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Hondas are fine cars that attract insultingly low resale prices

In regards to the Honda Accord and Honda CRV, they are both good cars, but my friends advised me against them citing poor resale value.

Is this true? If yes, which is the better option with a better resale value? How about the Toyota Camry? Does it have good resale value like other Toyota vehicles because of “perception”.

Kindly comment on reliability, fuel economy, safety, and performance as compared to Honda Accord. Remember, I am looking for a used family car.

Ambrose.

There might be a grain of truth in the allegations of Honda vehicles not having strong resale characteristics in the Kenyan automotive field, but those who “Think Toyota, Today, and Tomorrow Too” have no idea what they are missing out on. Hondas are good cars, especially those equipped with V-TEC.

The Camry might suffer the Accord’s resale fate for a very different reason. A good number of Kenyans are “scared” of engines that stretch beyond 1800cc. Those that are indifferent will not be buying a Camry; they will go for something less plain and boring.

So that will be jumping from a lion’s cage in the zoo only to realise that you have now landed in the tiger’s cage. No difference in circumstances.

The parameters that you mention are more or less the same for the two cars, but from what I observed, the Accord may have the edge in performance over the Camry. If in doubt, you could always go for the Accord R, which has…. wait for it… a 2.2 litre V-TEC engine, good for almost 220hp.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for a good job done so far. A quick challenge of sorts, though. Have you ever done motorcycle reviews? If not, then how about it? An ideal place to begin would be the now Popular TVS Apache.

Nicholas Ngetah.

Thank you for the compliments, and no, I have not done any motorcycle reviews. This is chiefly because I do not want to die, and riding a motorcycle greatly increases the odds of that happening. So, borrowing from the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Four wheels good, two wheels bad.”

I do, however, have a colleague who does not give much thought to the vagaries of the afterlife, and as such he loves motorcycles. I am talking about The Jaw. Maybe he could ride them, review them, then he and I see how I can put that review into my own words. Fair, Nicholas?

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Dear Baraza,

I am the second owner of a P38 4.6HSE 1998 Range Rover. It has 130,000km with a clean service history at a CMC dealer.

1. What is the best fuel consumption I should expect in kilometres per litre? It has averaged 5km per litre.

2. I am told the gearbox is four-speed. It has a 4HP-24. How does this compare with a five-speed box? I also cannot find the Overdrive switch.

3. These “tune ups” to improve consumption, are they real? If so, what do they entail? Some guy is promising 11km per litre on the highway after the tune up. I am not convinced a V8 engine can be this kind to anyone.

Muriithi.

1. The “best” fuel consumption will depend on your deftness as a “hypermiler” (one who ekes ridiculous mileages from a litre of fuel, usually through strange, illegal, or unsafe driving tactics). Five kpl for the old 4.6 sounds just about correct in normal driving situations.

2. Comparison between a four-speed and a five-speed? Depends on the gear ratios in the transmissions, but generally a five-speed will offer better acceleration (the engine speed can stay in the power band for a longer period of time) AND fuel economy (you do not need to rev very high in one gear to gain enough power to push you into the next), but NOT simultaneously. Also, the differences will be marginal and hardly noticeable in day-to-day use.

Also, not all automatic transmissions come with an Overdrive switch.

3. Yes, the tune-ups are real, but not to the extent you claim there. Simple tune-ups just involve getting the engine back to manufacturer settings through replacing worn out bits, refastening bolts that may have played loose, checking for loose or frayed wiring in the ignition system, and removing carbon from the valvetrain.

But these actions will NOT make a P38 4.6 V8 attain 11 kpl; if there exists such a P38 out there, I would like to buy it immediately. The best you can hope for is eight kpl, and that is by sedate driving on the highway.

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Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of you column and bravo for a job well done. I recently purchased a Mercedes Benz E 280 year 2006 model and have driven it on Kenyan roads for less than one month.

On the dashboard are two messages displayed — “ESP defective visit workshop” and” Active light system unavailable”.

Kindly shed some light on what these two messages relate to and how they can be sorted out without much ado.

Kenneth.

“ESP Defective” means the electronic stability programme is malfunctioning and needs to be looked at. Without it, the Benz may become a bit of a handful when driven hard or on less-than-perfect surfaces. Without the ESP, it simply means the car will not compensate for your mistakes and/or lack of driving skill the way it used to.

The ESP defect may be a bug in the software or a malfunctioning sensor out of hundreds (yaw sensors, G-sensors, throttle position sensors, brake sensors etc… any sensor associated with vehicle dynamics could be the culprit).

The software bug is curable by programing the ECU. The sensor issues are curable by replacement and/or recalibration. The ESP is a complex system that uses ABS, EBD, an almost unfathomable network of sensors and/or adjustment of engine power, among other things, to “stabilise” a car to prevent skidding and/or oversteer/understeer.

“Active light system unavailable” means that one of the features found on higher level Benz cars such as yours is either not working, or was never there in the first place. Just to be sure, does it say “unavailable” or does it say “inoperative”? My research on that problem shows “inoperative”.

Anyway, this is not about nitpicking on the accuracy of descriptions. The active light system on a Mercedes was a setup where the headlamps followed the movements of the steering wheel to improve night-time visibility and optimise safety.

The swivel feature of the headlamps may, thus, have been rendered inactive or was never there in the first place (active light system was an option on the W211 sedan, of which yours is one).

Either way, a visit to a garage is in the books for you, my friend.

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Dear Baraza,

Recently, I took my G-Touring Toyota station wagon for a window repair. The wire man asked if my car overheats and I replied in the negative. The temperature gauge does not go even an 1/8 of the scale even after doing 15km.

He then asked me to open the bonnet and start the car to idle until gauge reaches the centre. To quicken the process, he accelerated the car while idle. The gauge reached the centre, something it has never done before. The fan went on and the gauge went slightly down, then stopped.

He told me everything seemed fine.

From that day the gauge started moving more than 1/8 up to the centre in the same distance I normally cover — around 15km to 20km. Could he have tampered with its functioning by accelerating the car while stationary? This is worrying me, although it does not go beyond the centre. Why is this? I check the coolant regularly. It has no power loss.

Second, does this model have problems with the gear system? I find the top gear a bit stiff to engage.The other day I added gear box oil but still the problem persists. It is a very well maintained car. I mostly use V-power but sometimes I use the ordinary fuel. Which one is the best and why?

