Posted on

If you want a fast car, get yourself a Mercedes C180

Dear Baraza,

Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in German technology and become a fan of their machines. I am torn between buying an Audi A4, a Golf GTI and a Mercedes C180. The never-ending questions arise: fuel consumption, spares and servicing. Which is the best buy between these three options?

I also noticed that the C180 has a “plain” and a “Kompressor” version. What is the difference and does it matter if I want to buy the car? Albert Mwangi

A: The aspects you ask about are broadly similar across the range. Germans are notorious for designing cars shaped like briefcases that are exact copies of each other, irrespective of the logo on the bonnet/grille. Since you mention a Golf GTI and a C180 Mercedes, I am guessing by default the Audi should have an engine size of 2000cc or less, right? Turbo or naturally aspirated? I’ll go with turbo, since the GTI is turbocharged and the Kompressor is supercharged.

This brings us neatly to your second question without answering the first: the difference between the “plain” C180 and the Kompressor version is that the Kompressor is supercharged, while the plain one is, well, plain. No forced induction whatsoever.

This difference matters if you like to get where you are going really quickly and are ready to sacrifice a bit of fuel economy in the process. It also matters if you like overly complicated engines with many extra parts, which increase the likelihood of something very expensive going wrong. I like Kompressors. They are fast and offer seamless power from damn near idle, while turbo cars suffer from lag in most cases. Lag and heat problems.

So, to your original question: the consumption is good (a bit high in the GTI compared with the others), the parts are expensive, and so is servicing, but with proper maintenance, spares and servicing shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

n other words, all three are good buys. The question is whether you want a slightly unsubtle boy racer hatchback (Golf), an anonymous understeering briefcase (A4) or every overpaid Kenyan yuppie’s first automotive acquisition (C180K).

Dear Baraza,

Your column is one of the things that make the paper worth the coins and the time. Keep up the good work.

I drive a Toyota Raum 2006 model (NCZ20), 1490cc. The car is spacious, comfortable and handles very well – much better than other small cars I have driven. However, its fuel consumption of 10km/l seems out of line with my expectation of 15km/l. I have worked it out several times by filling the tank, setting the trip computer, filling the tank again when near-empty then dividing the kilometres by the litres. I consider myself a gentle driver, though I mostly drive in city traffic, and the car is always serviced at Oilibya before exhausting the service interval. Given this information, is the consumption normal or am I expecting too much of the vvti? Muthaura

A: Even though you drive in city traffic, that traffic must be spectacularly awful to push a Raum’s fuel consumption up to 10 km/l. Clearly, something is up.

My main suspicion is that the air cleaner element needs dusting or replacement. It could be clogged, thus suffocating the car and forcing it to burn more fuel in an effort to keep up appearances, appearances being the typical behaviour of a 1.5 litre four. The ECU wouldn’t be caught dead churning out the power of an 1100, now, would it?

Are there any warning lights blinking or glaring within the instrument cluster, especially the “check engine light”; is it on? How often do you use the AC? How much deadweight are you lugging around in your car? Are your tyres filled with air to the correct pressure? All these affect the fuel economy of your car; some in little ways, others majorly.

Hi Baraza,

I recently replaced the brake pads on my Nissan B15 and ever since, they have been screeching when I slow down or stop. My mechanic said it was because the disks were dirty so I had them cleaned but the noise persists. What is the problem? They also vibrate whenever I slow down.

Please help. Dave

A: The brake discs could be warped or the pads were not properly installed. Or maybe it is the pads that are dirty, not the discs.

Dear Baraza,

I have for a long time wanted to get myself a good 4×4 that will handle well and yet still be affordable to maintain. A vehicle that is comfortable but has luggage space. Affordable being that the parts are readily available and the prices reasonable, not prices that would make an ordinary citizen think of taking a soft loan to repair or fix. I admire the Porsche Cayenne, VW Toureg, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL, Jeep, Ford, Land Rover Discovery, basically most of the 4x4s.Please advise me on a good option.Victor

Hi,

None of the cars you list here falls in the affordable segment, going by your definition of affordable.

