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To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

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Should I get a Honda Airwave or just stick to a trusted Toyota?

Thanks for your informative articles. Kindly contrast and compare Honda Airwave and any Toyota such as the Toyota Wish. I have seen many Kenyans buy Hondas.

I wanted to buy an Airwave but out of the people I talked to, including mechanics, about one out of ten encouraged me. One of my friends who owned one a 1500cc mentioned that it even consumes less than a normal Toyota with the same 1500cc.

Majority cited issues of availability of spare parts and resale value. I looked more spacious than a Toyota Wish considering that you can fold the back seats. The price difference between the two then was around Sh200,000.What is your take on Hondas? Is it that the Toyota did a lot in marketing?

Ken

 

Hondas are an open secret in the motoring world. If you want the best of Japan while avoiding the too-obvious Toyota, get a Honda.

If anything, this is the one car that is more reliable than a Toyota, too bad the Civic did not and does not sell like the Corolla; and Honda doesn’t build a pickup.

They do build and sell dozens of millions of motorcycles, though, and no, that is not hyperbole, they DO build motorbikes in the eight figures.

Spare parts are not and should never be a problem. How many Airwaves have you seen around? How do THOSE owners maintain their vehicles? Feel free to join them.

Resale value may be disheartening at the moment owing to the “should-I-shouldn’t-I?” uncertainty and indecisive mindset that you and many others seem to have; so hopefully this will clear things up: Yes, you should. I plan to, too, one day…. VTEC coming soon to a column near you.

Residual values are something else; related to resale value but not dependent on it.

Actually, the converse is true: resale value is dependent on residual value. Residual value is how well the car holds up over several years of usage and ownership, but this is not per car, it is per model of car.

Here are examples: cars with good residual values are best exemplified by the Toyota Landcruiser and the Toyota Hilux. They simply never depreciate.

This does not mean that you cannot find a grounded or worthless Hilux, you can and will, though this will be an isolated case; but as a model, it maintains its physical (not sentimental) value over time.

Cars with bad residual values? They’re almost exclusively European and almost exclusively French. Peugeot tops the list closely followed by its fellow Frog-mobiles: Renault and Citroen. Alfa Romeo also joins the list of Euro-letdowns, but this brand of car is usually rescued from ignominy by its sentimental value. Its residual value is below zero.

Toyota may have done a lot of marketing, but the biggest contributing factor to their success was they let their products speak for themselves. The two aforementioned vehicles, the Hilux and the Landcruiser, have done more to market Toyota as a brand than a billion-dollar advertising budget ever could.

Honda’s engines may also speak for themselves, but this is only in closed circles: Ask anyone to explain what VTEC means (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) or how it works (a camshaft with two cam profiles or two different camshafts; one of which is oriented for economy and the other for performance, and the switchover occurs at around 6,000rpm) and they’ll stare at you like you were a creature from Star Wars.

Yet VTEC engines are the one type of engine to have never suffered a single failure in their entire history, not one, and this is in spite of them being in production since 1988 and now numbering in the tens of millions.

How about the fact that Honda designed a cylinder head (CVCC heads) for use in its American version of the Civic hatchback, a design so delightfully simple and so fiendishly clever that the fuel economy figures achieved from a carburetor-fed engine from the 1970s are still unbeaten even by today’s cleverest EFI systems?

This geeky techno-frippery may be what scared people off Honda. Everybody is cagey about innovation, especially the really technical ones.

Try selling an all-in-one app to a major corporation and see them approach it like a cat approaching a bath.

Then again, maybe the movies,  newsreels of war theatres, bush ambulances, adventuring tourists, lifestyling twentysomethings, successful businessmen and happy farmers almost always feature a Toyota Landcruiser or a Toyota HIlux and we are thus indoctrinated from childhood to believe that Toyota is the beginning and the end of everything; anything outside of that is nothing but a brief and temporary sojourn into the unknown.

