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2014: The year of Mobius II, Great Run 6 and the Russian revitalisant

  1. Kenya vs Uganda: Mobius II vs Kiira EV

Our neighbours across the border are a demure, taciturn lot and as such, it is a little difficult to imagine what they are up to all the time.

Never mistake quietness for lack of resolve; and, clearly, meekness is not weakness, because what they did recently was win a game of top trumps against Kenya in a match that nobody knew was even happening.

Mobius Motors has been in Kenya for a while, just simmering below the surface of the motoring grapevine. The name would crop up every now and then in discussions surrounding the local automotive industry and the prospects of developing a homegrown automobile.

A few pictures here and there, an inactive website, a silent (or possibly non-existent) public relations department, a hardworking and single-mindedly determined man, cheers from one corner, jeers from another; hope from a few, proclamations of doom from many more, disregard by the government, the ever-present threat of the used vehicle import grey market and….

…And they did it. Mobius Motors actually built a car intended for sale! What’s more, it even got the C-in-C to attend the car’s launch festivities.

The Mobius II is less of a pukka petrolhead’s tarmac-tearing, corner-carving chariot and more of a motorised donkey, a beast of burden, a tool to get things done. It is basically a wheelbarrow with extra wheels, an engine, lights, windscreen, and bench seats.

The vehicle does not break any boundaries. If anything, part of the R&D does smack a little of corner-cutting. What they call a “tubular steel monocoque” is essentially a heavy roll-cage, not entirely dissimilar to the type used as buggy frames. The bodywork is then wrapped around this roll-cage.

The suspension is… well, you have to see it to believe it. There are exposed leaf springs, lightly fastened to the rear axle via some slim metal brackets and the whole set-up does not look as robust as Mobius’ blurb claims it is. It looks rather flimsy and likely to shear off its moorings if the vehicle goes round a bend at anything apart from crawling speed.

If the coat is threadbare, then the inside is almost nonexistent. The interior is festooned with only one gauge directly ahead of the driver and what looks like a sports steering wheel.

My pre-drive analysis might seem a little acerbic, and it is. But this is a tough world.

There are many ways of developing homegrown automotive output without trying to re-invent the wheel or starting from zero.

Building a car from scratch is an effort 100 years too late, especially if you are not introducing anything new and lack financial backing.

You can build motor vehicles under licence instead of trying to come up with one.

The countries of the Pacific Rim discovered this: where initially they tried making their own vehicles which were frankly odious sacks of potatoes, building old versions of Japanese cars under different badges led to an explosion of their auto industries and now they can afford to make their own cars.

he fastest expanding auto industry at the moment is China’s.

What we need to do is get the licence to reproduce the Toyota Corolla AE100 (one of the best and most appropriate cars ever to hit these shores) and either reprint it as is, or at least copy the hell out of it.

What, pray, is wrong with borrowing ideas? That way, a much better result can be realised at the same or lower cost than making a new vehicle.

This car does remind me of something I wrote about back in 2013, the OX. That vehicle was, incidentally, launched just around the same time as the current Mercedes-Benz S Class, and while one was quite literally a motorised ox-cart, the other was a machine so highly developed as to be in danger of being smarter than its creators.

I recall saying (not in these exact words) that the OX was a racist machine, a stereotyping of the developing world’s requirements, and that we did not really need it. Not surprisingly, I have not heard of it since.

That said, credit where it is due. The efforts of Joel Jackson are laudable, if not necessarily ground-breaking. It should be obvious to anyone that one cannot discuss the Mobius car without at least thinking of the infamous Nyayo Pioneer from three decades back.

Jackson has managed what an entire government could not, and that is to put a fully functional, locally developed motor vehicle into production and on sale — however simplistic the vehicle may be — and it is this kind of thing that inspires others.

The car might be rendered irrelevant in a few years, necessitating a whole new project, but clearly, the intentions behind the current Mobius II were honorable. You might not reinvent the wheel, but that should not stop you from making your own. Jackson is the name behind Mobius Motors, just to be clear.

