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I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

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Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

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Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

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Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

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Frankly speaking, I do not see us using electric cars any time soon

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your entertaining and informative column. After seeing your low opinion of electric cars and their potential in Kenya (Daily Nation, June 27, 2012), I want to offer an alternative view. It is clear that electric cars are the future, with oil supplies peaking and air pollution reaching critical levels in most cities. Only two things are holding back the sector: the limited capacity of batteries and their expense.

However, every year the weight and cost of batteries are going down as their density and range increase. Prices for new Toyotas start at around Sh1.6 million; new high-quality electric vehicles start at around Sh2.5 million, though government incentives can significantly reduce that price.

There is a UK company that produces electric Range Rovers that have a range of 200 kilometres per charge, and an Indian company that produces a small electric vehicle that is quite popular in London.

My question is this: if electric cars were available in Kenya, why would a discerning urban commuter with electricity at home (for slow overnight charging) decide, like you, that an internal combustion engine is a better choice? Electric cars are better for everyone’s lungs and in the long run much better for the owner’s pocket.

But they’re not on sale, new or used. Let’s bring them in! Or build our own (Ethiopia is developing one, and there is a huge do-it-yourself electric car sub-culture in the USA).

Edward Miller.

Yes, the prospects for electric vehicles look brighter as oil levels drop, but the general belief in the industry is that they are really not the answer.

A lot more investment is being made in biofuels, diesel-electric hybrids and how best to use the little remaining oil than in developing a fully electric vehicle. Hydrogen has been adopted, dropped and adopted again as a power source for an electric car, and that means the wall socket will have to continue powering TV sets and microwave ovens and forget about powering the motoring industry.

I know about the Range Rovers in the UK. How much does one go for, eh? I also know about the Indian “G-Wiz” (REVO), but this is the worst ambassador you could choose to make the case for electric cars. And in the long run, it may not be cheaper to run an electric car over an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine): what happens when the electric car breaks down?

Cars powered by moving electrons may make sense in the developed world, but around here, we first need a stable support infrastructure, otherwise prospective owners will find themselves the inhabitants of a lonely, cash-intensive planet where lovers of crude oil roam unchecked and will never, ever offer a helping hand when an electric car inevitably runs out of volts and comes to a quite stop… and there isn’t a wall socket within sight.

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Hi JM,

Thank you for your continued service. I have a 1999, 1,300cc Toyota Cami that I love because it has the features I like — it is manual and 4WD. I am, however, considering making it more powerful, and I’m thinking of giving it a bigger engine (a 1,500cc or 1,600cc, preferably VVT-i, although EFI would do in case I don’t find a suitable VVT-i). My questions are:

1. Which engine should I go for (one that will be compatible without much modification)?

2. Will it require a new gear box or not?

3. What might be the power increase and how will it affect efficiency of the vehicle, including fuel consumption?4. Will it adversely affect its handling?

Thank you,

Jediel

You must be one hell of a Cami fan because yours is the first Cami I have heard of being considered for mods. Anyhow:

1. Go for the one that fits in the engine bay easiest. When it comes to the point where you start fabricating new engine mounts or modifying bulk heads/front chassis cross-members, you are entering into expensive and experimental territory, so just get an engine that will fit. Just so you know: both EFI and VVT-i can be found on the same engine: One concerns fuel delivery while the other concerns valve operation, so you can have your cake and fuel it too… I mean, eat it.

2. It may need some new ratios, but this calls for a shakedown first to determine whether or not this is necessary.

3. The new power will be the power output of the new engine. If it is more powerful than the old 1,300, then your car will definitely be faster. And a little bit thirstier, though this might not happen. You see, I have driven the Cami, and I hated it, part of the reason being that, on the highway, it requires thrashing to keep up with the rest of humanity. Maybe a bigger engine will give it a more laid back approach so that you need not cane it to go fast. Then the fuel economy gets better in that regard.

