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Better choice: Toyota Wish or Nissan X trail?

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column on DN2 every Wednesday.

I intend to get my first car — a used car — and your expert advise will help inform my decision.

I’m considering either a Toyota Wish, 1800cc, Year 2004 or Nissan X-trail. 2000cc, Year 2003.

The reason am looking at Toyota Wish is it’s sitting capacity for seven passengers and therefore ideal for family outings while the X-Trail offers me off-road capabilities whenever needed.

The car will be 80 per cent town drives and 20 per cent off-road adventures. Other than differences in off-road handling capabilities, please advise on differences in:

(a) Fuel efficiency and consumption Km/l.

(b) Maintenance costs  — I have very lean maintenance budget especially on parts.

(c) Reliability

(d) Ease in handling, stability, comfort and speed.

Looking forward to your kind response.

Mukaria.

a) The Wish is generally more economical than the X-Trail but the absolute figures will depend on how and where you drive, and how often you carry seven people in the car. Expect anything between 7km/l and 15km/l for both.

b) A “lean maintenance budget” is not going to do you any favours in light of the fact that you are buying a used car that has already seen thousands of kilometers of service in another person’s hands. Breakdowns WILL happen, and a lean maintenance budget might not be sufficient to keep the car in good working condition.

A particular sore point is the X-Trail’s automatic transmission that fails with alarming certainty; replacing it will be an exercise in six-figure expenditure.

c) Reliability: see b) above. You are buying a used car. Its reliability will depend on how well the previous owners maintained it. Again, that being said, the X-Trail is more of a garage queen compared to the Wish.

d) Handling, stability, comfort and speed: don’t expect anything like an Evo in terms of handling, stability and speed. Both cars will reach 180km/h before the electronic nanny interferes, and both cars will crash spectacularly if you try cornering in them at that speed.

Comfort: the X-Trail has more room inside and a bigger glass-house, so it is generally a better place to be in. A Wish seven-deep with humanity is like a school bus.

Hi Baraza,
There is something you didn’t address comprehensively on January 3.

It had to do with fuel gauge (level) light going on before and after refuelling. I noted the same anomaly recently where the light came on and I refilled with 4.55 litres of fuel two kilometres on.

However, I noted the light came on again after driving for about 15km.

Could the vehicle have spent the 4.55 litres to do 17 kilometres whereas it does 10km/l-11km/l?

The road gradient was not significantly different so as to affect the fuel ‘positioning’ inside the tank.      

L. Magambo.

There is one thing you need to understand here, and that is the internal design of a fuel tank. It is not just an empty can with a hole at one end for filling it and another at the other end for emptying it.

There are baffles inside it.

These baffles are like small walls; ramparts if you will, and their main function is to still the fluid and prevent it from splashing about in the tank.

The splashing about may cause bubbles which, when fed into the fuel lines, will cause vapour lock which in turn cause stalling and sometimes may lead to injector damage.

The splashing about may also cause fuel starvation: this is a common problem in sports cars with high performance capabilities, such as an Impreza STi or a Nissan GTR: the lateral G when cornering, or longitudinal G when accelerating hard/braking forces the fuel to one side/wall of the tank and if it so happens that the fuel is forced away from the outlet/fuel pump, then fuel starvation occurs and the car goes off.

Much as they are prevalent in performance cars, you do not need a high-strung race car to experience these problems. They can also be faced in lesser vehicles, hence the baffled tank design being universal. These baffles have another effect, though:
They form little “pockets” of fuel when running low and this is where gauge accuracy is slightly lost.

The sensor is a rheostat attached to float device which is in turn attached to the tank wall.

When refilling, small amounts of fuel such as four and a half litres may not be spread out evenly through those “pockets”. Depending on the splash patter when refilling, shape of the fuel tank and size/severity of the tank baffles, the fuel gauge may lose accuracy by quite a margin.
It may show a considerable jump in fuel level, or it may show none at all. It is not 100 per cent accurate, and this is why you will never come across a highly calibrated fuel gauge indicating exactly how many litres of fuel there are in the tank.
Some cars may have the fancy gadgetry telling you how many kilometers of driving you have left with the fuel at hand but none of them is ever dead right, it is always pessimistic so that when it finally reads zero, you are still in motion and your hopes get lifted.
So, no, your car does not do 4km/l. To get an accurate reading, fill the tank up to the brim (automatic cut-off point for the fuel hose), take note of your odometer reading then drive around a little. It doesn’t matter how far you go, but the further you drive, the more accurate the outcome.
Preferably, keep going until when almost empty, then fuel up; again brimming the tank. Take note of the number of litres that will go into the tank before cut-off.

Take note of the new odometer reading. Your very accurate fuel economy figure will be (Odo’ reading 2 – odo’ reading 1) divide by the number of litres taken it at the second fuel stop.

Hi Baraza,
I was happy to bump into you at Kiamburing TT. Do tell, where and when is the next one? I drive a 2.0  D4 ZT Caldina, full time  4 wheel drive.

It has excellent leg room and a spacious boot and it’s  performance on slippery/muddy areas is quite good.

However, I am a speed maniac and the car regularly disappoints me in this area. When driving against the VW Passat, ‘government model’ (for lack of better term) and the sleek Mark X, I noticed they pick up much faster than my car.

Now, I am thinking of trading my Caldina later in the year with either of the above but please compare and contrast the two (Mark X and VW Passat) in terms of comfort and performance both on highway and off-road. Reliability and durability as well as ability to drive in a  semi-muddy area.
Do they have front wheel drive version or even 4-wheel version and if so, which models? What of the ability to pick up/accelerate to speeds of 180km/h?
And finally, Does any of them have a semi-automatic (tiptronic) gearbox.
Simon.

I’m glad I made your day. The next Kiamburing is still in the pipeline and dates are tentative but we are looking at end of April. This is owing to a busy motorsports calendar this year and seeing how a large number of the people involved have overlapping duties across discrete events, we thought it best if each race had its own date.

This also allows for fans to maximise on their indulgence and not have to be forced to choose between one event and another should they happen to fall on the same date.
Onto your question, The Mark X is a beast. I have been running around in one in the recent past and the way it pulls on a wide open throttle beggars belief for a car that heavy and that laid back.

Perhaps it should have been born as some form of semi-F Sport Lexus than a run-of-the-mill Toyota.
You may have to specify which particular model of VW Passat you had in mind, because there are quite a number of iterations with drivetrain variations and engine variations.

I’m guessing you got monstered by a 2.0 litre turbo.
The two cars are broadly similar in comfort and performance (though performance will be heavily dependent on what engine the Passat has) but the bias is towards the Mark X.

That car really goes like a bat out of hell, relatively. Comfort may favour the Passat a little: I found the Mark X’s driver area feeling cramped — it’s not actually cramped, it just feels like it, and the electric seat adjustment takes a while to shuttle back and forth on its rails.
Reliability: Toyota. ‘Nuff said
Spec Levels: Passat. It can be had in a myriad of flavours with choices of engines, transmissions, drivetrains, colors, body styles (Passat CC, anyone? Estate, maybe?) and sub-models.

For more details on these, please visit the internet.
Tiptronic transmission: both are available with Tiptronic-style manual overrides on automatic transmissions. In the Passat, it is an option, in the Mark X it is standard.

Dear Baraza,
I imported a Range Rover Sport 2007, with a diesel engine from the UK some six months ago and it experienced total engine failure within four months.

I have since heard of a few other cases with the same make of car.
I was informed that it has something to do with the diesel fuel available in Kenya. How true is this? 
Robert Omwando

At the risk of drawing the ire of the British/Indians, I will say this is more of a Range Rover problem than a Kenyan problem.
That being said, whenever you buy a second hand car, especially one as expensive as a Range Rover Sport, details like FSH are very important. FSH is Full Service History.

Range Rovers are not the most reliable cars out there, but their unreliability can be partially circumvented.

One can delay the inevitable through good care and proper maintenance.
Diesel-powered Range Rovers are not any worse than their petrol-swilling stable-mates, if anything; a diesel Range Rover is the thinking man’s option.

The right engine will still run with the petrol version and return economy and environmental friendliness.
There are many diesel-powered Range Rovers still running on our roads. The word here is “maintenance”.

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Is replacing the Toyota Caldina’s engine impossible? I beg to differ…

After fixing the overheating, problem in my Toyota Caldina’s D4 engine, fuel consumption went from an average of 10-11km/l to an average of 7-8km/l.

I would now like to replace the engine with a new 1.8 engine from a Toyota Caldina or Premio. My mechanic says that this change is not possible because the gearbox of a 1.8 is not compatible with that of 2.0.

I also suggested changing the nozzles and replacing them with ones from a 1.8 Caldina, but he disagreed. Though my car is a new model 4WD, I cannot sell it because I have used the logbook as collateral.

Kindly advise me on a way out of this quagmire.

Simon

Your mechanic needs a little more exposure. The engine can be changed, the gearbox ratios notwithstanding. In many car models, the gearbox ratios used are the same all round.

If there is a difference anywhere, it should be in the final drive, which is not part of the gearbox, unless the car uses a transaxle.

Engine swaps are done daily with no corresponding transmission changes and the cars work just fine. Alternatively, you could get an entire powertrain, engine plus gearbox as one unit and replace the whole thing but I don’t see the need for this.

If you find someone willing to buy your old gearbox, you can consider this step.