Then there are our Ugandan neighbours. Theirs was something else altogether, and at face value, they seem to have their motoring fingers solidly inside the automotive pot. Their car is the definition of how to grasp current affairs and keep up with the times. Where the Mobius harks back to the uncomplicated wheels of yore, Uganda’s Kiira EV Smack is a trendy concept, if a little overstyled. The builders chose to go the hybrid way, which seems like an intelligent option in these days of uncertainty about the longevity of the world’s oil fields.

I don’t honestly expect the Smack to enjoy unprecedented sales success either, but one thing is for sure: it will grab the attention of the motoring world’s big shots.

Developing a hybrid car is terribly expensive, and hybrid cars are the present and foreseeable future, so investment is most likely going to be channelled in that direction. The internal combustion engine in the Mobius is a relic by comparison and is about to see the end of its usefulness.

Will I get to test these cars? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is not the last you will hear of them. The battle lines have been drawn.

 

  1. Pretty Great Run through Aberdares

December 6 marked the end of our third successful year of motoring campaigns with a charitable bent as we staged a pretty remarkable Great Run.

The Great Run is always a challenge, or rather, is supposed to be. This time round we thought we had a real doozy of a run, one that would test skill rather than endurance. You had to be at one with your fully-fledged 4WD car to make it, and a 4WD it had to be. End-of-year runs are off-road specials.

The path we chose was a little unusual, Nairobi-Nyeri, but not the way you know it.

We went through Naivasha, and then up the escarpment through a little-explored back route that feeds its users directly to one of the gates of the Aberdare National Park.

It is from this gate  that things get thick, and by things I mean the muck we had to crawl through.

A stone’s throw from the gate and into the park lurks a mud-hole of the type and consistency that could hide fully grown crocodiles. You need a proper 4WD transmission to plough your way through. You also need horsepower, but most important, you need ground clearance.

Up ahead lay some pools of variable depths, some of which hid large stones that could rip apart even the most solidly put-together undercarriage.

There is a rocky slope that demands the use of a low-range gearbox if one is to go up at all without risking a burnt clutch or slipping tyres.

There are more mud holes, the roads are narrow, twisty and have no run-off areas, what with the thick undergrowth creeping almost over the road itself. It is very easy to lose each other if the vehicles do not stick to tight formation, and it is very easy to lose one’s footing if one does not pay proper attention to one’s driving.

So it was with confidence that we announced that participants this time really do need to bring proper SUVs for the exercise — and then a lady showed up in a Toyota RAV4.

Long story short: not many people had high hopes for her on arrival at the mud hole, or at the end of the line in Nyeri, to which she made it without incident (or pulling shortcuts).

Fellow participants reached one of two conclusions: maybe the course was not tough enough (it actually was), or maybe we tend to seriously underestimate the off-road abilities of Toyota RAV4s (this part is subject to a lot of argument). Inarguably, everybody was impressed with the lady’s spunk.

Having held six discrete drives so far over the course of three years, it is indisputable that the Great Run is growing bigger, with each event, and is here to stay. Expect more interesting things come 2015.

 

  1. From Russia with some XADO

 

From the deep mines of Siberia and into your vehicle’s internal organs comes the weird product boasting the seemingly alchemical (and scarcely believable) ability to cure metal: the engine revitalisant.

Once dismissed as yet another brand of snake oil, it has had to be reconsidered and the prognosis looks promising.

Research with no funding is both risky and expensive. Paying for experiments out of one’s own pocket doesn’t always yield results that are thorough and/or impressive (look at the Mobius), more so if that research is done on oneself.

However, that did not stop me from going in head-first: I bought the snake oil and put it in a car fitted with a manual transmission.

There was one clear problem from the start: the fluid is meant to improve and refurbish worn out or fatigued metal surfaces, so how exactly does one determine the effectiveness of a miracle cure using an otherwise perfectly healthy guinea pig?

