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To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

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Explain how a car engine works to a 6-year-old? They’ll learn nothing

Hi Baraza,

Over the past one year I have been reading your articles and have to say nowadays I find myself making smart car comments thanks to you, even though I am yet to own one. I was asked by my nephew whether cars have stomachs and the questioning deteriorated towards embarrassing as I tried to explain how cars “drink” fuel and use it to move.  Would you be so kind as to explain the working of a car engine in a way that a six-year-old would understand. Alexius M

I have wracked my mind-brain for a clean week-and-a-half concerning this matter and arrived at the following conclusion: a six-year old will never understand the working of a car engine, no matter how oversimplified the explanation gets.

The best one I can come up with is this: petrol goes into the tank, from the tank it goes to the engine, in the engine it gets burnt out of sight and this burning produces the vroom-vroom sound and makes the car move.

Anything beyond this will start involving talk of combustion cycles, crankshafts, chemical reactions, compression and whatnot, and 1. Six-year olds have no idea what these are, and 2.

Six-year olds have notoriously short attention spans and you will probably lose them long before you start explaining the role of a fuel pump

INACCURACIES

As a car enthusiast, I find your responses to queries from your readers factually accurate…most of the time.

However, your take on the debate between the Merc E240 211 and the Bima E39 had glaring inaccuracies, first of which was that the E240 is a 2600cc V6 engine, and not 2400cc as is commonly assumed.

The E39 Bima has a straight six, or inline engine if you like, that is 2500cc. The differential 100cc is in favour of the Merc.

Secondly, the Merc doesn’t have the electronic issues you mentioned. The starter regulates the cranking and automatically disengages once the motor fires, leading to almost no wear and tear.

The central locking/plipper, electrical windows, etc. are all regulated by a system called Canbas, which makes diagnostics practically kids’ play given the right tool set.

I suspect the people who have had issues have never really had their cars worked on by experts.

COMFORTABLE RIDE
Thirdly, the Merc has a more comfortable ride with excellent response. The 211 was a vast improvement on the 210 and can take on the Bima, both in straight runs and cornering.

The details are in the suspension system. I own both cars and overall, the Merc takes our road conditions well and ages very gracefully compared to the Bima.

I suspect it’s the reason you will find them, rather than Bimas, serving as VIP escorts in the presidential motorcade.

Please Countercheck my facts and revise your views accordingly.
L Khafafa

Interesting. From your response, I can tell you are a Mercedes fan (and possibly pundit), a fact that comes to light given that you have chosen to extol the virtues of the wrong car.

You are talking about a W211 while my response was in reference to the W210; the same car that you say the W211 was a vast improvement of.

The E39 BMW 5 Series was a direct rival of the W210, not the W211. The latter Merc’s BMW competitor is the rather awkward-looking E60 model.

That said, I agree with all your views about the W211, more so in comparison to the E39, but why compare fresh apples with overripe oranges? The oranges don’t stand a chance, do they?

While the E39 vs W210 showdown leaves a noticeable gap between the two Teutonic titans — a gap in favour of the blue propeller — a similar standoff between both their successors makes it harder to pick a winner.

Sure, the W211 is far prettier than the E60 (a minger, if you ask me), but the E60 is more of a driver’s car. The E60 is more responsive, the W211 is more comfortable.

GEARBOX IMPROVEMENT

The E60’s automatic gearbox could do with some improvement; the W211’s manual gearbox could do with some improvement.

The E270 CDI and E320 CDI are paragons of efficiency, the 530d can be an alternative M5 through some simple tweaks and increasing the boost pressure in the turbos.

This leaves one in a quandary. Mid-size premium German saloons are as much about status as they are about comfort, and nowhere will you find gravitas and pamper if you can’t find it in a Mercedes.

But German saloons are also about blowing cheaper machinery out of the water, both on an autobahn at 300km/h and in a twisty backroad on a Sunday morning, and the BMW is the Walther PPK you need for this exercise: it handles better and is faster than the equivalent Benz.

For a good ride, get the Merc. For a good drive, get the BMW.

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations on the good work you are doing to enlighten us about cars.

My question is related to tyres. Who or what determines the use of low- or high-profile tyres? Are there any significant benefits or differences between them?
Fred

Hello,
The use of low or high-profile tyres is determined for the most part by two factors: personal preference and application.

Personal preference: The biggest difference in these tyre types is felt most by the driver/owner. Low-profile tyres trade mostly on looks and appearance, while high-profile tyres offer greater comfort.

More often than not, the low-profile tyres you see fitted on cars are put there because they simply look good, while thicker sidewalls are normally used where a plushy ride is the desired effect.

Application: There is the 10 per cent or so of drivers who install tyres according to exactly how they intend to use them. Low-profile tyres are good for handling and road-holding, which is why any vehicle with sporty pretensions has them.

The thinner sidewalls resist flex to a higher degree compared to taller rubbers, thus eliminating understeer and/or oversteer, and also sharpen the handling.

In a vast majority of cases, tyres with thin sidewalls tend to have a wider tread, which in turn means increased grip levels.

OFF-ROADING
High-profile tyres are ideal for off-roading. The chunky doughnuts allow for a more detailed and deeply grooved tread pattern and also give allowance for regulated tyre pressures (different off-road conditions call for different tyre pressures).

The fatter air cushion also filters out the bumps, holes and surface imperfections that define off-road conditions.

There is also reduced risk of damage to the rims and/or the tyres themselves peeling off the rim in extreme conditions.

Hi Baraza,
I have used Xado Revitalizant and trust me, it works! I used the 1 Stage Engine Revitalisant in my 2005 Nissan Wingroad and there is a significant difference, especially with power output. I read that you also want to use Revitalisant for automatic transmissions in your Mazda Demio (Haha!)… It’s strange since you never tell us the things you use in your car. Do you also run on V-Power?

Hello,
Interesting. So the Russian juice works, eh? I’m almost at the end of the research stage with the Xado gearbox oil and my results will be out sooner rather than later.

One question, though: the power jump you refer to, is it an actual increase in power or is it better engine response? I don’t think an oil additive would contribute anything to the power output of an engine unless there was compression leakage originally which has since been cured.

Now, to my Demio. It has a manual transmission (Duh!), not automatic, and it is the guinea pig in use for the experiment mentioned above. I sometimes run on V Power but have no particular formula.

I put about 20 litres of V Power every now and then, the now and then in question being 1: when I can afford it and 2: if I can afford it and the pump attendant asks, “Premium or V Power?”

Hi,
There is no turning back once you go Prado. I bought a 2006 VVT- I and keeping to the speed limits and below 2500rpm, it uses less fuel to Kisumu than my Noah. Now I find excuses to travel upcountry often. You are right.

Of course I’m right: a 5-door Landcruiser Prado is about all the car you will ever need if your driving covers a wide range of conditions and includes an equally wide range of loads, both human and nonhuman; and your situation precludes the ownership/operation of more than one motor vehicle.

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Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).

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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Hello,
Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.

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Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).

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Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?

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Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

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Chevrolet Utility and Hino 500, the game has just changed

Chevrolet Utility half-tonne pick-up

What is it? This is General Motors’ smallest commercial vehicle on sale currently. It is a tiny little pick-up meant for small deliveries.

