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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?

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The Tiggo will have criminals ‘shivering’ with laughter

Hi Baraza,
What is your take on the Kenyan government supplying police officers and provincial administration with the Cherry Tiggo cars? Are the cars the best they can use, considering that countries like the US use patrol cars that cannot be sold to the public, such as the Ford Victoria Crown and Dodge?

Is there any feature of the cars that can make criminals shiver at their sight? Are the cars meant for countries like Kenya, where most roads are not tarmacked? I think this was the reason behind the use of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover.

Finally, are the Tiggos stable enough for high speed chases (like the Peugeot 504) or will they roll over, just like the military lorries do even at very low speed? I also fear that they may become old (lose shape) like the ones being used by the Chinese engineers constructing Thika road.

Walkins

You would be surprised that ex-police cruisers can be and are sold to the public in the US (after disarming them of the dash-stored shotguns and computers connected to security databases), especially the Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice.

The only reason criminals would shiver would be with laughter at the sight of the government’s cheapness in supplying Tiggos to the boys in blue. Not that they care, anyway.

The Chinese car would not be bad for the untarmacked roads, but their longevity is questionable. And gone are the days of the high speed police chase; nowadays they will just push a stinger into the path of the escaping felon and his goose would be well and truly cooked.

If and when the cops chase down the criminal, he could at least hope that the pursuit vehicle will age and break down some time during the chase (the reputation of China-sourced products).

Hi Baraza,

How does the Toyota Opa compare to the Toyota Fielder in terms of performance, handling, cost of maintenance, resale value, comfort, stability and power? I also want to know why you say the Opa is ugly and yet there are uglier cars, or is it just because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

Performance should be better than the Fielder, as is handling, but maintenance costs will depend on how well you take care of it. One on one, the D4 engine and the optional CVT transmission are harder to fix (and will thus cost more) than the equivalent VVT-i and auto/manual gearbox in the Fielder.

Resale value will be next to nothing, but if you can find a fellow Opa-lover, then all the best. Comfort: Very good, for the price and class. Stability: Better than the Fielder, but it is still not an F1 car. Power: 1.8 litre D4 performance, which means about 150 hp.

About its ugliness, just because there are other ugly cars, does that mean I should call the Opa pretty? If four students do an IQ test and one student gets a score of 1, and three others get 0, does that make that one student a genius? No, it is just that three other students happen to be less intellectually endowed. Same thing here; the Opa is still quite unsightly, whether or not Verossas and Wills exist.

Dear Baraza,

I want to move from a five- to seven-seater car to accommodate my family. Looking around, the following appealed to me because of looks, fuel economy, and parking space: Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Touran, Toyota Sienta, Honda Mobilio, and Nissan Cubecubic. I also visited CMC and saw the Maruti 800cc van.

What are your comments on these cars and which one would you recommend?

Muteti

From your list, I would say the Touran is the best seven-seater car. It is the most comfortable, has good power delivery, a six-speed gearbox, is highly versatile, and has Volkswagen’s bullet-proof build quality. Too bad it took an army friend of mine several attempts to get the gearbox fixed at CMC Motors before he was satisfied.

The 307 is also a good car, but with the French known to be unreliable, it may not be the best buy if you have resale value in mind. The Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans are generic Japanese products that I am yet to assess (but I strongly suspect there is not much difference between them).

That 800cc Maruti is another thing altogether. It will seat seven people, yes, much in the same way back in the day my three sisters and I could fit in one red KP&TC telephone booth when making a phone call to daddy at work.

It is not an experience you will particularly enjoy or want to repeat daily. The Maruti is a small-capacity delivery van (mostly for pizzas or inter-office documents), not a Swiss family mobility solution.
Of the lot, I pick the Touran.

Hi,

What is the difference between the 2004/5 Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Harrier 240G/300G besides engine displacement? These cars are identical! Which would you go, considering spare parts availability and running costs?

Tony

Besides displacement, the only other difference is the logo in the grille up front. Such vehicles as the Toyota Harrier, Aristo, Altezza, Crown, and Land Cruiser Cygnus (the top-rung 100 VX model) existed because at the time the Lexus brand was not available on sale in Japan, so they were rebranded as Toyota.

Their respective Lexus equivalents were the RX 300, GS 300, IS 200 (and IS 250 in the US), LS 400, and LX 470. There was even a “Lexusized” J120 Prado called the GX 450.

In my world, availability of spares and running costs mean diddly squat, so I would go for the one with the biggest engine and the most horsepower and with the most apportionment (options like leather, climate control, and sun-roof).

For the cash-sensitive types, the diametric opposite of my desire is what they should settle for; the smallest engine with the bare minimum of optional extras.