The car used for the experiment did not seem to need any revitalising — not in the engine, not in the transmission, not in the suspension. I wasn’t going to deliberately ruin a car just to make it eligible as a test subject. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try.

There were results, albeit a little indefinite. But they were there all the same.

After less than 150km of driving with the revitalisant in the transmission, the gear change did become a little bit slicker, less notchy and fell that much more easily to hand. The stuff actually does work, contrary to my admittedly cynical expectations.

Would I buy it? Yes, and I actually did, if only initially for experimental purposes.

The transmission revitalisant seems especially ideal for a used car, say in the 10-12 year-old age bracket that has seen some use and might start showing early signs of wear.

Rather than face the quandary of replacing apparently unbroken parts or waiting for them to fail expensively, one could revitalise them, and revitalise does seem like the most apt description for what happens when it works.

Let us be clear on one thing though: what I tried was a mineral oil-based transmission fluid specifically for use in a manual gearbox, with an SAE rating of 80W 90. The instructions on the bottle say it can also be used in transfer cases and differentials, basically anywhere with a mechanical transmission. I guess this means if you have a Lamborghini, Ferrari or BMW M5, you cannot use it because these cars have electronic diffs.

I guess, also, most new-age SUVs wouldn’t be appropriate candidates for its use because a number of them use viscous couplings for the centre diff, meaning they do not have transfer cases per se.

Was I impressed? A little, considering the alleged modus operandi of the revitalising fluid. Was I surprised? Yes. I really didn’t expect to feel any difference, especially in a car with no underlying problems, but I did.

Roll on the engine oil, this experiment is not over.

 

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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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For town service, the Premio will edge out the Noah

Hello Baraza,
Thank you for the good work; it is educating. I intend to buy a vehicle for an airport transfers contract and I am eyeing a Toyota Premio (1800cc), a Toyota Voxy, and a Toyota Noah, all 2005 or 2006 models.

From my research, I am likely to get both the Voxy and Noah cheaper by Sh250,000 in comparison with the Premio. I have received conflicting advice from two different mechanics on the Voxy.

I am made to understand that its 1AZ engine is actually a D4, which one of the mechanics says will have problems sooner rather than later, and that repairing it will bee too expensive, if possible at all.

The other mechanic says the engine should be okay for quite some time (I intend to dispose of the car and replace it with a “new” one after two years), but in case it starts having issues, usually related to overheating, I may have to throw away the engine. Both say a 3S engine would be a good replacement.

a) Comment on the performance and durability of the 1AZ engine in the Voxy and the Noah.

b) If the 3S engine is better, do they instal them any more in Noahs and Voxys?

c) Considering the purpose of the car, which one would you advise me to buy, with the resale value, durability, and cost of spares in mind? Fuel consumption is a non-issue in this case, and any of the cars will give exactly the same monthly income from the contract.Thank you, Samuel,

The fact that you are comparing a saloon car to a van means carrying capacity is a moot point. I will first ignore your questions and tell you this: Get the Premio. It makes much more sense, especially now that you are talking airports (which means you are also talking town driving somewhat).

The saloon is nippier, more versatile, and generally a better and more sensible prospect compared to a van, which is bulkier and wasteful.

Now to your questions:

a) Performance is good (for a van with a 2.0 litre engine, that is). Durability depends on how you use the engine and what you put into it.

b) Who said the 3S engine is better? The 1AZ is actually the successor of the S engines (of which the 3S is one), so it goes to reason that the later engine is a development of the previous. Hence the 1AZ is better.

Just because your mech friends cannot fix a D4 does not mean the engine is rubbish. And, no, they do not use the S engines is Voxies (Voxys?) anymore.

c) Resale value favours the Voxy/Noah. People have an undying thirst for these vans, for some reason, but market demand can be a fickle mistress; what is in demand now could be shunned like the plague in two years’ time.