Sammy.

Stop worrying about the engine temperature.

That mechanic did not ruin your car. That is how car engines are supposed to behave. When the thermometer reached “centre” position then the fans started suddenly, that was just the cooling system of the car trying to maintain the engine at an optimum operating temperature.

The fans are activated by the thermostat to prevent the engine from getting too hot, then they go off when the temperature drops. Your car is fine.

But again, your car is not really fine. Difficulty in engaging fifth gear means one of two things: Either the linkage is getting wonky or the fifth gear synchroniser unit is worn out. The linkage can easily be fixed with basic tools. Replacement of the synchroniser unit demands disassembling the entire gearbox.

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Dear Baraza,

I recently got one of these A150 Mercedes cars and every time I need to shift either from Drive to Neutral or Reverse (and vice versa), the whole car jerks. At times when I shift to Reverse, it does not engage even if I depress the gas pedal. It then jerks into motion quite violently when it finally does. Other times, particularly when driving in traffic, it “forgets” to shift up.

It remains in very high revs or develops a rumbling noise and does not shift smoothly. Now I am being advised to change the entire gearbox. These problems are particularly worse in the morning. I also find it to have massive under-steer for a car of that size. Please help before I lose my mind.

Ben.
I need not state the obvious: You clearly have transmission problems.

When the mechanics recommended a change of the TCM, had they done a diagnosis or did they follow the path of the electronic scapegoat? (Sensor problem over here! sensor problem over there! Even your flat tyre has been caused by a sensor problem!)

Most of the time when the TCM acts up, it might not be necessary to replace it; reprogramming it will do. It may be that the TCM and ECU are out of sync or have lost synergy and have started “confusing” each other.

A diagnosis should have been done on the original TCM to see whether the problem lay therein or not.That aside, these folks now want you to get a new gearbox. Have they verified that the current one is completely unserviceable or did they follow the path of “replacement is easier than repair”?

If they know nothing about the automatic transmission of a Mercedes-Benz A150, let them be honest and say so. They might end up telling you to buy a new car.Last thing: Does your A150 have an owner’s/operator’s handbook?

If yes, read it, especially the chapter that says “Transmission”. One of the things you said has led me to believe that your initial problems were caused by incorrect ATF levels within the transmission, and this may or may not have caused some transmission damage.

Sometimes it is as simple as topping up/draining excess fluids instead of shouting about “sensors” and “computers”, like a good number of Kenyan mechanics do (this has not escaped my notice, and the root cause I believe comes from the culture of apprenticeship from the days of yore instead of proper, formal training).

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The Camry is not sexy, but it is still a Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I always enjoy reading your insightful reviews on various brands of vehicles. I am just wondering whether you have ever tried out the Toyota Camry.

It seems to me a very well-built car and good shape and gives me the impression that it is a very stable car. But I do not see many of these cars on the road compared to, say, the Toyota Mark X, which has a 2500cc while the Camry is 2400cc. What could be the issue with them? Are they thirsty cars?

Secondly, the Nissan Murano: How would you compare it with the 2007 Rav4 or the Honda CRV RD 5? I do not see so many of them on the road too.

Thanks,

Albert.

I have actually tried several Camry models and you are right: They are well-built… at least the later models are. They are well-shaped… again at least the 2012 one is, and it is stable on the road courtesy of its front-drive chassis.

The reason Kenyans opt for the Mark X is that it is prettier than the Camry. Kenyans are very image-conscious. While the Camry is “well shaped”, you would not really call it striking to look at or even sexy. It is a bit bland. The Mark X, on the other hand, attracts instant attention anywhere it goes. They certainly are not thirsty cars, especially when compared to the Mark X.

The Murano is not in the CR-V/RAV4 class of vehicles. It is more of a premium type of thing, closer to stuff like the Toyota Harrier/Subaru Tribeca. Therefore, in comparison to the RAV and the CRV, the Murano is bigger, better-specced, and more powerful. It is also a lot more comfortable and handles better. There are not many Muranos on the road, but give them time: They will come.

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Hi Baraza,

I would like your opinion on which is the better between a Toyota Landcruiser VX (4.7-litre petrol and 4.2-litre diesel engines) and Nissan Patrol (4.2-litre turbo-diesel and 4.7-litre petrol).

I would like a car I can use for work, travelling, and off-roading. Which one is suited to Africa’s rugged terrain? How do these cars compare on the following grounds: power, speed, comfort, stability, off-road use, and ease of maintenance (not prices but accessibility of spare parts).

Thank you.

Regards,

Aryan

Apparently there is a new Nissan Patrol out, but I have only seen one on the road. One. And that was on the road. I do not even know if DT Dobie has them in stock. As such, I will base my arguments on the outgoing model.

Power: The best is the petrol-powered Landcruiser VX 4.7-litre at 314hp, mostly because it has clever VVT-i and is turbocharged. The 4.5-litre turbo-diesel is not half bad either. The Nissan Patrol’s best is the 4.8-litre GRX with 281hp (no match for the VX, though the current model uses 5.6-litre engines which I doubt we will get until smaller engines are available).

Speed: See above. The VX petrol rules. The Nissan Patrol does struggle a bit with its weight, low power, lack of forced induction, and breeze-block aerodynamics.

Comfort: Ahem… VX, again. It is stable, smooth, and well optimised. The Patrol is floaty and wobbly and bouncy, like a ship in a less-than-calm sea
Stability: See comfort above. That roly-poly chassis of the Patrol can be treacherous if you try to keep up with a VX when the going gets gnarly.

Off-road use: You may not believe it, but these vehicles are evenly matched. Some say the Patrol is more capable, and for older versions this was somewhat true (the underpowered engines were the weak link in an otherwise perfect setup) but take it from me: these two vehicles will keep going long after any competition has fallen by the wayside. If the going gets extreme enough to split these two on ability, I am yet to meet the driver skilled enough to get to that point. This one is a tie.

Ease of maintenance: There is a reason why the car in front is always a Toyota, and that is because spares are everywhere. Drive a Toyota and you should NEVER ever worry about spares availability.

