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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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Here, a lesson or two on best gear engagement for fuel economy

Hi Baraza,

I own a Suzuki Escudo with automatic transmission. I have been driving with the selector on “4H” during normal driving.

Recently, a friend advised that I should drive on “N” for better fuel consumption. The car feels lighter, but there is an intermittent whining sound and some letters (“N” and “4L”) appearing on the dashboard, also intermittently.

So, I re-engage 4H for fear of damaging the transmission system. Please advise me on the best gear engagement for fuel economy.

BJ

Wait a minute; are the gear positions only 4H, 4L and N? That’s odd. There should be 2H also, which is the recommended setting for ordinary driving. This is what those letters mean:

4H stands for 4-High, which basically means 4WD is engaged, but the transmission is in High range. This gives normal driving speeds. This setting is for use where one or more tyres are losing traction but speed is not an issue, such as on flat ground with a thin and slippery, muddy layer on top. It will keep the car moving even while suffering wheels pin, and will prevent skidding (up to a point).

In a car with selectable 4WD, it is not recommended for regular use, especially on tarmac, as it is heavy on the fuel and the car is difficult to turn (there is a tendency to go in a straight line). Extended use of 4H also wears down the transmission. Use only when necessary.

4L (4-Low): This means 4WD is on and the transmission is in low range. The least used 4WD setting for most drivers, 4L is intended for extreme conditions, where speed is undesirable and might actually lead to disaster. Such conditions include descending steep slopes, crawling over rocks or over terrain so twisted and gnarled that one or more wheels catch air every now and then.

The extremely slow speeds might cause the engine to stall in normal transmission settings, which is where the low range comes in. It allows high engine speeds with low road speeds.

The low range also multiplies torque and allows the car to crawl up inclines of high aspect ratios, which normal cars cannot tackle. In most cases, the diffs are locked by default when 4L is engaged.

2H (2-High): 4WD is disengaged and the car is on 2WD. This is the setting for normal, day-to-day use on regular road surfaces. It eases up the rolling resistance offered by the transmission weight, thus boosting performance and fuel economy. The car also steers easily since the workload on the steering wheels is reduced.

N: This has to be neutral. It works more or less the same as neutral in the primary gearbox. It disconnects both front and rear driveshafts, allowing the engine to be used for other purposes by means of a power take-off (PTO) shaft.

This is mostly old technology; most new 4x4s don’t come with PTOs, which in turn means some might not have the N position, especially for those using an electronic switch to engage/disengage 4WD rather than the traditional gear lever on the floor of the car.

This now begs the question: How was your car operating on N (neutral)? This is my surmise: your car uses the gear lever on the floor rather than the rotary switch found on new Escudos.

In trying to select N, you might have “partially” engaged 4L, which means that the gears are not meshed properly. This would also explain the whining noise and the flashing dashboard light. The cogs may be slipping in and out of position intermittently.

If your car has 2H, engage that immediately in the following manner: Bring the car to a complete stop. Engage the parking brake. Engage neutral in the primary gearbox (free). If it is an automatic, place the lever in N, and NOT P (Park).

Make sure the front tyres are pointed straight ahead (the steering is dead centre and not turned to any side).

Depress the clutch all the way in, just to be sure, for a manual car. Place the transfer box in 2H firmly and decisively. That is, make sure the tiny lever has clunked solidly into position. From there, drive as you normally do: engage gear, release the parking brake and go.

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Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, and I wonder if you have a blog where readers can refer to your past articles. If not, it would be a great idea.

Now to my question: I have a Toyota Starlet EP 92 YOM ‘99. I must admit it has served me well for more than five years. The car is still in good condition, but for the past few months, it has developed a problem with its gearbox.

The car jerks when you engage drive from neutral. This happens after driving for about 10 minutes. Apart from the jerking, the gears still shift very well.

Some mechanics have advised me to change the whole gearbox, while others say it could be an electrical problem. Could you advise on what the issue might be? Is it time I replaced the whole gearbox despite the fact the gears shift well?

Morton Saulo

Hi,
I hardly think a gearbox replacement is necessary. Your problem does not sound fatal, and the cause could be something as simple as either topping up or replacing the ATF.

Have you done either of those in the five years you have owned the car? It is always wise to check the transmission oils at the same time you make the typical fluid checks in the engine bay.

How bad is the jerking? If the fluid is not the issue, then the control electronics could be the problem: the solenoids, the TCM, or even the valves or pumps in the transmission gubbins.

Get a mechanic who will look at it without resorting to last-ditch efforts just because they probably don’t understand what is happening. Your problem is not as critical as requiring a transplant just yet.

However, if you don’t remedy the situation pronto, then a transplant is what you will need eventually.

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Dear Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles in Car Clinic every Wednesday, and I have observed the following:

1. You are sometimes overly critical of some types of cars, which you dismiss, in my view, as almost useless, even though you do not say so outright. Your article of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, on the Nissan Murano with a heading reading, “The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about”, is a case in point.

While it is not my wish to correct your articles, since I am not a motor vehicle expert, I honestly feel that you sometimes go overboard in your criticism of some models.

You must bear in mind there are people who already own the models you so criticise, and I am sure it does not go down well with them. And neither does it, I believe, go down well with the respective car manufacturers (in case they read your articles!) let alone prospective buyers.

Years ago, there was on a comedy, Mind Your Language, on TV.

2. As well as your technical know-how regarding motor vehicles, I have noted with interest your good mastery of the English language, which you also put to good use.

However, in my view, you sometimes go overboard with your expressions, which to me would require the majority of your esteemed readers to consult a professor of the English language or refer to the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary.

Your language in the Murano article refers. I would like to know whether your questioner, Eriq B, understood your answers well!3.

Finally Sir, many automatic cars, if not all, have on their gear stick or lever, a button which when pressed in reads “O/D Off”. Kindly explain in simple terms, what it does.

DKoi

Hello Sir,

I may be a columnist on matters motoring, but first, I am a writer. And as a writer, I have certain tools at my disposal. These tools include metaphors, analogies and hyperbole. I use these tools to great effect and to style my product, and it is in the styling of this product that I came to the attention of the book-heads at NMG. The fact that I might know one or two things about cars is a bonus.

I believe that I am here primarily for my ability to string words together in a way that not many can easily emulate. It is typically the onus of the reader to discern where to take things literally and focus on the content, and where to gaze at the magnificence of the literary tapestry woven by a veteran wordsmith in his weekly attempts to prove himself as one of the greats, legitimate or otherwise.

I believe this addresses your second question. Given that Eriq B has not reverted ever since, there could be two explanations: 1. He fully understood what I wrote and accepted/dismissed it, letting it go at that, or 2. It all blew past his ears and he is up until now thumbing a copy of the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary you mention, in a desperate attempt to derive meaning from my somewhat elaborate literary tapestry.

I trust he is an intelligent man, so for now, we will work with the first theory until he reverts. Okay, let me put down my own trumpet, which I think I have blown enough.

To your first point: I admit I do dismiss some cars ruthlessly. And yes, there are people who own these cars and whose feelings get hurt every time my weekly word salad hits the stands.

Good examples are owners of the Toyota Prius, and Subaru drivers… especially Subaru drivers. This latter group can now have their sweet revenge while they still can.

