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Manual or automatic, which is more likely to use less fuel?

JM,

I am an ardent reader of your informative column, thank you for the good work. In terms of fuel consumption, which mode of transmission is better — manual or automatic?

What are the other similarities/differences between the two? Steve

 

The short answer here is a manual transmission is better. Or is it? You see, I think things are not as black and white as they may seem.

Once upon a time, automatic transmissions were slapped with massive, heavy torque convertors with no lockup control, while the slush-box itself bore only two or three ratios. Yes, things were that crude. Having only two or three gears means the ratios are very widely spaced and the engine has to reach stratospheric rev levels before shifting upwards to prevent a substantial loss in momentum.

The  (relatively) poorly developed clutches also caused quite some energy wastage through losses in slip and energy expenditure in rotating it. The comparative manual transmissions at least allowed the drivers to choose the ratios themselves, so they could short-shift and thus maintain low engine speeds thereby saving fuel.

Things are different now.

To start with, the skill and deftness of hand needed to row a four-on-the-floor H-pattern manual transmission is becoming the stuff of legend.

I am afraid I may be among the last of a dying breed; the breed of drivers whose abilities extend beyond stabbing the clutch with a toe and wiggling a shifter with a forearm.

Back in the day, everybody knew how to drive a manual, and drive it properly. Now, people with real driving licenses find excuses to occupy the passenger seat when presented with a vehicle sporting three pedals.

The few who man up and step up to the breach then proceed to show a glaring ineptitude at judging the power and torque curves of an engine through erratic shift programmes’ and failure to maintain a smooth flow of motion. Fuel consumption, alongside the clutch mechanism, then suffers.

It’s not all about the driver, though.

The technology itself has also brought the use of electronically controlled friction clutches for use in automatics, or the use of lockup control in torque converters. It has also brought about the manual override, which goes by a variety of names depending on the marque.

The commonest label is “Tiptronic”. Last, but not least, automatic transmissions now come with numerous ratios.

The madness was kicked off by Mercedes when they introduced a 7-speed automatic (with not one, but TWO reverse gears; whatever the hell for, I don’t know); then this was picked up by Lexus and Rolls Royce who bumped it up to eight and as of last year, a very fun trip to the fringes of the Kalahari desert introduced this columnist to a 9-speed automatic transmission in a Range Rover Evoque.

The advantage of these numerous gears is that the vehicle can be driven in a variety of customisable ways: economy, power, smoothness…. you pick a characteristic and the transmission will run with it. The Evoque can trundle around at 1500rpm in ninth gear and not hold up any other traffic.

It can also trundle around at 1500rpm in second gear and be slow enough for the driver to shout out a comprehensive list of insults at passers-by, for whatever reason.

This essentially means the Evoque can be driven everywhere at 1500rpm, leading to outstanding fuel economy. The bigger Range Rover Vogue also got an 8-speed tranny that massively improved reduced its infamous fuel consumption.

There are other instances where automatic transmissions trounce manual. I referenced them earlier in the formative days of this column, but I’ll quickly repeat them here.

Automatics are better for off-roading (they just are) and may be the more appropriate transmission for heavy commercial vehicles (they just are). Given the way some PSVs are driven, I’d say they’d make a case for themselves too in public transport.

The Paji once told me that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X with the twin-clutch SST transmission is an impressive machine. I don’t really believe him; nor do I understand why he would choose to extol the virtues of an automatic 2.0 liter saloon car.

However, now that automatic transmissions have taken over in range-topping hyper cars (you cannot buy a brand new Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren road car with a manual transmission, they don’t exist anymore) and time trial specialists (Nissan GTR, Evo X SST), it may be time to wave goodbye to the pukka three-pedal, H-pattern manual gearbox.

*Fun fact: the ‘Muricans’ don’t give a damn about twin-clutch direct-shift transmissions with or without full lockup control or whatever. The current Corvette C7 can be had either as a proper automatic, or as a 7-speed conventional manual. Yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward speeds, like a truck.

 

Hallo Baraza,

Commercial and passenger service vehicles are required by law to affix at the rear, max speed allowable stickers and twin chevrons that are supposed to reflect when illuminated by a following motor vehicle thus enhancing visibility.

The former serves no purpose, since they are meant to remind the driver his maximum speed, why have them affixed at the rear?

If they are to serve their purpose, have them affixed at the dashboard area where the driver can glance at it and it serves as a reminder as it is meant to.

As for the Chevrons, they have become so substandard that some are just white and red strips with no reflective material.

Why not have reflective strips all along the length of especially trucks?

Moreover, modern vehicles have inbuilt reflectors in their taillights. They (reflectors) serve well in private vehicles and commercial vehicles being imported into the country do not have these chevrons. How is visibility achieved in their countries of origin?

 

The sticker serves no purpose, eh? How about acting as a source of information for foreign drivers unfamiliar to the finer details of our Traffic Act who may be driving behind these commercial vehicles? The sticker informs them that these vehicles are allowed a maximum of 80km/h, so make your decision: tail them and stick to 80 or overtake them if you plan to go faster. It is always better to have an excess of information than a dearth thereof.

