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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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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!

Posted on

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Bethi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Njeru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karagi

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

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

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

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

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Hallo Baraza,

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

Muthoni

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JM,

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

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

Muoki

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

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baraza,

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mwaniki

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

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

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

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Hi JM,

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

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

Isaac

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————–

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Akala

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Abdulrehman

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Kahara

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow?

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

————–

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

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

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

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

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

————–

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

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

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

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

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

————–

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Yatich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Car manufacturers who have unwittingly shot themselves in the foot.

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

MG Midget

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

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

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

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

Dodge Challenger

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

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

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

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

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

Ford SportKa

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

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

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

Volkswagen Passat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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