 

Hi Baraza, 

Does engaging ‘N’ (neutral gear) when going downhill save on fuel, mine is a Toyota  DX with a 4E engine, what’s  the average fuel consumption in terms of l/km.

Matata

Yes, coasting downhill saves fuel… somewhat. It is not the best fuel-saving driving technique, though. A Toyota DX will return anything from 10km/l to 20km.k, depending on who is driving and how it is being driven, but the mean (average) and mode (commonest) rate of consumption is around 13km/l.

 

Hi JM,

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column every Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

A friend of mine is looking for a mid-size 4×4 vehicle, probably a SUV. The car will be used by his wife in rural areas on weather roads. The wife is a teacher and every morning crosses a seasonal river when going to school.

He is weighing on four Models: Nissan X-trail, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Subaru Tribeca. All 2008 models.  

A quick check on Youtube shows a lot similarities on handling of off-road conditions for the four vehicles. This leaves us more confused.

Given the kind of terrain the vehicle will be used on, which one is better putting into considerations other factors such as:

(i) Durability;

(ii) Repair costs;

(iii) Fuel Consumption;

(iv) Stability control; and;

(v) Comfort. 

David

 

I will do something unusual this time round and ignore the actual question you are asking, and go ahead and answer your inquiry according to what stands out with these vehicles. You can make your judgment call from my seemingly impertinent (or are they?) responses.

To start with, yes, YouTube is mostly right; these cars are basically facsimiles of each other. This is the primary reason why I will ignore the (i) to (v) queries up there, except for (iii).

Let us focus on the elephant in the room and think about that seasonal river you are talking about…. I have sampled the first generations of all the cars listed (and the second generation X- Trail too), and the most fitting for wading through a water carpet thicker than ankle-deep would be the X-Trail.

Forget the others, their ground clearances are too low and/or their wheelbases too long and/or their overhangs too intrusive for them to make a case for themselves as anything other than high-priced shopping baskets for the housewives with slightly larger disposable incomes. This is especially noteworthy of the Tribeca.

Speaking of the Subaru: it has the biggest engine here, a 3.6 litre flat six (forget the original Tribeca B9 with its weedy little 3.0 litre), so it is also the thirstiest: 5km/l on a normal day, stretching to 7km/l when the going is good.

The drop in fuel prices may have brought smiles in many a Tribeca-borne household. I liked its automatic gearbox the best too, but the swoopy, futuristic, beige interior of the test car I drove is the kind that attracts fingerprints like a mirror in the hands of a toddler.

The Tribeca is also the lowest riding, whether for real or apparently is hard to tell; but the long wheelbase doesn’t help -making it the most inappropriate for off-tarmac jaunts.

It is the only car in this list that seats seven, though (the rest seat five), so you could always look for paying passengers to offset the fuel bills…

The Mazda CX7 is a rocket ship. It is hard to tell exactly what the car was meant for, because what starts life as a cramped cross-over utility — in essence what looks like a Mazda 6 with a hatch and a lift-kit- is then saddled with a limp-wristed engine that has no torque. To ensure that this lack of torque is not noticed by drivers, the engine has a little extra something bolted to it: a stinking turbocharger.

The result is this Mazda goes like a getaway vehicle in a PG13 TV program.

If you want to humiliate the Tribeca-driving housewives on tarmac, then this is your weapon of choice. Sadly for it, speed is about all that it’s good for: with turbo comes compromised reliability (the front-mount intercooler is an especially sensitive sticking point) and woeful fuel bills. 245 horsepower ain’t a joke.

The CX7, however, comes a close second to the X-Trail in off-road acts.

Next up is the Murano. This is a car I lambasted not too long ago (to my own detriment: I have been unable to live down the dressing down I received from pundits who won’t calm down).

The first-generation model still looks funny to me; what with that fat rump at the back and the leering rictus up front. While the Mazda goes like a sports car, the best the Murano can do is claim to have an engine from a sports car: the veritable VQ35 unit from the Z33 Nissan 350Z, the famous Fairlady. The Murano is not that fast though. It also takes some getting used to: not everything is where you’d expect it to be.