I expect to hear from you about how life with your new VX is; because the VX is what you will buy… I think.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a locally assembled 2005 MT Chevrolet Aveo. Six months ago I replaced the clutch plate and pressure plate and all has been well until recently when I started to hear a strange grinding noise from the gearbox area whenever I start the car in the morning. It goes away after the engine has run for about two or three minutes.

If I depress the clutch pedal, the noise disappears but comes back immediately I release it. My mechanic insists that the culprit is the release bearing (I did not replace it when I did the clutch job) but the information I gather from the Internet is that a faulty release bearing will produce some noise when you depress the clutch pedal and not the other way round. What is your take on this?

Secondly, the car has been producing a whistling sound since I replaced its alternator bearings. My guess is that the alternator bearings are responsible but more importantly, do I need to get worried? Thanks a lot.

Kefa Marendi.

Hi,

For that grinding noise, check the input shaft bearing if you can confirm that it is not the release bearing — I agree, though: If it was the release bearing, then the noise would come when the clutch pedal is depressed (disengaged). It may need replacement (or in some cases you may need a new gearbox).

About the alternator: The belt may be loose or the bearings misaligned.

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Hi Baraza,

First, let me thank you for the good work you are doing on the Car Clinic. I own an automatic-transmission Nissan B14 manufactured in 1998 . I have owed this car for the past three years and this is my fourth year.

The problem with the car is that its fuel consumption has increased while its engine power has decreased tremendously. It also produces white smoke when I start it in the morning but this fades as I go to work.

For instance, last week I went to my rural area, Nyahururu, via the Nyeri route, which is around 230km from Nairobi one way. When I had already done around 120km just near Karatina town (at a place called Kagocho, known for a steep uphill slope), my car totally lost power and started overheating.

I decided to stop for one hour, topped water in the radiator, and resumed my journey. It started the same problem at a place called Nairutia past Mweiga after about 80km. I topped the water again, then reached my destination. All this time I was going at an average speed of 100-120kms/hr.

After consulting with my mechanic over the phone, I travelled back the following day but with an average speed of 80km/hr and my car did not overheat at any interval.

The following day the mechanic inspected the vehicle and found the radiator and the fans to be fine. He told me that my engine had worn out the piston rings and valves and that they needed replacement, which I was hesitant to do.

I have not replaced these rings and valves until now because the cost of replacing them plus the labour is almost equal to the cost of buying a new ex-Japan engine, so I would prefer buying a new one and getting it fitted.

With this regard, I wanted to consult you on the best recommended auto-garage shops to buy an engine from and if this is a good move.

I plan to buy the engine from General Japanese Auto Garage at Industrial Area where I had asked the quotation of the price and they said it costs Sh65,000 together with its auxiliaries (alternator, computer, aircon), but they can sell it to me at Sh55,000 without these auxiliaries.

Is this the recommended price? Please advise.

Gilbert

Did your mechanic say anything about a blown head gasket? These symptoms are also similar to those one gets when one blows a gasket: the overheating (the combustion heat escapes into the coolant) and the power loss (compression leakage). Have another word with him (or get a second opinion) just to be sure because replacing a cylinder head gasket is not as expensive as buying a new engine/replacing the rings and valves.

However, if your mechanic was right, then just buy a new engine. It will save you plenty of time, the risk of a shoddy repair, and some money. I do not normally endorse shops in my column so just look around for whichever one looks the most credible and offers the most sensible arrangement.

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Hello Baraza,

I am planning on buying a diesel SUV since I travel extensively across East Africa on what are often terrible roads.

I would, therefore, appreciate your opinion on which one to buy based on the following criteria: Off-road capability, availability of spare parts, build quality, comfort, luxury, and resale value. Initial purchase cost is not an issue.

Eric S

Since your question is very vague, my answers will also be vague.

Off-road capability: Most SUVs are of similar ability, but the Range Rover is the easiest to drive in extreme conditions. Not many people buy a Range Rover to do Rhino Charge-style green-laning, though. So, anything with good ground clearance, 4WD, low-range, and diff locks will do.
Availability of spare parts: Japanese. Anything Japanese will never lack spares.

Build Quality: German. Anything German will be assembled to a degree of perfection that is hard to emulate. And hard to believe.

Comfort: Get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport, or a Freelander, or a Defender… especially a Defender, and discover what motoring journalists mean when they start using sentences like “wafting on a feathered pillow” or “floating on a cloud”.

Luxury: The 2013 Range Rover Vogue, aka the L405. No contest.

Resale Value: Most SUVs hold their value well, but I have noticed that the Landcruiser VX especially does not lose value, more so the earlier versions (80 Series).

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The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

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Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

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Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

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Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

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Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

Posted on

Toyota RunX beats the Spacio and Peugeot 206 hands down

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column and I must say I appreciate your work, even though I don’t own a car yet.

However, I am looking to buy my first car, and I have in my sights a Toyota RunX/Allex, Toyota Spacio and a Peugeot 206.

Please advice me on the best buy between these three in terms of durability, availability and cost of spare parts, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns given that I will be a very careful driver), fuel consumption, off-road capability, ease of handling, and resale value.

Thanks and God bless,

Wanjiru.

Thank you for the compliment. I am always glad to help where I can. On to the three cars you ask about:

Durability: The Runx/Allex is best. It is basically a Corolla with the boot chopped off, and we all know that Corollas run tirelessly.

Only a really abusive ownership will ever bog down a Corolla. The Spacio is not so good on longevity. I have seen several lose shape quite badly after only a few months’ use on Kenyan roads. It does not seem like a solid car.

Even worse, by sheer power of reputation, is the little Peugeot. Nobody uses the words “durability” and “Peugeot” in the same sentence, unless one is telling a joke.

This I know from experience (I owned a 405 for a while) and from observation. I once did an article on Peugeots, and I remember saying acquiring ownership of a Peugeot is like getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is very exciting, but there is no knowing where it will lead to.

Availability and costs of spare parts: Spares are there for all these cars, but the Toyotas will have cheaper ones than the Peugeot.

The clutch of my 405 cost me Sh14,000 to replace, and that was three years ago. Compare to the then cost of Sh3,000 for the same job on a Corolla 110.

Maintenance: The Peugeot will frustrate you, let me be honest. The RunX, like I said, is a Corolla, which never breaks down unless you force it to.

Fuel consumption: Buy a 206 diesel and discover the joys of 25 kpl-plus motoring. Briefly. That is, until the DPF (diesel particulate filter) gets choked by mud and/or the little turbo over-spins at high altitude and fails.

