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Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

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Hondas are fine cars that attract insultingly low resale prices

In regards to the Honda Accord and Honda CRV, they are both good cars, but my friends advised me against them citing poor resale value.

Is this true? If yes, which is the better option with a better resale value? How about the Toyota Camry? Does it have good resale value like other Toyota vehicles because of “perception”.

Kindly comment on reliability, fuel economy, safety, and performance as compared to Honda Accord. Remember, I am looking for a used family car.

Ambrose.

There might be a grain of truth in the allegations of Honda vehicles not having strong resale characteristics in the Kenyan automotive field, but those who “Think Toyota, Today, and Tomorrow Too” have no idea what they are missing out on. Hondas are good cars, especially those equipped with V-TEC.

The Camry might suffer the Accord’s resale fate for a very different reason. A good number of Kenyans are “scared” of engines that stretch beyond 1800cc. Those that are indifferent will not be buying a Camry; they will go for something less plain and boring.

So that will be jumping from a lion’s cage in the zoo only to realise that you have now landed in the tiger’s cage. No difference in circumstances.

The parameters that you mention are more or less the same for the two cars, but from what I observed, the Accord may have the edge in performance over the Camry. If in doubt, you could always go for the Accord R, which has…. wait for it… a 2.2 litre V-TEC engine, good for almost 220hp.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for a good job done so far. A quick challenge of sorts, though. Have you ever done motorcycle reviews? If not, then how about it? An ideal place to begin would be the now Popular TVS Apache.

Nicholas Ngetah.

Thank you for the compliments, and no, I have not done any motorcycle reviews. This is chiefly because I do not want to die, and riding a motorcycle greatly increases the odds of that happening. So, borrowing from the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Four wheels good, two wheels bad.”

I do, however, have a colleague who does not give much thought to the vagaries of the afterlife, and as such he loves motorcycles. I am talking about The Jaw. Maybe he could ride them, review them, then he and I see how I can put that review into my own words. Fair, Nicholas?

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Dear Baraza,

I am the second owner of a P38 4.6HSE 1998 Range Rover. It has 130,000km with a clean service history at a CMC dealer.

1. What is the best fuel consumption I should expect in kilometres per litre? It has averaged 5km per litre.

2. I am told the gearbox is four-speed. It has a 4HP-24. How does this compare with a five-speed box? I also cannot find the Overdrive switch.

3. These “tune ups” to improve consumption, are they real? If so, what do they entail? Some guy is promising 11km per litre on the highway after the tune up. I am not convinced a V8 engine can be this kind to anyone.

Muriithi.

1. The “best” fuel consumption will depend on your deftness as a “hypermiler” (one who ekes ridiculous mileages from a litre of fuel, usually through strange, illegal, or unsafe driving tactics). Five kpl for the old 4.6 sounds just about correct in normal driving situations.

2. Comparison between a four-speed and a five-speed? Depends on the gear ratios in the transmissions, but generally a five-speed will offer better acceleration (the engine speed can stay in the power band for a longer period of time) AND fuel economy (you do not need to rev very high in one gear to gain enough power to push you into the next), but NOT simultaneously. Also, the differences will be marginal and hardly noticeable in day-to-day use.

Also, not all automatic transmissions come with an Overdrive switch.

3. Yes, the tune-ups are real, but not to the extent you claim there. Simple tune-ups just involve getting the engine back to manufacturer settings through replacing worn out bits, refastening bolts that may have played loose, checking for loose or frayed wiring in the ignition system, and removing carbon from the valvetrain.

But these actions will NOT make a P38 4.6 V8 attain 11 kpl; if there exists such a P38 out there, I would like to buy it immediately. The best you can hope for is eight kpl, and that is by sedate driving on the highway.

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Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of you column and bravo for a job well done. I recently purchased a Mercedes Benz E 280 year 2006 model and have driven it on Kenyan roads for less than one month.

On the dashboard are two messages displayed — “ESP defective visit workshop” and” Active light system unavailable”.