Remember the Galant? Durability depends on usage, while costs of spares do not vary by much

I will be curt here; buy the Premio.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for enlightening us on car issues. I would like you to give me the pros and cons of the Mitsubishi Airtrek compared to the Nissan Teana. I am torn between buying the two.

Ian.

You cannot compare the two outright because they occupy different market niches and are targeted at different demographics. The Airtrek is a lifestyle vehicle whose sales quarry mostly includes yuppies and up-and-coming 20-somethings with plenty of out-of-town action, especially on weekends.

The Teana, on the other hand, is a middle-management executive’s car, not as lowly as the sales-rep’s Tiida/Almera and not as flashy as the Deputy CEO’s S320 Benz (or Fuga, if the said CEO is poorly paid or is a cheapskate).

So the question goes back to you: what do you expect from the car that you buy?

Hi JM

I have owned and nicely maintained for five years a 1995 Toyota AE100 saloon. Lately, it seems to have lost power and the engine seems to howl during drives. This is despite changing the clutch kit and regular servicing, including trying out Iridium spark plugs (I hear they are not for old cars, but I was desperate).

Braking is also not up to scratch and the linings seem to lose friction almost immediately after adjustment. Kindly note I always buy genuine parts from Toyota Kenya. How can I rejuvenate this car that I am so attached to, or is it time to part ways?

Amos.

I really cannot say what is wrong with your 100, but I can tell you this: the only time I know of engines howling is when they are revved madly — nudging the red line — and the only cure for that is to ease off the accelerator pedal.

Power loss could come from insufficient electricity in the HT leads or bad plugs (usually accompanied by a distant smell of gasoline in the exhaust), compression leakage (too much blow-by), or slipping components in the transmission.

You may have to look at your clutch again. The only conjecture I can come up with to connect the howling with the loss of power is a slipping clutch, which allows your engine to rev up but the corresponding speed in the transmission (and hence the road wheels) is not proportional to the increase in engine revs.

As for the braking system, you just have to do an overhaul.

Hello Baraza,

I recently upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and I am confused by the new gear lever. I am used to the usual arrangement of P-R-D-2-L, but the Belta has P-R-D-B-S. What is the meaning of the B and S and how do they function? And, in your opinion, is the Belta better than the Vitz?Sarah.

The Belta should be a sort of Vitz sedan (remember the Toyota Echo concept car?) just like the now-defunct Platz. Actually, the Belta is the new Platz, the way the Allion replaced the Carina. Follow?

The only difference between the Vitz and the Belta could be that the Belta has a bigger boot. And is newer. On the gear lever, I have never seen or heard of a P-R-D-B-S arrangement in an autobox, so I have no idea what the B and the S stand for. As for now, just use P-R and D, the most essential gears.

Hi JM,

So many second-hand car imports come loaded with gizmos that add to the complexity of maintenance, increase weight, and result in poor fuel consumption. There is a move in the UK for “back-to-basics” cars:

small, simple, minimalist, and relatively cheap-to-run things. Examples are the Dacia Duster, the Citroen C1 VT, the Chevrolet Spark+1.0, the Suzuki Alto 1.0 VVT SZ, and the VW Take UP!

These all retail in the UK for less than £9,000 or about Sh1.2 million. No electric windows, mirrors, or seat adjustment, just simple, basic motoring.

I think such cars have great potential here. Chevrolet, Suzuki, and VW all have franchises here and I wonder why they do not bring such cars here. There are many, like me, who would welcome a no-frills car. My longest trips are Kilifi to Mombasa or Malindi, and such economical motoring is most attractive.

Tony Gee.

We do have such cars here, or at least one that I know of: the Ford Figo. Another one is coming, from China, to be sold by Simba Colt…. Go figure! Meanwhile, General Motors are dead on their feet.

I had to go to South Africa to try out their Chevrolet cars (nine of them, over three days!) which they do not even bother marketing (the 1.0 Spark is a feisty little fighter while the Lumina SS is a Corvette for introverts).