At least they are all comfortable for the most part, and will tread off the beaten path, though with varying degrees of success. They also offer luggage space, though the Touareg and the Cayenne might not be as good as the GL and Discovery in that respect. You need to specify which Jeep and which Ford you are referring to here.

I have always insisted there is little wrong with a Landcruiser Prado. It is more “affordable” than the vehicles you have listed.

Hello Baraza,

You write well. Very well. You know that. But compliments never hurt.

I am looking for a car that is a cross between a horse and a camel. It needs to have power measured in race horses with the looks to boot, desert camel hardiness enough to carry teens, bags, market shopping and planting maize for grandma.

It also needs to be a 7-seater and high enough not to scrape the large mini hills we call bumps. The price must also not be thoroughbred. What do you suggest? Judy

Hi Judy,

Your email makes for wonderful reading but not much sense. It is very vague and uses terms not commonly found in motoring. Besides, you need to narrow down my search parameters to a few models that you have your eye on. You DO have a few preferences, don’t you?

What you describe is a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G Class, or G Wagon), especially the G500, or one of the AMG-fettled versions. It has “racehorse” power, it looks very fetching, especially with a subtle body kit and black rims, and it is very hardy (it gets military applications with just a few modifications). If it carries several army men and their weapons, teens, bags, groceries and grandma’s corn will not faze it. It is a 7-seater and bumps mean nothing to it.

Unfortunately, the price is thoroughbred. In fact, it costs as much as several thoroughbreds in AMG guise.

Kindly specify how much power you need, what constitutes a good-looking car to you and how far your budget can stretch. A J70 Prado could also fit this description if an engine swap is made, as could a Landcruiser VX, Land Rover Discovery and many others. Get two or three cars you have your eye on and let me help you choose one from there.

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

I am in the process of buying a Toyota Sienta to use as a taxi. I would really appreciate a review of this car and its off-road capabilities. Mwele

I have not driven this car far enough for me to do a comprehensive review but one thing I know is that it is not meant for any off-road adventures. However, it would be good as a taxi: it is economical, reliable, and roomy; and the sliding doors make it ideal for inner city use where outwardly swinging doors make exiting into the street a risk. It is also cheap to buy and repair.

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read your articles. In one of the 2012articles, you viewed the Scannia monster machines (the P380 and the R440). You mentioned semi-manual transmission ,where cars have both manual and automatic transmissions. Could you please go into details about these cars. I am eager to hear from you. Boniface

Explaining the full workings of a semi-automatic transmission would take up quite a lot of space. Also, it is something I have done before and I’m not quite in the mood of repeating myself, though I sometimes do.

However, all is not lost. I am working on a book, a sort of almanac: a compilation of some select articles I have done over the years, the explanations behind those articles (and some Car Clinic Q& A classics), along with indexed addenda to clarify some things I might have skimped on with details. I will let the world know when this book is available and how to get a copy. You can be sure my demystification of transmission types will form part of the line-up.

Baraza, I am a fan of your Wednesday column and appreciate your efforts to educate us about cars. I have gained a lot, and thanks for that.
Now to business: I want to buy a vehicle and it is left-hand drive. I would like to change it to right-hand drive. Please tell me the dangers involved in changing, if it’s possible, and whether it will have any problems once it is changed? Kane Quntai

A: There are two problems to be faced in this endeavour of yours, the first being how to import the vehicle in the first place. The government will not allow you to bring in a car where the driver sits in the passenger’s seat, unless it is an emergency vehicle. Are you by any chance importing an ambulance or a fire engine?

That means to import the car, you have to switch the control panel to the correct side of the car BEFORE you import it, and therein lies the second problem: it is expensive and extremely difficult to do so, and for some cars, the shape of the firewall (the bulkhead between the engine and the passenger compartment) is heavily dependent on, and greatly limits the positioning of, the steering system, clutch and brake assemblies/linkages. Why not just buy a right-hand drive version of the same car, if available?