Kindly shed some light on what these two messages relate to and how they can be sorted out without much ado.

Kenneth.

“ESP Defective” means the electronic stability programme is malfunctioning and needs to be looked at. Without it, the Benz may become a bit of a handful when driven hard or on less-than-perfect surfaces. Without the ESP, it simply means the car will not compensate for your mistakes and/or lack of driving skill the way it used to.

The ESP defect may be a bug in the software or a malfunctioning sensor out of hundreds (yaw sensors, G-sensors, throttle position sensors, brake sensors etc… any sensor associated with vehicle dynamics could be the culprit).

The software bug is curable by programing the ECU. The sensor issues are curable by replacement and/or recalibration. The ESP is a complex system that uses ABS, EBD, an almost unfathomable network of sensors and/or adjustment of engine power, among other things, to “stabilise” a car to prevent skidding and/or oversteer/understeer.

“Active light system unavailable” means that one of the features found on higher level Benz cars such as yours is either not working, or was never there in the first place. Just to be sure, does it say “unavailable” or does it say “inoperative”? My research on that problem shows “inoperative”.

Anyway, this is not about nitpicking on the accuracy of descriptions. The active light system on a Mercedes was a setup where the headlamps followed the movements of the steering wheel to improve night-time visibility and optimise safety.

The swivel feature of the headlamps may, thus, have been rendered inactive or was never there in the first place (active light system was an option on the W211 sedan, of which yours is one).

Either way, a visit to a garage is in the books for you, my friend.

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Dear Baraza,

Recently, I took my G-Touring Toyota station wagon for a window repair. The wire man asked if my car overheats and I replied in the negative. The temperature gauge does not go even an 1/8 of the scale even after doing 15km.

He then asked me to open the bonnet and start the car to idle until gauge reaches the centre. To quicken the process, he accelerated the car while idle. The gauge reached the centre, something it has never done before. The fan went on and the gauge went slightly down, then stopped.

He told me everything seemed fine.

From that day the gauge started moving more than 1/8 up to the centre in the same distance I normally cover — around 15km to 20km. Could he have tampered with its functioning by accelerating the car while stationary? This is worrying me, although it does not go beyond the centre. Why is this? I check the coolant regularly. It has no power loss.

Second, does this model have problems with the gear system? I find the top gear a bit stiff to engage.The other day I added gear box oil but still the problem persists. It is a very well maintained car. I mostly use V-power but sometimes I use the ordinary fuel. Which one is the best and why?

Sammy.

Stop worrying about the engine temperature.

That mechanic did not ruin your car. That is how car engines are supposed to behave. When the thermometer reached “centre” position then the fans started suddenly, that was just the cooling system of the car trying to maintain the engine at an optimum operating temperature.

The fans are activated by the thermostat to prevent the engine from getting too hot, then they go off when the temperature drops. Your car is fine.

But again, your car is not really fine. Difficulty in engaging fifth gear means one of two things: Either the linkage is getting wonky or the fifth gear synchroniser unit is worn out. The linkage can easily be fixed with basic tools. Replacement of the synchroniser unit demands disassembling the entire gearbox.

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Dear Baraza,

I recently got one of these A150 Mercedes cars and every time I need to shift either from Drive to Neutral or Reverse (and vice versa), the whole car jerks. At times when I shift to Reverse, it does not engage even if I depress the gas pedal. It then jerks into motion quite violently when it finally does. Other times, particularly when driving in traffic, it “forgets” to shift up.

It remains in very high revs or develops a rumbling noise and does not shift smoothly. Now I am being advised to change the entire gearbox. These problems are particularly worse in the morning. I also find it to have massive under-steer for a car of that size. Please help before I lose my mind.

Ben.
I need not state the obvious: You clearly have transmission problems.

When the mechanics recommended a change of the TCM, had they done a diagnosis or did they follow the path of the electronic scapegoat? (Sensor problem over here! sensor problem over there! Even your flat tyre has been caused by a sensor problem!)