Changing injectors is also possible; it is done regularly by those in the tuning community, though in their case, they typically go for bigger injectors, not smaller ones.

The injector swap is also not necessary as the current units can be tweaked to run at a lower capacity. That again, is part of what the tuning community does.

This, I advise, is also an unnecessary step, because electronic fuel injection (EFI) tuning is a whole other world that will consume you once you discover the possibilities on hand.

But more importantly, if you decide to dabble in EFI tuning, it is best to start with an engine that is 100 per cent sound. Your change in fuel consumption tells me your engine is not of 100 per cent sound.

There is a third way, which you might not want to hear, but I’ll mention it anyway, since it is what I’d recommend. Don’t change anything; not the engine, not the gearbox, not the injectors.

Find out what caused the poorer economy figures. Start by investigating what exactly that “surgery” entailed and if everything was put back correctly afterwards.

Poor placement of certain components (especially around the throttle body and the mass airflow sensor) can lead the car to go into a kind of safe mode where it burns fuel erratically because the ECU (Engine Control Unit) is not sure whether there is a problem or not, so it goes for the setting that will keep the car running, and that is burning as much fuel as it can. I once had that problem with a leaking Starlet throttle body and the result was 4km/l.

Hi Baraza,

I read your article on the Ford Mustang coming to Kenya… what did you mean when you said it has a “rare axile”?

Mike

I wish some of you would pay proper attention to your writing as I do mine. I did not say the Ford Mustang has a “rare axile” (whatever that is); I said it had a “live rear axle”.

A live rear axle is like a truck axle. It is a beam axle, whereby the wheel-points on either side of the car are rigidly linked and are thus dependent and move as a single unit, though in the automotive world we prefer to say “not independent”.

The connection is a solid beam that does not allow independent axial movement of the tyres (their rotation is, however, not affected). Live rear axle means this is a beam axle, located aft and is also powered. The unpowered equivalent is referred to as a dead axle.

The downside of this kind of set-up is that the vehicle is not as comfortable as one with independent rear suspension (whereby the wheels are independent of each other). This is due to the road surface changes not being isolated to one wheel but are transferred across the entire axle.

It also results in poorer handling around corners because there is no relative camber change between tyres due to their rigid connection: camber change on one side means a similar camber change on the other as well.

The advantage is that the live rear axle is very robust, able to withstand great loads, hence their application in commercial vehicles.

In a car like the Ford Mustang, it made the car a handy tool for drag-racing: enormous amounts of power were able to be channelled to the tarmac, resulting in a hard launch but with minimised axle tramp.

Until now, some of the most extreme drag racing cars use live rear axles because the independent one is too delicate for that kind of abuse.

Dear Barasa,

After reading your article on the Xado magic elixirs, I swiftly purchased their gearbox treatment syringe as well as a fuel system cleaner. I’m still racking up the mileage in my VW Golf Mark 5 and so far, so good.

I paid particular attention to the word “robotised gearbox” on the product package, given that the Mark 5 has a DSG robotised autobox.

My wife has joined your camp and purchased an automatic 2004 Mazda Demio. A very competent hatchback which ticks all the right boxes with its economical 1300cc VVT engine.

However, after about 30 minutes in slow traffic, it emits the distinct smell of a cooking clutch. This is strange because it’s an automatic. Are autoboxes prone to such misdemeanors? 

PS: Please test drive and review the 2008 Mazda Demio currently being shipped in from Japan.

Hatchback fan

Hello Hatchback Fan,

The feedback on Xado the wonder-drug was a little bit more than I expected. It transpires I was not the only one feeding Soviet gels into my car’s internal organs; a sizeable number of fellow drivers were too.

Their responses are unanimous and sound just like yours: We love the Russian lube. Maybe we are on to something, eh? Time will tell.

The “cooking clutch smell” problem is not endemic to automatic transmissions, otherwise traffic jams would stink like a tyre factory on fire.

Most automatic transmission cars use torque converters, which are fluid clutches, so it is unlikely that the clutch itself is the problem. Some auto cars use electronically controlled friction clutches.

If that is the case here, it is possible that either the lockup control is wonky or the clutch itself is on its last legs, but this would also be accompanied by other symptoms such as slippage, vibrations or delayed reactions when throttling up while in gear.

It is not the ATF though. Bad ATF smells like burning bread, for reasons I have never understood. One more theory: the brakes could be binding.

This may be an underlying problem which is then aggravated by frequent braking (you did say slow traffic, didn’t you?).

The result is the calipers hold on to the discs when you start moving, and the resulting friction heats them up to the point of them giving out a smell.

Next time you get the smell, if possible, check the front tyres around the rim and hub areas to see how hot they are.

I will do a review of the new Demio once I get hold of it. Snazzy little thing, though the looks are a touch feminine. But if public opinion is anything to go by, it should be a hoot to drive.

The gearbox of my Toyota Noah jerks everytime I engage the “R” or “D”. My mechanic calls it rough engagement.

He ran a diagnosis and the report indicated it was a solenoid circuit high.

He then opened the gearbox sump and closed it after a few minutes. He put back the ATF and the problem disappeared. However, that same evening, it was back. What could be the cause?

R. Ndungu, Mtwapa

The problem came back because the main issue was not solved. Opening and closing the sump will not really do much if the error report says “solenoid circuit high”.

The solenoid circuit is obviously an electrical component, and these have never been repaired by just looking at them (literally staring at them; did that mech even do anything after opening up the fluid reservoir?).

I have a Land Rover Discovery 1994 model, which has a problem of leakage on the transfer gearbox. I have had several mechanics look at it but all in vain. Is this a problem with the Landrover Discovery?

Daniel

Yes it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greetings JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Importing a hybrid car? Ship in the mechanic as well

Hi Baraza,

I once overheard a former Toyota Prius owner lament about how much trouble the car had put him through when its photovoltaic cell broke down. Finding a competent mechanic to fix it was a nightmare.

Toyota EA, the franchise holders, did not stock it too. Please comment on the whole hybrid car phenomenon in terms of purchase price, maintenance, spares, resale value, and future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public.

Secondly, what is the verifiable benefit of Shell V-Power fuel on engine life, engine performance, exhaust emissions, and the general health of a vehicle?

Kikuvi

I visited the hybrid car issue some time back and the conclusion I arrived at was that it was expensive and irrelevant. It is also inappropriate for our market at the moment, seeing how we lack the technology and know-how to fix them when they break down. But anyway, here are your answers:

Purchase price: Eye-watering. Maintenance: You will hate hybrids even more than Jeremy Clarkson does when things start going wrong.

Spares: Unavailable here. They cost too much where available (before you even consider shipping costs).

Resale value: After people read this, poor. It will still be poor even if they do not read this because of the following reason: the battery pack for the hybrid system is horrendously expensive.

Also, it has a finite life cycle and has to be replaced after a short span (five years or so). So, buying a second-hand hybrid means its battery pack will be close to the end of its life and, therefore, not only will you buy the car, you will soon need to buy more batteries and the total cost will not differ greatly with buying a new car.

Future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public: Tricky. Hybrids have been trashed for not being as economical as small diesels, for being too costly, for under-performing and for having an effeminate, holier-than-thou, condescending, patronising, goody-two-shoes image.

Also, with the advent of science, extraction, storage, and dispensation of hydrogen will be both accessible and affordable in the not-too-distant future, and hydrogen cars have proved to be far more effective and efficient.

Electric cars have also made huge strides, with companies like Tesla and Fisker churning out impressive purely electric cars (Fisker is now bankrupt, but the reasons behind this are a whole other story).

That said, it was only this week that Toyota announced that it had sold one million Priuses… Priii…. Pria… whatever the plural of Prius is.

On to the other issue of Shell V-Power fuel:

Engine life: It extends it through its “sanitary” characteristics (it cleans the engine).

Engine performance: Read this very carefully. Shell V-Power improves engine performance. However, by this I do not mean that if the manufacturer has built an engine that develops 280hp, then that engine will develop 281hp when you feed it V-Power. No. What I mean is, that if your engine components such as injectors were clogged or almost clogged with deposits, then performance suffers.

V-Power, with its cleansing properties, will restore the hygienic status of your engine (I have a feeling hygiene is not the right word to use here). Also, if you have a high compression engine designed to run on high octane fuel then you put ordinary fuel in it, it will very easily knock.

Either that or the timing will be so retarded as to make the car switch to “safe mode” (limited performance). Putting V Power (which is also a high octane fuel) restores these performance capabilities. But it does NOT cure knocking.

Exhaust emissions: I may hazard a guess that a cleaner, smoother running engine has less emissions than a filthy, rough one.

General health of a vehicle: Ignore this. General health of a vehicle may extend to systems that have nothing to do with fuel or combustion such suspension, body work, electrical system…. I do not need to go on.

**********

Hi Baraza,
I would like to make a “soft upgrade” and switch to a better but affordable car that shares the same qualities as my first car — a Toyota Corolla Fielder 1500cc, manufactured in 2003 and bought in the year 2011 with 60,000km mileage.

I drive at least 250kms a week and it has not developed any major problems, thanks to regular servicing. My driving is an average of 15km/l (am I a good driver?)

Now, please assist me on available choices for a more powerful car with good resale value, on- and off-road friendly, not thirsty beyond 1800cc yet pocket-friendly enough to allow me to invest my limited earnings on potential projects.

Then, from what I have as above, how long can my existing car give me valuable service?