The RunX will hover around 12-15 kpl, more if you drive like a lady (pun intended). The Spacio will give slightly worse economy than the RunX.

Off-road capability: None of the above, least of all the Spacio, with its long wheelbase and minimal ground clearance. How many times must I tell you people to use appropriate cars for specific activities?

Handling: The 206 has the sweetest handling of the three cars you mention, especially if you opt for the GTI. The RunX is a close second, losing out only because there is less “feel”, or driver engagement.

The Spacio looks like a small van, and handles like one. Don’t try to get on its door handles through tight corners, because it WILL get on its door handles.

Resale: You will grow old and die trying to transfer the Peugeot’s problems to someone else.

The Spacio will not exactly fly off the shelf either, but it will not gather as much dust as the Peugeot before getting a new owner.

The RunX is pretty popular: someone might even make you an offer while sitting in traffic; that is how much Kenyans love them. Kenyan ladies, to be exact: I know a few women here and there who drive a RunX. Join the pack.

Dear Baraza,

I am writing for advice on the cooling system of my 1987 short-wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser.

I’ve had it for one year now and bought it without an engine and gearbox. I installed what I was told was the ‘original’ engine, the 2H. While the radiator is large and the fan as large as can fit within the available space, the vehicle overheats when driving up steep hills slowly.

I’ve had the radiator flushed, coolant added, and the fan is working. Also, if the car is idling in traffic I do not have a problem with overheating. This suggests that the cooling system is just not efficient enough.

Could this be the case, or could something else be wrong? I had a similar problem with a previous vehicle and the fundi told me the fan was spinning too slowly, tightened something to increase the speed and I never had a problem again.

Would this help?  Another suggestion I’ve had is to add a fan guard to better channel the air to cool the engine. I’m reluctant to try this as it seems yet another expense without sufficient promise of solving the problem. Could you please advise?
Cheers,

Darcy Ogada

The capacity of the current cooling system may be inadequate to counter the 2H engine’s thermal output. Either that or the car is running lean under power, which causes heating problems (and may even damage the exhaust valves).

For the first cause, a bigger fan may help, as may a fan guard. Some people go the extra mile and upgrade the entire system, fitting bigger/auxiliary radiators, fatter hoses and high-capacity water pumps, but this is costly.

Before diving into extra expenditure, first ensure the following:

1. The radiator core is clean

2. The radiator screen is clean

3. Side panels have nuts at the bottom

4. The water/antifreeze ratio is right (typically 50:50)

5. There are no blockages in the cooling system hoses/water jackets.

Check the timing also, and the valve tappet clearance.

Hi Baraza

I have an Opel Astra 1.4 1996 model. I’ve driven it for 10 years and it has given me excellent service.

Benta, for that is her name, still looks good, drives fast, handles well, is solid… and strong. An excellent, extremely reliable ride.

In the last six months, though, I’ve been to the mechanic more times than in the 10 years combined. My question: Is my car just old, has the mechanic lost the plot, or is it a combination of both?

(It’s the same mechanic I’ve used all along and though he’s been super in the past, he has employed many young men who may not have the same thorough training he obviously had)

Lately, when the car goes to the shop it is fixed for one thing but leaves with another problem, usually small, but still a problem. So, is this the signal that I should start looking for another car? Or should I hang in there, get all her little problems fixed and move on with her for another 10 years?

If you think I should move on (sob!), what car would you recommend that is just as strong and fuss-free as my girl has been? I live in a place where there is no road, so this new car has to be solid enough to handle that, be fuel-efficient, look good, and not attract thieves

Thanks for your help,

Judy.

Benta, eh? Prejudices are like foreheads, everybody has one; and some are bigger than others.

I have one concerning people who name their cars and call them “she” and “her”. Don’t let that stop you though; the good thing with prejudices is that they are almost always unfounded.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I wish you were more specific about the little problems you mention. How bad is the frequency with which you keep returning to your mechanic? And what does he say?

A 10-year-old car is still serviceable and should easily give you another six years of painless ownership, unless you bought the car second-hand, in which case it may be time to lay Benta to rest (or palm her off to someone else to struggle with).

If you don’t mind buying a second-hand car, stay German. An ex-Mashariki E39 BMW 520 should cover most of these bases. Or you could look farther back and get a W124 E200 (or 200E) Mercedes. From Japan, the ideal car would be a Toyota Corolla, or even a Camry, but a locally sold, fully tropicalised unit. The problem is, it might get stolen.

Generally, any locally sold saloon with an engine of 2.4 litres or smaller will serve your purpose. Just don’t buy an Alfa though… Car & General sold a few units some years back and keeping one on the road will be a hard lesson you will not easily forget.

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1997 Toyota Premio that has served me well. Recently it has developed two problems.

First, when the gear lever in on neutral or parking, the idling is high at about 1200rpm and the engine is rather noisy. I have checked with my mechanic and he pointed out that the problem was with the throttle and opened it up and cleaned with WD40. However, the problem still persists.

Second, in the morning the steering wheel is difficult to turn but softens after a short drive. I replaced the automatic transmission oil pump but the problem still persists. Kindly advise what could be wrong.

Regards,

Macharia.

That high-rev idling: when does it occur? If it is only on start-up, then that is normal, the engine is warming up. If it happens all the time, check your Idle Air Control valve. There could also be a vacuum leak at the intake manifold or at the vacuum hose.

For the hard steering: your PAS fluid could be low, or the pump is taking too long to work. Check the fluid levels first, then the pump. Does the car make a screeching noise when you turn the steering? If so, then the fan belt is not sitting true within the pulley of the power steering pump.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly talk about Korean cars, specifically the Hyundai Accent.

I own a 1996 model and it has never disappointed me. The fuel efficiency is more than excellent (at 19 kilometres per litre). Of late I have seen many Hyundai minibuses plying the Embakasi route, could it be a sign of Kenyans realising that they have colonised their minds for too long with Japanese models and ignored better alternatives?

Give people time, they will realise how good Hyundai cars have now become.

Once upon a time they were close to rubbish (if not actually rubbish), and they stayed above water by building and rebadging obsolete vehicle models.

