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

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

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

Regards,

Okumu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

JM.

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Sospeter.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

Thanks,

Robert.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

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

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

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

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

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

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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Tempting the Grim Reaper on dusty Arabian streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Hagwalah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it’s done

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skill or luck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murphy’s Law: Decapitation, dismemberment and death

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

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

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

Socio-political impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bus madness

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

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If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

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Car clinic: expert answers to your motoring woes

I’m in the process of acquiring a used car. I have realised that I can get a nice Mitsubishi, Mazda or Subaru for about Sh400,000, but the same quality of Toyota costs almost Sh600,000.

However, I’ve been advised that these cheaper cars have serious problems when it comes to spare parts, and that they consume a lot of fuel even when their engines have low ratings.

I have had two Toyotas in the past and though their spare parts are easily available and cheap, one often runs the risk of buying fakes, which raises the cost of maintaining the car.

I have especially fallen for the Mitsubishi, either Lancer, Cedia or Galant. I will use the car to go to work daily, a round trip of about 32 km on a rough road. What’s the truth about the availability and cost of their spares as well as fuel consumption?

Njeru.

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Hello Njeru,

I keep saying over and over that though some cars consume more fuel than others generally, the biggest deciding factor is one’s own driving style. The spares cannot stay rare forever, especially given the abundance of Cedia/Lancer cars on the road.

As for fakes, I cannot risk giving you a definite answer right now without proper research; I might be forced to eat my words tomorrow.

I am yet to see a small Japanese car grounded on account of spares. The problem is usually money (or the lack thereof) on the owner’s part.

The spares themselves may cost more than equivalent Toyota parts, but if you take good care of your car, what you will need to replace are universal sundries like brakes, tyres, wipers and other small things, which means it will cost no more to maintain a Lancer/Cedia than it would a Toyota.

And, no, these cars are not thirsty, at all. In fact you could drive them as carelessly as you wanted and you still would not feel the pinch felt by someone running a petrol engine SUV.

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Dear Mr Baraza,

I have a Toyota Vista saloon with a 1800cc VVT-i engine whose steering wheel shakes when speeding at 140km/h. What could be causing this?

I’m selling this car and going for a bigger one. My options are Mercedes Benz 2010 E300CDi, 2004 S320CDi or 2004 BMW 520i.

My main concern is fuel consumption and maintenance costs. I’m told that diesel engines, especially for the S320CDi model, may not be compatible with our kind of diesel and such cars are made for European countries, yet I see them on our roads.

Kindly advise.

David Malonza

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Hello Malonza,

The steering shaking at 140 km/h could be due to bad alignment or unbalanced wheels, especially at the front.

I did not experience that kind of thing with the Vista I wrote about (and that was one Vista I drove quite extensively).

Just wondering: did you mean the E300 CGI by any chance, because I doubt there is a 2010 300 CDI. I know of an E320 CDI.

One is petrol-powered (the former-CGI), the other one (the latter) diesel. If you can afford a 2010 E-Class Benz, why would you want to plump for a 2004 5-Series, instead of a 2009 or 2010?

Anyway, that is not for me to judge. What I would advise you is this: step carefully around Mercedes cars, especially those with diesel power.

And BMW cars have far superior dynamic abilities. For sheer pose-worthiness, go for the S320 (if you can avoid the diesel, even better).

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Hello Baraza,

As a WRX owner, it was of interest to find out that you would prefer the Evo to the WRX, even with the Evo’s limitations. Is it that the WRX has more serious limitations than the Evo?

Muriithi

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Hello Muriithi,

Fear not, one man’s meat and all that. Actually the Impreza STi has consistently beaten the Evolution in terms of torque and outright performance (especially in-gear acceleration), but I would still go for the Evo because all those computers (AYC, ACD, AWC and so on) make the car handle sharply and zero-counter driving is easy (four wheel drifting).

But with the two latest models (Evo X vs 2010 Impreza), I think the Evo finally outdoes the Soob in everything. When I finally lay my hands on these two I will definitely let you people know what’s up.

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Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a car and a German make is my preference for reasons of stability, power and durability. My first option (within my range of budget) is a VW Golf 2005 model.

My brothers, however, insist that a BMW 318i or a Merc C-200 Kompressor are a better bet since they will cost me about the same to purchase and a VW will be more expensive in the long run in terms of parts, maintenance and consumption.

Apparently, VW parts are mostly only available at CMC. Kindly help me unravel these issues.

Grace.

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What your friends tell you about the spares and CMC might be true but the rest is horse manure. Consumption will depend on how and where you drive, as will maintenance.