When I say small, I mean cargo not exceeding two metres in length, two metres wide and 500kg mass. It is a weird-looking thing, with an unusual face, sort of like what an E60 BMW 5 Series would get if it ever mated with a Chevy Silverado full-size truck, and the resultant offspring was severely malnourished. I know that description does not make sense, but I defy anyone to accurately describe that countenance.

It is new in our market, as was evidenced by the incessant gawps and stares I received as I did my rounds around town in typical stop-start Nairobi traffic.

The quirks do not end there: unlike most other commercial vehicles where the payload area is massive and the driver cabin small (like a regular pickup or a lorry), this one is the other way round: most of the vehicle consists of the bonnet and passenger cell. The load bay looks like it was added to accommodate the rear axle, if nothing else. It actually reminds me of those tuk-tuk pickups that nobody ever buys. It is not so bad though.

I’m a businessman, let’s talk money: This car will cost you Sh1.8 million.

What do I get for my investment? For your outlay, you end up with a half-tonne pick-up that is surprisingly fun to drive. The handling is (almost) secure in spite of the crude suspension (leaf springs, anyone?).

There is understeer when you turn in hard, oversteer when you lift off mid-corner and circus-like body roll when you decide to do a slalom (zig-zag to avoid obstacles).

The long-travel suspension struggles to cope but if you try hard enough, you could get one rear wheel wiggling in the air for a moment or so.

You might be wondering why I am talking about the driving characteristics of a vehicle in a niche where handling rarely matters. Well, you see, for a car this size, you will most likely be doing small town-bound deliveries, some of them urgent; like office supplies, delivering perishables, aka food (one can only imagine the kind of party where a large amount of food is put away by the guests) or rapid parcel drop-offs. So that means some manoeuvering “a-la-emergency vehicle” might be in the books.

I took the Utility hard through a roundabout, countersteering on the exit and it danced like a badly set up enthusiast’s project. It was hilarious.

The interior is basic and feels cheap. Nothing is powered, except for the steering. The windows are wind-up affairs, as are the mirrors, the A/C does not work properly (but at least it’s there), you only get two seats, and in between them are three stalks.

Two of them are the receptacles for the metal tongues on the seat belts. The third one is the handbrake. The gear lever is fore of the handbrake….

About that gear lever: reverse is up and to the right, next to first gear. This might sound like a recipe for a big mistake, especially on a hill-start, but there is a small party piece to mitigate disaster. Subaru Boys, where are you? The gear lever is equipped with a “switch” of sorts, which you have to tug upwards and hold in place for the lever to slide into reverse. Just like an Impreza STi. Huh.

About that reverse: It adds to the cheap feel of the car. To save money (my own guess), reverse gear is not synchronised (this I am sure). Cue some grating noises at the office car park when executing an egress from a parking space. Cue some nosy watchman walking up to the car and asking if you have stepped on the clutch pedal all the way. Cue some nasty, “do-I-look-like-a-child” looks from yours truly.

It requires patience and deftness of palm to get into reverse; you can’t just slam the lever into position and shoot off backwards. Not a good getaway vehicle then…

To make the delivery driver’s life easier, there is a radio. By radio, I mean a thumping stereo with impressive sound. I’d give it a rating of three-and-a-half speakers out of six, where the 2013 Range Rover and its otherworldly sound system scores six out of six. Compare, and go figure.

This radio has the best functionality I have ever come across and always look for in a car: USB connection (in my line of work, I travel the world collecting flash drives, which I proceed to fill with music. In the course of collecting these memory sticks, I sometimes do a test-drive). The radio is also labelled “Bluetooth”, but ignore this. It is the same thing as me wearing a T-shirt labeled “World’s Sexiest Man”. We all know it’s not true, in spite of the misleading script. There is no Bluetooth.

You have not answered my question: The question being, is this car a worthy buy? Hell yeah! For two main reasons: the first being it is in a class of two.

The second is that being a General Motors product, we know the engineering behind it is focused. It is made as a commercial vehicle, and it will therefore serve its purpose.

The simplistic and elementary build also means there is little to go wrong, it will be easy to clean and repair and the car is both rugged and robust. The ground clearance is massive, but one let-down is that it is front-wheel drive. Traction will be an issue when fully loaded and driving uphill. I still give it a thumbs up though, unreservedly.

Class of two? Yep. There is only one known rival, the Nissan NP200. Once upon a time there were a lot more: Opels, Ford Bantams/Mazda Drifters, Datsun 1200s and Volkswagen Caddies, but not anymore. Only the Nissan is left. That being said, I did espy an Opel half-ton pickup at the self-same General Motors premises where I picked this car up. Are they planning to sell the Opel too? I don’t know.

Fun fact: General Motors know what a real road test is. I was given this vehicle for FIVE days. It is still parked outside my house at the time of writing.

Realistic facts: This is not the first time I have driven this car. I drove what I can only describe as the prototype in South Africa last year. The previous car felt truck-like in operation: it was a bit unrefined and felt agricultural. Then again, it was a demo vehicle, maybe it had seen some hard use.

Also, I maxed out the earlier car at 175 km/h. This car I am (still) driving does 100 km/h at 4,000 rpm in fifth gear, and the red line is at 6,500 rpm, so this means our version will not top 165 km/h. I got it to 150 then eased off, because we have speed cameras nowadays.

On to Hino 500 9.9-tonne GVW truck

Unlike GM who give their car a realistic name (Chevrolet Utility is actually a utility), Hino calls their truck the 500. What does the 500 stand for anyway? It is not engine capacity, it is not power output, it is not load capacity… what does the 500 mean? Anyway, that aside, let us have a look at it.

What is it? It is an opportunist, that is what it is. The 9.9-tonne truck class has proved to be the most lucrative commercial vehicle segment in Kenya, both in terms of sales and end user application. You didn’t think Toyota was going to miss out on this, did you? “Toyota?” you ask. Yes, Toyota’s truck division is Hino.

Cash? It will cost as much as three Chevy Utilities. However, Hino claims that you can acquire these vehicles on a zero per cent deposit finance package. It may be true, but I doubt if it applies to everybody; if it did I’d be having a fleet of 10 right now, then I’d try and work out how they will pay for themselves. I think the zero per cent deposit works on the same principles as those of bank loans: to qualify for it, you must first prove that you don’t need it.

What do I get for my investment? What you get is Kenya’s newest non-Chinese commercial vehicle, with backing from the most reliable car company in the world. It is also (allegedly) the best-selling truck in Japan, but this is not Japan. Around here we have the Mitsubishi FH as the best-seller. Go to Machakos and see what I’m talking about.

The truck looks funny from outside. The indicators are bigger than the headlamps, which leaves critical minds like mine asking: what the hell for? The headlamps themselves are set in the bumper, which is usually the part of a truck/bus/matatu that experiences the most beating within the first three months of operation. In bus form, you get a massive logo at the back just to remind those who are about to overtake you that you are, in fact, driving a Hino.

Even if you are overtaken, you will not be frustrated. The driver area is modern and well thought out. The truck is easy to drive, and everything is intuitive, especially if you have driven trucks before. The only problem is that this is not a vehicle you will enjoy driving when empty (no fault of Hino’s, all its rivals also suffer the same difficulties).

Unladen, it is hard and bouncy, especially over bumps. At 100 km/h, crosswinds are going to give you hell. You have to keep sawing away at the wheel just to stay on the road.