Try filling up at a fuel forecourt for the first time in one and prepare for some red-faced scrabbling around in the driver’s foot-well looking for the release catch for the fuel filler cap. Here is a hint: stop looking, it doesn’t exist.

Another problem with the Nissan is one could easily end up with the more plebeian 2.5 litre 4-cylinder as opposed to the 3.5 V6, and you’d never know the difference… that is, until you try to overtake a Mazda CX7 and wonder why a 1200cc capacity advantage and two extra cylinders are not helping. Not a bad car for roughing it, but then again not quite at the CX7’s level.

Lastly, the X-Trail. This is the one you should get. It may not necessarily be the most durable (Murano), nor the most comfortable (Tribeca), nor the most stable (CX7) but it should be the cheapest to buy, fuel and maintain. It is definitely the most appropriate car for the terrain. It also has the most boring interior of the four cars. Invest in a good sound system to take your mind off the naff ambience.

 

Hi Baraza,

I have been thinking of two cars, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids. Tell me, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a hybrid car? Which one should I buy?

Baba Quinton

 

Advantages of a hybrid car: they put you in a good mood because you think you are saving the world. Disadvantages of a hybrid car: you are not actually saving the world.

Trade-off: the lower fuel bills will be a joy until you discover how much of a swine a hybrid car really is to fix. Ask your mechanic if he knows what Miller cycle is as opposed to Otto cycle.

If he cannot answer this, he cannot fix your Prius; even if he is also an electrician by night, he still can’t fix your Prius.

Between eating bitter fruit at 10am and eating bitter fruit at 3pm, which is better? Neither, at the end of it you still eat bitter fruit.

Get a Prius, there are quite a few around, maybe there exists an owner’s club for these things by now (a good source for unreliable and unverifiable information) and/or a graveyard of dead Prii/Pria/Prix/Priuses  (a good source of parts).

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What is the problem with modern diesel engines?

Hi Baraza,I recently bought a second-hand VW Touareg with a five-cylinder TDI engine from the UK. While I love the car (after replacing the shocks), I fear I may have not done my pre-purchase selection well enough as I have been informed that local agents refused to stock diesel Touaregs due to a potential mismatch between our local diesel quality and the VW common-rail engine.

I have also been informed that similar issues have been identified with the new Land Rover diesels, which are also common-rail. Is there an identified problem with this type of engine? If so, what is it and what can be done to avoid problems?

Many thanks in advance, Moose

Moose, I find this interesting because I know CMC sold diesel as well as petrol Touaregs, MK I version (or did they?) What I know for sure is that they sell diesel Land Rovers (and Range Rovers); in fact, last year they were proud to show me the new 2.2 turbodiesel in the Defender, bringing smoothness and economy to a car that knew none of these things.

The diesel engines that I am fully aware of failing courtesy of our diesel are Hyundais: a recent visit to the premises revealed that tests done resulted in engine failures after a mere 50,000km —  an unacceptable premise. As such, the Hyundai agent here will NOT sell diesel engines.

According to the Internet, our diesel contains 50ppm (parts per million) sulphur content, same as South Africa and Morocco. Sulphur is a naturally occurring component of the crude oil from which diesel is derived.

Fuel-bound sulphur is also the enemy of the environment. During combustion, this sulphur creates soot and particles, among other things, and this is where a device called the DPF comes into the picture.

DPF in full is diesel particulate filter. When the soot and particles (particulate matter) are formed after combustion, in the interests of emissions control, the DPF traps them as they try to leave with the exhaust gases. Accumulation of these particles in the DPF results in a slow clogging process that increases the exhaust back pressure.

There is a sensor for this back pressure that informs the ECU to increase fuel delivery via the injectors so as to create a heat build-up just ahead of the DPF and thus burn off these particles. It is a circle of life, so to speak, and it happens so fast you will not notice it in a process called “regeneration”.

