, its offside tyres almost treading air as the car was clearly headed for the edge of the road. Nothing like the spectre of imminent death to attract customers, eh Chrysler?

TV host Jay Leno said Chrysler must have been really courageous to show their car leaving the road in their own advert. This faux pas may or may not have had something to do with the fact that the Mustang went on to enjoy unparalleled sales success while the Challenger withered in the searing heat of the Mustang’s glory.

What makes the whole thing sad is that the picture in the poster was not even a real photo; it was an artist’s impression. The car company had the chance to make it look any way they wanted, and they chose understeering to the point of incipient crashing.

Ford SportKa

The SportKa is the sporty version of Ford’s little Ka, a tiny city runabout. In its ad, it is shown calmly resting in somebody’s driveway, minding its own business, when along comes an adventurous pigeon, seeking to land on its roof (and presumably deposit some guano while there). When it gets close enough to the SportKa, up goes the bonnet and down goes the pigeon, its worthless bird life having been slapped out of it by a sheet of aluminium. Then the one liner: Ford SportKa. The Ka’s evil twin. Funny, huh?

Not if you are a bird-loving environmentalist. Tree huggers tend to detest the motor vehicle in general and sporty ones in particular, and the SportKa falls under the latter. The ad does not help matters by depicting the SportKa as an unapologetic assassin of avian beings. So what is Ford telling us? You should buy the SportKa if you hate birds? Are bird-watchers not allowed to buy it?

Green-hearted people tend to take matters into their own hands. Just ask bus operators and SUV owners in the UK what they have had to put up with: vandalism and hippy groups chaining themselves to those vehicles are just some of the tactics used. So in one fell swoop, Ford stones two birds with one kill, putting SportKa owners in the limelight and under the wrath of eco-mentalists. Buy a SportKa and see what we will do to your car, you can almost hear them snarling.

Volkswagen Passat

This one is even harder to tell where the agency missed the mark. There is a test driver on a test track, driving a Passat. Somewhere, there is a man in a white coat holding a remote kontrol (this is German, remember?).

As the driver goes through the course, a series of obstacles are thrown his way by the scientist (I presume), obstacles that include a klockwerke hedgehog — the driver goes round this at speed in a fantastic display of chassis balance and thus passing the elk test I talked about earlier.

A human form in a bikini emerging from the undergrowth fails to distract him — oh how engaging it is to be at the helm of the Passat, not even a bikini-clad woman can distract you from the pleasure. Having just disregarded the skimpily dressed temptress, he returns to the road ahead just in time to see a pram roll right into his path, upon which he drops the anchors and the car comes to a picture-perfect ABS-supported standstill, inches shy of the perambulator.

No animals were harmed in the making of this video. It was made very clear that the Passat’s handling and stopping abilities are exceptional, which they probably are, so no fudging of facts there. So what’s the problem?

Rewind the tape. Hedgehog is nicely avoided, no understeer, no oversteer, controlled body roll. Human in beach wear appears from the bushes, but after a quick glance the driver goes back to his driving. Pram emerges, possibly bearing someone’s child and the… wait a minute, what was that again about the bushes? It is wearing a bikini, sure, but at second glance, it turns out not to be a woman. It is not even a man. It is a headless mannequin with hips and breasts. What gives?

Now the questions arise. Was the driver supposed to be distracted by a sexily dressed plastic doll? If yes, what does that say about German drivers, or worse, drivers of Passats worldwide? Have they no need for women or is it that they cannot get any? Truth be told, the first two generations of VW Passat were not likely to garner you attention from the fairer sex, seeing how bland they were compared to its competitors — the BMW (Be My Wife) 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C Class.

Given the might of the Volkswagen Group, could they not come up with a real flesh and blood woman to do the job? It is hard to train a hedgehog to wander into the path of a hard-charging German car, script or no script, so we will overlook that.

And, forgiving the judgmental assumptions made about German/Passat drivers’ bedroom preferences, what will happen when a real woman in a bikini emerges from the bushes, seeing as to how the driver was unfazed by a lady crash test dummy?
Combine this with Daimler AG’s prank at the launch of the previous E500 Mercedes, and you will see German car companies are not doing their nationals any favours.

During new car launches, Mercedes tends to dilute the techno-babble with a bit of humour. So when they released the E500 (many years after the Passat ad), they thought it would be funny to sneak a couple of crash test dummies into the audience. That, and the Passat ad show a poorly concealed fascination with plastic dolls, putting German men in a rather awkward position.

It must be clear by now that my next two lists will be of the best car advertisements ever, and the worst.