These cars make sense, especially in the city, due to their manoeuvrability and fuel economy. Doing 500km-plus in one hit in them, however, is another matter altogether. Let us hope our conversation here provokes the franchise holders into taking action.

Hey Baraza,

I am a big fan of your articles and I know that your advice has enlightened many Kenyans into making wise decisions when it comes to acquiring vehicles. Kudos! I would like you to assist me in getting something straight;

I like the Toyota Premio X Edition (1,800cc) because of its high performance and reliability, but I am a huge fan of the manual transmission, which I have not seen so far in these cars. Are there any Premios with manual transmission? If there are not, what is your take on modifying an automatic box into a manual one?

Ken.

Sadly, the Premios I have seen are all automatic. However, there were manual versions of the Corona Premio, or what people call “the old Premio”. There is nothing wrong with swapping the autobox for a conventional manual.

If anything, I would like to see someone do it. I have this idea of getting a 4WD Allion (Premio’s sister car) and fitting it with a manual gearbox, after which I will bolt on a TRD supercharger to the engine….

Hi Baraza,

I appreciate the good work that you are doing. I must say I am now well versed in cars because of your articles. I own a Toyota AE111 (1,600cc) with a manual transmission which has served me well for the past three years. I have the following queries;

1. Is it true that wheel alignment done on a car fitted with Yana tyres normally has issues? I have been told this by many people when doing alignment. What is your take?

2. Is it a fallacy that engine oil should always be changed every 5,000km. I service my car every 10,000km and have never noticed change in performance.

3. I intend to buy new 185/14’’ tyres to replace my current 175/14’’ ones. How will this affect my car? Thanks once again for the good work.

IM

1. Ahem… eerr… aah… I cannot comment on that just yet.

2. The 5,000km figure is what we call a “ball-park figure”, a general safe zone for changing oil considering all types of driving. It covers both sensible and unwise driving techniques.

With careful driving, you could easily triple or even quadruple that mileage, though this will be major gambling on your part. Manufacturers like Mercedes now make engines with service intervals on a needful basis, that is, the car will tell you when it wants a new shot of lubricant.

The three-pointed star claimed some of their engines could easily run to 22,000km before needing new oil. However, since your 111 does not have that tech, just stick to the 5,000km. A few quarts of oil will be cheaper in the long run than a new engine, which is what you will need if you lose the gamble.

3. You will be able to corner harder since your new tyres are wider than the previous set.

Hello Baraza,

I have a 2006 Pajero Exceed fitted with a 3,000cc petrol engine. I would like to customise it and add a turbo-charger, and my mechs tell me that it is possible, not possible, possible, not possible….

Research on the Net tells me that it is very much possible to do this, but I will have to change the exhaust manifold and also probably the pistons and the brakes. So tell me, is it possible to do it?

If yes, please explain briefly the “how” and the “who” that you recommend for such changes. I am also interested in its performance and would like to push its power to about 250+ horsepower.

Again, is it possible? Please note that I am aware that there are more powerful cars like the 2012 Nissan Patrol and the Toyota VX, but I would like to stick to my Pajero and make these changes. Peter.

Yes, it is possible to turbo-charge the Paj. As you mentioned, you have to change the manifolds (especially exhaust) to accommodate the presence of the blower.

A little mapping of the ECU will ensure smooth running of the “new” engine. It is advisable to instal an intercooler also to go with the turbo, as well as upgrading your cooling system (turbo engines tend to have a lot of heat).

The “who” is very simple. I have an acquaintance who does this kind of thing. Visit Auto Art K Ltd in Industrial Area, Gilgil Road, behind the Total petrol station. Ask to see Amit Mohamed.

On upping the horsepower, yes, it is possible, although I find it odd that you settled at exactly 250hp. Most people give a ball-park figure (“around 230 to 280, maybe 250”, is what a typical statement of request sounds like).