Then they tried their hand at making their own cars (also bottom-rung stuff). Now they build their cars in a way convincing enough for the American market to sit up and pay attention. Maybe it is about time we did too.

Hi Baraza,

1. Ever since Toyota changed their double-cabin pick-up, why are Volkswagen and Ford copying the look? And who told Volkswagen to venture into that pick-up field yet it’s not their thing? I know Ford has a history with the Ranger, but why copy the Toyota look?

2. Now that the ‘freno’ is always on heavy commercial vehicles, how come I have heard it on some Subaru? What purpose does it serve in both cases, and how come in some vehicles its auto while some are manual?

Regards,

Brian.

1. The VW pickup you deride here is actually quite a machine, and it rocked the double-cab world at launch. It is not as hopeless as you may suspect. As for Ford and VW “copying” the Hilux look: well, that is your opinion.

In my view they took completely different design routes. The VW has a blocky, butch, almost square design, the Hilux is swoopy and curvy while the Ford is Amero-centric: big toothy grille, plenty of chrome, oversize with a simplified execution, though not as simplified as that of the Amarok.

2. What you heard in the Subaru cars was not an exhaust brake (so-called ‘freno’), it is called a BOV (blow-off valve/dump valve), and it is used to prevent compressor surge (air rushing the wrong way up the turbo) when the throttle is closed (the compressed air is trapped between the closed throttle plate and the turbo fan blades, and starts depressurising backwards into the turbo, causing the turbo to slow down suddenly).

Automatic and manual exhaust brakes depend on the manufacturer’s wishes. I know the exhaust brakes on Scanias are integrated into the foot brake (they also have a separate engine brake and retarder).

On most other trucks/buses it is manually activated using a lever/stalk on the steering column. However, deactivation may be manual (pull/push the stalk back into its original position) or automatic (the exhaust brake is deactivated automatically whenever the accelerator or clutch pedals are touched).

The exhaust brake is used in HCVs to slow down without having to use the foot brake. This reduces wear and tear on the wheel brakes, and is especially handy at high speed where there is a real risk of burning out the wheel brakes due to vehicle momentum.

Hi Baraza,

Great work with the column. I know it is specified ‘car trouble’, but I have a question on motorsports in Kenya. Which categories are there? Which is the easiest (read cheapest) way to join the industry, assuming all I have is the passion and a little money?

Under KMSF, I know of the rally circuit and karting competitions, especially in Mombasa. There are also buggy races (I don’t know the exact name of that race series).

Then there is the Concours D’Elegance (yes, believe it). I doubt if the Rhino Charge falls under the aegis of KMSF.

Outside of KMSF we have the Great Run (sic!). It is not competitive, but hey, you get numbers and stickers on your car. And it is cheap to take part in.

You don’t even need a specialised vehicle, your own daily runabout will serve the purpose quite well.

Let me get a more comprehensive answer from KMSF then I will get back to you with it…

Posted on

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

Martin.

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Regards,

Njomo JM

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Henry.

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

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

Tiony AK.

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

We appreciate your help on motoring.

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

2. Does the same apply to super bikes?

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

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

Thank you,

Chris MM.

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Ken.

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

1: The resale value of each.

2: Which one can best withstand rough terrain?

3: Maintenance costs of each.

4: Availability of spare parts and their cost.

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

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

Thanks,

Lincoln S Njue.

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

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

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

4. See 3 above.

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

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

Hello,

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

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

Regards,

Robertson Amalemba Lumasi.

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

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

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

Posted on

Tempting the Grim Reaper on dusty Arabian streets

What is the single most stupid driving activity you can think of right now? Drunk-driving? Hitting 200 km/h in the middle of town? Running red lights with blatant disregard for cross-junctions?

Engaging the police in a high speed chase with the fuel gauge at E? Not even close. You have not seen the kind of things that our friends in the Middle East are capable of.

Witness one of these events, just one, and you will realise that when God created man, there was a shortage of grey matter, so some of us have roomy skulls. Welcome to the horrific world of Hagwalah.

It is hard to define just what exactly Hagwalah means. For one, it sounds like a hard-core Swahili insult for a dunderhead, and the people who take part in it fit that bill perfectly.

It could be a place, because from the video footage the venues all look similar, but it happens in Saudi Arabia where everywhere looks the same (sand, highways and buildings) so that is hard to tell.

It could be an activity, because the basis of Hagwalah is, in fact, one of the latest, fastest growing and most visually entertaining forms of motorsport: drifting.

Drifting is the act of intentionally causing a motor vehicle to oversteer. It started off with racing drivers as they tried to negotiate corners faster or without losing too many engine revs, before seeping into society as an underground-type of competition.

The dangers of drifting were obvious: it was done by young, often intoxicated and inexperienced drivers on public roads, there were no safety precautions whatsoever and lacking a proper points-scoring system, every drifting event almost always ended in altercations between warring drivers and factions.

This led to some forward-thinking individuals establishing formal series, the D1 Grand Prix and Formula D, where drivers could show off their skills in a controlled environment, in properly modified cars and under a standardised points system that produces a clear winner.

This is Hagwalah

Enter some backward-thinking jobless youths from Saudi Arabia. They took the sport of drifting back to its original roots, but lacking anything else to do, they have introduced a few touches that you might find interesting.

In these Hagwalah acts, you will notice that there is no actual competition taking place. It is just a group of young people trying to “have fun”.

That is what their lawyer would probably say, because if this is fun, I’d rather stick to my boring Hagwalah-less life. There is no time to compete because the drivers are too busy avoiding death and destruction.

Unlike proper drifting (originating in Japan), which was done at night because it was illegal, Hagwalah is done in broad daylight, and in front of as many witnesses as have the nerve to stand by and watch.

Normal drifting is done using vehicles specifically modified to do the job. Hagwalah is done using stock vehicles, almost always rented. If you have a car hire business in Saudi Arabia, I suggest you shut it down pronto. You might not have the stomach to watch these people do their stuff in your cars.

Sticking to cars, drifting is also the preserve of powerful rear-drive sports cars, because the breaking traction of the rear tyres might require a surfeit of torque to overcome grip levels.

The Arabs seem to prefer front-drive family saloons, the hardest imaginable vehicle to drift short of a Ford tractor. Of particular notoriety is the Toyota Camry.

The Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata have also been known to star in this madness, and one especially insane Hagwalah artist drifted a Toyota Hilux single cab pickup.

The final and scariest addition to Hagwalah over normal drifting is the number of people in the car. The Japanese would have the driver alone in the car, or at most, with one passenger next to him.

In Saudi Arabia, the more the merrier: sometimes these saloons are overloaded six-deep with screaming individuals (yes, the driver also screams), and the screams are not out of horror but out of glee.

More often than not half the passengers are hanging out of the car windows. The last video of Hagwalah I watched had three of the passengers toting loaded AK47 assault rifles releasing sporadic bursts of gunfire every now and then.

How it’s done

The procedure is this: find a slightly busy two-way street, preferably having multiple lanes, think Thika Road as it is right now. Curves are an added bonus.

Ensure it is broad daylight, and there are many people watching, especially if these people have cameras or video-enabled cell-phones. There must be traffic, preferably fuel tankers and school buses.

Pack your car chock-full of unwise forms of human life (your roomy-skulled friends) till the body work threatens to burst at the seams. Wind your vehicle up to about 140 km/h, turn the steering wheel hard to one side, yank the handbrake and struggle to control your wildly pirouetting vehicle as the six, seven or eight of you dice with death.

If you go for the Kalashnikov option, ask the people holding them to make sure none of their weapons is pointed at your head at any given moment during the “drift”. Wait a few hours for the video of your act to be uploaded on the Internet and try not to take the ensuing barrage of insults to heart.

As a scientist, I did notice there is a certain technique to Hagwalah-ing hard. Speed is essential, as is use of the handbrake to get the rear tyres sliding.

To keep grip from returning to the rear tyres as speed is shed, a few trips onto the sandy verge prove helpful, so the driver has to control his drift in such a way that the back end of the car sweeps over sandy patches of the road shoulder every five seconds or so. Control depends on how susceptible the driver is to car-sickness.

Skill or luck?

As far as control goes, one cannot say with any degree of confidence whether or not the drivers are extremely skilled or possess the uncanny good luck usually enjoyed by drunkards and the foolhardy.

From outside, much as the act itself will disgust or entertain you (depends), you have to be impressed by the accuracy with which these Hagwalah-ists place their vehicles on the road, cutting in front of trucks with only a few inches to spare, achieving insane angles of drift, executing chain drifts (several connected drifts, with opposing angles each time: very difficult to do in any car, let alone a front-drive vehicle equipped with traction control) and doing 1800s.

Wondering what an 1800 is? We know what a 360 is: doing a 360-degree spin and continuing in your intended direction of travel. Well, these clowns spin their leased cars a record four or five times in quick succession, and somehow manage to never lose their bearings in the process.

If and when the traction control overcomes the driver’s lack of wisdom, the car could do a full 180-degree turn, say clockwise, face backwards and correct itself, this time anticlockwise, facing forwards again; a sight even more spectacular than a 360. All this at speeds higher than 120 km/h.

One particular stunt had these people (same chaps with the AK 47s) try a 360 as they were overtaking a yellow school bus, and during the stunt, the car corrected itself, resulting in them overtaking the school bus, while going in reverse! All this time, their assault rifles were pointed at the petrified children in the bus. One slip of the trigger finger, just one…

The in-car videos are hilarious to say the least. They start off showing a stereotypical Middle Eastern man, complete with head-gear and flowing white robe, driving along sedately enough, searching for his favourite radio station when he suddenly reacts like he has just noticed an Egyptian cobra coiled around the steering column.

There is a flurry of activity: arms flailing all over, the video recording becomes very shaky and excited shouts can be heard from everyone inside the car.

It is pure bedlam, and unless you slow down the video, you will not even know what the driver is doing. It is like he has three hands, one on the wheel, one on the handbrake and one on the gear lever.

Murphy’s Law: Decapitation, dismemberment and death

If anything can go wrong, it will, as it so often does when humans tempt the hand of Fate, like our dear Arabs for instance. If their drifts are a sight to behold, even more spectacular is the outcome when the laws of physics take over. Cars flip end over end, cartwheeling and somersaulting into the enthralled crowd, ploughing some of the onlookers into the dirt like, well, a plough.

Due to the over-abundance of recording equipment on site, these videos get as many uploads on the Internet as the non-fatal Hagwalahs.

Graphic footage of corpses flying out of car windows and body parts raining on bewildered spectators as a Honda Accord gets pulverised into a cloud of tiny particles can be found on the Web with little effort. This is more disturbing than entertaining.

Socio-political impact

In Frederick Forsyth’s The Fist Of God, part of the story was the Western disbelief that Saddam Hussein could build a weapon complex enough to fire a missile far enough to hurt Western interests.

Someone was quoted as calling Arabs “a bunch of desert clowns wearing tea-towels on their heads too stupid to assemble a bicycle, let alone invent one”.

This is obviously not true, I have Arab friends, all are intelligent and some even impart motoring knowledge upon me; but our dear Hagwalah superstars are not helping matters, not at all.

Their activities have not gone unnoticed: first time I learnt about Hagwalah was way back in 2002, when they were drifting Toyota Mark IIs on the street.

It has since become wilder. Worldwide attention was recently brought innocuously enough by contemporary artiste M.I.A in the video of her song “Bad Girls”. There is some mild Hagwalah-ing in that video, starring a few 3-Series BMWs, an E Class Mercedes and a dusty Alfa Romeo 156.

It was not just fans of M.I.A who noticed the Hagwalah activities going on, the Saudi government did too. So when one recent drift went wrong and resulted in the deaths of two passengers in a car that was rammed by a drifter, the authorities came down hard on the drifter.

The fellow will be beheaded in a few days’ time. The government was quoted saying something to the effect that there was a lack of morality on the drifter’s part and whatnot, but I think what they really meant was that it is bad enough the world’s bigots do not trust Arab intellect without having online videos as supporting evidence, so such activities will have to be stopped by any means necessary.

Anthropologists blame the state itself for the proliferation of street drifting. Much as the kingdom is wealthy, this wealth is not evenly spread, and unemployment is rampant.

In a culture where they are not allowed to partake of alcohol, are not allowed to have sex outside marriage, cannot abuse narcotics (capital offence) and lacking the money for proper forms of diversion, Saudi Arabia’s idle youth find release in Hagwalah.