Dear Baraza,

Thanks very much for the helpful tips you give us every Wednesday.

Now, a close relative of mine has a Premio Model UA ZZT 240 that developed some engine problem that he is not very sure about but suspects that somebody malicious tampered with the engine even though the car is moving. Mechanics have tried to repair it, to no avail. I’d like to take it from him and replace the whole engine since he has two other cars and is disposing of the Premio “as is”. My problem is that my mechanic told me to ensure I buy an engine complete with gear box (automatic). The mechanic says this will guarantee a good future for the car in terms of maintenance.

Considering cost, I wanted to replace the engine only since the current gear box is okay. Please advise. Philip

A: If the current transmission is okay, just replace the engine; you don’t have to buy a new gearbox. This may sound callous, but from your friend’s perspective, it makes business sense: he is disposing of the vehicle, right? That means the car’s future is not really his concern. It will be out of his hands, won’t it? Selling the car is supposed to recoup some losses, isn’t it? If the gearbox fails later on, let that be someone else’s headache. And if he buys a new gearbox, what does he do with the old one? Selling a second-hand automatic gearbox is not easy, especially given that it is a Toyota one, and Toyotas are notorious for their unfailing reliability. Nobody knocks on my door asking for a Premio gearbox (and that is saying something, considering this is Car Clinic). What are the odds that someone will knock on HIS door?

Hello Baraza,

I want to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Kindly inform me about its pros and cons. Is it better than the Toyota Premio? Let me know the engine capacity, cost of spare parts and their availability in Kenya.Wainaina

Hi,

I was meant to test drive the Hyundai Sonata sometime back but I couldn’t because the sellers did not have a demo unit and putting test mileage on a customer car is not only unbecoming, but also hurts the asking price, thus lowers profits and, therefore, makes shareholders uncomfortable. A butterfly flapping its wings in Indonesia means no road test for me, if you get my drift.

I know it is one hell of a good car, better than the Premio, seeing how it is in the Camry’s firing line while the Premio sits one rank lower. Engine capacities vary between 1800 and 2500cc, and spare parts are available at the Hyundai base on Mombasa Road, though I have no idea how much they cost.

Hi there, You know how we, Toyota Country, take it when there’s even a hint of new upstarts getting undeserved credit when put up against the establishment! To even start suggesting that the subject Mitsu has the drop on the establishment is emasculation personified. Auto-sacrilege. Song of the damned. We won’t start debating reliability and retained value at later resale or how much punishment the car will take before flunking out (durability), although we should. Not to mention the number of years the car will last, looking nice and straight with equal care and use.Let it go. Live and let die! Sincerely seething, Kariuki

A: Interesting. Very interesting. You will notice that durability and resale value were NOT some of the criteria the inquisitor desired knowledge of, and so like a wise student who passed his exams at school (or most of them anyway… or some of them), I will not answer a question I wasn’t asked.
However, in terms of reliability (shock!), fuel economy and safety ratings, the Mitsu — as you call it — not only had the drop on the establishment, it was a Quick-Draw McGraw type of standoff and the Toyota found itself lying on the ground with its kneecaps blown off before it even came near its holster.

Next time they will think twice before releasing a half-baked car, though I am using the term half-baked here rather loosely. Rivals are awake and coming, and soon songs of damnation and cries of sacrilege will fill these pages.

Posted on

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

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

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

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

Kenneth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you in advance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Mwaura.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

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

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

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

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

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Cheers,

Sam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Other than looks, the X6 doesn’t have much to offer

Hi JM,

I recently rolled over at a corner in a Nissan X-Trail but survived… with great lessons. Now I know that speed that thrills can kill. Also, I have developed a great fear for this car because I have comfortably done the same corner at a higher speed in a BMW 318.

Speaking of BMWs brings me to my question: I have driven an X6 from Thika to Gertrude’s Hospital in Muthaiga and back (the child’s father was too anxious to drive) and did not see any major issues with this car.