The last Kiamburing TT championship was taken by an orange, 6-star Coupé, so there will be no end to the punitive payback these Subaru fans will mete out on me following the fun I have had with them over the years.

Given that the driver of the said winning vehicle is a friend of mine, I will have a “word” with him concerning his choice of vehicle and the awkward position he has placed me in. This “word” might or might not be delivered with the aid of a crude weapon. I do not much care for being placed in awkward positions.

Not so much for Murano drivers. Until a Murano wins a single off-road challenge, it still sits in the wastebasket of useless propositions alongside automotive jokes like the BMW X6. These cars really do not make any sense to me, at all.

Speaking of the BMW X6, yes, manufacturers read what I write, and while most will just watch and quietly hope that I get a job elsewhere (preferably away from newspapers), one or two will take exception and make known their discontent.

This invariably leads to a repeat road test (or a new one for cars previously undriven), a stern talking-to and the inevitable recommendation that any time I feel like walking all over their products, I should reconsider. I usually reconsider, as requested, and then I proceed to walk all over them again.

This is not done out of spite, as some might assume. My reviews are the result of critical analysis and the need for honesty, which is sometimes brutal.

Why, to be realistic, would I ever want to buy a Murano over, say, a BMW X5? How much of the planet is the Prius actually saving when, over its lifetime, it actually does more environmental damage than a V8 Land Rover Discovery?

What exactly is a Sports Activity Vehicle? Who would look at the face of a Chevrolet Utility pick-up and truthfully declare that it does not look a bit funny?

I hope you get my point. I am here not only to dispense advice and sample vehicles so that you don’t have to, but also to initiate discourse and encourage critical thinking. A car is the third biggest investment you will ever make in your life. The second is buying a house. The first is educating your child.

You wouldn’t want to take your child’s education lightly, would you? Schools of ill repute will be steered clear of. Neither would you want to spend good money on a hovel into which you will condemn yourself and your loved ones their whole lives. So why not exercise the same keenness when it comes to choosing a car?

Have a good week.

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Chevrolet Utility and Hino 500, the game has just changed

Chevrolet Utility half-tonne pick-up

What is it? This is General Motors’ smallest commercial vehicle on sale currently. It is a tiny little pick-up meant for small deliveries.

When I say small, I mean cargo not exceeding two metres in length, two metres wide and 500kg mass. It is a weird-looking thing, with an unusual face, sort of like what an E60 BMW 5 Series would get if it ever mated with a Chevy Silverado full-size truck, and the resultant offspring was severely malnourished. I know that description does not make sense, but I defy anyone to accurately describe that countenance.

It is new in our market, as was evidenced by the incessant gawps and stares I received as I did my rounds around town in typical stop-start Nairobi traffic.

The quirks do not end there: unlike most other commercial vehicles where the payload area is massive and the driver cabin small (like a regular pickup or a lorry), this one is the other way round: most of the vehicle consists of the bonnet and passenger cell. The load bay looks like it was added to accommodate the rear axle, if nothing else. It actually reminds me of those tuk-tuk pickups that nobody ever buys. It is not so bad though.

I’m a businessman, let’s talk money: This car will cost you Sh1.8 million.

What do I get for my investment? For your outlay, you end up with a half-tonne pick-up that is surprisingly fun to drive. The handling is (almost) secure in spite of the crude suspension (leaf springs, anyone?).

There is understeer when you turn in hard, oversteer when you lift off mid-corner and circus-like body roll when you decide to do a slalom (zig-zag to avoid obstacles).

The long-travel suspension struggles to cope but if you try hard enough, you could get one rear wheel wiggling in the air for a moment or so.

You might be wondering why I am talking about the driving characteristics of a vehicle in a niche where handling rarely matters. Well, you see, for a car this size, you will most likely be doing small town-bound deliveries, some of them urgent; like office supplies, delivering perishables, aka food (one can only imagine the kind of party where a large amount of food is put away by the guests) or rapid parcel drop-offs. So that means some manoeuvering “a-la-emergency vehicle” might be in the books.

I took the Utility hard through a roundabout, countersteering on the exit and it danced like a badly set up enthusiast’s project. It was hilarious.

The interior is basic and feels cheap. Nothing is powered, except for the steering. The windows are wind-up affairs, as are the mirrors, the A/C does not work properly (but at least it’s there), you only get two seats, and in between them are three stalks.

Two of them are the receptacles for the metal tongues on the seat belts. The third one is the handbrake. The gear lever is fore of the handbrake….

About that gear lever: reverse is up and to the right, next to first gear. This might sound like a recipe for a big mistake, especially on a hill-start, but there is a small party piece to mitigate disaster. Subaru Boys, where are you? The gear lever is equipped with a “switch” of sorts, which you have to tug upwards and hold in place for the lever to slide into reverse. Just like an Impreza STi. Huh.

About that reverse: It adds to the cheap feel of the car. To save money (my own guess), reverse gear is not synchronised (this I am sure). Cue some grating noises at the office car park when executing an egress from a parking space. Cue some nosy watchman walking up to the car and asking if you have stepped on the clutch pedal all the way. Cue some nasty, “do-I-look-like-a-child” looks from yours truly.

It requires patience and deftness of palm to get into reverse; you can’t just slam the lever into position and shoot off backwards. Not a good getaway vehicle then…

To make the delivery driver’s life easier, there is a radio. By radio, I mean a thumping stereo with impressive sound. I’d give it a rating of three-and-a-half speakers out of six, where the 2013 Range Rover and its otherworldly sound system scores six out of six. Compare, and go figure.

This radio has the best functionality I have ever come across and always look for in a car: USB connection (in my line of work, I travel the world collecting flash drives, which I proceed to fill with music. In the course of collecting these memory sticks, I sometimes do a test-drive). The radio is also labelled “Bluetooth”, but ignore this. It is the same thing as me wearing a T-shirt labeled “World’s Sexiest Man”. We all know it’s not true, in spite of the misleading script. There is no Bluetooth.

You have not answered my question: The question being, is this car a worthy buy? Hell yeah! For two main reasons: the first being it is in a class of two.

The second is that being a General Motors product, we know the engineering behind it is focused. It is made as a commercial vehicle, and it will therefore serve its purpose.

The simplistic and elementary build also means there is little to go wrong, it will be easy to clean and repair and the car is both rugged and robust. The ground clearance is massive, but one let-down is that it is front-wheel drive. Traction will be an issue when fully loaded and driving uphill. I still give it a thumbs up though, unreservedly.

Class of two? Yep. There is only one known rival, the Nissan NP200. Once upon a time there were a lot more: Opels, Ford Bantams/Mazda Drifters, Datsun 1200s and Volkswagen Caddies, but not anymore. Only the Nissan is left. That being said, I did espy an Opel half-ton pickup at the self-same General Motors premises where I picked this car up. Are they planning to sell the Opel too? I don’t know.

Fun fact: General Motors know what a real road test is. I was given this vehicle for FIVE days. It is still parked outside my house at the time of writing.

Realistic facts: This is not the first time I have driven this car. I drove what I can only describe as the prototype in South Africa last year. The previous car felt truck-like in operation: it was a bit unrefined and felt agricultural. Then again, it was a demo vehicle, maybe it had seen some hard use.