Getting the 250hp involves mapping the ECU and adjusting the boost pressure in your new turbo. However, you can still up the power levels by other tuning methods.

Mohamed can do the turbo adjustment, but I have yet another acquaintance who does ECU maps, a certain Amit Pandya of AMS Performance… no relation to Mohamed despite the similar first names

Posted on

Fuel tablets do not improve consumption

Hi,

I had a 1982 Toyota DX-KE70 model that had a 1300cc carburettor for five years. The car was lovely, extremely hardy and very reliable.

It used to do 10kpl but I used to buy fuel tablets, which I would put in the fuel tank — one tablet for every 30 litres or as recommended — and that would improve fuel consumption to 13 kpl.

I sold the car eight months ago and replaced it with a 1995 1500cc Toyota AE100 LX model with an EFI engine that does 15.4 kpl.

I decided to try the fuel tablets on it but there is no significant change; the best it can do with or without the tablets is 16 kpl at an average speed of 100 km/h, which I do on the Nairobi-Embu highway.

I thought that with the tablets and the EFI engine, I would get better results, like 18 kpl. Why is this not the case? Please advise.

Phil

Fuel tablets belong in the same category as snake oil and Father Christmas; they are best left as bedtime stories. They NEVER work, much in the same way that Santa Claus will never show up at anyone’s house at Christmas time.

If you achieved a lower consumption with your E70, then the tablets had a psychological effect on you and turned you into a gentler driver, hence the improved economy. In simple terms, you have been buying a placebo.

Hey,

I have a Forester and I’m now thinking of buying a Wingroad for the sole reason that the price is fair and the interior does not look too bad.

Kindly tell me what I will be getting myself into with this car and if you think I should put out this fire. Thank you.

Flo

From a “personal friend” point of view, I’d ask you to “put out this fire”. But if you owed me money, I’d say ditch the Forester, get a Wingroad and pay me sooner than immediately.

As it is, it is entirely up to you. I don’t entirely agree with your judgment of the Wingroad’s interior, but this is an apple juice-lemon juice sort of thing, so I will not dictate matters of taste.

Beware of the car’s flimsiness and watch out for various electronics, especially the dashboard lights. They may light up like a Christmas tree once in a while.

Stick to proper roads if a suspension overhaul is not on your budget in the near future. Fuel is not a problem, nor is the asking price.

Hello,

I will be a first car owner very soon and need your advice. I am thinking of getting one of these Japanese “econoboxes”; FunCargo, Passo, Vitz or a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. If you were in my situation, what would you go for?

Sandra

If I was in that position I would go for a Vitz, but not for the reasons you might think. It turns out that when a Vitz is supercharged, it becomes a pint-sized Bugatti Veyron for those living close to the poverty line.

What do you expect from these cars? Forget any sort of performance (you could supercharge a Vitz though) and forget space. If it is economy you are after, any of these cars will do, but the Pajero Mini is not a very smart choice.

It is a very smart choice, however, if light off-roading forms part of your weekend activities.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes A160, a 2000 model, which is a beautiful little car. But a year ago I blew up the sump pan after hitting a stone while driving on a rough road.

This damaged the gear box and it cost me almost another car to fix.

During my time at the garage, I learnt that these cars are poorly designed and heard that almost all of them experience a gearbox failure in their lifetime. Others say that the Mitsubishi Cedia also suffers from the same illness.

In summary, these small cars tend to have a problem with the gearbox design.

I’m now scared of these small cars and have lost faith in them. What do you have to say about them?

Small cars are awful, and you get what you pay for. You see, small cars exist so that the not-so-well-to-do can also experience the world of motoring, but these cars are half-baked lest the not-so-well-to-do forget their station in life and think they are now haves and have-mores.

Truth is, for small cars to be as cheap as they usually are, R&D costs have to be minimised, and cheap, fragile materials used to build them. Learn to accept this.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Nissan B15 and it recently developed a fuel pump problem. I changed the pump but the new one is now producing some funny noise when I start the car or when moving.