Being new, it is hard to say exactly what it’s strong points are… or rather, its weaknesses (these lorries are almost all the same). I know those of its rivals. The Mitsubishi FH 215 is on high demand, so it is a bit hard to come by a good unit at a fair price. Also, it has been with us unchanged for 17 years… those are two life cycles in automobile years; surely an update is long overdue?

The Nissan Diesel UD MKB 210 is noisy, and falls apart a bit quickly. The Isuzu FRR has a massive engine (8,200cc) with no discernible power or torque gains on the competition (all of which have sub-7,000cc engines); and this huge engine makes it costly to buy. Anything Chinese will get you laughed at. The Mercedes Atego is… well, it’s a Benz. Enough said. And I think it is time these vehicles got turbocharged, none of them has a boosted engine. Not even Hino.

Hino claims the 500 will return 5kpl to 6 kpl of on-the-road operation, so they keep chanting about “fuel economy”. I don’t know what to say to this.

So, should I buy one?

If you can qualify for that zero per cent deposit thing, then sure, why not? Sounds like a plan. Other than that, its rivals seem to have cemented their status in this market. The FH has the truck class firmly in its grip, while the FRR and the MKB210 are sharing what I call the “bus-truck” segment: bus bodies mounted on truck chasses, like City Hoppa vehicles and those gaudily decorated Githurai PSVs. Toyota and/or Hino have their work cut out penetrating this market.

Fun Fact: My friend, The Jaw, does not know how to use the exhaust brake on a truck. I almost choked on my sugarcane stifling laughter when he kept asking why the exhaust brake was not activating in spite of him stirring and twirling the column-mounted stalk every which way. Take your foot off the clutch, you clown, and release the accelerator pedal completely. Ha-ha!

Conclusion: Both these cars are new in the market. Only time will tell how the public reacts to them, but from my end, they get a recommendation, especially the little Chevy. For full spec sheets and finance packages available on purchasing, please contact the manufacturers… or your bank manager.

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Why is this BMW not on our roads?

Hi Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a BMW 3 series E90 (320i). My query is: Why does it have rave reviews in Europe, yet it hardly features on our roads? Is there something about the car that I may have overlooked?

Second, I am told it is a rear-wheel-drive. How does that affect stability?

Third, Mercedes lovers here categorise it as an inferior car, especially in terms of durability. Is there any truth to this? Does this affect safety? Or is it just BMW-bashing by Merc fanboys? They say a Mercedes ages better than a BMW, is there any truth to this?

Finally, in your opinion, how reliable is the 3 Series BMW. Thanks for reading this and keep up the good work.

Jim

The reason the E90 BMW has rave reviews in Europe and elsewhere is that it, like almost every other 3 Series BMW before it (but not necessarily after it), is a fine car. There are a few on our roads, obviously bought new, for the most part.

The reason you do not see many on these roads is that we discovered something called a grey import market, where one can get seven- or eight-year-old, good-as-new cars from overseas at a quarter of the original showroom price.

No need to pay Sh6 million or so for a brand-new car when six years down the line you will get that same car, slightly used, at Sh1.5 million. That is the thinking behind most Kenyans who steer clear of buying brand-new cars and the associated benefits, and instead gamble on buying a car that they cannot see from people they cannot see on the Internet.

What I am driving at is: Give it some time and you will see the car festoon our city roads. It is almost always used in the city. Any time now… and no, I do not think you overlooked anything. The E90 really is a good car.

Yes, it is rear-drive. And some are also 4WD. The effect on stability? It makes the car a bit oversteery, but only if you have the traction control fully disengaged.

The beauty of the BMW stability control programme is that there are varying degrees of intrusion; it is not an on-or-off setup, like a wall socket. You can actually select how much nannying to receive from the electronics. “Hoons” (overly enthusiastic drivers) prefer the rear-drive setup compared to front-drive because it is easy to “get the tail out” (oversteer).

It is a fun thing to do if you know what you are doing, and it looks very impressive to anybody who is not a traffic policeman. A traffic policeman will nab you if he spots you oversteering through a roundabout.

For those of limited ability when it comes to chucking a vehicle about, the advice is to keep the traction control on and maybe stick to front-drive cars. So, yes, the BMW is stable. And balanced. And well set-up. It will not surprise you if you stay within your limits.

There have been long-standing wars between rival camps in almost all aspects of our lives. Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards. Coke vs Pepsi. Condoms vs abstinence. Mercedes vs BMW. Rarely will you get one faction saying good things about the other, and this is no exception.

The E90 is not any less reliable than the C Class Benz… if anything, since the invention of the C Class, Mercs have not been famous for their reliability (this is from the same Europeans who “raved” about the E90). It is only in the early-to-mid-2000s that the legendary Mercedes quality and fastidiousness came back to its line of road cars.

But why am I discussing the Benz; you wanted to know about the BMW. The BMW is well-built, carefully engineered, and will not age badly if you maintain it well. I have a friend who has, among other things, an E46 330i and it looks brand-new. I would buy it from him at showroom price very easily, especially if I was drunk and not thinking straight…

A Mercedes and a BMW will age at more or less the same rate, keeping all factors constant. And the BMW is no more unreliable than a Benz… if anything, it could be better.

I hope this was of some help.

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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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Take care of your Passat and it won’t disappoint

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the opportunity once more. Some time back I asked you about the 1999 VW Polo, 1600cc, and what you said is what I got. I loved the performance of the car, even though it was old.

Now I have a year 2000 VW Passat, 1800cc. Kindly educate me on the following features:

I’m told its turbo-supercharged, what does this mean?

It has a 2,3,4,D,N,R,P arrangement on the gear console. When do I use 2,3, and 4?

What is the best oil to use on the engine?

I use organic coolant from Total instead of plain water, is it right, and is there any other coolant that is better than the two?

Finally, kindly tell me in general, from your experience and knowledge, the advantages and disadvantages of this car, engine performance (on- and off-road, short and long distance).

Henry Opondo

Hello Mr Opondo. Here are your answers:

“Turbo-supercharged” is the full name for what we call “turbocharging”. This is where the engine is fitted with a device called a turbocharger (sometimes called “turbo”, “blower”, “turbine” or by its brand name: you might hear pundits claiming “I have a TD04 bolted onto my engine…”).

This turbocharger is made up of two fans: one, called the turbine, is turned by the exhaust gases exiting the engine. This turbine is connected via a shaft to another fan, called the impeller.

The rotation of the turbine is transferred through the shaft to the impeller, whose resultant rotation creates a principle similar to a vacuum cleaner: it sucks air into the engine at a pressure higher than 1 atmosphere. This means a greater mass of air goes into the engine than usual, and consequently, the engine develops more power/torque.

2,3 and 4 are used to “lock” the automatic transmission to prevent it from shifting up. “2” will not let it go beyond 2nd gear, “3” limits it to 3rd gear and “4” to 4th.

Though you can live your entire driving life without using these lever positions (D is enough for 98 per cent of all driving circumstances), there are two situations in which to use them: a) When in need of an extra burst of power, such as when overtaking: If you are driving along in D, then you feel you need some good acceleration, stomp on the accelerator.

If the revs are too low (thus low pulling power), slide the lever into “4”. If the car was in 5th gear, it will downshift into 4th and the revs will rise and the engine will pull harder. If the transmission was in 4th gear and you select “4”, nothing happens.