Most of the time when the TCM acts up, it might not be necessary to replace it; reprogramming it will do. It may be that the TCM and ECU are out of sync or have lost synergy and have started “confusing” each other.

A diagnosis should have been done on the original TCM to see whether the problem lay therein or not.That aside, these folks now want you to get a new gearbox. Have they verified that the current one is completely unserviceable or did they follow the path of “replacement is easier than repair”?

If they know nothing about the automatic transmission of a Mercedes-Benz A150, let them be honest and say so. They might end up telling you to buy a new car.Last thing: Does your A150 have an owner’s/operator’s handbook?

If yes, read it, especially the chapter that says “Transmission”. One of the things you said has led me to believe that your initial problems were caused by incorrect ATF levels within the transmission, and this may or may not have caused some transmission damage.

Sometimes it is as simple as topping up/draining excess fluids instead of shouting about “sensors” and “computers”, like a good number of Kenyan mechanics do (this has not escaped my notice, and the root cause I believe comes from the culture of apprenticeship from the days of yore instead of proper, formal training).

Posted on

How cheap is cheap? Should I invest in a 1997 Mazda Midge?

Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a Mazda Midge 323 of 1997 or thereabouts. It will cost me about Sh125,000 to acquire and about Sh20,000 to repair.

am confused. Should I sign the deal or keep off completely. I have never owned a car before and this car is cheap, with low fuel consumption. I need a means of mobility for my small family. What is your advice on this car?

Arap Kulet Kibs

That sounds like a fair deal to me. A 1997 vehicle that will cost you less than Sh150,000 to get on the road? If you are very sure this is what it will take, then by all means go for it. I have been looking for a Sh200,000 car (part of an elaborate experiment) and you will not believe how hard it is to get one. I even got offered a 1988 Honda Accord for Sh220,000.

1988! That car is older than some of the women I have dated, and the man wanted Sh220,000 for it. The closest I got to a deal like yours was a 1992 Fiat Uno for Sh85,000.

Yes, less than Sh100,000 but for that I was to get rotten tyres, split rims, the brake pads had fused with the discs (and drums), two seats (the front passenger seat and the back bench) no lights whatsoever… but the party piece was…. no engine.

Be glad of the deal you have landed, but I insist: ONLY IF YOU ARE SURE.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent fan of your column and I must say it is very informative.

Now, my question is about engine capacity vis à vis fuel consumption. Many readers have the perception that the bigger the engine the higher the fuel consumption. I remember an article you wrote about a Range Rover covering 17 kpl. With the same engine, not many Toyotas or Nissans can cover that distance.

1. How will a non-turbo car perform when fuelled with V-Power petrol and synthetic engine oil compared to premium/regular fuel and normal engine oil?

2. And by the way, why don’t you come up with your own monthly magazine for motoring fans?

Thanks and thumbs up for this weekly feature.

Ken Migiro.

Ahem, sir, I think you may have taken liberties with some of those figures. I never said a Range Rover does 17kpl. No, sir, I did not. I said, at 140km/h on an eight-lane superhighway, the engine is spooling below 2,000rpm and the “monster” engine is doing an incredible 14 kpl.

There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that the prevailing traffic conditions at the time could best be described as “light”.

Secondly, the vehicle in question was powered by a new-age turbocharged diesel engine which develops massive torque, allowing the car to be propelled effortlessly at very low rpm. Third, that Range Rover had just received a transmission update, so it was packing an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. With so many ratios, there is a perfect gear for everything.

Also, given that the car costs Sh18 million or so, the amount of research and development that went into the power train is stupendous, to say the least. None of these factors apply to eight-year-old pre-owned Toyotas and Nissans. Yer gets what yer pays fer.

1. Superior engine oil and fuel grade does not make a car faster or more powerful. It only makes the engine run smoother and last longer.

However, the converse is not true: Sub-standard oil will kill your engine and adulterated fuel (or fuel with a very low octane rating) might push your car into “safe-mode”, where either the timing will be retarded to the lowest possible level or the engine speed will be capped at a certain rpm which is very far from the red line.