R Nyaga

If your driving averages 15km/l then, Sir, you are a very GOOD driver. Credit where credit is due.

Now, you have heaped praises on the Fielder that you own and drive and you want to upgrade to a vehicle with “almost same qualities” and also a more powerful version with not more than 1800cc.

Well, have you considered a Fielder with 1800cc? It fits the bill to a T and it is a car that you are not only familiar with but you also seem to love and understand. The meaning of “off-road friendly” is heavily dependent on what you mean exactly.

Some people say “off-road” when they mean “unpaved” or “untarmacked”, while people like me say off-road when we mean circumstances where there is no discernible path and the only penetrable points are strewn with obstacles.

If you go by the first definition, then the Fielder will sort you out. If you mean the second one, then “not thirsty, not beyond 1800cc, and pocket friendly” does not apply here: you have to look farther afield.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I have a few burning queries that need expert advice. Since I am green on matters concerning motoring, you will have to excuse me for some of the questions and the length of this email.

I am looking forward to buying my first car with a budget of around Sh800,000. I feel it would be better to import a car directly from Japan as I assume local vehicle dealers are in the business of making maximum profit. That said, I have settled on SBTjapan.com as they have an office in Mombasa.

I have settled on the following models : Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida — all 2006 models.

I need a vehicle for commuting to town — I live 40km from Nairobi and with monthly or bi-monthly travel to western Kenya and back.

Now, here are the questions:

What is your honest expert advice to a novice importing a vehicle directly from Japan, including cost of buying, shipping, and KRA taxes. Please advise if SBT Japan, which I have settled on, is reliable. If you can give me other references I will be glad.

From the choice of Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida, kindly give me your expert opinion on which vehicle is suitable for Kenya in terms of availability of spare parts and experienced mechanics, resale value, reliability, durability, and endurance. Which of the four has economical fuel consumption?

Why are Toyota Caldinas cheaper than Premios? What are the factors that determine the higher prices of a Premio of the same year of manufacture as a Caldina, yet the Premio ends up higher priced despite higher mileage. Why are Toyotas generally higher priced compared to Nissans (I may have to make a choice between the two)?

In some of your articles, I remember you saying that Honda’s VTEC engine is touted as the best. I have also heard people saying Toyota’s VVT-i engine is good. I have no idea what type of engine Nissan uses, but how does it compare to VTEC and VVT-i?

How does a vehicle’s mileage affect the performance of a car? I seem to have a general phobia of vehicles whose mileage is above 100,000km.

Finally, when does an engine start having issues in terms of mileage?

Victor

You are right, this is one lengthy email. My honest, not-so-expert advice (I am also green in the field of motor vehicle importation) would be to elicit the assistance of someone knowledgeable in the import business and known well to you, say a friend or relative.

I was once asked the exact same question by another reader and I assumed his position and did a ghost importation up to to the point of payment but did not actually buy the car. And interestingly enough, the company I chose to do my ghost import from was SBT Japan.

However, I cannot vouch for their (or anybody else’s) trustworthiness because as far as I am concerned, importation is a pig-in-a-poke setup. Buying what you cannot actually see is always a huge risk, and I do not see why I should recommend them over others. I have not had cause to think they are better in any way. My exercise was strictly as a tutorial for that reader on what might happen should he head down that path.

Two years ago, I started the year on a belligerent note, speaking against imported vehicles and their lack of suitability in markets for which they were not designed.

After the series of two articles based on tropicalisation, I was berated for being elitist, narrow-minded, and possibly in the pay of brand-new vehicle dealers (I may be elitist and/or narrow-minded, but my one and only paycheque comes from the Nation Media Group, nowhere else).

Later that year, the Car Clinic received thousands of emails containing this (or variations thereof) statement: “I bought this car from Japan/Dubai/UK/Singapore some time ago and now it is not working properly. The mechanics make wild guesses and charge me exorbitantly for every wrong guess they make. Help!”

To cut a long story short, the vehicles you are referring to were built in and for Japan, so they may not be suitable for Kenyan conditions. In cases like the Nissan Tiida and Sylphy (which were also sold locally as the Tiida and Sunny N16), you might get away with the intersection of different markets, hence availability of (trustworthy) parts and experienced mechanics.

For the rest, you may just have to search until you find one. Of the four, the Tiida is available with the smallest engine and so may give the best economy.

Caldinas are cheaper than Premios because of demand.

Toyotas cost more than Nissans also because of demand.

Nissan uses something called NTEC, which in essence is more or less the same as VVT-i and VTEC — some form of variable valve timing which may or may not have “intelligence”(VVT-i and i-VTEC). Kenyan drivers will sing about Toyota’s VVT-i because it offers a good Jekyll-and-Hyde personality between economy and performance but most of them will be lying.

Not that VVT-i is bad. No. In fact VVT-i is very good, but most of these drivers have never experienced the effect of VVT-i. The switching of cam profiles (and thus valve timing) occurs at engine speeds most of us rarely reach (6,000rpm- plus) where the “economy” camshaft profile is swapped for a more aggressive profile and the vehicle gets a surge in performance.

Most of the time we drive in “economy” mode, optimised for torque and gently breezing along.

Honda’s VTEC has the praise of pioneering this whole variable timing and lift control thing (as far back as 1983 compared to Toyota’s 1991 VVT) and in Type R vehicles (Civic, Integra, Accord, and NSX), the switch-over is so marked as to almost feel like a turbo is kicking in. This is an effect driving enthusiasts love.

It also occurs lower in the rev range, increasing the overall sportiness of the vehicle. And also, Honda’s VTEC engines have been nicknamed “Terminator” by European motor journalists because they never fail. They are almost unbreakable.

The higher the mileage, the more likely the engines (and other parts) will have problems because of wear and tear. Why do you think a 1983 Corolla does not look and sound like a 2006 Corolla? Technology aside, the 1983 car has endured a longer beating so it is no longer as solid, or as together, as it was when new.

Posted on

Okay guys, let’s take these little 4X4s off the tarmac

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations for the excellent job you’re doing. I have two questions:
1. Please give a critical analysis of the following high-end 4X4s: Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7, BMW X6, Porshe Cayenne, VW Touareg and Mercedes M-class and G-Class.

Comment on performance on and off road, intelligence, comfort, safety, longevity and fuel consumption, and which of these you woul go for.

2. Please advice us on the precautions we should take to ensure we don’t get conned when importing a car and when buying a locally used one.

Thanks,

Sam.

1. On-Road Performance: The Porsche Cayenne is untouchable, especially as a Turbo or Turbo S. The rest would only attempt at catching up in their high performance variants, and the pecking order is like this, starting from second place (after the Porsche): BMW X6 M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Vogue Supercharged — if there was a Range Rover Sport in this list, the Sport Supercharged would be No 2 after the Cayenne —, Audi Q7 V12 TDI, VW Touareg V10 TDI, Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG and finally the Land Rover Discovery V8. This list combines both handling and speed. For speed only, the Q7 would be No 3 and the G63 No 4.

Off-Road Performance: The Mercedes G Class is hard-core, closely followed by the Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery. The Touareg and the Cayenne tie in 4th place (same chassis anyway), followed by the ML Benz.

The Q7 is second last, which would seem strange given the fact that it shares a platform with the Cayenne and the Touareg, but it has a much longer wheel-base and is a lot heavier; and the Quattro drivetrain is slow-thinking, so it cannot quite match up to the other two. Stone dead last is the X6, which is a fashion statement and should be treated as such.

Intelligence: I don’t know what you mean by “intelligence”, but these are all European cars, and they all pack some elaborate forms of cleverness under their bonnets, in their chasses and in their drivetrains.

The vote on engine development would go to the X6, especially the 3.0 litre turbodiesel. Drivetrain and chassis configuration: I’d say the Land Rover Discovery: double chassis, both monocoque and separate, air suspension, Hill Descent Control and the Terrain Response System. All these in one car. None of the others can boast such a feat.

Comfort: It’s no secret: the grandfather of all SUVs, the Range Rover Vogue, with air-suspension, set in Comfort mode, not Sport or Off-road setting. The rest fall into place one way or the other, if they have available air suspension. Some don’t, like the Cayenne. The G Class could be the least comfortable here.

Safety: These are the Euro-NCAP ratings for these vehicles according to the last model tested. Decide for yourself which is which.

Longevity: This depends on how you treat them and where you drive them (and how you drive them where you drive them). The G Class is like a hard rock that will not wear out. The Range Rover’s past history plays against it.

Consumption: If this is the class of cars in which you are looking for your next purchase, don’t ask this question.

But anyway: the diesel versions of these cars will give very good mileage, between 7 and 11 kpl, except the Cayenne diesel (and Touareg) which will still swill till you go shrill. The Q7 6.0 V12 TDI is another case altogether, I’d rather not even talk about it.

The petrol versions of these cars, on the other hand, will bankrupt you faster than those Campus Divas For Rich Men that you see on Facebook. Expect mileages in the region of 4-5 kpl. Worst culprits are the Cayenne Turbo and ML63 (see the rest of the list in the “On-road Performance” section)

The car I’d go for? The Gelandewagen, the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G Wagon in hip-hop-speak. It looks the part, and in black, with black rims, the G63 AMG’s looks and sounds will ensure nosy neighbours never visit — and they will always lock up their daughte’s whenever they hear Germany’s rudest V8 rumbling into the compound. Class.