4. Depends on the weight of the new engine. The more the weight difference between the two engines, the more the effect on handling.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been arguing with my friends on a number of issues that I believe you can settle for us once and for all:

1. Which are the best cars for skidding (front-wheel- or rear-wheel-drive), and why are they the best option?

2. Between Mercedes Benz, Renault and Scania trucks, which are the best for long-distance hauliage while heavily loaded?

3. Between the Toyota Hilux D4D pick-up and the Isuzu D-MAX, which has a higher loading capacity? Also, can you compare the FSR with the FH?

1. All cars will skid, except those with advanced 4WD/AWD systems. But I assume you are asking about drifting, and it is rear-drive cars that are best suited for the purpose. You may have discovered from one of my previous articles that drifting is intentional oversteer, so what you need is to break traction at the back axle.

One way is to use the hand brake while turning, because the friction circle (sharing of tyre grip between lateral grip and forward traction) cannot accommodate both the braking effort of the locked tyres and the turning effort, so the tyres lose grip and start sliding.

Another way is to use the power of the car, similar to using the hand brake, but this time instead of the traction being lost to braking, it is lost to the surge of torque from the engine. Same result: the rear of the car starts sliding and you end up drifting.

2. Depends. Nowadays these vehicles are so well developed that it is hard to put them apart, but the technological advancement of Scania may put them ahead of the pack.

3. The two pickups are not very far apart. The D-MAX has a turbo, though, so go figure. The FSR has a shorter payload area than the FH, so it may accommodate a smaller volume of luggage: but on the other hand it may lug a heavier load owing to its huge tyres and superior capacity (9,800cc vs the 6,557cc of the FH). A better comparison for the FH is the FRR (8,200cc).

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Dear Baraza,

Cars either have full-time 4WD, 2WD, AWD, 4WD with select option and others that I may not know of. Now:

1. Do front 2WD cars have better fuel economy than the others (all other factors held constant)?

2. Is it possible to disengage the rear drive shaft of a 4WD automatic transmission so that the car drives with the front wheels only (it becomes a front 2WD)?

3. How complicated is this process of disengaging the rear shaft? What would be the risk to the car?4. Would it improve fuel economy and torque/power to the front wheels?5. What is the difference between AWD and full-time 4WD?

Regards,

L Murithi.

1. Generally, yes, but it does not necessarily have to be FWD. It could also be RWD.

2. Yes. This was actually a mechanical infidelity in the Freelander Mark I because the rear prop shaft would shear, rendering the car permanently FWD. Owners would rarely notice because they rarely took their cars into situations that would warrant the need for 4WD.

3. It is as complicated as applying a spanner to some bolts until the offending prop shaft falls off the car. However, if the diffs are electronically controlled, you might need to remap the control units (engine, transmission, differentials), otherwise your poor car will be confused, wondering why it has lost the feeling in two of its legs.

4. Not really, because to improve economy to 2WD levels you need to lose the entire 4WD setup. Disengaging the prop shaft is OK, but you will still have transfer cases and two or three differentials in the car, which still weigh a lot. Discarding some of these pieces of kit may leave holes and gaps, making your car look like a competitor in a demolition derby. It will not “improve” torque/power, but all of the available power/torque will be going to the front wheels, so you could say that.

5. AWD distributes torque to tyres depending on available grip levels, so in extreme circumstances, the car could be one-wheel drive, since the diffs distribute torque between axles (front and back) and across sides (right and left). Full-time 4WD means all wheels receive torque at all times irrespective of whether or not they are slipping. Torque may be shunted in the same way as the AWD, but the difference is, while in AWD a car can be one-wheel or 2WD, for full time 4WD no singe tyre/axle is completely starved of torque

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Hi Baraza,

I wish to upgrade from a Toyota Corolla AE110 to a Subaru Forester 2.0XS 4WD AT 2.0 (2005). Have you test-driven this car? If so, how would you rate it? Would the upgrade be worthwhile?

Regards,

Alex.