In that case, slide the lever further back into 3. Same applies all the way down to 2. I’m surprised there isn’t a “1”, but you won’t need it anyway. A way in which we road testers and some brain-donor street racer-types abuse such a gearbox is to drive it like a “manual”, i.e take off with the lever in “2” instead of D.

These transmissions are programmed to work with the engine at a rev range that will yield the best fuel economy and the smoothest shifts. This rev range, sadly, does not fall within what we call the “power band” (this power band is usually found near the red line).

So the car tends to change gears at mid-range revs. By locking it in 2, the hooning driver is sure he will hit the red-line (peak power), at which point he slides the lever into 3. The gearbox, by now wondering what is going on, then goes into 3rd gear. Red line.

Slide into 4. Gearbox goes into 4th. Dial up to the red line. That is the point where we can now select D and let the gearbox do its thing. Ideal for winning a drag race in an automatic car, bad for fuel economy and gearbox life-span. Don’t try this at home.

The other situation in which these lever positions are used is even more impertinent for passenger cars: It is ideally used in pickups, heavy trucks and commercial vehicles (yes, some of these are also automatic), and that is when engine-braking.

Engine braking is when one uses the compression resistance of the engine to slow down the car. The lower the gear the transmission is in, the greater the retardation effect of the engine braking.

Engine braking is as simple as getting you foot off the accelerator when the car is in gear. The lever position (and hence gear “lock”) used depends on the severity of slope one is descending.

Very gentle slopes can be tackled in 4, and the position goes further down into 3 and 2 the steeper the downhill slant gets. So for gradients close to vertical, you had best be in 2 or L/1 if your car is so equipped.

I’d say go for any synthetic oil of the correct grade and viscosity index from a reputable brand. There are some oil brands that have been known to incur grief on many a penny-pinching motorist.

High performance oils (Shell Helix, Castrol GTX, Mobil 1 etc) are good but superfluous for an unstressed engine. And they cost a bit more, but at least that way you will be sure.

The coolant is OK, no problems with that, but to save some money on the forecourt, most motorists are advised to mix the coolant with water (in varying ratios, starting from 1:1 all the way to 1:9, depending on which “expert” you are talking to). Don’t put plain coolant into the radiator, it is a pointlessly expensive exercise.

Engine performance is good, because it is a 1.8. I’d say “gooder”, because it also has a turbo. Don’t take it off-road though. It is ideal for long distances, but requires to be watched very closely on short runs because, again, of the turbo.

Hello Baraza,

Folks have been buying some old luxury vehicles for their daily use of late, and I really do not understand the thinking because of the mechanical inefficiencies of these cars.

Still, I am interested in a classic Range Rover from the 1980-94 era, 3-litre EFi fitted with a manual transmission. Could you shed some light on this marque, especially on:

Reliability: As compared to its successors —the 4.0, 4.6 HSE, 4.4 Vogue/TD8 and the mighty, supercharged 5.0.

Safety: In terms of roll over, collapsible steering, cabin (is it comparable to the Mercs?

Simple Mechanics: As in any qualified mechanic or electrician can work on it.

Replacements: Timing chains and any other parts that wear out periodically.

A Chege

Pots and kettles, eh? Or is it “if you can’t beat them…”? Anyway, I’m not judging, I also desire to own and drive a Classic Rangie.

Reliability: Poor. Even poorer if it is factory-spec. Most members of owners clubs worldwide found ways of circumventing the Range Rover Classic’s various infidelities, so you might want to get cozy with these folks for a less painful experience. The 4.0 and 4.6 HSE were not much better, if anything, the 4.6 was notoriously fickle in the electrical department and when (not if) the air suspension leaked, the car became undriveable (this I say from experience).

The later models were a vast improvement, courtesy of BMW’s input into the production protocols.

Safety: Poor also. The frame chassis, built out of steel, meant your Range Rover Classic had the upper hand in case of an accident. But that was just it: the car had the upper hand, not you.

The shock wave transmitted through the chassis meant whiplash would become a common affliction for the accident-prone: your car would survive the accident, but you most likely wouldn’t.

These were the days before crumple zones and energy absorption were discovered (by Mercedes). Roll-over probability was also high for pre-1989 models. Hard cornering meant the door-handles would almost scrape the tarmac, but this was easily curable by installing stiff sway bars at the back and a strut tower bar at the front, which then made the engine almost inaccessible as the stabiliser would pass over the carburettors.

Rudimentary build and simple design mean these are cars whose biggest problems could be solved using a Hayne’s manual, a well-equipped toolbox, a spacious garage (or driveway) and a sense of determination.

There are jobs that will still test your skill to the limit, though: balancing the carburettors on the old 3.5 litre V8. You need a special tool and the patience of Job to get it right (this, again, from experience).

The rudimentary build in 3 above means replacing parts is easy. Also, the use of the modular V8 engine means you can pilfer parts from other cars, and not necessarily within the Rover family either. If you have the wherewithal, you could do the Overfinch Range Rover Classic: it has the 5.7 litre General Motors V8, which can be seen in any number of cars from the US to Australia.

Mr. Baraza,

I own a 1995 Mercedes Benz C180 which heats up to over 110 degrees and above in traffic jams or whenever I engage low gears, but it cools down to slightly below 80 degrees once I am out of the jam or engage high gears. One mechanic said it was the fan clutch, which I replaced and even removed the thermostat, but the problem persists. Otherwise, it’s a very good car. Please advise.

Ogall G Kennedy

Your mechanic says it’s the fan clutch then goes ahead and removes the thermostat? What gives? If the fan runs erratically (sometimes on, sometimes off, irrespective of condition), then the fan clutch is the problem.

My suggestion would have been to set the clutch in the permanently engaged position as a temporary fix. If the fan clutch is not working properly, removal of the thermostat may not really cure the symptom or problem.

If you choose this path (constant engagement), be careful to not leave your car with the ignition in the ON position (with the engine off) for too long because the fan might keep running on battery power and the car will refuse to start as a consequence.

Have you considered other possibilities? Have you checked the coolant level in the radiator? Maybe the radiator is full of dirt and the airways are partly clogged.

At rest, no air is going through so the engine heats up really fast, but in motion, the air is forced through the radiator courtesy of the car literally “cutting” through the air, so the engine cools as the car moves but warms up at rest.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a small scale farmer and have been using an old Ford Courier pick up whose maintenance cost is extremely high. I have seen a TATA pick up fitted with 2956cc diesel engine and a very spacious flat bed body.

The only problem is the roaring sound the engine makes — similar to that of a tractor! Would this be a good vehicle? My only alternative is a second-hand Toyota?

I don’t know much about the 207 DI (except for the reminder that some things clatter and roar in an uncharismatic manner, sounding almost as bad as our MPs demanding a Sh 9m-apiece send-off package).

No complaints have surfaced about this car (unlike the case with our parliamentarians) so I’m guessing it would not be a bad buy in the foreseeable future. Try one. At least you can rest assured that if it goes wrong it will not be expensive to maintain (again, unlike our Honorable Members): TATAs are easy on the pocket, both in purchase and running costs.

Baraza,

Habari ya leo? You have done some articles on the Galant GDI 1998 model in the past. Kindly share them with me. Also, I recently changed the rear shocks of my Galant and it’s now making some squeaky noises. What could be the cause? Looking forward to hearing from you.