Also, I maxed out the earlier car at 175 km/h. This car I am (still) driving does 100 km/h at 4,000 rpm in fifth gear, and the red line is at 6,500 rpm, so this means our version will not top 165 km/h. I got it to 150 then eased off, because we have speed cameras nowadays.

On to Hino 500 9.9-tonne GVW truck

Unlike GM who give their car a realistic name (Chevrolet Utility is actually a utility), Hino calls their truck the 500. What does the 500 stand for anyway? It is not engine capacity, it is not power output, it is not load capacity… what does the 500 mean? Anyway, that aside, let us have a look at it.

What is it? It is an opportunist, that is what it is. The 9.9-tonne truck class has proved to be the most lucrative commercial vehicle segment in Kenya, both in terms of sales and end user application. You didn’t think Toyota was going to miss out on this, did you? “Toyota?” you ask. Yes, Toyota’s truck division is Hino.

Cash? It will cost as much as three Chevy Utilities. However, Hino claims that you can acquire these vehicles on a zero per cent deposit finance package. It may be true, but I doubt if it applies to everybody; if it did I’d be having a fleet of 10 right now, then I’d try and work out how they will pay for themselves. I think the zero per cent deposit works on the same principles as those of bank loans: to qualify for it, you must first prove that you don’t need it.

What do I get for my investment? What you get is Kenya’s newest non-Chinese commercial vehicle, with backing from the most reliable car company in the world. It is also (allegedly) the best-selling truck in Japan, but this is not Japan. Around here we have the Mitsubishi FH as the best-seller. Go to Machakos and see what I’m talking about.

The truck looks funny from outside. The indicators are bigger than the headlamps, which leaves critical minds like mine asking: what the hell for? The headlamps themselves are set in the bumper, which is usually the part of a truck/bus/matatu that experiences the most beating within the first three months of operation. In bus form, you get a massive logo at the back just to remind those who are about to overtake you that you are, in fact, driving a Hino.

Even if you are overtaken, you will not be frustrated. The driver area is modern and well thought out. The truck is easy to drive, and everything is intuitive, especially if you have driven trucks before. The only problem is that this is not a vehicle you will enjoy driving when empty (no fault of Hino’s, all its rivals also suffer the same difficulties).

Unladen, it is hard and bouncy, especially over bumps. At 100 km/h, crosswinds are going to give you hell. You have to keep sawing away at the wheel just to stay on the road.

Being new, it is hard to say exactly what it’s strong points are… or rather, its weaknesses (these lorries are almost all the same). I know those of its rivals. The Mitsubishi FH 215 is on high demand, so it is a bit hard to come by a good unit at a fair price. Also, it has been with us unchanged for 17 years… those are two life cycles in automobile years; surely an update is long overdue?

The Nissan Diesel UD MKB 210 is noisy, and falls apart a bit quickly. The Isuzu FRR has a massive engine (8,200cc) with no discernible power or torque gains on the competition (all of which have sub-7,000cc engines); and this huge engine makes it costly to buy. Anything Chinese will get you laughed at. The Mercedes Atego is… well, it’s a Benz. Enough said. And I think it is time these vehicles got turbocharged, none of them has a boosted engine. Not even Hino.

Hino claims the 500 will return 5kpl to 6 kpl of on-the-road operation, so they keep chanting about “fuel economy”. I don’t know what to say to this.

So, should I buy one?

If you can qualify for that zero per cent deposit thing, then sure, why not? Sounds like a plan. Other than that, its rivals seem to have cemented their status in this market. The FH has the truck class firmly in its grip, while the FRR and the MKB210 are sharing what I call the “bus-truck” segment: bus bodies mounted on truck chasses, like City Hoppa vehicles and those gaudily decorated Githurai PSVs. Toyota and/or Hino have their work cut out penetrating this market.

Fun Fact: My friend, The Jaw, does not know how to use the exhaust brake on a truck. I almost choked on my sugarcane stifling laughter when he kept asking why the exhaust brake was not activating in spite of him stirring and twirling the column-mounted stalk every which way. Take your foot off the clutch, you clown, and release the accelerator pedal completely. Ha-ha!

Conclusion: Both these cars are new in the market. Only time will tell how the public reacts to them, but from my end, they get a recommendation, especially the little Chevy. For full spec sheets and finance packages available on purchasing, please contact the manufacturers… or your bank manager.

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I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

Posted on

For town service, the Premio will edge out the Noah

Hello Baraza,
Thank you for the good work; it is educating. I intend to buy a vehicle for an airport transfers contract and I am eyeing a Toyota Premio (1800cc), a Toyota Voxy, and a Toyota Noah, all 2005 or 2006 models.

From my research, I am likely to get both the Voxy and Noah cheaper by Sh250,000 in comparison with the Premio. I have received conflicting advice from two different mechanics on the Voxy.

I am made to understand that its 1AZ engine is actually a D4, which one of the mechanics says will have problems sooner rather than later, and that repairing it will bee too expensive, if possible at all.

The other mechanic says the engine should be okay for quite some time (I intend to dispose of the car and replace it with a “new” one after two years), but in case it starts having issues, usually related to overheating, I may have to throw away the engine. Both say a 3S engine would be a good replacement.

a) Comment on the performance and durability of the 1AZ engine in the Voxy and the Noah.

b) If the 3S engine is better, do they instal them any more in Noahs and Voxys?

c) Considering the purpose of the car, which one would you advise me to buy, with the resale value, durability, and cost of spares in mind? Fuel consumption is a non-issue in this case, and any of the cars will give exactly the same monthly income from the contract.Thank you, Samuel,

The fact that you are comparing a saloon car to a van means carrying capacity is a moot point. I will first ignore your questions and tell you this: Get the Premio. It makes much more sense, especially now that you are talking airports (which means you are also talking town driving somewhat).

The saloon is nippier, more versatile, and generally a better and more sensible prospect compared to a van, which is bulkier and wasteful.

Now to your questions:

a) Performance is good (for a van with a 2.0 litre engine, that is). Durability depends on how you use the engine and what you put into it.

b) Who said the 3S engine is better? The 1AZ is actually the successor of the S engines (of which the 3S is one), so it goes to reason that the later engine is a development of the previous. Hence the 1AZ is better.

Just because your mech friends cannot fix a D4 does not mean the engine is rubbish. And, no, they do not use the S engines is Voxies (Voxys?) anymore.

c) Resale value favours the Voxy/Noah. People have an undying thirst for these vans, for some reason, but market demand can be a fickle mistress; what is in demand now could be shunned like the plague in two years’ time.

Remember the Galant? Durability depends on usage, while costs of spares do not vary by much

I will be curt here; buy the Premio.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for enlightening us on car issues. I would like you to give me the pros and cons of the Mitsubishi Airtrek compared to the Nissan Teana. I am torn between buying the two.

Ian.

You cannot compare the two outright because they occupy different market niches and are targeted at different demographics. The Airtrek is a lifestyle vehicle whose sales quarry mostly includes yuppies and up-and-coming 20-somethings with plenty of out-of-town action, especially on weekends.