The mechanic tells me that new pumps behave that way and that the noise will go away in time. What do you think? The car is also consuming more fuel than before.

Your mechanic seems to think every component of a car needs a bedding-in period to work properly, but this is not always the case.

What is the noise like? It may be that you are running on low fuel and the pump is sucking a mixture of fuel and air (and sometimes just the scent of fuel) hence making a buzzing noise.

Or maybe you have sludge in your tank and it is getting into your pump, in which case the new pump will go the way of the old one. Check these two theories out, if it is none of the above, get back to me.

Hello Baraza,

Do you have any experience with the Citroen C3 Super Mini, specifically the 1.4-litre petrol model in the Kenyan market?

I understand that, in accordance with its manufacturer’s (PSA Group) policy, the C3’s chassis was used for the Peugeot 1007 and 207, and that many of its components are the same as those of the 206. Is this true? You have written of your experience with Peugeot models, so I am hoping you can advise me on this.

Also, I would like to hear your thoughts on why the Citroen WRC team tends to excel consistently with their range of Citroen racing cars. I thought that, on this basis alone, people would be buying this make, but you can hardly sport a modern-day Citroen on our roads.

Mwaura

I have not had much experience with Citroens, new or old, nor have I had much experience with the new crop of Peugeots. The newest I’ve tried is the 307, I think, which is currently obsolete anyway.

It is true that some Citroen cars share platforms and components with Peugeot products. Whether or not the franchise will take this into consideration is a matter of conjecture.

Citroen’s WRC success comes from a variety of factors, some of which include a strong team and the withdrawal of past supremos like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Also, the Citroen WRC is not on sale as is, while back in the day, the Impreza WRC, Lancer Evo, and even Group B monstrosities like Lancia’s Delta HF and Stratos could be bought in a spec very close to that of the competition car.

Kenya’s taste in cars is an odd one. Citroen cars in Europe enjoy a huge market, especially with the successful DS3 (a new car), but here in Kenya, if the car is not Japanese, then it had better be cheap to buy, cheap to run and its spares readily available for plucking from the nearest tree.

Hi Baraza,

Why do you say the B14 belongs to the gutter when I was thinking of getting one? Second, what would you say of the Mazda Familia in terms of fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, what would be a good car in the rural area where I work and operate a chemist? And would you recommend a second-hand auto or manual?

Eliud

Drive the B14’s main competitor, the Corolla 110, and you will see where Nissan went wrong. Check power, suspension and build quality especially. The Mazda Familia is an OK car on both fronts.

What exactly will this rural-based car you seek do? And how is the infrastructure in that rural zone? These two questions will decide the type of car to buy. Auto or manual is entirely up to you. Which one do you prefer?

Hello,

My friend bought some Tata 407 trucks in a public auction by a parastatal and wants to sell one of these to me. Please advice on cost, maintenance and fuel consumption. Do you think it would be a wise investment?

Given what it is, it cannot cost much. Given that it is sold locally, maintenance should not be too difficult. And given that it is diesel-powered, fuel consumption should not be too high.

Whether or not it is a wise investment, hmmm… I find it crude and badly built at best, with poorly contained NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and unresolved design. So many of these that I see on the road smoke harder than wet firewood. You decide.

Hey Baraza,

I own a 1977 Range Rover Classic three-door model with an original 3528cc petrol engine. My mechanic proposes that we fit it with a TD27 power plant for better fuel economy.

He further proposes that we retain its original four-speed gearbox. Please advise on the merits and demerits of this move.

Macharia

Die-hard Land Rover lovers like me will deride you for installing the engine of a Japanese commercial vehicle into something as regal as a Range Rover Classic.
More importantly, how does your mechanic know that the engine will fit? The 3.5 was a V8, the TD27 is an in-line four. And then the gear ratios may not be appropriate.