Moses

I’ve actually only answered some few questions about the Galant, I have not done a full article on one yet. Maybe I should. The squeaky noises are because the shocks are new.

Give them some time to bed-in properly then they will be quiet. If they don’t shut the hell up then they are not sitting properly in their mounts (huge tolerances or out of line) and so some metal parts are rubbing against each other, creating the squeak. My vote is on the first surmise.

Posted on

Mark II, Verossa, Mark X and Camry: Same stuff

Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota Premio, year 2000 model, and would like to upgrade to a Camry or Mark X. I do not do a lot of out-of-town driving — maybe three times a year to western Kenya and five times to Nakuru — so I need the cars mostly for town service.

I expect to get power and comfort from the car I buy. I want to do 160KPH comfortably on the Narok-Bomet road but still not feel like I am pushing the engine too hard.

So, between the two, which is better in terms of performance, reliability, durability, and maintenance, and which would you recommend?

Martin.

Those two, along with the Mark II and the Verossa, are what we call “sister cars”, offering similar amenities on similar platforms with one or two differences here and there.

It is in this vein that the question goes back to you: do you prefer a front-wheel drive car (Toyota Camry) or a rear-wheel drive one (Mark X)? The Mark X also has the option of 4WD, the Camry does not. Otherwise they are similar in so many other ways.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your continued assistance in car reviews and advice. I have been searching for a low-priced car and the Suzuki Aerio has caught my eye.

The car looks good from the outside and the price is within my range. Following your advice that there may be better deals out there other than the conventional brands, I am tempted to risk buying this machine, only that I would highly appreciate your views on it beforehand.

It is almost the size of a Subaru Forester, and is a 1.5-litre two-wheel-drive (year 2005), so fuel consumption might not be an issue here.

My concern is availability of spare parts for this particular model because, unless I am wrong, it is a very rare piece. Also, is it reliable, though my use is the normal home-to-office run and an up-country visit over the weekend. In a nutshell, would it be suitable for a first-time car owner?

Regards,

Njomo JM

The Aerio has been accused of blandness in other markets, and from what I have seen, the estate version looks remarkably similar to a Toyota Spacio (another bland car).

Reliability does not seem problematic, nor is fuel economy, and in these days of the Internet, availability of spares is directly proportional to how badly you want a particular type of car.

Hi Baraza,

I am basically what you can refer to as a sufferer who loves speed and performance. In a profession which places a premium on appearances, and with a budget of between Sh600,000 and Sh700,000, I have my mind set on a Mercedes-Benz C Class, W202 or an E W124.

I, however, would like to get your two cents’ worth on maintenance, fuel consumption, and reliability of the two, bearing in mind that both have been used on Kenyan roads for over 10 years. In other words, which of the two would be a better buy?

Henry.

If keeping up appearances is a priority to you, then the three points you raise there are moot. Ask owners or drivers of the Range Rover P38A (what we use to call the “House”, the old 4.6 HSE) what I mean.

Ignore the tears streaming down their faces as they recall their ownership experiences and listen keenly to what they have to say as regards reliability, consumption, and maintenance.

In terms of common sense, the W202 wins on economy. Maintenance could also swing the 202 way because of the bigger service intervals. Reliability might favour the 124: those things simply do not break down.

Appearances turn the tables around. The 124 is a bigger car and looks more menacing. The 202 could be accused of looking a bit “lady-like”, and I know of people who consider the C Class as a beginner’s Benz (before the A Class was invented).

Hello,

Thanks for the great work you do. Yours is a very interesting read. I like your way with words; even novices can understand what you are talking about.

I own a Toyota Sprinter AE 114, manual transmission, full time 4WD. I have had problems with wheel alignment for a long time. Several mechanics have told me the alignment bushes on the arm have collapsed, and Toyota Kenya does not have the spares in stock.

Driving, even on a level highway, is a nightmare because I have to wrestle with the steering wheel. What can I do to remedy this?

Tiony AK.

I did not think I would ever say this to a reader, but it may be time for you to head “downtown” towards the infamous Kirinyaga Road. If the part is out of stock at Toyota Kenya, you might be lucky along that seedy avenue where cars are chopped and stripped of parts.

If I could find the fourth gear synchroniser unit for a manual transmission 1990 Peugeot 405 there, I am sure the steering system bushes of a more recent Toyota car can be found too.

Hello Baraza,

I bought a Toyota NZE 121, year 2005 model recently and there are two knobs that are confusing me. First, what is the work of the ‘Shift Lock’ button at the gear console?

And, second, on the gear lever are two knobs. What is the work of the smaller one? Please enlighten me because I have never touched them. The car is light, very fast, and pocket friendly. Kind regards,
JMM.

The ‘Shift Lock’ button, when pressed, allows the driver to change from ‘Park’ to ‘Neutral’ when the engine is off. You may have noticed that the gear lever will not move at all if the vehicle is off, and that might make towing a problem.

Now to the two buttons. The bigger one must be the one which is pressed when one of these is selected; ‘Park’ or ‘Reverse’.

This is a fail-safe feature to prevent the erroneous engagement of either of these selector positions, which would be detrimental to the gearbox if the vehicle is in forward motion. When pressed, at least that way the driver is sure of what he is doing.

The smaller button must be the ‘Overdrive’ switch. Keep the overdrive on, unless you are towing another vehicle or pulling a heavy load, in which case you can turn it off.

Hi Baraza,

We appreciate your help on motoring.

1. Recent high performance engines run best on high-octane fuels. What kind of fuel do Formula One monsters run on?

2. Does the same apply to super bikes?

3. What type of engine oil, transmission oil and lubricants do they use?

4. Could you demystify these Formula One cars for us?

Thank you,

Chris MM.

1. Formula One cars run on high octane fuels, as you may have already suspected.

2. Up to a point, yes. Though bikes can easily run on lower octane stuff without much risk of blowing an engine or pre-ignition.

3. F1 cars mostly use synthetic oils of the high performance variety. Stuff like Shell Helix (Ferrari) and Mobil 1 (McLaren, Mercedes).

4. Yes, it would be possible to demystify these things, but you see, I would need insider information, which is a closely guarded secret. The inner workings of naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine making 750hp is not something that is out there in the public.

All I know is that the power comes from the ability of those engines to rev to 15,000rpm or more, but that ability is what is kept mysterious to us lesser mortals. That is why you will never see a detailed photograph of anybody’s F1 engine: even mundane details like bolts sizes are kept away from the prying eye.

Dear Baraza,

I recently bought a Toyota Belta, 996cc engine, type 1KR-FE. The car is very nice for town service and fuel economy. A few questions though:

1: The engine vibrates a lot, especially at idling or when caught up in traffic and the air con is on. I have changed the plugs to manufacturer’s specs but there is no change. Is this vibration normal?

2: The ‘Check Engine’ and ‘ABS’ lights came on a while back and diagnosis has returned accelerator and front wheel ABS sensors. However, the parts are not available in Kenya and the local franchise is hopeless. Where can I get these?

3: What is the standard fuel consumption for this car? On the Net, some sites indicate 15KPL in town and 18KPL on the highway, while others talk of 12KPL in town and 15 on the open road. Mine consumes 11.5KPL in town and 15 on the highway.

Ken.