The Teana, on the other hand, is a middle-management executive’s car, not as lowly as the sales-rep’s Tiida/Almera and not as flashy as the Deputy CEO’s S320 Benz (or Fuga, if the said CEO is poorly paid or is a cheapskate).

So the question goes back to you: what do you expect from the car that you buy?

Hi JM

I have owned and nicely maintained for five years a 1995 Toyota AE100 saloon. Lately, it seems to have lost power and the engine seems to howl during drives. This is despite changing the clutch kit and regular servicing, including trying out Iridium spark plugs (I hear they are not for old cars, but I was desperate).

Braking is also not up to scratch and the linings seem to lose friction almost immediately after adjustment. Kindly note I always buy genuine parts from Toyota Kenya. How can I rejuvenate this car that I am so attached to, or is it time to part ways?

Amos.

I really cannot say what is wrong with your 100, but I can tell you this: the only time I know of engines howling is when they are revved madly — nudging the red line — and the only cure for that is to ease off the accelerator pedal.

Power loss could come from insufficient electricity in the HT leads or bad plugs (usually accompanied by a distant smell of gasoline in the exhaust), compression leakage (too much blow-by), or slipping components in the transmission.

You may have to look at your clutch again. The only conjecture I can come up with to connect the howling with the loss of power is a slipping clutch, which allows your engine to rev up but the corresponding speed in the transmission (and hence the road wheels) is not proportional to the increase in engine revs.

As for the braking system, you just have to do an overhaul.

Hello Baraza,

I recently upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and I am confused by the new gear lever. I am used to the usual arrangement of P-R-D-2-L, but the Belta has P-R-D-B-S. What is the meaning of the B and S and how do they function? And, in your opinion, is the Belta better than the Vitz?Sarah.

The Belta should be a sort of Vitz sedan (remember the Toyota Echo concept car?) just like the now-defunct Platz. Actually, the Belta is the new Platz, the way the Allion replaced the Carina. Follow?

The only difference between the Vitz and the Belta could be that the Belta has a bigger boot. And is newer. On the gear lever, I have never seen or heard of a P-R-D-B-S arrangement in an autobox, so I have no idea what the B and the S stand for. As for now, just use P-R and D, the most essential gears.

Hi JM,

So many second-hand car imports come loaded with gizmos that add to the complexity of maintenance, increase weight, and result in poor fuel consumption. There is a move in the UK for “back-to-basics” cars:

small, simple, minimalist, and relatively cheap-to-run things. Examples are the Dacia Duster, the Citroen C1 VT, the Chevrolet Spark+1.0, the Suzuki Alto 1.0 VVT SZ, and the VW Take UP!

These all retail in the UK for less than £9,000 or about Sh1.2 million. No electric windows, mirrors, or seat adjustment, just simple, basic motoring.

I think such cars have great potential here. Chevrolet, Suzuki, and VW all have franchises here and I wonder why they do not bring such cars here. There are many, like me, who would welcome a no-frills car. My longest trips are Kilifi to Mombasa or Malindi, and such economical motoring is most attractive.

Tony Gee.

We do have such cars here, or at least one that I know of: the Ford Figo. Another one is coming, from China, to be sold by Simba Colt…. Go figure! Meanwhile, General Motors are dead on their feet.

I had to go to South Africa to try out their Chevrolet cars (nine of them, over three days!) which they do not even bother marketing (the 1.0 Spark is a feisty little fighter while the Lumina SS is a Corvette for introverts).

These cars make sense, especially in the city, due to their manoeuvrability and fuel economy. Doing 500km-plus in one hit in them, however, is another matter altogether. Let us hope our conversation here provokes the franchise holders into taking action.

Hey Baraza,

I am a big fan of your articles and I know that your advice has enlightened many Kenyans into making wise decisions when it comes to acquiring vehicles. Kudos! I would like you to assist me in getting something straight;

I like the Toyota Premio X Edition (1,800cc) because of its high performance and reliability, but I am a huge fan of the manual transmission, which I have not seen so far in these cars. Are there any Premios with manual transmission? If there are not, what is your take on modifying an automatic box into a manual one?

Ken.

Sadly, the Premios I have seen are all automatic. However, there were manual versions of the Corona Premio, or what people call “the old Premio”. There is nothing wrong with swapping the autobox for a conventional manual.

If anything, I would like to see someone do it. I have this idea of getting a 4WD Allion (Premio’s sister car) and fitting it with a manual gearbox, after which I will bolt on a TRD supercharger to the engine….

Hi Baraza,

I appreciate the good work that you are doing. I must say I am now well versed in cars because of your articles. I own a Toyota AE111 (1,600cc) with a manual transmission which has served me well for the past three years. I have the following queries;

1. Is it true that wheel alignment done on a car fitted with Yana tyres normally has issues? I have been told this by many people when doing alignment. What is your take?

2. Is it a fallacy that engine oil should always be changed every 5,000km. I service my car every 10,000km and have never noticed change in performance.

3. I intend to buy new 185/14’’ tyres to replace my current 175/14’’ ones. How will this affect my car? Thanks once again for the good work.

IM

1. Ahem… eerr… aah… I cannot comment on that just yet.

2. The 5,000km figure is what we call a “ball-park figure”, a general safe zone for changing oil considering all types of driving. It covers both sensible and unwise driving techniques.

With careful driving, you could easily triple or even quadruple that mileage, though this will be major gambling on your part. Manufacturers like Mercedes now make engines with service intervals on a needful basis, that is, the car will tell you when it wants a new shot of lubricant.

The three-pointed star claimed some of their engines could easily run to 22,000km before needing new oil. However, since your 111 does not have that tech, just stick to the 5,000km. A few quarts of oil will be cheaper in the long run than a new engine, which is what you will need if you lose the gamble.

3. You will be able to corner harder since your new tyres are wider than the previous set.

Hello Baraza,

I have a 2006 Pajero Exceed fitted with a 3,000cc petrol engine. I would like to customise it and add a turbo-charger, and my mechs tell me that it is possible, not possible, possible, not possible….

Research on the Net tells me that it is very much possible to do this, but I will have to change the exhaust manifold and also probably the pistons and the brakes. So tell me, is it possible to do it?

If yes, please explain briefly the “how” and the “who” that you recommend for such changes. I am also interested in its performance and would like to push its power to about 250+ horsepower.

Again, is it possible? Please note that I am aware that there are more powerful cars like the 2012 Nissan Patrol and the Toyota VX, but I would like to stick to my Pajero and make these changes. Peter.

Yes, it is possible to turbo-charge the Paj. As you mentioned, you have to change the manifolds (especially exhaust) to accommodate the presence of the blower.

A little mapping of the ECU will ensure smooth running of the “new” engine. It is advisable to instal an intercooler also to go with the turbo, as well as upgrading your cooling system (turbo engines tend to have a lot of heat).

The “who” is very simple. I have an acquaintance who does this kind of thing. Visit Auto Art K Ltd in Industrial Area, Gilgil Road, behind the Total petrol station. Ask to see Amit Mohamed.

On upping the horsepower, yes, it is possible, although I find it odd that you settled at exactly 250hp. Most people give a ball-park figure (“around 230 to 280, maybe 250”, is what a typical statement of request sounds like).