All new age diesel engines (of late CRD — common rail diesel — has been the fad, rather than DI — direct injection) are required to have this device to control emissions.

The push for low-sulphur diesel also caters for those old engines that have no DPF and are yet to be grounded. The Euro IV standard is 50ppm diesel. Euro V calls for 10ppm or less, enforced in 2009.

Naturally, every quick-thinking manufacturer would have started building Euro V-standard engines ahead of time so that by the time it comes into force, they will not be caught on the wrong side of the fence.

So what happens when you feed Euro IV-compliant fuel into a Euro V-specified engine? Soot build-up is going to exceed regeneration ability. The DPF will get clogged. A warning light will come on the dashboard. Fuel consumption will shoot up. Power will drop.

At the critical level of 75 per cent, the vehicle will stall (same point at which many more dashboard lights will come on). So you will have to bring the car in for regeneration or a DPF replacement. These things are not cheap: one costs Sh130,000 or more, depending on manufacturer.

With this happening on a regular basis, you can see why my Car Clinic and the income statuses of several garages will flourish. Replacing a DPF every three months will ring alarm bells with your bank manager and your spouse, who will both refuse to believe that the expenditure falls under “running costs” of a vehicle (are you driving a Veyron, for goodness sake?)

A trick that I have seen some people use is to remove the DPF altogether, but if you opt for this, you had also better have knowledge on how to map a vehicle’s ECU because the car will not fire up when the DPF is absent. Reprogramming allows the ECU to “overlook” the missing DPF, or the new programme simply omits the DPF code, so as far as the ECU is concerned, the engine was built without a DPF.

One way to avoid problems is to avoid town-based stop-start driving. This does not create enough heat for passive regeneration (where the heat of the exhaust is used to heat up the DPF to burn off the soot), so instead active regeneration is applied, which is what I described (the DPF sensor tells the ECU to burn more fuel).

It is self-defeating in a way that burning more fuel to de-clog the DPF results in more clogging. Also, regeneration as soon as the warning light comes on will save you replacement bills (but this will still happen often).

The third option is to remove the DPF. If you go for this, I know of one Amit Pandya, from AMS Chip Tuning & Performance Centre, who knows how to sucker ECUs into doing his will. (Note: This is illegal in countries where emissions are taken very seriously).

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Baraza, I like your informative columns. I bought a Toyota Fielder six months ago. Whenever I start the car it behaves alright but upon accelerating, the engine light flickers on and I always notice gear(s) above Number Three do not engage. This makes the rev counter stretch towards the right and by the time I hit 120kph the rev counter is beyond four.

When I drive for long distances the Check Engine light goes off, then the gears engage smoothly and the revs fall to between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, depending on the speed.

I have changed the engine oil and the ATF and also ensured that the right quantities are maintained, but the problem persists.

Diagnosis on two occasions has indicated revolution sensor failure. In the first instance, the mechanic said the entire gear box needed to be be changed but since I did not have the money I went to the second one, who suggested that I change the reported sensors, but the problem persists. I would like to know the following:

1: Must I change the entire gear box, as suggested by the first mechanic, or can the failing gear(s) be repaired?

2: How many gears does my car — a 1500cc Fielder, 2004 model — have. Are they four or five so that I can know how many after the third are failing?

3: Why does the engine light sometimes disappear and gear(s) engage normally? Could it be a wiring problem?

Thanks,

Very Disturbed.

Hello Mr Very Disturbed,

Here are the answers I could come up with for your quandary:

1: I do not think replacing the entire gearbox is necessary. Sensor failures are best cured by sensor replacements. Also, I find it unlikely that individual gears within the gearbox may be ruined. Yours sounds strictly like a sensor problem. Sensor replacement SHOULD cure the problem, although in your case I strongly suspect the sensor replacement may not have been done properly.

Then again, the problem could be in the wiring: there might be a loose connection somewhere, or a circuit board has been jarred free of its connections, hence the new sensor not making a difference. Electronic problems can be a real headache sometimes. If this is the case, then believe me; a new gearbox will not help either.