1. Vibration: It depends. How bad is the effect? It could be that the water pump/fan and/or the air-con are placing a huge load on the engine. Remember 996cc is not much to play with, so even a small peripheral accessory could have a significant effect on engine load. I once had a Toyota Starlet, EP82, 1300cc, and at night, when idling, if I put on the headlamps, I noticed the idling would change: the revs would dip slightly.

2. Buying sensors: You could always try the Internet. Search for the parts yourself or join a forum. There are always people selling stuff on those forums. If not, there might be someone with a car similar to yours who knows where to source these items.

3. Fuel economy: There is not such a thing as “exact fuel consumption”. The economy figure is highly dependent on several factors: Driving style. Driving environment (being stuck in traffic for three hours, for instance).

Gross Vehicle Weight. Aerodynamic profile. How much air-con is used. The figures quoted are a guideline; they are not set in stone. Different people will achieve different economy figures. Expect 12KPL in town and 15 on highway.

Hello,

I am looking for a vehicle, either a Toyota Corolla station wagon or a Nissan Wingroad. Please advise me on the following:

1: The resale value of each.

2: Which one can best withstand rough terrain?

3: Maintenance costs of each.

4: Availability of spare parts and their cost.

5: Is an automatic transmission as good as manual one, especially in old cars?

Finally, everyone in the rural areas is rushing for the Toyota Probox. What is so special about this car compared to other Toyota station wagons?

Thanks,

Lincoln S Njue.

1. Wingroads tend to age badly, so they do not hold their value well.

2. From 1 above, the Toyota could be a safer bet.

3. Sundry parts are the same: things like wiper blades, brake pads, oil… Model-specific spare parts should also not have too big a disparity in cost between the two cars.

4. See 3 above.

5. The automatic gearboxes in old cars were not too good. And manual transmissions offer better economy and accord the driver more control.

The Probox’s popularity comes from its cheapness and load capacity. Best in class.

Hello,

Thanks for your informative articles on cars. I always look forward to reading them. I drive a 2003 Subaru Legacy BL5, 2.0GT spec B, auto-manual that I would like to do Stage 2 tuning on. Where can I get such services in Nairobi?

Also, I changed my short block EJ20 and my car increased fuel consumption from 9.8KPL to 6.0KPL. Needless to say, I am suffering at the petrol pump. Even though my mechanic says most Subarus do 6.5KPL, what is the best solution to regain my 9.8KPL?

Regards,

Robertson Amalemba Lumasi.

I know of two places where you can get your car modified to Stage 2 level: Auto Art K Ltd, run by The Paji (Amir Mohamed), located behind Total Petrol Station, Gilgil Road, Industrial Area, and Unity Auto Garage, run by a man called Asjad, just a few metres away along Kampala Road.

To regain your previous economy figures, the simple straight answer is to revert to your old EJ20 engine. I do not know what you changed it to, so I cannot tell what exactly led to your high consumption.

What I can tell you is this: if fuel economy is a pain right now, you will be in tears once your car gets to Stage 2 status. Those things can be very thirsty, especially when thrashed.

Posted on

The Avensis is just another bland Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I have shipped in a Toyota Avensis from the UK and have been told of certain concerns regarding the car:

1. That parts are not locally available; I will have to get some spares, such as suspensions and ball joints, from Dubai.

2. That body parts can only be found upon placing a special order to the auto spares dealer shops along Kirinyaga Road. Are these concerns real?

Also, please comment on the performance, maintenance, as well as the merits and demerits. It is a 1.8-litre automatic model.

John

1. Visit Toyota Kenya and ask if they have the parts you seek. They sold the car under franchise, they should be able to offer support for that model.

2. I repeat, visit Toyota Kenya and ask.

The performance of this car is not exciting, maintenance is typical of pseudo-executive Toyota saloons and, being a Toyota, it is hard to come up with legitimate demerits without resorting to nit-picking.

Also, being a Toyota from the early 21st century, it is hard to come up with particular strong points that stand out versus other vehicles (maybe fuel economy in the D4-D diesel version).

In other words, it is just another bland Toyota that will do everything a family saloon is supposed to. That is why I have never reviewed it; there is nothing to say without boring the hell out of my readers.

**************

Hi Baraza,

What is the difference between a restricted and unrestricted exhaust system in a car and how do the systems affect performance and fuel consumption?

Also, what are the pros and cons of low-profile tyres? Do they make a car more stable as compared to the “normal” tyres?

Restricted exhausts are what you would find in any normal car, complete with catalytic converters, back boxes, silencers and such.

Unrestricted exhausts have all these removed and are just one straight pipe from manifold to tip (hence the name straight-thru exhaust), which, more often than not, is of a larger diameter than stock (factory spec).

The effect is to improve performance, but you will not make your car faster by removing the silencer and the cat, you also have to map the ECU, in effect telling the engine that there is lower back pressure as compared to before, so adjust your timing accordingly.

Also, the real purpose of straight-thru exhaust comes after engine modifications are done; such modifications will make the engine rev higher, faster and with greater volume/mass of intake charge/exhaust products, such as by forced induction or using bigger and highly polished intakes.

The exhaust is rarely, if ever, Step 1 in making a car go faster.

About low-profile tyres; Pros: better handling since most low-profile tyres are also wide-section and offer better grip. Also, the thinner side walls are stiffer and so reduce body roll and the tendency to flip over.

Cons: They are expensive, and they make the car uncomfortable. They also are unsuitable for less-than-perfect road conditions as the impact from constant bumping makes them swell.

**************

JM,

What would be your advice in regard to driving on roads that have been damaged by heavy trailers such as the section near Eldoret?

Is there any damage to the wheels/suspension if one drives on the raised “rails” now that this seems to be the only way out for low cars (else their under-carriage will scrape the road)?

I know the place you are referring to: not too far from the Equator crossing and just next to the turn-off into Kapsabet, right?

The trick is to keep the tyres on either side of the car on top of the bumps (or “rails” as you call them).

Avoid slipping into the troughs as you might bend your steering arms, scrape off the sump or even knock out the diff in a rear-drive car if it is low enough. Keep your speed low to guarantee control and avoid skidding under hard braking (downhill plus slippery road surface).

**************

Baraza,

I previously owned a Toyota 110 but recently disposed of it. I now want to buy another car and, owing to the market prices, I have decided to go for a Subaru Impreza.

I would like to know the consumption of this car verses Toyotas of the same engine capacity (1500cc) and why people don’t like Subarus as much as they do Toyotas.

Njoroge.

The fuel economy figures for Subarus and Toyotas should not be too disparate, if we keep turbos out of the picture.

The Subs may be a touch thirstier owing to the AWD transmission, but this is not something you cannot recover with a little common sense.

After all, Subarus are built and developed by Toyota (in a way).

The disregard for Subaru cars stems from several avenues.

First, are the turbocharged versions; they are thirsty, especially when pushed, so people generally assume (after buying the wrong Subaru once) that all Subs are dipsomaniacs.

Second, is the STi clique, the Impreza WRX fan club.

While not all of them exhibit anti-social behaviour on the roads, there are one or two bad cards that will overtake you while driving on the pavement or wake you up at 3am as they pass outside your bedroom window in a car equipped with an aftermarket exhaust system and ALS (anti-lag system), sounding like a small army is invading your neighbourhood with automatic weapons.