2. I did an article on this subject some time back, and it was plagiarised on so many Internet sites that finding it is not hard. Just search “How To Buy A Used Car”… or something like that.

Dear Baraza

I own an old manual Toyota Corolla stationwagon which I am planning to dispose of and buy a newer car. Kindly let me know the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic gearboxes before I make my choice.

I want to buy either a Toyota Corolla, a Subaru Legacy or a Subaru Impreza, but I’m yet to figure out the advantages each has over the other in terms of fuel consumption, reliability and performance.

Regards,

Muthoni

Manual transmissions tend to offer marginally better performance and fuel economy, while automatic cars are easier to drive… almost too easy.

Economy and maintenance (and performance) are broadly similar for the Corolla and Impreza (both of 1,500cc). The Legacy performs better than these two but will use more fuel per kilometer and might cost more to keep on the road.

Hello Baraza,

I recently acquired a Toyota Hilux 2007 model fitted with a Toyota 5L 3,000cc engine.

1. What are the pros and cons of this engine?

2. Being new to diesel engines, is this an EFI variant?

3. How does it compare to the Toyota 3L engine in terms of performance and fuel consumption?

4. Would it be wise to change to a smaller engine once the pros and cons are taken into account?

Regards,

Benjamin.

1. Good economy and reliability. Poor output compared to rivals of similar capacity.

2. Yes.

3. The 5L is of bigger capacity (2,986cc) compared to the 3L (2,779cc). It has better power (97 bhp @ 4,000 rpm versus 91 bhp @ 4,000 rpm) and torque (191 Nm @ 2,400 rpm versus 188 Nm @ 2,400 rpm). The fuel consumption depends on use, but the 3L is easier on the drink.

4. Yes. Like the 3L for instance. The differences in outputs (6 bhp and 3 Nm) don’t validate the difference in engine capacity (207cc).

Hi Baraza,
Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and I have picked loads of tips. Now to my questions: In your experience, what are the common causes of turbo failure and how do you deal with the turbo once it fails? Does it require special care to keep it going?

Kind regards,

Daniel Makau.

Thank you Mr Makau. The common causes of turbo failure are poor lubrication and heat dumping (which is, in a way, the result of poor lubrication). The poor lubrication can either be by using the wrong grade of oil, having low oil levels or thrashing a turbocharged engine as soon as the key is turned.

When a turbocharged engine is cranked, it is advisable to wait for 2-5 minutes (depending on size of the engine and the turbocharger) for the oil to flow around the turbo shaft and into the bearings, and for oil pressure to build up before revving up the engine.

I am sure I do not need to explain the benefits of lubrication whenever metal parts are rubbing together, and in a turbocharger, these benefits are of paramount importance. Turbocharger vanes can sometimes spool at speeds of up to 25,000 rpm. That oil is important.

Heat dumping occurs when a turbocharged engine is turned off immediately after coming to a stop, more so after a period of continuous hard use.

An example is of a bus with a turbo engine charging hard from Nairobi to Mtito Andei before stopping. If the driver feels he must turn off the engine, he should wait, again 2-5 minutes (depending on time period and severity of usage of the engine) before killing the switch.

If the engine is turned off immediately, the oil pump stops working, so oil pressure drops. Poor lubrication. Another thing is that the turbocharger is still spinning at a very high rate, so without lubrication, you can see where the problem lies.

With these high rotation speeds comes heat. The oil that lubricates the turbo also serves to cool it. When the oil stops circulating, all the heat in the turbo is dumped into whatever little oil was left there, and this extreme heat causes something called coking in the oil, where the oil breaks down. Again, poor lubrication.

The 2-5 minute spool-down period thus allows the turbo to slow down and cool a bit before being starved of oil when the engine goes off.

Heat dumping not only damages the oil, but also the turbo itself. On one end of a turbocharger is the impeller, which feeds cold air into the engine.

The other end is the turbine, which is driven by extremely hot exhaust gases. The temperature differential between these two fans is very large, and their only connection is the shaft in between, which bears the brunt of the disparity in heat levels.

With the engine turned off suddenly, heat dumping occurs (rapid drop in temperature), and this sudden loss of heat can cause warping and lead to brittleness of components, which then break. This is the biggest (and costliest) issue with turbochargers.

The best way to deal with turbo failure is to replace the turbocharger unit. Some units are so complex, such as those equipped with variable geometry turbochargers, that opening them up to replace singular components might not be a wise proposition.

Turbos require extra care. Lubrication is of paramount importance. Proper oil grade and levels for the turbocharger, and sober driving techniques are the best palliatives against failure.

Also, let the engine idle a little before applying load on it; and after driving it, give it time to cool down before turning it off. Some cars are fitted with turbo timers which can do the latter for you if sitting in a car for five minutes doing nothing is not your cup of tea.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work. I own a Volkswagen Golf FSI 1600 CC, year 2006. When I start the engine, it roars very hard for a few seconds then runs quietly.

I have owned a Nissan and a Toyota but have never experienced such noise on cranking. The golf is ‘new’ and I’m the first owner In Kenya. Is this normal? Also, the stated speed of the car online is 197KPH yet my car has the top speed reading 260KPH, is this a fallacy by the manufactures?

Victor Otieno.

The roar could be an excess of fuel being fed into the engine on cranking to prevent hard starts. I am not sure if it is normal. What does CMC say? The speedometer reading is not a fallacy.

The manufacturers tend to use generic speedometers in a lot of their cars. Just because the speedometer has 260 km/h written on the bottom right corner does not mean that car will clock 260 km/h. Have a look at the Premios (first gen) that came in from Singapore. Their speedos also read 260, but that car can barely crack 210.

Hello Baraza

Sir, Toyota is to recall seven million vehicles due to possibly over-heating electric window switches. The recall is for vehicles sold in US, Asia and Europe.

My question is, how would someone in Kenya who drives an import from UK, Malaysia, Japan etc, find out if their car is on the recall list?

Second point: I was told by a Nissan executive that the best source of second-hand Nissans is the UK because the roads there are rough compared to other RHD countries.

UK cars therefore have tougher suspension and reinforced floorpan and suspension points. I drove a UK-built Almeira here for a while and the ride was firm! Your view?

Tony Gee.

To find out if your car is or has been on a recall list (and was actually recalled) is as simple as visiting either the manufacturer’s website or the NHTSA website. There you will find a list of VINs of affected vehicles. Compare it to your own VIN and see if your car is “hot”.

The second point may be true, but remember: UK also salts its roads in winter, and we know salt + water + air =…..?

Rust.

Especially brake discs/drums, wheel hubs, steering arms, etc.

Hello,

I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Golf fitted with an automatic gearbox. The car drives well but has two problems;

1 It jerks when shifting, especially the low gears (1, 2 and 3). A mechanic advised me to change the ATF oil but it didn’t help. Another mechanic told me to change the gearbox but it’s a very expensive affair. What could be the problem?

2. There is a noise on the right front side, at the suspension area, especially when on a rough road. The shocks are new but the whole assembly seems to have a problem. Those are the two issues making me not enjoy the this German technology.

Next time a mechanic tells you to do something as expensive as changing an entire gearbox, ask to explain what exactly is wrong with it and why there aren’t any cheaper alternatives. I have noticed that sometimes these people say things just for the sake of saying. Anyway, here goes:

1 When you changed the ATF, did you fill it up to the correct level? Did you flush the system first before filling in the new fluid? Did you buy a poor brand? Also, check for a leak.

Your ATF could be leaving the car without your notice. Other theories are a clogged filter preventing your transmission from working properly, or a malfunctioning pump and/or a problem with the Line Pressure Solenoid (ask your mech if he knows what this is).

You may not have to buy a new transmission, but if the problem is pressure, cleaning the valve body at the top of the gearbox might solve the issue (sometimes dirt causes the valves to stick and this causes the Line Pressure Solenoid to “malfunction” due to wrong pressure readings).

2. What does that noise sound like? Maybe your new suspension has not had time to bed in, or the fitting was done unprofessionally and there is a bit of play between components.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your highly informative articles. I have a Toyota Caldina, new shape. The car runs perfectly, but there is normally a “rotten egg” smell coming from the engine when I drive fast.

I suspected the battery could be the problem and I went to Chloride Exide who recommended an N40 battery but the problem still persists. Please advise me on what to do.
Paul.

The “rotten egg” smell is a characteristic of hydrogen sulphide gas (goes by other strange names such as dihydrogen monosulfide, dihydrogen sulfide, sewer gas, stink damp, sulfane sulfurated hydrogen, sulfureted hydrogen, sulfuretted hydrogen, sulfur hydride…).

From the little chemistry I know, stink damp can be produced when hydrogen gas (common lead-acid battery/accumulator by-product) reacts with molten sulphur.

The sulphur could be from the sulphuric acid used in that same accumulator. Even more worrying is that in that chemical equation, the hydrogen gas could be replaced by a hydrocarbon.

In an automotive engine, the most common hydrocarbon is petrol, though this is a stretch, I don’t see how petrol can reach the battery without human intervention.

The whole process could be cyclic. Sewer gas and oxygen react to form sulphur dioxide and water. In high temperature environments (car engine? I don’t know), the sulphur dioxide and more “rotten eggs” react to create sulphur and water (the Claus Process), and this is probably where the sulphur originated from to create the hydrogen sulphide.

As you can see, this is a self-generating menace right there, because, aside from the bad smell, stink damp is highly explosive.