In fact, I outdid most cars with ease. I relish motoring, although I am not an expert, so I think you should have this car for a day, try it out, and write a review.

And, by the way, why is it that nowadays you do not have proper reviews anymore and have instead resorted to answering questions only. I used to find the articles comprehensive, and thus more educative.

Do not blame the car for the accident. How fast were you going when you took the bend? And a 3-Series is very different from an X-Trail in terms of handling. I am sorry about your accident, but you need to be more careful and sensible on the road.

About the X6, I know it is good in its own way, but a man running alone thinks he runs fastest. Pit the X6 against rivals (including its own brother, the X5) and it is shown up for the pretender that it is.

Pointless, heavy, ponderous, not as good on road as its looks would suggest, totally useless off-road due to the absence of ride height control, locking diffs and low range transmission, poor rear head room compared to the others… and just what in God’s name is a “Sports Activity Coupe” or whatever BMW calls it?

What they did was graft Beyonce Knowles’ beautiful upper body to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heavily muscled running gear in the hope that the resultant chimaera would appeal to a wider demographic. Instead, they made those of us with a sense of taste throw up at the sight of it.

The reviews? Editorial policy is driven by consumer demand, or so I guess. Somehow, people prefer the heavily summarised responses I give to their questions rather than the more elaborate reviews, so we had to abide by the adage “the customer is always right” (this also explains the X6: some customers actually wanted such a thing). I still write long articles, though.

Hi Baraza.

I would to like to have your opinion about speed cameras. I believe that the police want to install some more to add to the lone camera along Thika Road. Every year — or rather, week — we hear the traffic police blame speeding as the major cause of accidents on our roads. Please answer these questions for me:

1. Is putting up speed cameras a waste of money, considering they are expensive to install and run? I read somewhere that they require around Sh5 million to operate.

2. Does it mean that if you pass the limit they have been set, you have a 99 per cent chance to cause an accident?

3. What criteria is used to determine the maximum speed that one should drive on our roads?

4. Are there any cheaper methods to prevent accidents since, according to me, these cameras are expensive for nothing?

5. Why do your readers not ask you about car safety levels and features despite the high number of road accidents on our roads? I ask this because many of the accidents that occur are not necessarily due to speeding.

Lastly, I would like to go to a driving school, and I am torn between going to a school and learning at “home” because I do not think the schools offer anything more than a driving licence. What do you think?

Walkins
1. Yes, it will be a waste of money. Motor vehicle registration in Kenya is sketchy compared to other countries with speed camera technology — offenders are normally traced and subsequently arrested or given citations using their car number plates.

Most of us drive hired (or even stolen) vehicles, meaning a photo of your car committing a traffic infraction is all the police will end up with, rather than the offender himself.

Still, even with the vehicle owner’s information, tracing them will be difficult owing to lack of manpower and the frequency with which people change rental houses. It will not work.

2. That is nonsense. If that were true, the only people still alive would be the chaps in rural areas who have never boarded a motor vehicle all their lives (our population figure would be hovering around the 1.5 to 2 million mark, rather than nudging 40 million, as the government alleges). The police blame speeding for fatalities in road accidents because they have nothing clever to say about the whole road safety issue.

3. On our roads, no idea. On roads in other countries, factors like long range visibility, size, type and condition of the road (and the road surface), the presence of junctions, acceleration lanes, climbing lanes, hard shoulders, runoff areas, social amenities such as schools and churches, traffic density (average), and the layout of the road (whether it is dead straight like in America or has twisty and curvy switchbacks like in the French Alps) are some of the things considered.

4. Yes. Give a bonus to traffic policemen for every offender they rope in. The police are our last hope in forcing people to behave well on the road.

A small campaign could run in print and electronic media telling people how to avoid the traffic policeman’s lasso around the neck: respect the rule of law and drive like you were taught at the driving school, not as you think you should.