This, in my opinion, is a chicken-and-egg situation, because someone with the kind of mind that would lead him to a Hagwalah fest does not really qualify to be employed in any organisation. Imagine a taxi company trying to curb unemployment by engaging the services of Hagwalah veterans…

Bus madness

By the time I was through writing the main article, a new Hagwalah video had been uploaded. Always keen to outdo each other, this time the madmen were drifting a passenger bus… with passengers in it.

Posted on

If you like the prison feel, go Russian

Hi Baraza,
I understand the Russians make some of the best war planes and tanks, but rarely do we see Russian products on our roads, like the Niva, or the Kamaz, which I understand has won the Dakar Rally nine times in a row. Tell me about the Lada Niva and the Mazda 6
Joe

The percentage of clients who buy trucks in order to win the Dakar Rally or a similar event is too small to be calculated, so a Dakar Championship is not necessarily a bragging right for lorry manufacturers.

In all other respects, Russian trucks are about as good as their prisons in usability: the Spartan level of build and kit is what we motoring hacks call “crudely effective”.

In comparison, a Mercedes Actros is a high-powered R93 Blaser Jagdwaffen sniper rifle while a Kamaz is a wooden club with nails driven into its head. Both will kill with only one blow but the cost difference is huge and the degrees of sophistication are poles apart.

The Lada Niva was a good seller in the ‘90s because it could do all that the Defender 90 could at a fraction of the cost, so it was a farmer’s favourite. It also attracted the off-road enthusiast with a small bank balance. But the prison cell passenger environment, 0-100 km/h in 22 seconds and the fearsome thirst from its 1.9-litre (and very unrefined) engine meant only the really desperate needed apply. For a harsher and more unforgiving analysis of cars from eastern Europe, please watch BBC Top Gear. You might die laughing.

The Mazda 6 is a very good car. I have been in one recently, the 2011 model, and it is exceptional to drive. Build quality is a step ahead of most of its rivals, as is its performance, and yet it costs less than its major rivals (the Hyundai Sonata costs about Sh4.5 million, the Camry a whopping Sh8 million, the Legacy Sh5.5 million.

The Mazda? Only Sh4.1 million). It is also quite practical: it can seat five and the boot is massive, large enough to accommodate a magazine editor and leave enough room for one of his writers to fit in there with him — pictorial evidence of this unusual test technique coming soon to a social network near you.

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

Hi
In a past article in the Daily Nation, Shell had put up the final figures of their fuel challenge conducted over a distance between Nairobi and Naivasha. What astonished me is that a certain lady driver took her car over 181 km with only 3.32 litres, achieving an enviable consumption of 54.52 kpl. If this is achievable, then what is the magic, other than the fact that she is a salonist?
Kioko

There is no magic, there is only skill, patience and a set of cojones bigger than most other people’s. To achieve that kind of consumption figure requires some pretty oddball driving techniques, some of which include turning off the engine while in motion (no power assistance for the steering, no servo assistance for the brakes, you cannot accelerate should the need arise) and the risk of warping some delicate drive-shafts due to low-rev high-gear manoeuvres.

And the fact that she was salonist has nothing to do with her abilities. That lady is damn good behind the wheel, period.

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

Dear Baraza,
I want to buy a vehicle that is a bit high from the ground due to my rural terrain but which is also stable and comfortable. I have in mind an 1800cc Honda CRV year 2000 and a 1600cc Suzuki Vitara year 1998. Please advise me in respect to consumption, spares, resale value and stability. And do we have old model CRVs with 4WD locally?

Yes, there are old CRVs with 4WD. The CRV is comfier and more economical than the Vitara, but the Suzuki can climb a wall with the right driver behind the wheel.
Spares are not a problem for either; resale value favours the CRV, as does stability (I presume we are referring to the absence of wobbling on the highway).

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

Baraza,
A friend of mine wants to purchase a saloon car. His preference is a 2000cc to 2500cc Nissan, year 2005. After checking around, the car that comes to mind is the Nissan Teana, which comes with initials such as 230JK, 230JM, J31, etc, and a VQ23, with a 2300cc engine with CVTC technology and a compression ratio of 9.8:1. The model is said to produce 173PS (127Kw, 171hp) at 6000 rpm and 166ft.lbf (225 Nm) at 4400 rpm.
Kindly shed some light on the following:
1. The VQ23 engine compared to other engines in terms of performance and durability.
2. The CVTC technology in terms of fuel consumption and whether this is the same as the VVT-i technology used in most Toyotas.
3. What is a compression ratio and how does it determine fuel consumption in a vehicle? What is the difference, for example, between an engine with a compression ratio of 9.8:1 and one with 10.8:1?
4. With the power produced by this car as shown indicated, how many kilometres can it cover per litre on a highway and in traffic?
David

1. Nissan’s VQ line of engines are commonly used in sporty vehicles, so performance is not a worry. The most famous version is the VQ35 3.5-litre NA V6 engine, as used in the Nissan 350 Z/ Fairlady Z and the Murano. Durability is not a cause for concern if you stay away from bashing against the red line on a daily basis, and make your oil changes right on cue.

2. The variable valve timing system gives an engine two personalities, one for performance and one for economy, so you could say it does improve economy. It is similar to VVT-i and MIVEC and what not.

3. Compression ratio is the ratio of volume of all the air in the cylinder when the piston is at BDC (bottom dead centre, the lower most point of piston travel) to the volume with the piston at TDC (top dead centre, the uppermost point of piston travel), that is, the volume of the cylinder (V1) + volume of combustion chamber (V2) divided by the volume of the combustion chamber (V2), or (V1 + V2) / V2. It has no direct effect on fuel consumption, but it does affect torque and piston speed, which in itself determines power output.
High compression ratios create more torque and increase power output, but require higher octane fuels to prevent pre-ignition. An engine operation with a 9.8-to-1 compression ratio means the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) is not compressed as much as much as it is in the 10.8-to-1 engine.

While from my explanation it would be easy to assume that the latter engine develops more power than the former, it is not as simple as that. Sometimes the compression ratio is adjusted to allow an engine to run on a different type of fuel without adversely affecting power output.

The commonest way would be to use different pistons (with either concave or convex crowns, depending on whether you want to raise or lower the compression ratio) or replacing the cylinder head.