Anyway, enough of the Chemistry. Why this occurs only when you drive at speed is what is important, and for that I have no answer. It could be something to do with the charging system.

Is the battery being overcharged at high rpm? Maybe. The electrical charging current could be creating undesired electrolysis (the accumulator, is after all, a voltaic /electrolytic cell)

Posted on

Misbehaving tyres, misinformed mechanics and, well…

Hello Baraza,

I want to pick your brains on a couple of things:

1. Yana tyres: I recently replaced my tyres, one pair Yana and the other Chinese Marshall. The car started “bouncing” whenever I was at about 40kph.

After checking, I zeroed in on one of the Yanas. On closer observation, however, we noticed that the rim was slightly bent and required to be straightened (well, that should be rounded, no?)

At the workshop, which is independent and specialises in tyre service but not sales, the very experienced mzee said that the quality of Yanas has gone down and that he would not recommend them for saloon vehicles, although he admitted that their durability is still good.

He said that they were too “heavy” and therefore require frequent balancing, and suggested that I fit the Yanas at the back.

After fixing the rim, the problem persisted and I went back to Sameer. To their credit, they replaced it without much fuss.

At the workshop where we took the new tyre for balancing (at an independent Shell station where they do not sell tyres either) two different gentlemen there also commented about the “lowered quality” of Yanas.

When I asked the engineer at Sameer about this, he said that it was all hogwash, but probably he would not have said otherwise even if it was true.

In all my years of driving — heading to two decades now — I have always thought highly of and hence used Firestone, now Yana, and considered them good value, even with their high price.

But having heard the comments from two independent sources, neither of whom sells tyres, and therefore should not have a personal interest, I fear that there could be something there. What is your experience/opinion?

2. Clearance: When it comes to offroaders, I believe that clearance is key in enabling you to go wherever your heart leads. But your clearance is only as good as the vehicle’s lowest point.

So does it not beat the purpose when, say, an X-Trail has a silencer hanging what looks like inches off the ground, or some 4WD pickups that have differentials dangling like udders?

3. Many experienced drivers say that when you are going a long distance (say, several hours long) and have to make a brief stop in between, you should not switch off the engine.

Although they all seem to agree on this, none has given me a convincing reason.

Some say it is to maintain the temperature (but will five to 10 minutes make a difference really?) others lubrication (ditto), and one even said that when switched off, an engine loses “rhythm” (but he drives a petrol-powered VVT-i whose “rhythm”’ should be controlled by the computer-box).

Does this make any sense?

4. I have been doing some agriculture and now would like to take it a notch higher.

One of the things that I will need is a tractor. I have seen used entry-level imports being advertised and some locally used ones as well and have started taking a look at some.

But unfortunately, the only advice I am getting so far is from sellers/dealers who are, predictably, biased.

What is your experience in terms of the different models (assuming equivalent specs): Ford, Massey Ferguson, Same, New Holland, John Deere, etc in terms of local availability of spares and expertise, reliability, etc?

Tom

Well, you are not the first to mention the Yana issue to me. However, I usually reserve judgment until I come up with conclusive evidence (myself). This might call for a comparison test between tyre brands to see who the culprits are.

2. Yes, that is true, and that is the likely reason the X-Trail with the “udder” exhaust is never taken off-road.

However, the bigger SUVs with the “udder” diffs work well. Off-roading is a skill, and part of that skill is how to avoid knocking out those diffs when driving over a rock or a tree stump.

If you have been following events of late, I was in South Africa (again) recently to drive the little Range Rover Evoque off-road, and you would not believe what it did, even with its (lack of) ground clearance.

It boils down to skill as much as ground clearance.

3. The theory about losing “rhythm” is hogwash, but there is sense in leaving the engine running if your stop is going to last less than five minutes.

The biggest problem is the sudden loss of oil pressure, so if you are going to drive off again, you would not want an oil-less engine to work with (start lubricating from scratch).

Heat dumping is another issue: while oil is used to lubricate, it is also used to cool certain parts of the engine.

With the oil pump not delivering oil to those parts, they cannot cool fast enough and so they “dump” the heat in whatever little oil happens to be around there.

If the dumped heat exceeds the heat capacity of the oil there, the oil is coked, or broken down, so you have no oil, but sludge. This heat dumping is the number one killer of turbochargers, especially in diesel engines.

4. I will have to disappoint you on this one. The last tractor I was involved with was a Ford Hughes 6610, and it was older than I am. I have not had much experience since.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your articles. Please give me some advice on what I can do about my Toyota Wish.

I refuelled at a Shell petrol station in Machakos and a pump attendant messed up by pumping diesel into it instead of V-Power, as I had advised him.

They later emptied the tank by disconnecting the fuel pipes and off I went. The car is new and I request you to advise me on what I can to do to clear the mess.

Second, what is your take on this car? I have never heard you comment positively about it. You once equated this expensive car with a bicycle and my fiancée now tells me that I drive a cheap car.

James.

Disconnect the fuel lines, empty your petrol tank, and rinse it out with petrol.

As for the fuel lines and the filters/injectors/pumps, you may need someone who is knowledgeable in the exact workings of a Wish.

A common method of cleaning out wrongly fed vehicles used to be to disconnect the fuel filter from the injectors, then prime the pump until only petrol is coming out through the filter. Then reconnect the throttle body to the filter and crank your engine.

Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I want to engage you on a new-found love in the Mazda RX8.

From the little knowledge I have gathered, the RX8 is a 1300cc and does not have pistons. Here are my queries;

Is there a garage you know that services other types of engines that are not piston-driven?

What is the biggest weakness of these types of engines?

Would you buy this car?

How is the fuel consumption?

Which other vehicle would be ideal as a sports car?

Rick

The “non-piston” engine in the RX-8 is actually called a Wankel.

To differentiate them, let us use their proper names: Piston engines are called reciprocating engines because the pistons move in an up-and-down (reciprocating) motion.

The Wankel engine is called a rotary engine because, one, rather than conventional pistons, it uses rotors (usually two or three) and these rotors move in a circular/rotating motion, hence the name.

I cannot declare any one garage competent enough to service these engines because they are rare and delicate.

If one garage proves its mettle, I will be glad to get their name out there.

There is very little torque, they require regular servicing, the oil consumption is high and they are thirsty. The rotor tips also get fried very often, requiring frequent overhauls.

See 2 above.

No, and for the reasons, see 1 and 2 above. There are also very few around, so spares and replacement engines may be hard to come by.

This is compounded by the fact that the Mazda unit is the only automotive engine of its kind in recent times and it is no longer in production.

When getting one, the best thing to do is a compression test to see if the rotor tips need replacement (replacement means overhaul, by the way).

There are many sports cars. Keep looking.

Hello Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the effect of keeping your foot on the brake pedal in an automatic transmission car as opposed to engaging the neutral gear for those short start-stop moves, especially in traffic jams.

Also, where can one read and keep abreast of traffic rules and their relevant actions or fines since policemen frequently take advantage of our profound ignorance even for trivial issues such as a cracked windscreen or failing to carry your a driver’s licence.

Ndung’u.

The only effect of keeping your foot on the brake pedal is a tired calf muscle from applying pressure on the pedal all the time. That is it. It does not hurt the car at all.

On traffic rules, I think a regular subscription to the Kenya Gazette would be a good source of updates on rules and regulations, because the ones we see on TV are not always very well explained.

However, I can tell you from experience: you will never win an argument against a traffic policeman. If he decides to take things a step further, knowing full well that he has no case, he has nothing to lose.

You, on the other hand, will be inconvenienced thoroughly if your car is impounded or you are given a court summons.

Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet fitted with a manual gearbox and for a while it has given me problems to the extent that I have grounded it.

The problem started two months ago while I was on my way to Thika. The car started intermittently jerking then running smoothly before it stalled.

My mechanic came, checked the engine, and said that I should buy a new head gasket to check the leaking oil, but even after we installed it, the engine would not run well.

After a lot of guesswork, during which he removed the timing belt but could not re-instal it, he finally told me that probably the car needs new piston rings and a lot of blah blah blah.

Kindly advise me on whether there is someone out there who can return the duet’s timing belt to its proper position, and what is required to put the car back on the road.

Tony

My deepest sympathies for your woes Tony, and for being at the mercy of a clown of a mechanic.

The jerking, I suspect, comes from an erratic electrical current in the high tension leads. The leaking oil may or may not be a contributing factor.

My advice is for you to visit a reputable garage. Since I cannot market particular enterprises, all I will say is find a big one, preferably one referenced by a friend.

Dear Baraza,

What are the advantages of the VVT-i engines in Toyota cars in terms of safety, speed, fuel consumption, and manoeuvrability on both tarmac and tracks in rural Kenya? These cars also come in automatic transmission trims.

J B Angote.

The transmission type is largely irrelevant when considering the pros and cons of VVT-i, but anyway here goes:

Safety: The use of variable valve timing has no direct effect on vehicle safety, but the engine management could utilise this variable timing to dial back the power in conjunction with the traction control system.

Speed: If by speed you mean outright performance, then yes, VVT-i does help. In the low rev range, say 4,000 rpm and below, the valve timing and lift is programmed for economy and smoothness.

At higher revs, towards the red line, the engine management assumes a racer-type personality and adjusts the valve action accordingly.