Punitive measures against offenders should include confiscation of both driving licence and motor vehicle, and hefty fines, with a possibility of a total driving ban for repeat offenders.

5. The nature of Kenyans is such that they would rather die and save money than stay in one piece and have less money than the Joneses.

That explains why halves of vehicles written off in accidents get welded onto halves of other cars and put back on the road. And the furore when the late John Michuki made us strap on safety belts in PSVs.

And why some of us would flog a car to such a point that it is held together by bits of paint and rust rather than conceding that our trusty vehicle has reached the end of its usefulness and is due for euthanasia.

I agree with you, and thank you for raising the issue. I did discuss safety at the end of 2010, but my writing went largely ignored. The best way out is to follow in the late Michuki’s footsteps and come down hard on those who think rules were made for wimps and sissies.

Hi Baraza,
I drive a 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser. Lately I have been feeling like upgrading into something more classy but still reliable, that is, a Range Rover Sport or an Audi Q7 since I travel to my rural home at least twice a year and the roads there are non-existent. In your opinion, which among the two is more reliable?

Reliability issues among these huge SUVs tend not to be publicised too much, and anyway, repairs should not worry you who can afford them. The inconvenience of the car breaking down, though, can be frustrating.

The Range Rover Sport is what I would vouch for, and for a very strange reason. You see, the Q7 was not built as well as it could have been; I am not saying that it is bad, it is actually quite good, but it could have been better.

It was built to a price and targeted at Americans for whom size means everything, so Audi avoided the typical aluminium diet and went for crude steel. The interior is still world class, though, and the Germans have a reputation for building solid, bullet proof (not literally, but meaning free of holes or weaknesses) machines.

The Range Rover Sport, on the other hand, has enthusiasm behind it. It was built with passion by engineers who only wanted the very best, and this shows in the execution.

It is ultimately better to drive and will go further off-road owing to its shorter wheelbase and overhangs and its Discovery-derived double chassis. The Q7 is based on a Touareg/Cayenne, which is not very off-roadish.

Hello Baraza,

I thought Nissans were inferior to the Toyotas (please correct me if I am wrong), and during the weekend I had a chance to drive a 1500cc Wingroad — its comfort as well as pick up speed was nowhere close to the Toyota Allion 1500cc.

You have praised the Nissan X-Trail (280hp) GT and rated it above the Toyota Kluger and the RAV4. Is the pick up speed of the X-Trail GT faster than that of the two Toyotas? What about the ‘comfortability’ and off-road performance?

Please do not create words (comfortability) — only I am allowed to do so. Moving on. The X-Trail GT is bloody fast, 280hp is not a joke.

It will blow your Klugers and RAV4 out of the water any day. However, that turbocharged engine requires handling with kid gloves, the fuel economy will not befriend environmentalists, and one of my mechanics claims it eats ignition coils for breakfast and lunch.

Naturally, hard springing and competition shocks make for a hard ride, and I am not sure you want to take a car with this kind of performance off-road…

Nissan vehicles are not always inferior to Toyotas; it depends on which model you are talking about. For further reference, drive a Navara back-to-back against a Hilux double-cab, then document your findings.

Hi Baraza,
I was wondering which car, between a Forester XT 2003 model and the Mercedes C180 Kompressor (supercharged), would win in a five-kilometre drag, a sharp-cornered circuit, and a sprint from Nairobi to Nakuru, and why?

The outcome of such a trio of races would boil down to the skills of the drivers of the two cars, though in a five-kilometre drag with simple pedal-to-the-metal action, the Benz would take it (260 km/h).

The circuit might favour the Forester (smaller mass and 4WD torque distribution) but a Nairobi-Nakuru blitzkrieg would favour the Benz (this, again, goes down to whichever driver has the biggest cojones).