I have driven both the XS and XT versions of the Forester, and I rate them both highly, especially the XT (because it has a turbo, albeit a small one). Depending on your desires, the upgrade may or may not be worthwhile, but the general feeling would be it is a worthwhile venture.

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Hi Baraza,

I appreciate what you do for us and, after following your articles, I have become very enlightened on various vehicle problems that I even find myself transferring your valuable advice to my mechanic.

I drive a Subaru Legacy, twin-turbo, station wagon. Brilliant car! However, it has one major shortcoming when driving at high speeds, especially in gears three and four. At times it lags as if I’m off the throttle, which is very dangerous, especially when overtaking.

My mechanic has never figured out why, but when you drive it and time the gear change appropriately, it flows smoothly. But that only comes with experience and at times you can get it wrong.

I suspect there is a turbo lag as it changes to the second turbo, but my mechanic doubts that since both turbos are okay. Kindly let me know what to do about it.

Elly.

Is your car manual or auto? What you describe there sounds like turbo lag, but then again you have mentioned something about changing gears.

Anyway, if it is manual, try keeping the revs high for the turbos to work properly (they only spool in at high rpm, say, 3,000 rpm or more) and avoid short-shifting (changing up too early). If not, get a mechanic who will look at the turbos physically. There could be boost leakage either from a burst pipe or worn out impeller blades inside one or both turbos.

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Hi Baraza,

My Nissan N16 showed the ‘check engine’ light when it was almost due for service.

I took it for service but the light did not go off, so I took it for diagnosis. My mechanic had checked the air flow sensor and said it was okay, but the diagnosis showed two faults — air flow sensor and knock sensor.

After being reset, only the knock sensor fault remained. The ‘check engine’ light has not appeared again since that day, though I’m advised to change the knock sensor.

Should I still go ahead and replace it? Should I buy it new or second-hand?

What is the work of a knock sensor in an engine?

Kind regards,

CB.

I don’t know how your mechanic came to know the air flow sensor was okay, but if the knock sensor is kaput, replace it too.

The purpose of the knock sensor is to detect “knock” (caused by pre-detonation of the air-fuel mixture), or pinging, after which the ECU advances or retards the ignition timing to optimise power and economy.

Knock is caused by wrong fuel grade (low octane rating), overheating or when the timing is too advanced; or even by hot carbon deposits within the cylinder.

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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.

Posted on

The Voltz: Thank God its production was stopped

Hi Baraza,

1. How does the 2004 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT compare to the 2004 Toyota Voltz S 1.8/2.0 in terms of performance, comfort, driver appeal, practicality, safety and insurance?

2. Why was the production of the Voltz stopped after 2004?

3. What criteria is used to determine a vehicle’s insurance policy cover in relation to premiums?

4. How much would it cost annually in terms of insurance for any one of the above cars?

5. Is it true that tuning a vehicle’s performance and appearance may void insurance?

Githaka

1. Performance: Forester XT.

Comfort: No idea; I have not driven a Voltz, but I’d say Subaru again.

Driver Appeal: Subaru, again. It looks better and is based on the Impreza chassis, which ensures good handling.

That Voltz is based on a Pontiac (Vibe), an American car, which was itself based on yet another Toyota (Matrix), so the Voltz is the derivative of a derivative, with American influence thrown in. That can never be good.

Practicality: Take a guess. Yes, you are right: Subaru. It has a bigger boot and better interior seating space. AWD is a much bigger advantage than the Voltz’s FF chassis, especially with Noah’s revenge falling from the skies this season.

Safety: Hard to call, because both cars have airbags and ABS and whatnot. But where the Subaru wins it (are you surprised?) is by having AWD, which provides directional stability when the going gets unpredictable. I know the hardships of driving an FF on slippery roads, so I would opt for the AWD.

Insurance: Please see your agent for details.

2. Production of the Toad, sorry, Voltz, stopped in 2004 due to poor sales (Thank God!). I don’t know what they were thinking putting it on sale in the first place.