4. A 2.3-litre modern engine should return 8 to 9 kpl in the city and up to 14 kpl on the highway, though these figures are subject to driving style.

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

JM,
I would like you to comment on the new technology that has been developed by Mazda called SkyActiv. Using this technology, the new Mazda Demio can achieve a consumption of up to 28 kpl. Also, what is your opinion of the turbocharged Mazda Axela with manual transmission? In some reviews on the Internet, it beats the Subaru Impreza hands down.
Derek

The SkyActiv tech covers a wide range of parameters, from engines (G: a type of direct injection for petrol engines that uses extremely high compression ratios and D: diesel engines that use two-stage turbos to widen the boost operating range); transmissions (DRIVE: an ordinary automatic with features from CVT and DSG and a wider lockup range for more efficient torque transfer and MT: a manual gearbox with lighter components and more compact dimensions); and platforms (body and chassis).

So I guess combining all this SkyActiv stuff in a tiny car like the Demio can result in 20 kpl, though I smell a lawsuit here. Ask Honda what happened when they took liberties with fuel economy figures and one lady driver failed to achieve said figures. Another issue is our fuel. Part of the reason you don’t see high performance cars on our roads is that even though we could afford them, our fuel couldn’t run them.

Cars with high-pressure turbos or high compression ratios require high octane fuel to run. A compression ratio of 11.0:1 is already very high: Mazda’s SkyActiv G boffinry boasts of 14.0:1, so for those who don’t follow the jargon, this means an engine with that kind of compression should run on something closer to paraffin or aviation fuel than to regular petrol. Let the SkyActiv cars get here first then we will see what is what.

In other news, I can bet that Impreza was not an STi. I am not an Impreza fan, but I know what the flagship car in the range can do and I highly doubt if the Axela is in that league. The closest Mazda came to the 280hp-4-cylinder-turbo-intercooler-4WD rally car formula was with the Mazda 6 MPS, and even that was not able to unseat the usual pair of tarmac terrorists: the Evo and the WRX Sti.

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

Hello Baraza,
I want to buy a second-hand 1820cc Subaru Legacy Station Wagon STI, year 1996, petrol. What should I check for to ensure I’m getting a good deal? I’m a bit lame with cars.
Peter

You claim to be “a bit lame” with motor vehicles, but the car you are asking about is an enthusiast’s car. Interesting.

It is not a common car, this one, so my guess is you are getting one from Japan, in which case by the time it gets here a physical check will be too late. Anyway, with such performance-oriented cars, it is best to look at brakes and suspension mostly. Test the brakes to see if they work, and the car should not sag or lean on one side.

Then the tyres: check for bald spots, which suggest hard use or abuse. Finally, check the engine and gearbox (the oil especially, and the sounds). Any suspicious clinks, pings or rattles from the engine and/or transmission suggest that either something is broken or is about to. Go to one of the local tuning houses (they are almost always run by guys with names such as Singh, some of whom are my friends) for a checkup on the turbo, to see if it is boosting properly.

If you can afford it, also have the car checked for chassis straightness. Some may have been involved in a big accident then the evidence cleverly concealed underneath a fancy paint job.

***********

Hi Baraza,
I drive a manual 1998 Starlet EP 91, which has the following problems:
1. The engine vibrates excessively when idling.
2. It has reduced speed over time, even after replacing the plugs.
3. A mechanic removed the thermostat, is this in order?
4. Can the fuel consumption improve from 16 kpl?

1. Check engine mounts or the IAC (idle air control). From what you say in question two, it most likely is the IAC.
2. See 1 above.
3. It is not fatal, if that is what you are asking. But now that the water pump and the fans have to be connected directly to the car’s electrical power system since there is no switch, the car will overheat before going too far.
4. It can but why would you want to? Attaining a better economy figure than 16 kpl involves some unusual and extra-legal driving techniques, some of which I would not recommend.

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

Hi Baraza,
My car is a Nissan Bluebird EU-12 (SR 18), and for sometime it has really been misbehaving. It slows down like it is about to stall, then suddenly picks up like a jet on the runway. It is now stripped down for repairs. My mechanic told me that the carburettor is faulty, and because he believes I cannot get its model in our shops (something to do with a CI model), I can only replace it with another model, meaning modification will be needed.
Because I believe in originality, I decided to consult another mechanic who said my carburettor isn’t the problem rather it is the computer that is faulty. He also believes that I cannot get its computer and advises me to get a carburettor of another vehicle and forget about the computer. Please advise me on the following as my financial status cannot allow my mind to dream of a new toy yet I need to be mobile as soon possible.
1. What was the cause of the stalling and picking up?
2. The computer and “CI carburettor” analysis by my two mechanics, what do you have to say?
3. If the mechanics are right about unavailability of both the computer and the carburettor, which I think may be true because of the age of the vehicle, what would you suggest I should get that will fit?
4. What do you think I should do to put this vehicle back on the road?

Both reasons are legitimate for a car that is not running smoothly. Other reasons could include wiring problems, fuel delivery issues (pumps, lines, filters, dirt in the fuel), and a lot more, so I cannot tell you why exactly your car is not running.

However, one of the two mechanics knows not of what he speaks, and my prime suspect is the chap who started the talk on computers. What year model is your car? Is he sure there is an ECU?

And incredible as it sounds, there are still carburettors on sale. While some are model specific, others are built to be installed on almost any engine (after-market Weber and SU), especially for those seeking to modify performance on their cars.

My advice: Get another mechanic. Even if I was to help you, I cannot begin describing here how to tune your carburettor, it will take at least 25,000 words just to explain what is what.

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

Hi JM,
I would like to know more about the Chevy Aveo in terms of fuel consumption, spares availability, and performance. Would you advise one to acquire it?

Consumption: 10 kpl urban, 14 kpl extra-urban.

Spares: General Motors should still have parts for the car as they sold some not too long ago.

Performance: Nothing near a Ferrari if that’s what you are asking. It is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine fitted into a small saloon car, so what do you expect?

Advice? It depends. How badly do you want an Aveo? If the answer is “very”, then get an Aveo. If the answer is “not very”, then shop around some more for something else. Anything I say beyond this point will amount to what someone once called “de-marketing”.

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.

——————–

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.

—————–

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.

——————-

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.

—————

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.

—————–

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.

—————-

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.

——————

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.

——————

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.