Hi,
I am planning to get my first car soon. Kindly advise on which of these cars, the old-shape Premio and the Carina, is better in terms of performance, spares, engine output, and durability. Also, is there much difference in terms of fuel consumption between 1800cc and 1500cc models of these cars? Lastly, what is the difference between EFI and VVT-i, and does it influence engine reliability?
Mutuku

For the same engine size, the two cars are essentially the same in almost all aspects, with the Carina being a touch sportier (and thus fathered the Allion). The difference in fuel economy between 1.5- and 1.8-litre engines is not big, especially with careful driving. The kpl achieved will depend on how you drive. Expect 10–15 kpl.

EFI is electronic fuel injection, and it is a precise and computerised method of delivering fuel from the fuel lines into the engine. VVT-i is variable valve timing with intelligence, and it is a system by which valve lag and valve lead (delaying of the opening and closing of valves) are computer-controlled to optimise performance and reduce emissions.

Yes, it influences engine reliability. The more complex an engine, the bigger the likelihood that things will fail, and the harder it is to fix the problems when they arise.

Baraza,

I am thinking of buying a car soon and I am in a dilemma about the car to invest in. I have these saloon options: a BMW 318i, a Subaru WRX Impreza, and a Toyota Avensis.

According to you, which of the three cars is ideal for a young man who is struggling in this Kenyan economy, especially bearing in mind high fuel prices, maintenance, and repairs?

Which of the three cars performs well on Kenyan roads and can handle rough terrain as well?

Which of the three is cheap to maintain and service?

Davy

For fuel economy, get a D4 Avensis. The 3-Series is also a sipper when driven soberly. The WRX will bite your wallet.

Maintenance and repairs: The BMW will take longest before it breaks, but when it does it will cost the rest of your life savings to get it running again. The Toyota is also reliable, but the D4, like BMW, will cost you if it goes bang.

The WRX should not cost much to maintain, that is until you overload the turbo and it goes boom, then you will really know hardship.

Normal, sane driving and regular checks and servicing should give you satisfactory ownership from all three cars. The 3-Series will cost the most to service and the Toyota the least.

The WRX is the handler and performer of the three, but stiff suspension and low profile tyres are not for rough terrain. The BMW’s minimal ground clearance also rules it out of any rough stuff, but it also handles, and performs. The Avensis is the easiest to take on unpaved roads.

Posted on

Yes, a Forester XT can beat a Lamborghini in a race, but…

Hi Baraza,

One of my friends who owns a Forester XT claims that, if fully stocked, the car stands a chance against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-400 in a race. What’s your take on this?

Yes, there are races in which the Forester can beat a Lambo. Off-road races. Or a race to see who can carry the most people and the most luggage at a go without compromising on comfort.

Otherwise, if we are referring to racing as we know it, on tarmac and on a racetrack, or even a normal road, the Forester is a tree-stump compared to the Gallardo.

But the Forester, against its rivals (cross-over utilities), is a capable handler and is fast.

Hi Baraza,

I have always wanted to import a used car from the UK but friends have strongly discouraged me citing reliability issues. Is it true that cars from the UK are generally in poorer shape compared to their Japanese counterparts.

What I know is that it’s easier to get a manual transmission car from the UK — like the Mercedes C180 or Toyota RAV4 — which is my preferred choice of transmission unlike in Japan where most cars are autos nowadays. What’s your take on this?

The biggest problem with UK cars is rust. You see, way up in the North Atlantic where the UK lies, there is a part of the year that gets very cold.

Winter, it is called. The low temperatures create problems, especially for drivers. The snow on the ground creates a slippery surface on which it is extremely difficult to drive (unless your car is AWD).

Worse yet, something called black ice is created. Black ice is like wet glass.; it is a thin film of ice that forms on the road surface due to the freezing of the water on the surface (this does not even come from snow).

Here, not even AWD will help: if you try to drive on it you WILL crash. So how to deal with the black ice? Pour salt on it.

Salt is an impurity for water, so the freezing properties of water are disrupted, meaning that no matter how low the temperatures go, the water on the road will never freeze.

Having a salt solution covering the road surface makes the road more tractable, yes, but that salt solution sloshes into the various nooks and crannies underneath the car, and most of these gaps house iron or iron-based components.