As for the reflectors: They’d best be left intact because rescinding the decision to have them in place means EVERYBODY will take them off, including the penny-pinching businessmen with rattletrap, barely legal pickup trucks of fringe roadworthiness. Have you ever encountered an unilluminated cane tractor in the dead of night while at high speed? You will understand why reflectors are important. You will also thank God for disc brakes.

 

 

Hi Baraza,

What are the cons of a turbo charged car? I hear it is costly to repair let alone buy a new one. Can removing the turbo lead to engine problems or loss of power?

Thiga

 

The downside of a turbocharged car lies in costs: buying, maintaining and selling. You will lose money on all three counts. Removing the turbo will of course cause a noticeable drop in power.

 

Whats up JM,

I have a Toyota Corolla E80 purchased in 1985 by my mum and christened “Whitney Houston”.

Five years ago, we had the carburettor engine changed to a 16 VALVE EFI 1.5 cc engine with a 4-speed gear box. Does having a 4-speed gear box affect the car in anyway considering it has an EFI engine?

I like the way people on the highway underestimate Whitney just because its number plate doesn’t have a letter at the end. Once I start revving the engine, those cars see dust. Now that the history lesson is behind, the questions;

1) Would it have been possible to change a VVTi engine? If not, why?

2)We wanted to change the 4-speed gear box to a 5-speed automatic gear box but the mechanic told us it would not be possible? Is it possible to change a manual to an automatic gear?

3) The car starts perfectly in the morning but then in the course of the day develops a hard start. What do you think might be issue?

4) The engine makes a lot of noise, now I am not sure if it is because it is getting old or there is a problem?

5) When I take the car for engine wash it will refuse to start until I jumpstart it. Would you propose I wash the engine or just let it stay dirty?

6) Whitney has on a pair of 12’ inch wheels and I was considering of getting her 14’ inch wheels. What are the ramifications of putting such wheels on a car? Or do we have to do certain adjustments to the car?

7)The back wheels of Whitney are bent inwards and my mechanic told me that she needs to be taken for kember. What is kember?

8) Whitney is a front-wheel drive. I have taken her for numerous wheel alignments but it still gets lost on the road and especially on rough roads. I have replaced all the parts of the front wheel, tie-rods, shocks, springs, bearing and so on. What might be the problem?

9) Insurance companies in Kenya don’t give comprehensive insurance to cars like mine claiming that if the car were to be in an accident, it would be hard to source for parts. Can my car be reconditioned in Kenya? What  does reconditioning mean?

10) Is it true a showroom car has a rear rectangular number plate while a second hand car has a rear square number plate?

11) Finally, I work at a boys club. The boys are crazy about cars and I was hoping maybe you would find time on a Saturday to come and talk to them. I know they would love it. Our email [email protected]

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

Quite a lengthy email.  Also, an interesting one. Whitney Houston, you say? Very interesting.

 

1) In a world where people can replace a tiny melon-sized two-rotor Wankel engine with a leviathan LS2 6.0 litre small-block Chevy V8, I don’t think engine swaps are exactly a problem anymore.

In this case it should be more straightforward seeing how the engine and the car both came from the same company. So, yes, a VVT-i engine would have fitted, provided the engine mounts are compatible with Whitney’s body.

2) It is possible but the involved labour is off-putting. Also you may need to shop for a new ECU(Electronic Control Unit)  or programme the current one to control the automatic gearbox but a) Toyota chips are almost impossible to hack and b) how does one start programming an automatic transmission? It will take years, if at all. The easiest way of doing such a conversion is to get an engine and gearbox combination (such composites are available).

3) I think your plugs could be on the throes of death. Poke around your electrical system: the HT leads, wiring, plugs etc.

4) This depends on what noise it is. An engine at 5,000 rpm will also be “noisy” by default, especially with the bonnet open.

5) I find the lack of lateral thinking in garages and motoring establishments humorous; more so in regard to the engine wash.  Has nobody ever heard of a wet rag? Is the verb “to wipe” so alien to us?

6) Provided the 14” rims fit, there should be no problem at all…

7) It is not “kember”, it is “camber”; and the car is not “taken for camber”, it requires “camber adjustment”. Camber is the offset position of the wheel along the Y axis, — the top of the wheel is not in line with the bottom of the wheel. If the top is offset inwards or the bottom is offset outwards (leading to a knock-kneed stance), it is called negative camber, whereas the opposite (bow-legged stance) is called positive camber. Camber adjustment is part of the wheel alignment process.

8) Now check your bushes. Also, make sure the tyre pressures are equal or close to equal on both sides of the car. Lastly, see 7) above. The misalignment at the rear could have an effect on handling.

9) Reconditioning a car such as yours will depend on how much dedication YOU have.

10) Not necessarily. It just applies to majority of situations but there are several not-so-isolated cases where the converse is true.

11) I’d be happy to give you folks a talk.

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Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

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Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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

Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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

Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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

Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

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.