3. This criteria varies from one agent/company to another, so I cannot speak for them. But stuff like driving records (previous accidents), age and sex would determine the individual’s premiums; with the car’s value, mechanical condition and age determining how high or how low your premiums will be set.

4. Third party insurance is Sh2,500 for one month’s coverage. Anything beyond that, please see your agent.

5. Depends on the company, but in some countries it is the law. Changing the car’s appearance (such as a repaint or adding spoilers) will not really affect your insurance, but some mechanical modifications (installation of spacers, abnormally lowered suspension systems or having nitrous injection kits) are both insurance and warranty voiding, and against the law (some people have been known to inhale the nitrous oxide themselves instead of directing it to the car’s engine).

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Hi Baraza,

I fitted my X-Trail with Rob’s Magic springs and got better ground clearance but the vehicle is now very bumpy. The dealer told me that they will stabilise with use but since I don’t often use the vehicle, they are still very hard. Will they affect the car’s body?

Away from suspension, there are small vehicles made in Korea called Atos and Tico, and others found in Italy that I hear have very good consumption. Do we have these vehicles here in Kenya? And if I were to get one, who would I go to for service?

About the springs, sometimes this happens when a car’s torsional rigidity is not up to par. The worst victim of this was the first generation Land Rover Freelander whose body would flex to such an extent that the doors would not open (or close) properly, and sometimes the windscreen would crack (typically a crack would appear at the base of the windscreen in the middle and then snake its way up and to the left). I am not sure how the X-Trail would behave in this respect.

In the olden days, I would stop at the word “Korea” and reply with ROFLMAO, but not anymore. The Koreans have really come of age; have you seen the new Sonata?

It is beautiful. Anyway, the Hyundai Atos (called ATOZ in the UK, which is actually A to Z) was once on sale in Kenya but not anymore. If my memory is not playing tricks on me, a former Miss Kenya had one of these. I don’t know what a Tico is.

Italian micro-cars are just the best, but again, nobody seems to sell them here.

I remember the tiny Cinquecento Sporting had a 7-speed gearbox in a body barely three metres long and two metres wide.

The old Fiat 500 was a “bubble” car; very tiny. Nowadays we have the Alfa Romeo MiTo (Milan, where the design is done, and Torino/Tourin, where it is assembled) and the new Fiat 500 (I would go for the Abarth version of this. Abarth is like AMG).

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Dear Baraza,

I have recently become a fan of the Nissan brand because their vehicles are cheaper in terms of price compared to Toyota models. Now, is there a major difference in regards to fuel economy, stability, durability and maintenance costs between the B13 and B14?

Also, I have been shopping around for a B15, but after 3 test drives I was not happy with the way the back suspensions felt. On a rough road, or when I hit a pothole, it sways sideways at the back. Is there a known problem with these vehicle?

The B13 was more unstable, especially at 110 km/h with the windows open; it experienced an alarming degree of lift. Fuel economy is similar, though the B13 had carburettors for some cars while the B14 is mostly EFI. The B14 is flimsier than the B13 and loses shape (and parts) much faster, hence its bad reputation.

I don’t know if I can call it “known”, but I recognise there is a problem with the B15 suspension, especially at the front, as far as bad roads are concerned.

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Hi,

I am about to be a first time car owner and I am torn between a Toyota Allion, Premio (new shape) and the “Kenya uniform” (Toyota NZE); all automatic transmission, 1500cc and 2003 model.

I am looking for a car that is easy and cheap to maintain and comfortably does 15 kpl (I do Kasarani to town and back every day). If you were in my shoes, which of the three would you go for and why?

Nderitu

The Premio looks the best, but costs the most. The Allion is the sportiest but also the most fragile. The NZE will make you look like an undercover CID officer (they use these in large numbers).

All are easy to maintain, with the NZE’s parts costing the least of the three, and all will do 15 kpl without too much struggling (though between Kasarani and town 15 kpl is a bit ambitious, irrespective of the new Thika Road).

Of the three I would go for the Premio. Not only is it a looker and economical, it is also smoothest and the most comfortable.