Getting the 250hp involves mapping the ECU and adjusting the boost pressure in your new turbo. However, you can still up the power levels by other tuning methods.

Mohamed can do the turbo adjustment, but I have yet another acquaintance who does ECU maps, a certain Amit Pandya of AMS Performance… no relation to Mohamed despite the similar first names

Posted on

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

Hello Baraza,

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

Nawaz Omar.

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Wilson.

Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Isaac.

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Hassan Mahat

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

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

Hi Baraza

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

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

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

Job. 

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris.

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

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

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

Posted on

An electric vehicle in Kenya? Not a good idea

Hi Baraza,
1. Do electric vehicles stand a chance in Kenya?
2. Is it possible to convert a car to use electricity? If so, what are the pros and cons of implementing such an idea in Kenya?
Nick

1. At the moment, not a chance in hell.

2. Yes, but the costs and labour involved are prohibitive, especially given that the end product will not be worth the sweat or the money.

Pros: Your running costs will go down tremendously. Electricity is cheaper than petrol per kilometre driven.

Cons: Travel any distance greater than 50 km and you will be very, very late for whatever you were going for.

Also, self-servicing when things go on the fritz, and of course acquiring the vehicle in the first place (whether bought or assembled in your backyard), calls for a massive financial outlay. Not worth it at all.

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Baraza,

I drive a pre-owned FWD automatic transmission Subaru Impreza GC1, 1998 model with an EJ15 engine. The car has 140,000km on the odometer and I service it regularly. It serves me diligently.

I have been driving it for the past one year. I have taken it for OBD diagnosis and no faults were found, apart from a problem with the ABS and the thermosensor, which I sorted out.

I also feel that the thirst that is associated with Subarus does not apply to this one; I am able to do 10 km/litre, except when I floor the accelerator. Here is what I would like to know:

1. In your opinion and knowledge, how much mileage should one clock on a car before declaring that it has served its purpose?

2. Would you recommend to anyone driving such a car to do an engine swap with a bigger engine like an EJ20, tune the car, sell it, or do a trade-in? Is it sensible to change the engine or is it better to just buy another car altogether?

3. For the past one week, my car occasionally sputters in the morning when starting, especially during cold weather. But if I start it with the gas pedal partially depressed, it starts just fine, though I notice that the fuel consumption is not good. What could be the problem? The problem is much worse when I put it in reverse gear. But once the engine warms up, all this disappears. On the highway it does just fine.

4. Is it true that all EJ engines, both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged, including WRX EJ engine variants, can fit in a stock GC1 1998 Impreza? If so, what other modification should I do if I instal such an engine?

5. Can someone fit a used engine from a manual transmission model into an automatic transmission model, or one has to change the tranny completely? And how realistic is it to change from FWD to AWD on such a car?

Robert

1. It depends on the state of the car. Some world record holders have done more than two million kilometres in their cars. The general rule of thumb is roughly 500,000km for passenger cars before an engine swap or grounding of the car.

2. Do an engine swap if repairs on the current unit prove to be too expensive to justify. Tune the car if you want to liven things up (or even resort to settings close to new) without having to buy another car. Sell it if you are sick of it.

Trade it in if the finances for a replacement vehicle lie just outside your reach. Changing the engine or buying another car: that is up to you, to be honest, but here is a guideline. Replacement engines are a lot cheaper than replacement vehicles, but if the swap is done poorly, you will regret it.

3. The issue could be a clogged fuel filter, requiring a wider opening of the throttle plate to create negative pressure high enough to suck fuel through the filter.

Another problem could be the idle air control valve (IAC), which allows air to come into the engine whenever you do not have your foot on the throttle.

It automatically varies idle speed by load, temperature, etc. If it fails, you will not have sufficient air flow into the engine to make it run when the throttle is closed.

That is why the car runs normally when it goes down the road. Some people talk of cleaning the IAC but replacement is usually the best option.

4. Yes. The GC chassis can accommodate any of those engines. Most of those engines are similar anyway, the difference being the presence of turbos/intercoolers and capacity.

However, the peripherals may necessitate some modifying, especially of the front air dams, to accommodate intakes/front-mount intercoolers.

5. Changing from auto to manual tranny is a common practice in the car world, and is quite easily done. However, changing from 2WD to 4WD is a lot more complex and may not be worth it. Changing from 4WD to 2WD is easy: you just disconnect the offending drive shaft.

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Hi JM,

What is your take on 2005 Nissan Tiida Latio in terms of performance, availability of spare parts, and fuel consumption? How does it compare with the 2005 Toyota Corolla (NZE)? In your opinion which is a better buy?

Henry

Performance is poor but economy is good and spares are available at DT Dobie. The NZE may be a better car, especially on the performance front, but the Tiida is prettier.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a BMW E34 (520i), with a 2000cc, six-cylinder M20 engine. Now, can a 6-cylinder engine be 2000cc? If it is true, how is the consumption compared to a four-cylinder 2000cc engine and a 2500cc, 6-cylinder one?

Otieno

Yes, a 2000cc engine can have six cylinders. Yours does, doesn’t it? Alfa Romeo race cars of yore had 12-cylinder engines of only 1500cc. Consumption may be slightly higher than a 4-cylinder of similar capacity, but this is tied to so many factors that the question cannot be answered in black and white. It will be less thirsty than a 2500cc six-cylinder, though.

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JM,

I have a 1997 Nissan B14 that I took for an overhaul. Afterwards, it did only 100km before it heated up badly. It has now stalled. What could be the problem here and what should I do?

The problem is exactly as you have described it: the car over-heated. What to do: Since the heat problem came about after the overhaul, the prime suspect is the cylinder head gasket.

Either the product itself was low quality or the work done was low quality, but in each case, the gasket may be leaking.

Other things to do: Check the obvious. Was there enough water in the radiator? Is the radiator leaking? The overflow pipe/jar? Are the fans working? What about the water pump?

Is the radiator clean (outside)? What of internal blockages?

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Hello JM,

I own a Nissan Hardbody double-cab. Whenever I make a sharp turn, there is a sharp creaking noise from the front right tyre area. I have no idea about what could be causing this problem. Any ideas?
Fide

The fan belt is either old and worn out or is sitting badly within the pulley of the power steering pump. A quick cure of the symptom is to splash some brake fluid on it, but check the two above parameters for a longer lasting solution.

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Hi Baraza,

1. I have a differential problem with my 2004 Nissan Navara 2.5D double-cab, turbocharged, D22 chassis, diesel. In December last year, it started producing a funny noise and my mechanic suggested replacing the bearings.

The whole job ended up being messy due to the inexperience of the mechanic and resulted in differential lock, damaging the crown wheel and the pinion.

I looked for another mechanic who initially suggested repairing the differential, but even after replacing the pinion and the crown wheel, the noise still remained.

Later, he suggested replacement of the entire differential assembly, including the casing and the axle. We did this but since it was not the right fit, the vehicle lost power.

I therefore had to go back to my repaired differential. I now rarely use the vehicle.

(a) Can you advise on a mechanic who can be of assistance?

(b) Where can one obtain such a differential, locally or elsewhere?

(c) Do you think the continued use of the vehicle in its current state could create other complications?