2. The OEM automatic gearbox in a 2004 Toyota Corolla Fielder 1.5 has four speeds.

3. Yes, as I mentioned in Point 1 above. Now, what you have to do is get a more enterprising mechanic who is not afraid to think outside the box. He will go through the entire electrical path until the problem is found: and more likely than not this will solve the problem.

Hopefully you will stop being Mr Very Disturbed and become Mr Very Relieved.

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Dear Baraza,I am very curious about the Toyota Vanguard. I have seen a few around and I would like to know the difference between it and the RAV4 because they look so similar. Thanks,Muya

Actually, you are right: it is the same car, it is just that one is slightly longer than the other.

Since the Generation 3 RAV4 came out in 2006, Toyota has been building the vehicle in two wheelbase configurations. The smaller cars went to Europe and Japan. The US and Australia got the lengthy version. Japan also got the longer vehicle, but to keep it apart (and away) from the RAV4, they called it the Vanguard.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. I drive a VW Passat 2003 model (1800cc) imported from the UK. It has been a smooth ride since I imported it two years ago. However, lately, I have had issues with the transmission system. When the engine is cold, I have no problem engaging Drive. However, when in traffic and change from Neutral to Drive, I experience a severe jerk which started out slowly but is now quite noticeable.

Computerised diagnosis turned negative results, while my mechanic recommended that we top up on the ATF, which we did with the recommended type from CMC. Sadly the problem persists.
My mechanic now says we should replace the current ATF, but I am wary of this, considering the exorbitant cost.

Another mechanic reckons that my engine’s revs are rather high and that this is what causes the jerking when the engine is fully warmed up. Any idea how to sort out this nagging problem? I love the car but I am worried that soon it might just stall in the middle of the road… at night!

Regards, Jeff.

When the mechanics say the revs are high at idle, how high are we talking about? What rpm? Quite a number of engines have a high idling engine speed when cold-started in a bid to warm up the engine quickly, though this high idle usually drops immediately the gear lever is slid into Drive.

However, that fast idle may be connected to the violent drive engagement. The first steps of diagnosis are usually:

1: Verify that the transmission fluid level is correct, which you say you did, but it could be too high and I suggest you also flush the system and put in all-new ATF, just to see if it works. It is not as expensive as having your car coming to a stop in a dangerous neighbourhood at night.

2: Verify that the valve body, throttle valve, and transmission shift linkage are adjusted properly. A slightly open throttle valve will cause the engine to rev up, and the drive engagement will create a shock, which you experience as that thump.

However, a more technical approach (when the above has failed) involves the replacement of the transmission valve body’s upper housing separator plate and a valve body check ball. It also involves erasing and reprogramming the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) with new software.

These are the steps:

1. Refer to the appropriate year information on Transmission and Transfer Case removal and installation instructions of the transmission valve body, check ball, upper housing separator plate, and pan gasket.

2. Replace the original rear servo check ball with a new plastic check ball.

3. Clean the new separator plate to remove any dirt or rust inhibitor prior to installation.

4. Instal the new transmission valve body upper housing separator plate.

5. Reassemble the transmission.

6. Instal a new transmission pan gasket.

7. Lower vehicle and instal transmission fluid.

8. Verify fluid level after warming up the transmission and cycling the shift lever several times.

9. Verify, and if required, adjust the transmission shift linkage and the transmission throttle valve cable per the appropriate service manual procedures.

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Hi Baraza,I am an avid reader of your column and must commend you for the good work. I own a Subaru Forester, year 2000 turbocharged model. She has been awesome, to say the least, but time has come for me to move on. I have been eyeing one of the following: Basic Outback, 2.5-litre engine (year 2006-7), Outback 3.0R (year 2006-7) and BMW 3-series (328i) saloon or estate (year 2006).