In some engines, this is achieved by the use of two different camshafts, or a camshaft with two profiles, one for economy and one for performance. Honda’s equivalent of VVT-i is called VTEC, and in some cars (such as the Type R vehicles), one can actually feel the change-over taking place as you drive along.

Fuel consumption: Same as speed above, but this now happens at low revs. At low engine speeds, the valve timing and lift is set for optimum economy (and thus poor performance).

Manoeuvrability: This has more to do with suspension and chassis setup than engine management.

Hello JM,

Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and have picked loads of tips.

I was very eager to read your responses regarding issues that one of the writers had about his/her AE 111 (1,600CC). I have a similar experience with my Caldina 1,800CC, 1993, manual transmission model.

1. At a speed of 40KPH, the vehicle shakes/vibrates so much, it feels like a person limping while running. Several theories have been fronted by mechanics who unfortunately have failed to diagnose the problem.

Some say it has to do with the Yana tyres I bought recently — two of which I bought early last year and the other two in 2010, and all of which are in fairly good shape.

Others have recommended wheel balancing and alignment, which I have done several times without any success.

I am at my wits end and considering replacing all the shocks soon to see if that is where the problem lies. I have replaced tie rod ends, stabilisers… name it.

There is also a light on the dashboard that usually comes on when one of the brake lights is not functioning. Despite replacing the bulbs, this light is on. What would you advise on this?

Lastly, I intend to buy a new car soon and am considering buying a Toyota Alphard. Are there manual types? Any pros and cons you may wish to share?

KO

That Yana tyres issue has arisen several times in the recent past from different readers, but I am avoiding it for now. Without solid evidence, I cannot comment on it yet.

I expect that the manufacturers, after reading this, will be in a position to reaffirm the superiority of their brand, which, as one reader says here, has been top-notch for decades.

I am, however, compiling a list of repeat offenders and planning on putting their products to the test to verify whether or not they are indeed below standard.

As for the vibration, if wheel balancing and alignment does not solve the problem, tell the mechanics to look at the wheel bearings.

They might have gone out of round or suffered some other physical affliction and need replacement. One of the cars I drive has exactly that problem.

On the brakes issue, what light is that? The dashboard has a variety of lights and graphics.

Finally, I know not of any manual transmission Alphards. The car is smooth, comfortable, fancy, handy for large families and if only Toyota’s G-BOOK telematics software worked here, it would be really awesome.

Its cons are; Toyota’s G-BOOK telematics does not work in Kenya (Japan only), the car is expensive and a 3,000cc V6 petrol engine powering a large van means one thing: thirst.

Hello,

Your educative motor articles on Wednesday are a must-read for me. I drive a Toyota Probox, 2005 Model (NCP 51V).

I have been using it for a year and was its first user in Kenya. Problem is, the starter needs to be cranked twice for it to start running, but in the morning it starts well, albeit with a “choking” feel.

Once the car starts, it picks properly and has enough power. I have taken it to five mechanics and all have given me varying verdicts.

The first one argued that we needed to change from Denso to NGK plugs, but this did not help the situation at all.

The second one had his finger on the alarm system, but the installer said it was okay. I did a diagnosis that returned a low/high voltage verdict, but the battery technicians at Chloride Exide said all was well with the battery.

The third mechanic argued that the fuel pump was delaying delivery of fuel to the engine, but after cleaning it I noticed no change. The fourth said the throttle was clogged… same story.

The fifth one, thank God, was clueless.

Help!

Peter

Let us go back to the second mechanic because it seems he came closest to locating the problem.

The diagnosis said wrong voltage, right? Too high or too low. The battery and charging systems might be fine, but what about the high tension leads? The ignition system?

Check the distributor and the alternator, as well as the cables themselves. Also check the ignition coil and make sure the starter motor is getting enough electricity.

Check for loose or frayed connections which could lead to sporadic shorting.

Posted on

The Avensis is just another bland Toyota

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

John

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

2. I repeat, visit Toyota Kenya and ask.

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

Njoroge.

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

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

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

The disregard for Subaru cars stems from several avenues.

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

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

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

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

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

JM,

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

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

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

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

Harold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

2. To import or buy locally assembled.

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

4. Where can I learn to drive the same?

Mwangi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Here’s why some predated Mercs are making a comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————-

Hi Mr Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Yes, this is true.

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

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

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

——————–

Hi Baraza,

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

1. Good safety record

2. Ride quality and comfort

3. Maintenance and availability of spares

4. Fuel consumption

5. Speed and stability

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

Safety record: The 406.

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

Comfort: 406.

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————–

Hi Mr Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kasmani

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————–

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.

——————–

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).

——————–

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”).

——————–

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

Take note, Shell V-Power won’t turn your Vitz into a Ferrari

Hello Baraza,

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the ordinary super petrol and the V-Power fuel sold by Shell. I drive a supercharged Vitz — RS 1600cc — and have tried using both fuel types and experienced no difference at all in terms of speed, performance and kilometres per litre. Let me hear from you on this.

Nawaz Omar.

Shell were very careful when pointing this out. Much as the ads starred a Ferrari road car (and an F1 racer too, if I recall), it did not mean that putting V-Power in a Vitz will turn it into a 458 Italia. Nor did it mean that the fuel economy of a small car will be changed from the incredible to the scarcely believable.

Shell V-Power contains extra cleaning agents that will wipe away all the dirty sins, sorry, dirty deposits from your engine and fuel system, just like Christians insist Jesus will if you call out to Him.

Even more importantly (for those of us who love performance engines), it also contains octane levels high enough to allow high compression engines to run on it: engines such as those with forced induction (turbocharged/supercharged) or even… yes, a Ferrari F1 racer.

So Nawaz, take note: V-Power will clean the engine of your Vitz, not transform it.

Hi Baraza,

I enjoy reading your column every week. Good work! I would like to know the relationship between engine size and fuel consumption. Basically, what is the relationship between the fuel injected into the combustion chamber and engine size?
Thank you,
Kiama.

If we were in the year 1930, there would be a clear-cut answer to your question, but it is 2012 and we have with us technologies like Variable Valve Timing and Direct Injection which make things very hard to explain without pictures.

Anyway, I will try to make things as simple as possible, and, before I start, I hope you know the basic physiology of an engine.

For normal running, we have what we call the stoichiometric intake charge ratio, which is simply referred to as air-fuel ratio, and stands at 14.7:1. If it goes lower, it is called a rich mixture (such as 10:1 or 5:1). If it goes higher, it is called a lean mixture.

Now, if it was the year 1930, the calculation would be simple: for every 15 metric units of air sucked into the engine, the fuel levels would drop by just a shade more than 1 metric unit.

So for a 2.0 litre engine operating at a constant 1,500rpm, you have four cylinders, which go through 1500 revolutions in one minute, consuming fuel in one stroke out of every four, and two strokes make one revolution (0.5×1500=750 fuel-intensive strokes). Since the cylinders occupy 2,000cc, 750 strokes of 2,000cc would be 1,500,000cc worth of intake charge.

I talked about metric units, and it is here that you have to pay attention because it ties in with all the economy advise I give people about filling up early in the morning.

While at the dispenser down at the petrol station you will buy fuel by VOLUME, the injection system of a car measures it by MASS for the intake charge ratio.

The density of air at 25 degrees Celcius (RTP — room temperature and pressure) is about 1.2 kg/cubic metre. So 1.5 cubic metres (1,500,000cc) will weigh 3.6 kg, which constitutes 14.7/15.7 (93.6%) of the intake charge, with fuel covering the remaining 1/15.7 (6.4%), which by simple arithmetic translates to about 0.25 kg of fuel.

Fuel has a density of 0.74 kg/L, so 0.25 kg of petrol will translate to roughly 338 ml of the stuff, or about 1/3 of a litre.

This is for the 2.0 litre engine running at a steady 1,500rpm for exactly one minute under the stoichiometric intake charge ratio. In the year 1930.

Nowadays, with electronic engine management, direct injection and variable valve timing, the cars can run lean and the effective volume of the cylinder changed in real time, so it is not that easy to calculate the consumption by hand like I just did.

Hello JM,
I drive the new-model Caldina and whenever I encounter dusty roads or wade through muddy waters, the brakes become a gamble. Recently, I noticed the same on my friend’s Subaru Outback. Is it a manufacturer’s error or just the pads? I almost rammed another car because of this.
Sam.

No, Sam, that is not a manufacturers’ mistake. It is your mistake. What you are telling me is: “Look, I drove over a police spike strip and now all my tyres are flat. The manufacturer must be really useless.”

When wet or dirty, brakes don’t work as well as they should because the foreign material interferes with the friction surfaces that convert your kinetic energy into heat energy; and that is why at the driving school they told you to increase your braking distance by at least half if you are driving on a wet surface.

Just to prove my point, tell me, honestly, really truthfully, with a straight face: When clean and dry, the brakes work fine, don’t they?

Hi Baraza,

I imported a Subaru Imprezza GG2, 2004 model late last year and the mileage on the odometer at the time was around 82,000km. I had a small accident with it along Valley Road, Nairobi a month ago and the insurance company fixed the car, but since then there’s a “wheezing” sound that comes from the back as I drive.

Two mechanics have independently confirmed to me that the rear right bearing is the source of the noise and that, for this particular model, the bearing and the hub are sold together as one component. Could you confirm this? What would be the risk of driving it that way before I get it fixed? Can the rear right wheel come off as I’m driving?