2. I also have an auto 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia with a 4G15 engine, 1460cc, CS2A model. Sometime back, I noticed that the car had a problem with gaining speed and its fuel consumption had gone up significantly.

My mechanic checked the plugs and the fuel filter but these were okay. I then carried out a computer diagnosis that pointed to a faulty exhaust system. The mechanic recommended replacement of the catalytic converter and the car improved, slightly. What could be the problem?

The advice I have received, so far, including replacement of the gear system, is just scary.
JMM

1. Why did you not go to the franchise holder, DT Dobie? And did you just put any diff or did you buy a Navara diff? You have to be careful about specifying the vehicle make and model (and YOM) when buying spares.

What we know as the Hardbody NP300 double-cab is actually called Navara in other markets, but it is mechanically different from the current Navara car. So, here are your answers:

(a) DT Dobie. They sell Navara vehicles under franchise, so they must be able to service/repair it and provide spares.

(b) DT Dobie. For the same reasons as above.

(c) Yes. The entire 4WD transmission may be ruined, more so given that the Navara is a delicate vehicle and uses electronic 4WD engagement.
2. The diagnosis said the exhaust system is faulty and changing the converter improved things slightly, so that is where the problem is: the exhaust system. After changing the converter, have a look at the lambda sensors also. And check for a leak too.

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Hello Baraza,
I recently bought a 2005 VW Jetta 1.6-litre engine. The check engine light is always coming on and when I raise this with my mechanic, the answer I get is that I over-rev the engine.

Is this true? Also, whenever I park the car on a gentle slope, I get the check oil light even though I changed the oil a couple of weeks ago. Is this a common feature with VWs?
Mshengah

Do a diagnosis. That is the only way you will know what that check engine light is all about. Your mechanic is very dodgy, judging by his response; over-revving will not necessarily cause the light to come on.

Parking the car on a slope means that the oil level in the sump goes up on one side and down on the other. The oil level sensor is on one side, so that change of level causes a false reading:
either too much or too little, depending on which side the sensor is mounted.

Park your car on level ground, wait for the engine to cool, and use the dipstick to establish whether or not, in fact, your oil level is outside the accepted range. I do not think it is a common feature with all VWs.

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Baraza,

I will skip the details about how much of an old school enthusiast I am but and ask: What are the odds of being able to put a new engine into an old car? For instance, I would like to fit a 1977 Toyota Celica with a Subaru WRX or Impreza engine. What should I consider when taking such a step? Will it be as efficient as it should be, and what are the constraints?

Do not be afraid of trying that out; it is actually a common method of tuning cars. Just make sure the engine fits, and if it does not, you can always make modifications to the mounts and firewall (front bulkhead). Also, remember to strengthen the mounts and front cross-member.

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Hi Baraza,
1. Does engine capacity significantly influence the car’s road speed? Case in point: A Toyota Prado with a 3.4-litre V6 petrol engine doing 100 km/h versus a Mercedes Benz E240 with a V6 petrol engine and around 200hp also doing 100 km/h, all other factors held constant.

My understanding of physics is that speed is not relative but absolute, meaning 100km/h is the same in all cars irrespective of the engine capacity and all other relevant factors, such as forced induction or lack of, and transmission mode. However, I feel like I have this entirely wrong. What is your opinion?

2. In terms of safety, what is the effect of installing big wheels and wider tyres (ridiculously wide) on an SUV, bearing in mind that they are not low profile tyres?

3. Sometime ago you wrote an in-depth article about tropicalisation of cars. Would you mind doing a quick overview of the important points for those of us with a short-term memory?

Bryan

1. Engine capacity does affect road speed, but not in the way you describe here. Case in point: I was in South Africa last month to drive a variety of cars from General Motors. One of them was the Chevrolet Spark, which had a tiny 1.2-litre engine. Despite my best efforts, I only managed 175 km/h in it. It could not be pushed any further.

Enter the dragon, the Chevrolet Lumina SS, sporting a 6.0-litre V8 engine from the Corvette supercar. Five minutes after I took the wheel, I had hit a heady 240 km/h without even trying, which the little Spark could not do if its life depended on it.

However, power output aside (that SS was something else I tell you), when the convoy was cruising along at 120 km/h, ALL cars were doing 120 km/h and ALL speedometers showed 120 km/h. 120 is 120, whether you do it in a small aircraft or in a motorised wheelbarrow.

2. I am guessing that you mean the huge rubber lumps that are bigger than asteroids used by hardcore off-road enthusiasts, right? They make the car wobbly and are totally useless on smooth roads. Do not use them if you do not need their abilities. They are meant for wading through swamps.

3. Here are the pointers:

  • Modify the engine (compression ratios especially) for the sake of our low octane fuel.
  • Increase the capacity of the cooling system (bigger ducts, pipes, radiators, high capacity water pumps)
  • Toughen up the suspension.
  • In some cases, another coat of paint (or UV resistant lacquer) may also come in handy.
Posted on

If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?
Paul
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1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.

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Baraza,

I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?
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Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).

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Baraza,
I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?
Muteti
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I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.
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JM,
I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?
Osiro
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GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.
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Baraza,
I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?
Raphael
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Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.
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Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?
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I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.
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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.
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1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.
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Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.
Leah
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That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.
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Baraza,
I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?
Sam
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The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.
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Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?
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1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.

Posted on

You should not buy a Forester and expect the fuel economy of a Duet

Hi Baraza,

I have a Toyota 104L Extra, which I bought in 2009. I have never experienced any mechanical or fuel consumption problems with it.

However, I have fallen in love with the new model Subaru Forester non-turbo, so I want to sell the Toyota and buy the Subaru. Problem is that people have been discouraging me from buying it, saying it consumes a lot of fuel and that its spare parts are expensive.

Please advise me before I make my move.

Wanyoike

Why marry if you cannot support a spouse? In the same vein, why buy a car if you cannot afford to run it?

People say that Subarus are costly to run, but exactly how much more costly is it compared to other cars?

From what you have described, you sound like a guy who can take good care of a car, so go ahead and buy the Forester. It will not trouble you if you do not trouble it.

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Hi Baraza,

In one of your articles you wrote that a Subaru Forester 2.0XT, compared to the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and the CR-V, is a fuel guzzler but its consumption also depends on the way it is driven.

Since I have always been interested in being a professional driver, can you kindly advise me on how one can ensure economy with such a car?

Victor

I wish you would not throw words like “guzzler” around when what you want to say is “thirstier”.

If you call the Forester a “guzzler”, what would you call a Hummer? Or a supercharged Range Rover?

Drive gently if you want to ease up on your car’s thirst — avoid hard acceleration and brake as little as possible (within reason).

Also, try and maintain a sleek aerodynamic profile, which means that you should shut the windows when on the highway, and lose unnecessary weight from the car (and yes, this includes freeloading passengers who have no solid reason to be in your car).

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HI,

There is this belief that when you turn on a car’s AC, you are actually consuming fuel. I wonder, what is the connection between the AC and fuel consumption? Does the AC require fuel to function? And if yes, what is the mechanism?

Peter

There is a relationship between the AC and fuel consumption, but it is not direct.