But they are not all evil, sleep-depriving, rule-flouting louts in the STi club. Just as not all Subarus are turbocharged, and so not all will deplete your disposable income. Feel free to get an Impreza, even an STi if you are up to the task, but please don’t drive like an idiot.

**************

JM,

My friend and I are re-engineering the petrol engine of a saloon car so that it uses hydrogen; don’t be bewildered, great inventions come from mundane ideas.

We have built a hydrogen cell that uses water and electric current to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen, we presume, can be combusted to produce the driving power to the pistons. The hydrogen cell is already working and the hydrogen being produced is igniting.

Now, what are the challenges we may face in using hydrogen as a fuel? By the way, hydrogen burns at much lower temperatures than fossil fuels, and the by-product is water only, so we save on the environment. Do you think we are headed anywhere?

I hope we live through the process to enjoy the car. If we succeed, we will bring you the car for a road test… if the oil multinationals don’t smoke us out.

Harold.

You have managed to isolate hydrogen gas from water? At what cost?

Anyway, I am glad the cell is working, and yes, hydrogen does combust (with a “pop” sound, according to our Chemistry teachers; in reality, it burns with a loud bang/explosion, as the operators of air-ships will tearfully testify). The question is: how does it burn in the engine?

How are you storing it in the car? What injection system will you use? Will it have to be first liquefied? Have you studied the combustion properties of hydrogen? This will assist in variable valve timing and direct injection.

What of additives? If the by-product is water (which it is), and there is a bit of blow-by in the cylinders (which there will be), water will get into the sump and mix with the oil, forming sludge.

Exhaust gas re-circulation? Will you re-circulate steam into the engine? How much energy will the combustion process release? If the explosion is too violent, how will you control it? Is there stratified intake charge combustion? Will the engine block and heads need bolstering to prevent pre-mature failures?

I am not watering down your hard work, these are just guidelines on areas to pay attention to. You may be on to something here, who knows?

What you need is funding for feasibility studies of your project, because I have not even started on infrastructure: plants and factories for extracting hydrogen, storage facilities, dispensers…

**************

Hi Baraza,

I am a physically challenged person (paraplegic) who is planning to buy a second-hand car. My budget is between Sh300,000 and Sh400,000. Kindly advice on the following:

1. Type i.e. Toyota, Nissan, etc.

2. To import or buy locally assembled.

3. If it is to import, the right/proper procedure of doing it. Please note that I am tax-exempted.

4. Where can I learn to drive the same?

Mwangi.

1. This mostly depends on personal taste, though for that kind of money, a Nissan may be a better bet. The demand for Toyotas rarely wanes, so getting a good one that cheap is not easy.

2. For reliability, a locally assembled version is the smarter choice. Also, the car can be modified for use by paraplegics by the same people who sold it.

3. I have never known the exact procedure that will ensure you get the car you want without risking theft, fraud or short-selling.

4. The AA, or any reputable driving school, should be able to help you out. First of all, the car has to be modified to transfer the foot controls (pedals and parking for some models) from the floor and site them within arms reach. From there, it is just practice.

I know of someone who has had his Caldina modified with a “foot-free” kit, so to speak. He, like you, is paraplegic.

**************

Hi JM,

Thanks for your article on the Scania (DN2, July 25, 2012). I have driven the Scania 380 once and for sure it’s a good machine. I would like you to help me out on these two questions:

1. What brings about the “big” difference in speed between the Scania and the Mercedes Actros? That is, the Scania outdoes the Benz when climbing a hill, but when cruising on flat/level ground, the Scania is outdone.

2. Why do truck drivers raise the wheels that are just before the rear driving wheels. That is, those that have no torque?

1. The amazing climbing power comes from the incredible torque that the engine develops (about 2500 Nm in the R420).

This torque in itself comes from the turbocharger, intercooler, intelligent engine programming, and of course the turbocompound setup, which acts as a complement to the turbocharger (it increases the speed of exhaust gases going through the exhaust turbine in the turbo).

The lower speed on flat ground stems from the fact that Scanias are programmed (and built) to last and offer good performance (in lugging loads) while returning good fuel economy, so their close-ratio gearboxes are not engineered for outright top speed.

The presence of a retarder along the drive-line also makes high speeds hard to achieve. And lastly, they come fitted with speed governors.

2. The raising of the tag axle (that is what it is called) is sometimes automatic, when the vehicle senses the load does not warrant the use of the extra axle.

It can also be raised manually, if the vehicle is so equipped.

It is usually raised to save the tyres: if the tag axle is not needed, you can save tyres (and money) by getting the two tyres off the ground, at which point they are essentially spare wheels.

Posted on

Here’s why some predated Mercs are making a comeback

There is a sudden spurt in the number of 190E Mercs on Nairobi roads. Kindly offer your thoughts on why this is so and review the car for safety, reliability, performance and maintenance.
Pete

The car is obsolete, very much so, seeing how it pre-dates and precedes the current line of C-Class Mercs. As such, against the current crop of cars, it will score poorly on all fronts.

Even in its heyday, the “performance” version, the 190E 2.3 16V Cosworth, was too slow, and the dog-leg first gear confused the unwary.

The proliferation of 190Es may be due to the fact that they were built in the Era of the Over-Engineered Benz (124s and 126s), cars that will simply never break down unless you ram a tree, or a wall, so their reputation has gone up. And they can now be had for as little as 300K. And they are fun to drive.

My crystal ball tells me 200Es (whatever happened to the old Mercedes Kenatco taxi cabs of old, I wonder? And the Presidential Escort vehicles…) and 280 SEs are following suit.

This crystal ball has been mostly right over the years (one or two misfires), so let me wait and see how it pans out.

—————-

Hi Mr Baraza,

I have just acquired a new-model Caldina ZT, D4 engine, 4WD, with low profile tyres. I wish to know the following:

1. I have installed two-inch spacers but I feel the car has become a bit wobbly on uneven tarmac. How can I enhance stability on the road? Would things like wider tyres do?

2. As for the low profile tyres, some friends tell me they are not reliable in rough areas, is this true?

3. How best can I maintain the engine since I hear it is a bit sensitive? I am a careful driver, but at times I do about 150kph on the Thika Highway.

4. Any other tips in ensuring long service from this newly found love?
Silvester

1. Lose the spacers and fit taller springs/shocks and bigger tyres (try not to go beyond 17 inches). You could widen the track, but while this reduces the wobbliness, it also corrupts the steering geometry if not done with a lot of maths and could make your car handle funny.

2. Yes, this is true.

3. Being a direct injection petrol engine, run on V-Power as much as you can afford and use fuel from reputable stations when V-Power is a bit too much to run on daily.

There is nothing wrong with driving at 150kph, except, perhaps, for the fact that you are breaking the law. But don’t do 150kph in low gears.

4. Just treat it the way you would want to be treated if you were a car and your owner loved you.

——————–

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car with a budget not exceeding Sh600,000. I am torn between buying a locally used but well maintained Mitsubishi Galant and a Peugeot 406, both of which can fit my budget. My considerations for the two cars are:

1. Good safety record

2. Ride quality and comfort

3. Maintenance and availability of spares

4. Fuel consumption

5. Speed and stability

I know that both cars have low resale value. Please advise on the best choice.

Safety record: The 406.

Ride quality: I’d say Galant, but that’s from the driver’s perspective; passengers will prefer the 406.

Comfort: 406.