Secondly, having done that mileage, what particular parts or components should I replace? Do I need to change the timing belt or any other particular thing? Kindly advise.

You could go to a shop and ask to buy a bearing. If they tell you that it sold with the hub as a unit, then there’s your answer.

I went through a similar case with a Peugeot 405 I had: the fourth gear synchroniser unit was damaged, and when I went to buy a new one, they handed over the unit, to which was attached a gear, and they quoted an unfriendly price. Told them the gear in my car was fine: lose the cog and drop the price. Can’t do, they said; the synchro is the one that costs that much, the gear is actually free. I wanted to weep.

The rear wheel will not necessarily come off, at first, but the bearing could collapse and this might lead to the studs in the hub breaking when the wheel wobbles. Then the wheel will come off.

You could pre-empt breakages by replacing parts such as the timing belt, but the Kenyan way is to drive a car until it stalls, right at the moment when you are at the front of a queue in a heavy traffic jam and the lights turn green or a traffic policeman waves you off.

A physical check will let you know what to replace before your dashboard lights up like a gaudy neon sign, but look at tyres, brakes, the timing belt and the transmission. The suspension too, the shocks especially.

Hi Baraza,

On a trip abroad I had a taste of the great Lexus LS400 and the Chevrolet Lumina SS, though I fell in love with the Lexus as it had a huge, all-leather interior and that ‘cruise feeling’ to it.

You wouldn’t want to go to work in that car, it makes you feel rich and lazy. The consumption, I was told, is on the higher side, but wouldn’t that depend on how heavy your foot is?

Then came the Lumina. She is a beauty, though fitted with plastic interior. I couldn’t help but feel the car had that ‘I’m gonna fall apart soon’ look. I mean, it looks like it wouldn’t survive a head-on with a Vitz. Fuel consumption was much the same.
Considering I can afford the two cars, which one would you suggest I go for?

Wilson.

Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

The SS is not meant for driving to the office through heavy traffic (the Lexus will shine here), it is meant to go through corners while facing the wrong way, executing massive powerslides and doing great big drifts in the process. It is a car for having fun in.

Your wife will not take it kindly if you show up one day exclaiming: “Honey, we are broke, but at least we have a 6.0 litre V8 car to show why.” The massive spoiler, fat tyres and unsubtle body kits will not tickle her fancy as it would yours. The SS is a sports car. Buy the Lexus.

Hi Baraza,

The ‘check engine’ light on my Nissan Wingroad 2001 model is permanently on. I did an OBD and the fault detected was the primary ignition coil, which I replaced. The plugs were also checked and found sound and of correct specification, but the engine light has refused to go off. I have tried four other OBDs and the result is the same. My mechanic is advising that I change the computer unit. Are the units repairable? Kindly advise.

Isaac.

You should have flushed the ECU after replacing the coil, especially if that cured the problem. It has to be done to most cars. The recommended method is using the same OBD scanner or a PC with the appropriate software and hardware links. Another method is to disconnect the battery overnight.

Dear Baraza,

I drive a 2002 Toyota Corolla station wagon EE103, 1490cc. It has served me diligently, but I would like to sell it to another financially challenged Kenyan and upgrade myself. I like fancy cars but I’m afraid of the cost implications.

I have made many visits to garages manned by thieving mechanics and would like my next car to guarantee me few mechanical breakdowns.

So help me make the big leap. Of the following, which one should I go for: Toyota Mark X, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Wingroad or Toyota Wish? If I remember, you likened the Wish to a bicycle, but still….

Hassan Mahat

The only fancy cars in that list are the Mark X (lovely machine) and the Diamante (dodgy ancestry — Diamantes of old were unreliable). The rest are common fare, especially among the “financially challenged”.

The Wingroad feels — and is — cheap, and ages fast. The Lancer is pretty but suffers from wonky powertrains, especially as an auto. The Wish is aimed at those who have little interest in cars (and from the seating capacity, little control over their loins too).

Hi Baraza

I am 29 and want to buy my first car. I have sampled what’s on offer and this is the fare that has caught my attention: VW Golf, VW Polo, Toyota RunX, Mazda Demio, Toyota Cami, Toyota Opa, Suzuki Maruti and Suzuki Swift.

I’m looking for a second-hand car priced between Sh500,000 and Sh750,000, a car that can do long-distance drives twice a month (Nairobi-Mombasa), a car that is not a ‘Kenyan uniform’ and would still have a good resale value after four or five years. What should I go for?

Second, where is the best place to buy a car? Is it okay to trawl through the classifieds?

Job. 

Job, maintenance and consumption aside, what you want is the Golf if you are serious about doing the Nairobi-Mombasa run once in a while. The rest of the cars will prove to be a heavy cross to bear. For economy, get a diesel Golf.

On where to get it, cars can be bought from anywhere, but do not commit yourself to anything until you see the car itself. I know of some people who have been sold non-existent vehicles after following newspaper and Internet ads.

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a car for the first time and I’m so much interested in the Subaru Forester. But after enquiring about it from various people, I’m beginning to get confused. Those who own it swear it’s the best car on Kenyan roads today, while those who don’t feel nothing for it. Kindly tell me more about this car, especially the 2000cc model.

Also, between the turbo-charged and non-turbo, 4WD and 2WD, which one is better in terms of fuel consumption, availability of spare parts, durability and performance.

In addition, what is the difference between these two Foresters: the 2.0XT and the 2.0XS?

Thank you.

I had no idea 2WD Foresters existed, but if they do, then they should have lower consumption but lose out on performance to their 4WD compadres. Turbo cars are faster, thirstier, harder to repair and a touch fragile compared to NA versions of the same vehicle. Generally.

The XS model is naturally aspirated (non-turbo) and has auto levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, climate control and a CD Stacker (six-disc in-dash).

The XT is turbocharged and shares features with the the XS, but additionally, also has 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a Momo steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo.

Hi Baraza,
1. I recently came across and advertisement for a motorcycle that can do 70 kilometres per litre. Is this practical?

2. VW have developing a car called the 1L and claim it can do 100 kilometres per litre, thus 10 litres will take you from Nairobi to Mombasa and back. Kindly shed more light on this.

Chris.

1. Yes, especially if it’s engine is of 50cc or less.

2. The reality remains to be seen, because the self-same Volkswagen had a “three-litre car” (3L/100km) which I have  discussed before, the Lupo/SEAT Arosa/Audi A2. It might have done the 33kpl, but not exactly daily. Our roads, diesel quality and traffic conditions may hamper drivers from easily attaining this kind of mileage.

Practicality will depend on the intensity of engineering genius behind it: how many passengers, how much luggage, whether or not it can sustain highway speeds, how easy it is to live with, and so on.

Posted on

Driver madness is the problem, not the cars

JM,

Let me state from the get go that I’m an irredeemable petrolhead through and through. Having said that, I’ve made some observations that I suspect are not unique to Kenyan roads, such as the fact that most accidents are the handiwork of drivers with “unschooled” blood, you know, the kind that think they are WRC or Formula One drivers with bog standard, used Japanese clunkers.

In light of this observation, I have formulated what I think is a way of purging our roads of this problem, and it is in the form of a law that goes something like this: It should be illegal for all individuals below the age of 25 to drive a vehicle with any form of forced induction, a displacement of more than and including 1800 CC or any vehicle that has 135 bhp, 150 Nm of torque, a cylinder count of more than four and an engine speed of more than 7,500 rpm, unless it’s in a sanctioned motorsports event. What do you think ?

That is a bit harsh. What kills people on the road is stupidity, and not motor vehicle preference. A couple of days ago, I watched an driver in a Suzuki Vitara squeeze into a space that his car would clearly not fit into.

The defining limits of the space? On the left was a flower bed, on the right was a Mercedes-Benz Actros juggernaut. Both the truck driver and I watched speechless as the obviously intelligence challenged Vitara driver knowingly and wilfully drove into the truck’s plastic front left fender, squeeze through like a rat squeezing through a hole in the wall when escaping from a hungry cat — all the while scraping a good deal of paint off his own car — before speeding away without looking back even once.

The Suzuki Vitara has four cylinders, 1600cc, less than 135 hp, is naturally aspirated and has the redline at 6000 rpm, so it clearly falls into your category of “sane” or “safe”. What I saw that day was more shocking than watching a man jump off a building.

Honda cars rev up to 9,000 rpm and they are perfectly safe to drive. One can also drive a Toyota Camry V6, which you will agree with me is a perfectly safe vehicle to drive, even for beginners.

The Mahindra pickup is turbocharged, surely a 24-year old can handle one if he is employed as a delivery driver for some company that buys these pickup. That same company can choose to buy a Nissan NP300, which comes in 2400cc, 2700cc or even 3200cc.

In contrast, one can drive a 660cc Daihatsu Mira TR-XX or Suzuki Capuccino, which is bloody fast and has minimal safety features.

It has a 3-cylinder engine (less than four), 660 cc (less than 1800), does 100 hp and about 140 Nm of torque (both are sub-135 and sub-150 respectively) and has the red line set at 6,500 rpm (less than 7,500).

But if my son found his way into one of those, I would still give him a sound thrashing, irrespective of his age, and tell him to get himself a Camry instead. Luckily, I do not have a son to cane. Yet.

The best way to optimise road safety would be to confiscate the driving licences of intelligence challenged drivers like the one I have described and send them to jail indefinitely.