Ask anyone who runs high-boost in a turbocharged engine what “safe mode” is and watch their eyes water as they remember the time they told their friends “My car is fast!” Then proceeded to drive at 40 km/h. I know your question concerned naturally aspirated engines, but some suffer from this too.

2. I happen to be the features and road tests editor at a certain magazine run by The Jaw. Sometimes it is a monthly, sometimes it is not.

Dear Sir,

I came across your article on transmission which I found quite interesting as I am looking to sell automatic transmission discs.

The gearbox has transmission discs and at one end is the high nitrile high temp seal rarely available in Kenya. Basically, it comes as an overhaul gasket kit for the transmission gear box, much like an engine overhaul gasket kit.

Nobody stocks these in Kenya, not even Toyota Kenya. When the oil leaks because of a faulty seal, it burns the discs in the gearbox.

So what most mechanics do is look for good secondhand seals and fit secondhand discs. Currently, I have a about 20 types of new discs in stock and have sold a few. I am looking for a market for these products. Please advise.

Interested Seller.

I am not very sure how I can be of help here because it sounds as if you are asking me to assist you in running your business. Since there are no further explanations, these are my guesses:

1. You want to use my column as a platform to palm off your transmission parts to the general public. I cannot be of any assistance here because the Nation Media Group will require the two of us to pay for advertising and, take it from me, those two pages can be quite expensive. Also, I will receive an uncomfortable interrogation from other sellers of transmission parts as to why I endorsed you and not them.

2. You want my advice on how you can sell many transmission parts and make a profit while at it. In this case, too, I cannot really help because I am not a business consultant. Much as the objects involved fall under motoring, the matter at hand is not really about motoring.

Dear Baraza,

Kenya-trained road and railway engineers are the most useless in the world. In a highly populated urban area trains run in tunnels underground or in overhead viaducts. Never ever on the ground.

Jesus Christ! Can you imagine a slow moving 500 metre train trying to manoeuvre in Nairobi traffic. Are some people totally mad? Moreover, underground trains run underground on electric tracks, NOT diesel locomotives. Woi! We are in trouble.

Have you ever wondered why the passenger ride from Nairobi to Mombasa is so rocky and uncomfortable? It is because the track slippers are unevenly laid.

While the distance of the slippers should be evenly spaced, you find the contrary. One slipper may be 100cm apart, the next 200cm apart and the other 120cm apart.

This makes the train rock from one side to the other because it is unbalanced. Not only is the train unbalanced, it also cannot travel at high speed because it will eventually derail due to unbalanced rocking.

That is why a journey from Nairobi to Mombasa takes at least 12 hours to complete because of slow speed. Diesel locomotives can travel at a speed of 60km to 80km per hour.

This means that on a properly constructed railway track, a Mombasa-Nairobi train should take a maximum of four to five hours.

It is also not rocket science to find out why roads designed and built by Kenyan-trained engineers have a maximum defect-free design life of between five to 10 years.

It is because these engineers construct these roads with permeable soft as a base material instead of impermeable concrete. The problem with permeable rock is that rainwater seeps through the road surface easily. Once the water reaches the earth layer of the road, it becomes mud and essentially liquid.

Thus, this part of the road sinks due to the mechanical pressure of passing vehicles. The road surface eventually cracks, exacerbating water seepage. Finally, a pothole is formed.

You may have noticed that the Chinese religiously use concrete as a base material. This is how modern roads should be built. The result is an even road surface that has a defect-free design life of approximately 99 to 100 years.

Naturally, the initial cost of a concrete base road is higher than a permeable base road. But over 99 years, it is actually cheaper because a permeable base road needs to be maintained and rebuilt every 10-15 years.

Njoroge Gitonga.

Wow! I agree on all points. While an inner city train would be a good idea, it is not really workable in ANY of our cities. It will call for an extensive redesign and rebuild of the town centre. In other words, tear the city down and put it up again.