Iron plus water equals rust, iron plus water plus salt equals rapid rust. Very rapid rusting. Need I continue?

Dear Baraza,

I just started reading your column a few weeks ago and I am wondering if you have compared the Nissan X-Trail to the Toyota Kluger 2.4S in the past editions. Which of these two SUVs would you prefer and why?

John

I prefer the X-Trail. It looks better, is more solid and feels robust, offers better space and you can buy a tropicalised version. Oh yeah, there is also a 280 hp GT.

Dear Baraza,

I am preparing to buy a Subaru Impreza. Could you please advise me on the advantages and differences of a Subaru Impreza 1500cc (2WD and 4WD) in terms of performance, durability, spares, and maintenance? What other alternatives should I consider?

There is no big difference between the two. Very small disparities exist in performance (the 4WD is marginally heavier, but you won’t notice), and maintenance, as far as the transmission is concerned, the 4WD is more complex to repair.

Alternatives are many: Toyota Corolla, Allion 1.5, Nissan B15, Bluebird, Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda Civic (if you can get one)… basically any small 1.5 litre saloon car fits the bill.

Hi Baraza,

There is this meter on the dashboard of my VW Polo that is scaled from 0 to 65 and is coloured red between 45 and 65. The needle moves as one accelerates and I always change gears before the needle reaches 30, which I presume is the middle. In the centre of the dial there is a scale which no one seems to understand; 1min/100. Please explain to me.

Karangi

That, sir, is called a tachometer, or a rev counter in simple terms, and it shows engine speed (the rate at which the engine crankshaft is spinning).

That is why the needle moves to higher numbers when you accelerate. Given the numbers you have quoted, I take it your car has a diesel engine (not that it matters here).

The label is actually 1/min X 100. So if the needle points to 30, it is 30/min X100, which comes to 3,000. So the engine is turning at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

The red zone should be avoided, because it is in this zone that engines blow, seize or start hydraulicking.

The tachometer is installed to help you avoid over-revving the engine, and in some instances to avoid straining it (when the revs dip too low). For professional or enthusiastic drivers, the tach’ is used to determine the maximum power and torque points of the engine speed and shift gears accordingly.

That is how race drivers set different “lap times” on tracks. The rest will be covered in something I am working on.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a Peugeot 406 that is currently consuming a lot of fuel. In addition, when driving in gear one, it makes jerking movements. The mechanic says that there is a fuel leak, that is, some gasket needs replacement. What are your thoughts?

Fuel leaks could explain the high consumption but not the jerking in first. Common causes of jerking in first gear (I take it the car has a manual transmission) are poor declutching technique, a worn out clutch kit and low fuel pressure in the injectors (first gear needs plenty of fuel), though the third option does not quite fit in here, it is just a theory.

Have the clutch system checked for fidelity in the release bearings.

Dear Baraza,

I want to upgrade my vehicle and I’m stuck on what to go for. I’m debating between 2005s BMW 530i, Audi A6 3.1-litre, Mercedes E320, the 2006 Lexus GS300 (Euro spec) or a Mark X with a 3-litre engine.

Yes, I know the Mark X feels out of place but I think its a very good looking car. What do you think is the best choice?

In addition, I’m trying to calculate the duty on these vehicles. Should I go with CRSP values or should I work with the conventional 76.5 per cent duty since the engines are quite huge?

In duty terms, either way the government will screw you. I cannot make a definite call on which one of the two calculations you should go for because I don’t know how much you have been asked for for these cars.

But know this: underquoting the vehicle’s price (CIF) will get you nowhere. The revenue authority has a minimum amount set for each class of car, so if you underquote, they will use their figure; if you overquote, well and good, they will still get your money anyways.

There is customs duty, excise duty, VAT (all these are calculated in compound form, one figure being used to derive the next) and some small amount for an IDF (Import Declaration Form).