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Hello JM,

My mother has been searching for a vehicle with a fuel consumption of 32 kilometres per litre. I tell her that the only car you can get such consumption out of is an Indian one, but she still insists. She hates the Toyota Vitz, Probox, Ist, Cami, NZE, Corolla, Premio and Allion, so she is thinking of the new model Mazda Demio. Please help her find the right car.

Roy

The only vehicle that can clock 32 kpl under normal driving conditions and techniques is a motorcycle, and one that has an engine capacity of 250cc or below.

I have heard of things called Bajaj, TVS and Focin. I have also heard of Hongda and Keweseki, all of which have two wheels and no bodywork.

They also have sub-250cc single-cylinder 4-stroke engines, so economy is good. I wouldn’t recommend a tuk-tuk though: I have watched a few do cartwheels, backflips and somersaults, and the acceleration is terrible and top speed is very poor.

However, if your mummy has the skills and know-how on how to extract the maximum number of kilometres from the minimum number of quarts of fuel in something with four wheels, then she could look at a Maruti: its 800cc, 3-cylinder engine is the easiest available engine with which to attempt 32 kpl (and still fail dismally).

Otherwise, the best one can hope for, in ordinary circumstances, is 18-20 kpl.

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Dear Baraza,

What is the difference between a ZZE engine and an NZE engine in a Toyota Corolla vehicle? How suitable are these engines on the Kenyan roads and weather conditions, and do they require different treatment once somebody purchases them?

The first one or two letters specify the engine family (NZ or ZZ), while the E represents fuel injection. The NZ family uses straight-four aluminium engine blocks with 16 valves, double camshafts (overhead) and VVT-i. SFI fuel injection is present, hence NZE.

The ZZ family also uses an aluminium straight-four block with aluminium cylinder heads. Double camshafts (DOHC) with chain drive are also used, with bore and stroke varying within the range depending on how sporty the engine is.

The basic layout does not need anything special to be able to run in Kenyan conditions. However, the sporty ZZ family engines (2ZZ, especially) having been developed for power at high revs, might need a cylinder head replacement to lower the compression ratio to enable it run on low octane fuel. This is not too much of a problem though, both engine families will run okay.

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Hi Baraza,

What’s your take on tiptronic cars, and in case of emergency braking, how do you shift the gears down to avoid stalling? (In a manual car, you depress the clutch and shift to neutral).

William

Actually, for a sportier, smoother and more effective braking effect, a technique called heel and toe is used. It synchronizes engine speed and gearbox speed by using all the three pedals at the same time (the brake slows you down, the clutch allows you to shift down — you have to declutch after each downshift — and the accelerator raises the engine revs to match the gearbox speed) and complements wheel braking with engine braking. It does not involve braking with the transmission in neutral.

Anyway, tiptronic cars are driven just like automatic cars, no clutch work is needed (because there is no clutch pedal) and the car will prevent itself from stalling. Nothing to panic about.

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Baraza,

What do you think of the BMW owned MINI (whichever make starting from 2001)?

I rarely see them on the streets but I think they look great, especially for a young guy (size of a Vitz but definitely more manly), plus there is an option for a 5-speed, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that I’m guessing has quite a kick. Let me know more about the car in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption with sane driving.

2. Safety record.

3. Price.

4. Ability to handle Kenyan roads and a little bit of offroading.

1. Which of the models? For sure, the supercharged car will not burn fuel at the same rate as the NA versions. And anyway, why would you be concerned about fuel economy for a car that size, it is bound to be impressive no matter what.

2. It has a good safety record. No recalls, no reports of nasty cornering surprises or infidelity at speed.

3. You will need to shop around for prices because they vary.

4. Some Kenyan roads, yes. Offroading: you must be out of your mind. Unless you are referring to the MINI Countryman, in which case, yes.

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Hi Baraza,

I must say I really miss the days when a full column was dedicated to a particular subject as opposed to the Q&A.

However, it’s still encouraging to see people appreciate good advice from qualified persons (the days of “Grogan engineers” are numbered).

I currently own a year 2000 1500cc Toyota EE103 and it has served me very well. The pros of this car: large boot space, rear leaf suspension, good fuel consumption, available spares, hardiness (you should see what we call roads here), etc. The cons: none that I can’t cope with.

But I now want to upgrade to another station wagon that can endure some donkey work and still be a comfortable family car.

A Probox is not an option: I am torn between a Toyota Caldina (new and old shape) and Avensis, both 1800cc. I would like to get your opinion on these, and feel free to add any other make or model that can fall in the same class.

Another thing, some mitumba cars that we usually run to buy were not originally meant for a market in the tropics.

Some are rumoured to break down on the first long trip on Kenyan roads, which could be somewhere along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway immediately after importation.

What is your take on this issue, and if its true, how can one tell whether a particular car is fit for a given climatic condition?

MK

Let me answer the second part first. That was a topic I covered in a two-piece special called “Tropicalisation” that ran during the first two weeks of 2011.

The result was vitriol from a good number of people who accused me of capitalist thinking and being elitist and/or receiving brown envelopes under a table. So I decided to let them suffer with inappropriate cars for a while. I will get on their case again very soon.

Anyway, the old-shape Caldina is the best. It also has leaf spring rear suspension (which, for some reason, you seem to like) and a massive boot, and it will ferry your family in relative comfort.

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Hi Baraza,

Kindly tell me:

1. What produces the distinctive sounds of the different vehicles; is it the engine or the exhaust?

2. The engine brake (freno), according to the little power mechanics I know, should be used when the momentum of the vehicle is driving the engine, especially on descent, so why do the small bus (like Nissan Diesel MK210) drivers use it every time they are braking? I suspect they are thrilled by the sound, like I am.

3. Eicher looks like an Isuzu; where is it from and who assembles it?

4. Do all direct injection lorries have engine brakes?

Mwangi

1. When it comes to the sound, it’s a little of both, but more of the exhaust than the engine.

2. Actually, the exhaust brake (engine brake, or retarder, or exhaust retarder) is used as the primary speed-shedding device before the foot (wheel) brakes are applied. This is to save the wheel brakes (brake pads) from rapid wear because they are easily prone to failure owing to the great mass of the vehicle. In some vehicle models, such as Scania trucks and buses, it has been incorporated into the foot brake just in case the driver thinks using the column mounted stalk/lever is too much work.

The procedure is: apply the retarder, lose speed, maybe dab the foot brakes a bit to shed more speed, double-declutch down one gear, apply the retarder again, when slow enough, downshift again, and repeat until such a point when the foot brake is needed for a complete stop.

3. Actually the Eicher started off as a defunct Mitsubishi manufactured under license. The parent company is based in New Delhi, India, but they are assembled and sold locally by CMC Motors.
4. Most lorries do have the exhaust retarder.

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Dear Baraza

I drive a Subaru Cross Sport, which requires that refill the coolant every week, if I go for more than a week, I find it empty but the car does not overheat and everything else is fine.

I have asked several mechanics about this; one told me that it could be that the radiator lead was worn out (I changed it but nothing changed), while another told me it was because I am always using the AC .

I have had the car checked and no leakages have been found. What could be the problem?

Beverly

There is clearly a leak somewhere. If your car does not wet the floor every time it is parked, then the leak could be by evaporation through some unwanted aperture. A third theory is a worn out head gasket, through which coolant seeps and gets into the engine.

The way to confirm this is to check for smoke pouring out of your exhaust pipe: if you see white smoke, there you have it. Also check the overflow bottle in case it is the one leaking. But there is definitely a leak.

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Mr Baraza,

I drive a turbocharged year 2005 Subaru Forester and I have two concerns regarding it:

1. If the makers of the Forester understand the delicateness of the turbo, why not fit it with a turbo timer?

2. I have noticed that in the morning the car produces blue smoke after idling in the traffic jam, then the smoke disappears once I hit the highway . The performance and service of the car is okay.

Nderitu

Much as I said turbo engines need care and are delicate, I did not mean THAT delicate. Nowadays they can do without turbo timers given the amount of R&D that has gone into improving forced induction systems.

The most susceptible vehicles to turbo failures, by the way, are the ones with turbo diesel engines because they run higher boost pressures, generate more heat and the turbos spool at higher speeds compared to turbocharged petrol engines. Don’t worry, your Forester is fine without the timer.

However, it is not fine if it continues producing blue smoke. The car is burning oil, so there could be blow-by, the rings might be worn out or the valve seals need replacement. Get it checked ASAP.

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Hi Baraza,

Is it possible to modify an old model car by fitting it with extras like airbags, ABS, automatic gearbox, sensors and so on? Secondly, is it true that Volvos are the safest cars in the world, and if so why are they not common?

Kahara

About the modification, yes you can, but by the time you are through, you will feel like you have built a whole new car, which in a way, you will have, given the degree of modification you have to do to almost all major systems. It is easier and more sensible to just buy another car that has all those features.

Volvos: At one time, they were. This does not mean that they no longer are, just that almost everybody else has caught up now, so the top slot is shared among many (except the Chinese, and maybe Russian).

The reason they are not common is because Kenyans have this unique mindset that they’d rather die than spend more than the bare minimum on buying price, spares and fuel costs.

The bare minimum is what it costs to own a used car from a faraway land, buying parts poached from a vehicle whose owner did not invest in an alarm system, and the fuel charges of a 3-cylinder sub-1100cc Japanese engine driving downhill on an extra-wide highway.

The erroneous perception extends to the belief that Volvos are thirsty, which they are not.