Given my relationship with the Forester, I am a sucker for power and stability. The upgrade should match this and also offer added comfort (Foresters have had the reputation of squeezed rear leg room). Slight off-roading (village terrain but not Rhino Charge) is also one of the requirements.

What would you advise me to go with, taking into consideration fuel consumption and maintenance? One more thing, any issues to look out for from UK imports?

Many thanks,

Mugambi.

The BMW will tick almost all the boxes until it comes to the village off-road part. Then it bows out. The 3.0R Outback will offer everything, but you will pay at the fuel dealer forecourt. The 2.5 Outback’s performance may not be at the same level as the 328 and the 3.0R, but then again, how fast do you want to go in a bus designed to ferry the children of the well-off to grade school in the morning, music classes in the afternoon, and out-of-town horse stables on the weekends? It will also not burn as much Premium Unleaded as the 3.0R.

I do not know how much power and stability the turbo Forester gave you (for all I know, it could have been an STi), but you have to make the choice here. The 328 is not even closely related to what you were experiencing. The decision lies between the Outback 2.5 (better economy than the 3.0R) and the 3.0R (runs like hell, but also burns fuel like hell).

Choose.

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Dear Baraza,

I currently drive a Kenyan muscle car, the Toyota DX 103. It has been a good car and has been to all the corners of this country, but lately it has developed the habit of leaking engine oil. My engine gurus are yet to crack the problem, despite advising me to start using Shell oil and checking the cooling fans.

What do you think could be the problem?

S N Mwangi.

What type of engine does that DX 103 have? Because I suspect you are using the term “muscle car”  very loosely here. Either loosely or with sarcasm, in which case I salute your literary skills.

What I do not salute is the problem-solving approach you and your “engine gurus” have. Either there is something you are not telling me or your “engine gurus” must deal with some other engines, not the internal combustion versions.

I do not see why, when your car has an oil leak appearing on the engine block, you check the cooling fans and replace the oil. What gives? You have not even said that you tried to find the leak; from your description it sounds like you were trying to solve a cooling problem and upgrading your brand of oil.

Check for a leak (obviously). These are the common causes on how one could find oil on an engine block as a result of a leak:

Bad or worn out gaskets (valve cover gaskets, oil pan gasket).

Oil plug (drain plug) not secured properly.

Oil plug worn or damaged.

Oil filter not attached correctly or missing gasket.

High oil pressure (a problem in itself).

Oil coolant line corroded or leaking

Rear seal.  This one is difficult and expensive. There is an oil seal at the rear of your engine near the transmission.  Typically it is difficult to see this one but you will know if you have a leak due to lots of blue smoke coming from the underside of the car at the rear of the engine. If you have this problem, bring it to a mechanic as the engine will have to be removed to replace the seal.

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Hi Baraza,

I am currently in Australia and will soon come back home after studies.
I really love Land Rover vehicles, and a friend in the UK has agreed to help buy one and ship it to Kenya for me. The Freelanders are a cheaper, but another friend tells me these cars are very problematic but does not give me the specific issue with the engines. TheFreelander V6i ES model has an engine capacity of 2,497cc, the Freelander Kalahari S/W 1,796cc, and the Freelander XEI S-Wagon 1,796cc.

I need a car that is fuel-efficient and can last for many years. Does a lower engine capacity mean better fuel efficiency? What is the difference between the Freelander diesel engine and the petrol one?

Thanks,

Alex.

Generally, yes, smaller engines burn less fuel… disregarding issues like forced induction and heavy bodies. The difference between the Freelander petrol and diesel engines is that, well, one uses petrol and the other diesel. Also, some diesel engines are limited to 2.0-litre capacities only while petrols have varying capacities and cylinder counts (from 1.8 to 3.2 and 4-6 cylinders).

However, as of January this year, the Freelander 2 now has TWO diesel engine options: 2.0 and 2.2, and the V6 petrol 3.2 has been done away with. Instead, you can get a turbo 2.0 petrol with only four cylinders.

Posted on

How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.