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JM,

1. Between petrol engines and diesel engines, which ones pick better on turbo?

2. Are petrol engines faster compared to diesel engines that have massive torque?

3. If you put two turbocharged 3000cc Prados, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine against each other, which one would come first on straight stretch?

4. Do turbocharged engines consume a lot of fuel as compared to NA engines, assuming both cars have 2000cc engines?

It really depends on the degree of tune of the turbocharging setup. In some cases, the diesel will beat the petrol on initial acceleration, but the petrol will come out tops in terms of absolute speed. In other cases, the petrol will shine all the way.

Turbocharged engines generally burn more fuel, but in factory spec, some have transmissions that compensate for the extra push that the turbo provides by having slightly taller gears, thus improving economy.

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Hi Baraza,

1. Are there Toyota sedans that come with an automanual gearbox? I ask this because I saw an advert for a Toyota Avensis on sale that was said to have an automanual gearbox.

2. What’s the difference between 4WD and AWD in saloon cars?

3. Why, for example, do the NZE-Toyota Luxel and some Toyota Wish have rear disc breaks while others in the same family don’t, including the much loved Premio?

4. Sometime back you said that Allions physically depreciate faster than Premios if carelessly used, is there a difference in how their bodies are made? And does Allion’s chassis being heavier than Premio’s have anything to do with this?

5. What are CVT and FAT transmissions and how are they different from the common transmission?

6. Is the Toyota Verossa related to the Mark II in any aspect and how does it perform compared to other popular machines in the Toyota family of equal engine size?

Fanon

1. Yes, there are automanual gearboxes (more accurately referred to as automatic transmissions with manual override) in Toyota sedans, the latest of which I have experienced in the 2012 Camry saloon.

2. AWD is similar to full-time 4WD, except that torque distribution between axles and tyres varies. In 4WD, the torque distribution is constant.

3. The cars with rear disc brakes are of a higher spec (and thus cost a bit more when new) than their drum-equipped stablemates.

4. The details of the construction of these two vehicles are unknown to me, except for the fact that I know both use steel spaceframe chassis and aluminium body construction. Or something.

5. CVT stands for continuously variable transmission while FAT stands for fully automatic transmission. CVTs are alleged to optimise performance and economy, but some types actually do the opposite and feel weird to drive (such as the car accelerating at constant engine revs or the road speed and engine revs seem at odds with each other).

6. Yeah, the Verossa, Mark II, Mark X and Camry are all members of one family. The Camry is the FF option (front engine, front wheel drive), the Mark II is the FR option (front engine, rear wheel drive), the Verossa widens the variety with optional 4WD and the Mark X is the spiritual successor to all these, except the Camry.

The Premio and the Allion are also siblings (but of a different class from the Verossa) with the Premio bending towards comfort and the Allion towards sportiness. The Wish is just something I don’t think much about, it could be a bicycle for all I care.

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Dear Baraza,

I am intending to purchase a Japanese import among the following: a 2000cc Subaru B4, a 2000cc Mitsubishi Galant GDI or a 2000cc Premio. Looking at the market price, the Galant seems to be the cheapest. What is your take on the longevity, consumption and reliability of the three vehicles and what which one do you think would be the best purchase?

Gichohi

Longevity: Poor across the board.

Consumption: Subaru and Galant will burn more fuel than the Premio, especially if their electric performance capabilities are tapped.

Reliability: Also not very good across the board, again with the Premio possibly holding out longer than the other two before packing it in.

Advice: Buy a Galant or a B4, but not one that was in use in Japan. Simba Colt used to sell Galants, so a locally sold unit with full FSH will be a much wiser purchase than an ex-Japanese example. The same applies to the Legacy: one that was sold and maintained by Subaru Kenya will offer better longevity and reliability. Of the two my pick is the Galant.

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Hey,

I want to purchase my first car and I am stuck between the Subaru Legacy and the Mitsubishi Galant. I drive both offroad and on the highway for about 30 km to my workplace. Please advice on which one to go for considering fuel consumption, maintenance, stability when in high speed (I like racing) and style.