Baraza,

I want to buy my first car, which must be either a Toyota NZE or a Premio, and there are some issues I would like you to advise me on.

1. Is it true that a 1800cc Premio has a fuel consumption similar to that of a 1500cc NZE?

2. What is the meaning of the alphabet letters at the end of the model name, like Premio G, and Corolla X?

3. How can a 1200cc Datsun have a speedometer reading a top speed of 200 km/h and a 3000cc Prado have one ending at 180km/h?

4. If an 1800cc Premio and a 3000cc Prado are driven on a straight 20-kilometre stretch, both at a speed of 120km/h, which car will reach the end before the other?

1. Depends on very many things. How and where are they driven? How loaded are they? Their aerodynamic profiles? The 1800 might be more economical at highway speeds but thirstier in town, though by a very small difference, if everything else is kept constant.

2. It is what we call spec levels, or trim levels: cloth vs leather seats, wood vs aluminium trim and such. These letters differentiate the various spec levels.

3. It is mostly because at the factory, the 1200 was given a 200 km/h speedo while the Prado was given one maxed at 180 km/h. Actually, the Prado is most likely ex-Japan while the 1200 isn’t. In Japan, there was a gentleman’s agreement that all cars made in Japan will have a power cap at 280 hp and will be limited to 180 km/h. Finally, a 1200cc at 200 km/h is drivable. A Prado at 200 km/h (if it can even get there) is a handful.
4. This is not a very well thought out question. Read it again. Which one do you think will get to the other end first?

Dear Baraza,

What is the fuel consumption of a 1000cc Toyota Platz? Can this car be driven for over 500 km? Does it have a problem in climbing a road that is steep?

If I take a Platz on an economy run on the highway, I can clock 22kpl. I have managed that in an EP 82 Starlet. I have a friend, though, who I am sure will do no better than 8kpl.

The difference between us is body mass (I am a bean pole) and driving style (when the mood takes me I can be ridiculously snail-like in pace). Go figure.

About the driving distance, yes it can. Surely, there would be no Platzes (Platices?) on our roads if they could only drive 500km or less (other cars get to hundreds of thousands of kilometres before dying).

If you are asking whether it can do 500km in one shot, then the answer is maybe. I wouldn’t risk it though, one or two stops in between are advisable.

How steep is the road? If the slope has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or what we call a 50 per cent incline (forgive the jargon, this simply means the slope is at 45 degrees off the horizontal), then no. But a Land Cruiser can. Much gentler slopes can be tackled in a Platz, though.

Baraza,

We all know that Kenyan number plates are some of the ugliest in the East African region. As a result, many owners, especially of high-end cars, are getting customised plastic plates with all types of artistic fonts and customisation.

What is the rule on such plates? Are they illegal and can one be arrested for having them? Does KRA issue customised number plates, and how does this work?

Moses

As far as I recall, custom plates were and are still illegal. This includes funny fonts and personalised plates, like BARAZA 1. One can be arrested for having them.

Thing is, these are mostly found on high-end cars, and there is no telling who is being transported inside that car. I doubt if there is a traffic police officer willing to risk his employment just because he pulled over the “clandestine arrangement” of a high-ranking individual for having illegal plates.
JM,

I came across an article about the CVT transmission (specifically in Honda cars) and was amazed that they perform way better than all others in terms of fuel economy and power output.

Yet we Kenyans remain stuck with the Toyota mentality. Now I think I know why you were quite positive about Honda cars, though a select few. Maybe you could tell folks around here to look at that brand.

Yes, it’s true, CVTs are close to sorcery in operation and efficiency. Don’t be so quick to deride Toyotas though, they do have CVTs also (Allion, Wish…), but not all. Some are just regular automatics.

And no, that is not why I rave about Hondas. I like Hondas chiefly because of the high-revving, dual-natured VTEC engines (where available) and the trick helical differentials that make the front-wheel-drive variants such sweet cars to drive and corner with.