The AC saps engine power, so to maintain a certain speed (or load-lugging capacity), you need wider throttle openings and as such consume more fuel.

In some cases, the increase in consumption is as extreme as 12 per cent but the average increment lies between five and eight per cent.

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Hi,

I’m planning to buy my first car at the end of this month and on my mind are Subaru Legacy, Toyota Avensis, Mitsubishi Airtek, and Toyota Voltz. Can you advise me on the maintenance costs and fuel efficiency of each of them?

Thanks.

Of the vehicles you have mentioned, the Airtek is the most recent and I know least about it. Somebody said it is a turbo. I will confirm this in the near future.

The Voltz is visually unappealing overall and has an ugly dashboard (in my opinion), so I walked away from one the day I was invited to drive it. Now that you ask, maybe I should go back, with my tail between my legs.

The Avensis is the thinking man’s choice. Easy to run, and it is a Toyota. It also has the mature understated Audi-esque looks, is comfortable and spacious, and could be the winner here.

The Subaru (2004–2007) Legacy is even prettier; it could be the best-looking of the lot (shares the mantle with Avensis and maybe Airtek, depending on individual taste).

The carrying capacity is also competitive, as is the consumption (if driven by a human and not a demon from hell). But that AWD system adds weight and complications during repair if it ever fails.

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Hi JM,

I have a 2002 X-Trail 2000cc A/T transmission, petrol. It started losing water/coolant gradually until I was forced to top up almost daily with water.

I took it to a mechanic and the cylinder head gasket was replaced, including grinding the head to align it to the block.

Afterwards, the car had the “check engine” light on permanently, even after it was deleted from memory.

The car also lost power and even with a hard press on the accelerator, the rpm would not go above 2000. Needless to say, it could not move.

I took it to another garage that claims to be great with Nissans and they changed a couple of items, including the ECU, one plug, air mass sensor, and the intake valve timing unit. They also corrected the valve timing, which had been misaligned.

After all that, the “check engine” light is still on, the car moves but suddenly loses power every now and then (I have to switch it off, then on for it to be okay), which mostly happens if I am in slow moving traffic and less when I am on the highway and moving fast. What could be wrong?

Colin

Tsk, tsk Colin, you cured the symptom but ignored the problem.

Why did you flush the memory to get rid of the “check engine” light without first finding out what the problem was?

There is a reason the light still stays on. Do a diagnosis.

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Hello JM,

I have a Toyota Ist 2002 model, 1300cc and I would like to have your opinion on this model, any problems you have heard or know about and its fuel consumption.

When I put Sh500 worth of fuel, it goes for about 38 kilometres. Is this good or is it consuming a lot?

I have also tried to find the manual for this car online without any success (it did not have one when I bought it). Please help because I really do not know much about cars.

Dru

That kind of fuel consumption, 38 km on 4.2 litres of fuel, is the sort of consumption reserved for cars like the Toyota Mark X, not a tiny tot like the Ist. So, yes, there is a problem right there.

I have not heard much about this car, and I have not driven one much (just a quick lap round a dealer forecourt), so I cannot give comprehensive information just yet.

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Hello,

I am planning to buy a Daewoo Cielo and after searching the Net I could not find any negative comment from people who own the car. But I am not so sure about this car in Kenya; it is not a common car on our roads.

I know its an old model, but would you recommend it because it is cheap, economical, strong, and the spare parts are available?

Daewoo has had a rather colourful history, starting off by rebuilding extinct GM passenger cars, then going solo, and then rebranding some Chevrolet cars to Daewoo so as to sell them cheaply.

The Cielo is bloody old, as you have pointed out. I am not too sure about spares — they are there, seeing how it is an ex-GM car (Vauxhall/Opel Cavalier or something along those lines), but maybe not in Kenya. It is doubtful that someone would stock spares for a car that appears in such small numbers.

Do not let this stop you from asking around, though. If the spares exist in Kenyan shops, then go ahead and assuage your yearning heart.

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Hi Baraza,

I recently changed the CV joint on my Probox but the ABS light will not go off even though the ABS ring was fixed.

I have taken the car to several mechanics but no one seems to know what the problem is. How do I get this light to go off?

First, be sure that it is the ABS which has a problem and not your brakes. You can drive without ABS, but I highly doubt if you can manage without the wheel anchors.

The light staying on will either be caused by a large air gap between the sensor and the exciter, a bent exciter ring, or corrosion or damage to a sensor cable.

Check all the cables for any damage e.g. rubbing against the front wheels when on full lock or damage to pins in connector sockets due to water.

All output voltages from sensors must be within five per cent of each, so any extra resistance in the sensor wires will cause the fault light to go on.

If the light really is the ABS warning, the first thing to try is to cycle the ignition key off and back on — it is like rebooting your computer — and just maybe whatever transient glitch confused the ABS controller has passed and all is well. If the condition repeats, you need to do some poking and prodding.

Find a shop with a scan tool that will talk to your ABS controller. A technician will interrogate your ABS controller and look for a trouble code stored in memory.

This code will at least give you some idea of where to look. For more information, trawl the Internet.

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Hi Baraza,

I now understand cars better, thanks to you. Anyway, I always read some boring terms about supposed qualities of a car such as kW, hp, PS, torque etc. Can you kindly clarify for readers like me what these terms are in simplified language.

For instance I read in one of the Daily Nation magazines about the Peugeot SR1, which has an engine that delivers 160kW(218 PS;215hp). Now is that a lot of power compared to say the Mercedes C200 or the Toyota Vitz?

To you they may be boring, but to some of us, they make for exciting reading (depending on the car in question).

kW is kilowatts and is the power a car develops, expressed in SI units. Hp is horsepower, and is the same power expressed in imperial measurements.

This is the power that either the engine develops at the flywheel or the car itself develops at the wheels (the figure at the wheels is usually smaller) and sometimes, when the figure is quoted, the authority giving it will specify whether it is at the wheels or at the flywheel.

Torque is the twisting ability of the crankshaft when the engine is running, and is either expressed in Nm (Newton metres), kgm (kilogramme metres), or lb.ft (pounds feet).

Cars vary in power, and the Benz Kompressor may or may not have a bigger number attached to it compared to the Pug (that is short for Peugeot by the way) but the ultimate ability is expressed by the power to weight ratio (PWR), simply got by dividing the horsepower or kilowatts available by the weight of the car in kilogrammes or preferably in tonnes.

The car with a bigger PWR is typically a better performer, keeping other things constant of course.

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Hi,

I have a 2004 Toyota Mark II Blit station wagon and it is a lovely machine. What is the difference between this car and the Mark II sedan? Which one is better? And what is your take on the Blit?

The two cars should be mechanically similar, but the differences are obvious: one is estate, the other is not and the front facade treatment is a four lamp edifice for the Blit against the single ovoid lamod lamps of the sedan. As for which is better, it depends on your taste and needs.

I personally do not like the Blit. It looks too much like a hearse, especially in black or grey, but I guess that means it has some awesome carrying capacity.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Rav4 J and the problem is that it does not pick when climbing a hill. I have changed the gear box but there is no improvement.

And the handbrake sign is always on. When changing from reverse to drive, it produces a loud bang. What could be the problem?