Offroad, both cars will break your heart, but on road, the Galant feels better to drive. Fuel consumption will go as low as 5 kpl for both if you indulge your urge to race, and maintenance costs will bite for both (frequently replacing tyres, brakes, maybe a burnt clutch here and there, using high grade engine oil etc).

Stability is good for both. The Subarus are (on paper) more stable though, because of the symmetrical AWD, but then again word on the street is they weed out the unskilled by sending them to hospital and/or the morgue. I find the Galant more stylish than the Legacy.

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Hi,

I intend to purchase a 2.4-litre Toyota Harrier and would appreciate your advice on the following issues in regards to the car:

1. What is the difference in respect to fuel consumption and maintenance cost between a 4WD and 2WD? How many kpls can either of the two do in town and on the highway?

2. How does the Harrier compare to a 2.4-litre Toyota Ipsum in terms of fuel consumption?

3. What other Toyota model that can do offroad, has a VVT-i engine and with an engine capacity of 1800cc-2400cc would you advise?

Fred.

1. The disparity is marginal at best, but 4WD systems lead to higher consumption due to added weight and increased rolling resistance, and are more complex mechanically than 2WD. About the kpls, it largely depends on your driving style, but it’s roughly 7 kpl in town and 10 or 11 on the highway, for both. Like I said, the disparity is not noticeable, and the weight issue could easily swing the other way with the inclusion of a heavy passenger.

2. The Ipsum is optimised for gentle use and might be less thirsty. 3. Depends. Could be anything from an Avensis to a Surf. What are your needs?

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Hi Baraza,

I am 24 years old and thinking of buying my first car. I love muscle cars and there is a Ford Capri I have been eyeing (I think it’s a former rally car). What advice can you offer about muscle cars in terms of fuel consumption and other technical issues such as maintenance. Also, do you think it is a good buy considering that I can resell it later since its a vintage car?

Muscle cars and fuel economy are two concepts that will never meet. Maintaining it also requires commitment not dissimilar to that of marrying a temperamental, high-strung, materialistic (albeit achingly beautiful) woman. Finance and passion are the two key requirements to owning and running a muscle car.

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Cami vs Fielder

Hi Baraza,

I am a teacher who is about to acquire his first car. Therefore, forgive my KCSE-like question: After much soul-searching I have settled on acquiring either a Toyota Fielder or a Cami. Could you please compare the two in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, handling of rough roads, maintenance cost and resale value?

Comfort: The Cami is bought by those who don’t love themselves. Hard ride and bouncy, and it won’t track straight at speed because cross-winds affect it badly. It is like being in a small boat sailing through a typhoon. It makes the Fielder look like a Maybach in comparison.

Fuel economy: The Cami is bought by those who spend their money on other things that are not fuel. A tiny body with a 1290cc engine means very low consumption. The Fielder is commonly available in 1500cc guise, a whole 210cc more, and in a larger body.

Handling on rough roads: The Cami is bought by those who are scared of Land Rover Defenders (or cannot afford one). It is available with proper off-road hardware, and its ground clearance means it won’t get easily stuck. Its compact dimensions and light weight means it can be carried by hand when it does get stuck. Possibly. The Fielder will get stuck long before the Cami does.

Maintenance cost: The Cami is bought by… I don’t know, but it should not cost much to fix when it goes belly up. Tiny engines are usually very cheap and easy to repair and maintain, that is why motorbikes are everywhere.

Resale value: The Cami is bought by those who did not think hard about disposal when buying it. Unless you fool your potential buyer into believing that the Cami is a better vehicle than the Fielder (pray that the said potential buyer does not read this), you are most likely going to lose that buyer to someone selling a used Fielder. Unless you lower your price to unbelievable levels.

Posted on

Manual cars may offer more fuel economy than autos

Hi JM,
I have an auto 2002 Forester that I would say is quite economical. My wife bought a five-speed manual 2004 Forester that has nearly the same peak power but is far more economical in terms of fuel consumption.