Maintenance: Hard to tell. Peugeots are reputably unreliable, and after Marshalls lost the franchise, one cannot say with any amount of confidence that the new company will service old models.

However, Peugeot owners tend to be fastidious about caring for their vehicles (because of the reputation?) so, most likely, whichever one you buy will have been well maintained.

The Galant, on the other hand, is Japanese. It will still go bang once in a while, but spares should not be too hard to find, or too costly to buy.

However, VR-G and VR-M models tended to be bought by boy-racer types, either as first or second owners, so most of the cars on sale tend to be knackered.

Consumption: Depends on how you drive. If you can get a 406 diesel, with a manual gearbox (don’t!), 20kpl is less of theory and more of reality.

Speed and stability: The Galant. A VR-4 with a boot spoiler and front-splitter is the fastest and most stable car in your chosen bracket. But remember it has a turbo and is 2500cc, so….

——————–

Hi Mr Baraza,

I own a Nissan Wingroad and I need your expert advise on the following:

1. Which is the right plug for the Wingroad; NGK BKR 6e or BKR 5e, and what gap should I keep?

2. The car is 1500cc twin-cam. What is the advantage/disadvantage of twin-cam? It gives me 8km per litre yet the exhaust is clean and clear.

3. When doing the diagnostics, what readings should I get for the injectors?

4. Can I change the injectors to give 1300cc instead of 1500cc? Do Wingroads have VVT-i engines? How can I improve on the fuel consumption?

5. Can the display monitor on the dashboard be changed to English? It is in Japanese presently.

Kasmani

1. To be honest, I have no idea. You have now gone into the details of brand marketing and nomenclature, which I rarely pay attention to. You may have to refer to the NGK website for details on which plug is used where.

2. Twin-cam makes it easier to control the camshafts; very handy when you have variable valve timing.

3. Readings of what? Nozzle clearance? Injection pulses?

4. You can fit smaller injectors but I am not sure how wise that is. I know the 1.6- and 2.0-litre Wingroads have a form of Variable Valve Timing (and DOHC for the 1600), but not sure about the 1.5. Now that you raise the issue of injectors: has your car been tuned?

Does it perform unusually well? If so, then that explains your poor economy. If not, then a change of driving style and/or environment will change your consumption figures.

5. It can be translated, that I believe; I am just waiting for someone really clever to step up to the challenge.

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Hi,
Last year, I wrote in and asked for your advice on my Allion, whose ground clearance was troubling me. Well, a year down the line, the car is still fine and I no longer have issues with ground clearance, even when fully loaded.

Now, I service the car after every 4,000km to 5,000km but I’d like to know whether I can change the engine plugs from the current Denso one-pin plugs to the Denso iridium one-pin plugs.

I wanted to change to the Denso iridium but my mechanic insisted that they are very powerful and can damage some electrical parts of the car.

1. Compare the general performance of the Denso iridium plugs to that of ordinary Ddenso plugs.

2. How real is my mechanic’s argument, and is it applicable to all cars that don’t come with the iridium plugs?

3. Is it true that Denso iridium plugs are more effective than ordinary plugs in terms of power, fuel consumption and maintenance costs, which are my reasons for wanting to install them?

1. Iridium plugs generally last longer and are reputed to perform better, but seeing how their only job is to throw a spark, it is hard to tell whether they indeed fire better than other brands like Champion and NGK (originals; fake plugs will always fail soon after installation), if they still exist.

2. The most important aspects of a spark plug, in order of priority, are: whether or not they fit into your particular engine block, whether they are genuine or fakes, and heat range.

Plugs don’t have “power”, they are merely wires with a gap at one end through which a spark flies. The “power” you speak of is determined by the ignition coil, the integrity of the HT leads and the condition of the plugs themselves.

3. The power delivery of the engine (as determined by combustion efficiency) as well as fuel economy, is, again, determined by whether or not the plugs are fake (most genuine single-pin plugs perform the same) and the number of ground electrodes in the spark plug. Plugs with twin electrodes (what mechanics call “pembe mbili”) are better, but they cost more.

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Mr Baraza,

I wish to get a second-hand car from Japan and I am considering the Passo or the FunCargo. A friend tells me the FunCargo tends to overheat, particularly when on high speed.

Is this true and does the same apply to the Passo given that it is 1000cc? What speed is comfortable driving for these kinds of cars?

Which would you advice me to buy? I am looking for an automatic.

Joan

The Passo is still too new in the (second-hand) market for me to make any substantive statements about it.

What I know is that the FunCargo is fairly crap, what with the overheating and unreliable 4WD transmission in the versions so equipped. Sometimes, the fuel consumption goes up on its own.

Not to mention the car is hideous and lacks a proper boot (the headroom and leg room are both impressive, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I have a 2005 Toyota Fortuner in which I got a slight accident last year. Before the accident, it used to consume about 8km/l.

After the repairs — replacing all the damaged parts and doing a ‘red’ service including fuel filter and mass airflow filter — the consumption is terrible, with an average of 4.5km/l. In fact when driving uphill, it soars to even 1km/l!

In addition, the exhaust is producing a lot of soot, meaning the combustion is not very efficient. Mechanics have tried resolving the problem but all has been in vain. What is your advice?

I blame the MAF sensor; it is misreading the flow of air and making your car burn an extremely rich mixture, hence the sooty exhaust (poor combustion) and high fuel consumption. Either the sensor that was put in is faulty, or is the wrong type (verifiable by remapping the ECU to adapt to the new sensor “type”).

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Dear Baraza,

Following last week’s column, in my view, the problem with electric cars is that they take too long to charge, compared to filling up a conventional car at the petrol station.

I think the solution to this problem lies in changing the whole recharging philosophy.

What if there was a battery that is recharged by replacing the electrolyte? The ordinary lead-acid and lithium ion don’t like electrolyte replacement at all.

That’s why they say DO NOT ADD ACID. But there is a new technology known as “flow batteries”, which have separate electrolyte storage tanks and a reactor chamber.

The electrolyte flows to the reactor, produces electricity and moves out to a second “used” tank.

With this kind of battery, the electric car just needs to pull up at a “petrol” station (okay, electrolyte station), off-load the used electrolyte and replenish it with a charged one.

The beauty of it is that the station can then use grid electricity to recharge the used electrolyte and fill it in the next car.

This type of system can use the existing petrol stations; they only need to add new electrolyte tanks and a charger. I think this is where the future of electric motoring lies.
Mungai Kihanya

Well, with the lead-acid accumulator, not only does the electrolyte get degraded, but the electrodes do too (eroding at one end and getting a metal coating at the other, for a simple electrolytic cell).

So along with the electrolyte, you also need to replace the electrodes. A cheap plastic container is worth about Sh50 to Sh100. Electrodes + Electrolyte + Plastic shell (of negligible cost) = A new accumulator!

Now the questions:

1. Instead of having an electrolyte station, why not just use the shops we already have?

2. How much for a new charge of electrolyte? (and possibly electrodes?) Compare this with the price of petrol and/or hydrogen, and divide by the range provided by each. Cars will be limited to the same group that buys business jets at the moment.

3. A petrol station selling electrolytes is not a bad idea. But charging that electrolyte too? Electrical activity (such as charging) is normally associated with “sparks”, or arcing: a spark + a 10,000-litre tank of unleaded premium = BOOM!