From scratch. I wonder where the three million or so people who infest the town daily are supposed to go in the meantime. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

We do not necessarily have to have a train half a kilometre long snaking through city blocks. Several trams could do the trick. Question is: Where to lay the tram tracks? How to control jaywalking.

How to control the maniacal wayward drivers who believe that the secret to success in life is making sure you are ahead of everyone else on the road (including trams).

I do not think we are ready for this. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.
Trains are not necessarily a bad idea. What we could do is have four or five train stations around the city. We already have one which has a bias on the Mombasa Road side of town. How about another on the Westlands side? And another on the Thika Road side?

And maybe one more on the Ngong Road side? The trick is to reduce motor vehicle traffic, right? Charge people who drive into town in order to encourage them to take the train (like they do in the UK).

From those train stations we could have shuttle services running across the CBD instead of actual trains (which you and I agree will not work inside the town).

Anyway, the logistical hell that is the Nairobi traffic situation is not my headache. At least not now. Even with the new “digital” traffic lights, it still takes a traffic policeman to restore order at junctions and roundabouts, the same officer who will tell you to go when the light is red and pull you over when you drive past a green light “because he said to stop and you didn’t”. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

As for road construction, I also agree with you in that the workmanship is sloppy. Some acquaintances believe that it is intentional: Not only does the contractor make an abnormal profit, but he also guarantees himself another tender.

When the road falls apart a few months after completion, he will be called back to do repairs, hence make even more money. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

Just a question: Those rail things. Are they “slippers” or “sleepers”? Just asking.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla 110. It recently had a minor accident and after the mechanic repaired the gearbox, I noticed that the light on the dash board keeps indicating that the overdrive is off (O/D off).

My mechanic says it does not affect fuel consumption because I do not travel long distances. Please advise.

Lucy.

How did this mechanic repair the gearbox? With the light indicating “O/D OFF”, one of three things could be happening:

1. The overdrive is actually on, but since the mechanic fiddled with the transmission and its many electronics, the light says OFF in error. Or…

2. In the course of fiddling with the transmission and its many electronics, the mechanic ruined the overdrive switch, rendering it permanently off. In which case he should pay for the extra fuel you would have saved by driving with the overdrive on. Or…

3. Maybe there is nothing wrong and you should try and put the overdrive on. There is a small button labelled O/D on the right side of the gear knob. Sometimes the only solution to a problem is the most obvious one.

Hi Baraza,

I love the advice you give in this column. I asked this question before and did not get an answer. What is a guzzler? If I drive a Toyota with an engine capacity of 2,000cc and a Subaru or Mercedes of the same engine size, how do they compare in terms of fuel consumption?

What of a saloon car and a sports utility vehicle (SUV) of the same engine capacity, for example the Toyota Mark X versus the RAV4/Harrier?

Cleo

There are very many things that determine the fuel consumption of an engine, most of them being external factors that fall under the general term “load”.

Intrinsic qualities that determine the rate of consumption include material science (low friction, lightweight and heat resistant materials lead to better economy as compared to their diametric opposites), degree of technology that goes into the R&D stage of making the engine (Electrical Fuel Injection (EFI) engines offer better economy than carburettor engines, direct injection also leads to better economy compared to port injection, Electronic Control Unit-controlled and other electronic engine systems are more efficient than purely mechanical ones) and the basic design: Number of cylinders, layout of those cylinders, and so on.

As for Toyota, Subaru, and Mercedes engines, these are too many and too varied to say which is which and the consumption factor is determined greatly by load, seeing as all three companies develop really high-tech engines for different applications.

One may be naturally aspirated, another one turbocharged, and another one supercharged. One may be used in a small compact saloon, another in a rally-ready performance hatchback, and yet another in a relatively heavy premium saloon… you get my drift, don’t you?

The same engine used in a saloon car will generally burn more fuel per kilometre when used in an SUV because the SUV is much heavier and has a higher coefficient of drag than the saloon, which means that it has to work more/spend more energy to move the body to which it is attached.

Posted on

I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

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The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

**********

Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

**********

Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

**********

Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

Posted on

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

——————

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.

——————

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

——————

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.