Now to the cars: All the cars, except the A6, are available in RWD (an enthusiast’s dream). The Benz is classy, comfortable and handles well; the A6 has the best interior in the world but has a hard ride; the Lexus is a drug peddler’s transport and the detailing is a bit over-the-top (Lexus calls it good value for money, I call it vulgar); the BMW looks questionable but is best in performance; and the Mark X is cliche. Decide.

Hi JM,

I am in the UK and married to a Kenyan, so I am getting a Kenyan ID soon. I have been told I could import one vehicle into Kenya tax-free if it is for personal use. Is this correct?

Secondly, my cherished Mitsubishi Shogun is in tip top condition with everything working as it should, fully maintained and serviced to the highest degree, but it is a 1994 UK spec model.

Is there any way I could import this vehicle as I am aware there is a six-year block on imports, considering some of those I have seen are not as suitable for Kenyan roads as mine?

It is almost correct. You have to have owned the vehicle in question for a certain amount of time (grey area), then when selling it on, duty will have to be paid by the new owner.

The time cap is actually eight years, not six, but I think the above scenario (lengthy ownership in the land of emigration) also forms part of the list of exceptions.

This is a very grey area. I will have to consult with the relevant authorities for a concrete report, because all I have had are conflicting “expert” opinions from a variety of sources.

Hallo,

I was intrigued by your comment about the Prado being handful at 200km/h. Does it mean its very risky driving it at that speed or what? Please expound.

Samuel

Yes, that is what I meant. The Prado has an intrinsic instability courtesy of its off-road credentials (suspension and ride height), so winding one up to 200 km/h is gambling with the unforgiving laws of nature and physics.

Baraza,

Tell me, are there any advantages on fuel economy when driving a vehicle in tip-tronic mode?

Dr Ngure

There might be an advantage in fuel economy when driving in tip-tronic mode, courtesy of the ability to short-shift into a higher gear (shifting early, before the optimum rev level).

However, some tip-tronic systems override the driver’s instructions if the computer thinks it is wiser than him. Tip-tronic is mostly for performance driving. Switching from full automatic to tip-tronic can be done at will, even with the car in motion, after which, tapping the lever towards the plus sign (or using the steering mounted buttons) changes up while tapping it towards the minus sign changes down.

Mr Baraza,

I own a Toyota Vista 2000 model 1800cc. Recently, I noticed something peculiar on the fuel gauge; after I put in fuel worth Sh2,000, the gauge still read empty.

After driving to and from the office and while I was parking the car, the gauge suddenly shot to quarter tank. This has happened on a number of occasions.

I spoke to a mechanic who told me the gadget that measures the fuel level could be worn out and needs replacement. Kindly advise.

That is not a problem, it is a peculiarity with the Vista. I noted (and stated) this when I reviewed the Vista back in 2010 (check the archives for more on this car). One way of coping with it is turning off the car, waiting a full minute and then starting it again.

It should show an increase. No car will show an instantaneous increase in fuel levels on the gauge. This is because the fuel tank is slatted and thus the fuel takes time (and a bit of splashing) to spread itself evenly enough around the tank for the gauge sensor to get an accurate reading. Stop worrying.

Hello Baraza,
I’m a fan of diesel engines, and that’s why I bought a Mercedes Benz C220 CDI. What are the weaknesses of diesel engines compared to petrol ones?

I thought (hence the reason for liking diesel engines) that diesel engines have more power, especially in common rail versions. Is this true or should I be worried about my Merc?

Actually, petrol engines develop more power because they rev higher, though diesel engines are fast catching up owing to turbo-charger technology. What diesel engines have, in large amounts, is torque.

They are heavier than petrol engines and require more frequent servicing. Also, the injectors operate at very high pressure, so while in a petrol engine car running out of fuel simply means adding more and getting on your way, when the diesel injectors have no diesel to pump they are very easily damaged.

Staying on the same, diesel engines also need bleeding to be done before setting off to remove any air bubbles (vapour lock) in the fuel lines, which could also lead to injector damage.

The economy figures for a diesel engine are outstanding, though.