When I read about your problem, I first laughed for close to five minutes. Forgive me. Disengage the handbrake and go.

About the loud bang when changing gears, have the linkage checked, as well as the clutch system.

Posted on

Ghost recalls, ‘terrorist cars’ and other motor news

CMC’s cup runneth over?

Anyone with half an eye on the motoring industry must be aware that something is seriously amiss at Cooper Motors. It first came to my notice through the Daily Nation (naturally).

The affair went thus: Mr William (better known as Bill) Lay, former paterfamilias at General Motors and a man I first heard of when he lectured Junior Achievement students at Kenya High School several years back (don’t ask, I’m a creature of vast resources and far-reaching talents) mailed shareholders, “snitching” on the outgoing chair and the powers that were, accusing them of misappropriating funds off the books and stashing them offshore to a tune in the vicinity of a quarter billion shillings. Abnormal pay hikes were on the menu too.

At the same time, former chairman Peter Muthoka, through his other company, Andy Forwarders, had allegedly made half a billion shillings off CMC through overcharging for its services, thereby earning more than the entire company which made a profit of Sh400 million.

That is a tidy sum, in whatever currency, if you ask me. And that is the point at which this whole mess became my choice scandal of the month.

I will not delve further into the matter just yet, mostly because somebody else already has (and still is).

And also because at this stage it is hard to separate fact from fabrication and constructive evidence from conjecture and as such it is dangerously easy to talk oneself into a lawsuit — not a good thing especially if the litigant may be having more than half a billion silver coins at his disposal.

But from what I have gathered, the entire saga takes a juicy twist involving immigration, denied entry permits, and some good ol’ dirty politics. Stay tuned for developments.

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GM and the Chevrolet Cruze

Switching lanes from Bill Lay’s current haunt to his former one, and this time round on a positive key.

Now cars like the Nissan Tiida and Toyota Corolla have cause for alarm as General Motors release their newest pet into the wilds that are Kenya roads. It is called the Chevrolet Cruze. Moving on…

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Rolls-Royce Ghost faces a recall

If there were any two terms that were unlikely bedfellows in the same sentence it would be “Rolls-Royce” and “recall”, unless they were separated by negative connectors/conjunctions or whatever.

But no, pinch yourself if you think you are reading this wrong and kick yourself if you thought marrying BMW technology with good ol’ English charm and elegance would be the automotive Holy Grail: it is happening.

The Ghost, also fondly referred to as the “Baby Rolls”, has fallen victim to that most terrible of automotive plagues: the massive recall. Do not blame the brand.

Once upon a time, when Rolls-Royce was still independent and derived profit from slinging jet engines onto passenger aircraft, they had a “Terms and Conditions Apply” clause in their motor vehicle sales agreement, the terms being that you will not under any circumstances be shown by the company how to open the bonnet and the conditions being you will not open it even if you found out how to do it.

The reason? Passersby will see the car with the engine lid agape and might assume something was wrong with it.

That is how fastidious the company was. Until it was bought by BMW.

We will go ahead and assume that German technology is the knees of the bee on Planet Car, where some of us live.

So it was only natural that the finest engines in the world would find their way under the bonnets of the finest cars in the world.

The pinnacle of this arrangement was the Roll-Royce Phantom, in its various (two, actually) iterations.

We live in a world driven by the root of all evil (the love of money), so the bean counters over at BMW thought it would be a wise move to create a poverty-spec Rolls.

Since it would be “pocket friendly”, development costs had to be cut for profit to be realised.

The easiest way was to simply reskin an existing car (in this case the BMW 7 Series) with Rolls-Royce bodywork and Rolls-Royce interior trimmings — sort of like a lady in an expensive Gucci evening gown but underneath is the hard, muscled (albeit very well-toned) body of a female decathlete.

Those who cannot see under the frock do not know any better, so everybody is happy. That is the thinking behind the Ghost.

Cheaper and smaller than a Phantom, it is meant for those who cannot afford real Phantoms but would not want to be seen in a German saloon (too typical). Clever. That is the brief, business-oriented history of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. But the timing of its release could not have been worse.

BMW has recently announced a serious problem in their 8- and 12-cylinder engines.

The auxiliary water pump fastened onto them is showing a tendency to overheat and as such could be the instigator of unforeseen under-bonnet conflagrations, or in simple English, it could cause an engine fire.

The real problem lies with a circuit board that controls operation of a dedicated water pump meant to cool the turbocharger after the car has been shut off.

The board has the potential to overheat the pump, causing fire. If the problem arises, the driver would be most likely warned by a light in the instrumental panel.

We need those engines back, says BMW. If you drive any of the following cars with a V8 or a V12 engine, 32,000 of them, take note: 5 Series, 5 Series Gran Turismo, 7 Series, X5 or X6. Oh, and lest we forget, we might also need back the “other” 7 Series, the Rolls Royce Ghost. It does have a BMW V12 powerplant, you know.

None of the 1,900 Ghosts worldwide has been reported to suffer a problem just yet, but about 600 of them have so far been recalled.

So now the next time an American rapper broadcasts “I’m on fire”, he might not be bragging about his ongoing success, he could really be in need of help from the emergency services.

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Toyota, terror, tort

I have already said that it is very simple to box oneself into a legal wrangle through careless declarations. Well, here is someone who did. And it cost him $7.5 million.

News clips of war-torn, terror-stricken, democratically-unsound countries share one thing in common: they almost always star a Toyota pickup, or three, even five. Anyone seen that J70 pickup doing a wheelie while overloaded during Gaddafi’s ouster recently?

In the spirit of competition (or maybe he thought it was funny, I don’t know) an American car salesman thought to point out the connection between his Iranian rival’s nationality, the problems back home, and the Toyota pickup’s role in all that. It did not end well for him.

Shawn Esfahani was born in Tehran (a Shawn from Iran? I know Shahs, but Shawn?) and owns Eastern Shore Toyota in the state of Alabama.

Bob Tyler Toyota is his cross-border competitor over in Pensacola, Florida. Word got to Shawn that Tyler’s workforce was referring to his outfit as “Middle Eastern Shore Toyota”, or “Taliban Toyota” and was alleging that not only does he support terrorists financially using his business, he also launders their money.

“I can’t believe you are buying from that terrorist. He is from Iraq, and he is funnelling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there, and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother.” Those are words spoken to a visiting couple by a Bob Tyler salesperson.

An enraged Esfahani found his way to a courtroom and said only $28 million will restore his offended sensibilities.

In the ensuing trial, both entities accused each other of engaging in underhandedness to boost their failing businesses, and after a three-hour deliberation, jolly Shawn had been awarded $7.5 million.

Good for him.

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Toyota does not seem to mind the popularity of their pickups among unsavoury clients.

A spokesman even went ahead to say that the Taliban, like any normal farmer, businessman or contractor, looks for “the same qualities as any truck buyer: durability and reliability.’’ Not everyone shares these sentiments, though.

Strangely enough, Taliban fighters have been seen getting maple leaf tattoos. The maple leaf can be found on flags that brand Canadian built Hilux pickups, and the tattoos are in honour of their favourite workhorse (besides the AK-47).

Also, there was a war between Chad and Libya so dominated by Toyota pickups, it is still called the Toyota War.