While I spend a thousand bob to Thika and back to Nairobi, she will spend Sh800. This is something I have tested myself and I know it is not tuning because I take both to Subaru Kenya for diagnostics and service. So, is a manual vehicle more fuel friendly that an auto? And if yes, why?

Yes, and for two main reasons. First is a fact that a manual gearbox allows you to short-shift, that is shift up way earlier than an auto would, like at 1,700rpm from first to second.

With an auto, the computer decides when to shift up or down, so there is a tendency for these engines to operate at higher (and racier) rpms, thus pushing up the fuel consumption.

Second is the clutch. Unless the car has an electronically operated friction clutch, most autos tend to have a power sapping fluid clutch, also called a torque converter.

It does not transmit 100 per cent of the engine torque to the transmission; there is some slippage and thus losses at the clutch. These losses translate into less mechanical efficiency and hence higher fuel consumption.

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Hi,
I wish to enquire about the Toyota Verossa. My friends tell me that I may have problems with it when it comes to spare parts and that I should go for Premio instead. Could you kindly advise me on this with respect to fuel consumption in both cars?

The Verossa and the Premio are not in the same class. Your friends should have referred to Mark II or Mark X, which are all similarly sized.

The Premio is a small, compact saloon with a very economical engine while the Verossa is a mid-sized semi-luxury saloon and may be performance-oriented. The bigger engines mean they cost more to fuel over a given distance compared to the Premio.

On a personal note, I do not like the Verossa’s looks. It featured prominently on my list of ugly cars.

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Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a car in January but I am not sure what car I should go for. I will mostly require the car to run work-related errands within the CBD and occasionally outside Nairobi.

With the skyrocketing fuel prices, I am keen on a car that is not “thirsty” but I also do not want something that is small and too girly (IST, Vitz — no offence meant).

I have in mind a Premio, Allion, NZE, Avensis, or a Nissan Primera. I am also torn between buying the car locally (one that has not been used on Kenyan roads) and importing. Kindly advise.

You want a small car? You want economy? And you want something not too girly? And, in the name of nation-building, you also want a locally sold unit? Forget Allion, forget Premio, forget NZE. There is a car that fits the bill exactly, though — Maruti Omni.

It is dirt cheap, even brand-new, it is small but handy (seeing as to how it is a van), and that puny 800cc engine will burn less petrol than anything else on the road, other than a motorcycle.

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Hi Baraza,
On the question about the handbrake sign, highlighted here some time back, it happened to my old model Ipsum too. When the handbrake was disengaged, the light would stay on. When I did a diagnosis, I found that the problem was the brake fluid lid.

Thanks for the heads up, but the lady said performance was also compromised, so my thinking was that the handbrake itself was increasing the load on the engine.

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Hi
I have a 2002 Toyota Vista 4WD with a D-4 VVT-i 2000cc engine. The engine light would go on and off for a while, then stay off for months. I did a diagnosis that yielded “p1653 SCV circuit motor”.

I changed the oxygen sensor and the plugs and cleaned all the speed sensors at the wheels, but there was no improvement.

Now, the car misfires in the morning and produces smoke before attaining the operating temperature. I have also realised its consumption has gone up. I was advised by my mechanic to use synthetic oil for service. What could be the problem and where can I get help?

Mwangi

SCV is the swirl control valve and I think it needs replacing. This is one of the weak points of a D-4 engine. I do not know anybody who can open one up and put it back together. Pole.

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Hallo Baraza,

I drive an automatic 1.6 litre 2002 VW Golf Mark 4 (station wagon). Unfortunately, I have never driven other cars so whenever people ask me about its consumption compared to other vehicles, I am at a loss. Could you please clarify or provide insight into the following issues.

1. What, in your view, is the normal consumption in km/litre for a 1600 cc vehicle (whether Mitsubishi, VW, or Toyota) in peak traffic (Nairobi situation) and on the highway?