Hi Baraza,

1. Between a 6-litre V8 engine and a 6-litre V12 engine, which one consumes more fuel? Is it engine displacement or the number of cylinders in the engine?

2. I have been seeing exotic modern cars (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentleys, Rolls Royce, etc) in Nairobi streets. Where are these cars serviced? It is not that I am aspiring to buy these cars in the near future, a turbo-charged Subaru is good enough for me.

1. Given the extent of automotive engineering thus far, it is neither of the options you list there. Genius and boffinry will determine the consumption capabilities.

Engine management (injection maps, variable valve timing), supplementary innovations (variable intake plena, active exhausts, use of forced induction, injector and plug placement/relationship, cylinder deactivation, charged gasoline injection, etc), the shape and design of combustion chambers, intake manifolds and exhaust manifolds, along with a whole lot of other things will determine the fuel consumption of an engine.

That is why the CL 65 AMG Mercedes-Benz coupe is a 600 hp monster that can still manage 11 kpl.

2. These vehicles belong to individuals who prefer to stay outside the scope of the public eye. I have seen them too. My presumption is that given what it costs to buy one (and the kind of brain power that goes into building one), it is only natural for the owners to send the vehicle back to the makers for servicing.

Either that or factory engineers are flown in with a complete tool kit to service the vehicle from the privacy of the owner’s home.

Hi,

I want to know about the work of the cylinders in a car and why they vary from vehicle to vehicle, for example, some have four while others have eight cylinders. Aside from that, you are always sceptical about the Cadillac Escalade and yet it is still one of the most prestigious vehicles today.

So how do you rate the Cadillac CTS-V in terms of performance, power (which I assume is quite a lot with the over 400 hp), comfort, stability, and fuel economy?

Three cylinders or less are typically used in less than 1.0-litre capacity engines (except the noisy tractor road-building equipment that uses just one but displaces more than 1.0 litre).

Four cylinders (in line) are good for fuel economy. V4 engines are noisy, and prone to vibrations, which requires the use of heavy crankshaft journals and flywheels to dampen the vibrations.

As a result, they make the car nose heavy, that is why they found limited use in cars. They are used for bikes, though. Horizontally opposed or “flat” four engines (H4) provide even weight distribution, and no, they do not wear the cylinders out on one side, as some people assume.

Five-cylinder engines are not much different from 4-cylinder ones.Most provide extra capacity without resorting to enlargement of cylinders. This applies to both V5 and in-line 5 engines. Six cylinder engines have legendary smoothness and good top-end (high rev) power characteristics.

That is why Lexus used them to great effect in their smaller saloons. The top-end power applies to both in-line 6 (Nissan Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra Mk IV, BMW M3) and V6 engines (Nissan GTR R35, Lotus Evora).

V6 engines have the added benefit of being compact, allowing for a more stubby bonnet or installation in a mid-ship platform, what we call mid-engined cars, or rear engine chassis.

Eight-cylinder engines develop huge torque. Straight 8s saw action a long time ago but these died a natural death. It was only sensible to make V8s. W8 engines were recently “discovered”, but since they involve the juxtaposition of two V4s, they do not get much airtime.

Twelve-cylinder engines have very good power and can rev to “abnormal” levels (the V12 in the Ferrari F50 road car could soar to about 10,000 rpm).

That is why they are used in top-end sports and performance cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, top-flight Mercedes-Benz AMG and BRABUS cars). Sadly, the engine in the recently released Lamborghini Aventador will have the last automotive V12 to be used as manufacturers are now favouring turbo-charged V8s, which are simpler to build, more robust, and meet ever-tightening emissions standards.

Weirdly, some army tanks also use V12 engines, diesel powered. V10 engines share tendencies with V12s.

Beyond this point, most engines take a W configuration rather than V for the sake of length. The W12 engine (a creation of the VW Group and commonly found in Bentley and Audi) is just the mating of two V6s, side by side. The W16 (Bugatti Veyron) is the joining of two V8s.

The CTS-V is America finally waking up to the realities of life. The original 400 hp car was good (which is saying a lot for a Yank Tank), but the 556 hp supercharged version was great (this has never been said of any American car).

The blown CTS-V killed the BMW M5’s lap record for fastest four-door saloon at the Nurburgring, what with the M5 having two more cylinders (V10 vs the Caddy’s V8) and 50 less hp.

This war is not over. BMW have brought out a new M5 (the F10). They have gone back to V8 engines, they have lowered the engine capacity but (the trump card) to compensate for that, the M car now has two turbochargers slotted under the bonnet.

Initial reports indicate the car goes like stink and is so good it could end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and bring peace in the Middle East — this is of course an exaggeration. The car will actually bring more war as each country fights to be the one supplying the unleaded that goes into the M5’s fuel tank.