2. When I suddenly slow down, like when approaching a bump or something is crossing the road, accelerating afterwards is problematic, the vehicle behaves as if it is in neutral gear. But if you step on the acceleration pad once then release and then step on it again, it picks up well. Please unravel this for me.

3. When driving, mainly on the highway, at gears three to five, should the rev indicator settle at, say, less than 2,000? How should the rev counter ideally behave when driving? Does the consumption of the vehicle change when the rev counter is higher?

Finally, it may be a good idea for you to lead a forum for motorists to exchange experiences. For instance, you can organise a forum for Mitsubishi Galant owners on where they physically meet and share experiences such as how they rectified a particular problem.

Tom

1. In traffic, expect anywhere between five and nine kilometres per litre, depending on the severity of the gridlock. On the highway, anything from 14 kpl upwards is possible, with as much as 24 kpl for a diesel engine of that size.

2. Is your car automatic? If so, then the gearbox is what we call “lethargic” or slow thinking; it takes some time before it realises that it should have geared down by that point. If not, another suspicion could be a jamming throttle pedal, so much so that the first gentle prod does nothing, so releasing and depressing it again resolves the jam, allowing it to move as it should. Just a theory.

3. Ignore the rev counter. How does the car feel and sound? If it stutters, judders, or sounds like it is about to stall, the revs are too low or the road speed is too low for that gear and you should downshift. If the engine sounds belligerent, high strung, “shouty”, or if the needle points towards the red line, shift up or ease off the throttle, you are almost over-revving the car. And yes, at higher rpms (4,000 plus), the fuel consumption is a little bit higher than at mid-level revs (2000-3500 rpm).

Finally, visit www.carbaraza.com to start a discussion topic — physical meetings will call for a venue, an announcement and, knowing Africans, refreshments will be expected. In other words, non-refundable costs. So I prefer the Internet.

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Hi JM,

I am interested in purchasing a mini-van and I am inclined towards a Nissan Serena 1990cc, but everyone I know advises that I should get the Noah instead. I am sorry, but I think Toyotas are a bit over-rated. Would you kindly compare the two vehicles in terms of consumption, road handling, parts, and anything else that you may find useful, especially for female drivers?

Christabellah.

Yeah, the people’s faith and belief in Toyotas is damn near religious in intensity, and for good reason. Count how many cars you see and express the number of Toyotas in that group as a percentage and you will see what I am talking about.

The Serena, if we are to go by reputation, has an ugly ancestry — one of the earlier models (late ’90s) earned the dubious honour of being the slowest accelerating new car on sale (at the time), taking a calendar-filling 19 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest.

Later versions are, of course, better than that, but the damage has already been done. There is a new version out (2012), but I doubt this is the car you intend to buy.

Consumption should be broadly similar but the Serena may edge the Toyota out slightly, but nothing that cannot be corrected with a small adjustment in driving attitude.

Handling is a mostly redundant characteristic in vans (I do not see you oversteering a Serena on purpose) but maybe the Toyota takes it here.

Parts and service also go to the Toyota; there are plenty around, so mechanics have been practising a lot and dealers bring in spares in droves because of the ready market.

So, against my better judgement, I would say go for the Toyota if you want a cautious approach. Go for the Serena if you have a pioneering spirit; who knows, you might start a fad like someone did with the Galant some years back.

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Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a Toyota Cami. Is it friendly to a low -lass earner and does it have different ccs? What are its general advantages and disadvantages? Where would be the best place to buy one?

It is very friendly to a low-class earner — cheap to buy, cheap to run, and will rarely break down (it is also called Daihatsu Terios). I know it is 1300cc, but there could be a 1.5 somewhere in the line-up.

Advantages: It is small and, therefore, easy to park and not too thirsty. It can also do 85 per cent of the off-road tricks that a Land Rover Defender can. Disadvantages: It is bloody uncomfortable, 100 km/h plus on the highway is more dangerous and nerve-wracking than an afternoon as a matador, and the small size means you will be getting pretty intimate with your passengers.