Parts will vary, but a little bird once told me that the exhaust system of a 3-Series goes for about Sh300,000, that is Kenya shillings and not Zimbabwean dollars (but I don’t know how true this is). Try and top that with a Golf.

Maybe your brothers just want a prestigious brand of car in the family. An ex-Singapore Benz will cause you nothing but grief, and the 3 has minimal ground clearance.

It is up to you to make the call but the choice in this instance is between the 3 (class leader, outstanding dynamics, excellent performance and BMW reliability) and the VW (another class leader, in the hatchback world, good dynamics and more practical than the other two).

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying the older model Pajero (the one just before the new one currently in the market).

Would you recommend it? If so, diesel or petrol? How is its consumption? Manual or auto? What other issues do I need to know about?

Henry.

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Hello,

Diesel/Petrol: Depends on where you intend to use it and how deep your pockets are. For exclusive on-road use, the petrol is better, but if you have the finance to keep it running.

If you will venture off-road, the torque offered by the 3.2 diesel is awesome and better than most rivals. Consumption: Stratospheric for the 3.5 litre petrol, and I wonder why they still do not offer a V8.

The diesel is okay, but it is still outclassed by the BMW X5, ML 270 CDI and Landcruiser Prado. Manual/Auto: Depends on how deft you are with your left foot, but I’d choose the manual.

Better performance (marginally), better economy (marginally) and the freedom to choose your own gears.

Any other issues? Yes. The car is outdated by now. And if you intend to go off-road, the body kit will be an inhibiting factor, as will the long rear overhang and long wheelbase.

But it is quite comfortable and very capable on-road. A good used buy.

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Hi Baraza,

I recently bought a Nissan X-Trail, 2007 2.2 Turbo Diesel. The car runs smoothly but it emits a lot of black smoke from the exhaust when trying to pick speed on the highway and has no power when climbing hills.

I tried getting advice from DT Dobie to no avail (this a local vehicle bought from them by the previous owner).

I hear it’s a common problem with the 2.2 Turbo Diesel X-Trails. Please advise on what you think could be the problem.

Really Frustrated X-Trail Owner

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Sorry, Mr Frustrated,

The problem could lie in the quality of diesel being fed to the engine: if it has been corrupted in any way (typically by adding a dash of paraffin), black smoke will be the order of the day for not just the X-trail, but generally any diesel engine.

I’m yet to establish if this problem is endemic to X-Trails, especially the Mark II versions.

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How to buy a second-hand car

Investment! Investment! Investment! Our parents drummed the importance of this monster into our heads so much that we almost ran out of brain. I, for one, was weaned on the line: “A fool and his money are soon parted (or audited)”.

Well, the more aspirational among us sometimes dream of playing the fool and parting with our money in exchange for a chunk of metal, suspended on four rubber doughnuts, that we then christen “our pride and joy”, then rush off to brag to people who care little… or are murderously envious.

The fool and his money are soon mobile. But when the money in question lies in the higher six figures, or creeps into the seven figures, it is important to keep the foolishness at a minimum. How does one avoid being taken for a ride by a wily salesman, or a dishonest middleman, or a desperate con-man when acquiring ownership of the next white elephant in one’s life?

Follow these tips when shopping for your ka-mtumba, lest you find yourself the proud owner of stolen property, or an overworked chariot which is two gear changes away from the scrap heap.

1. Open your mind: My little sister once said “never keep an open mind, your brains might fall out”, but clearly she had never gone second-hand-car-shopping before. A fixation on a particular type of car, or a particular colour, or a particular registration number series will be the beginning of your downfall, especially if the salesman is on to you. Such details matter only to those spending telephone numbers on brand new hardware, where optioning your car according to your taste is an exercisable right.

At the other end of the scale, where “pre-owned” or “previously cherished” ramshackle rust buckets are changing hands for the price of a large plasma TV set, choosiness is not on the menu. Optioning is a privilege. You buy a car according to the money you have, not spend money according to the car you desire. Fixations lower your negotiating tenacity, and with a hard-headed salesman, desperation will begin to show. If he detects you are head-over-heels about a particular car in his collection, he will not budge, even when you walk off. He knows you will be coming back.

DO: Tell the salesman you are interested in something in a particular niche, say, a small sedan; then ask him for quotes against several models he might be having, e.g Corolla NZE vs. Lancer Cedia vs. Nissan N16. Or X-Trail vs. iO vs. RAV4. Also ask him (or me) which is best, and in what ways.

DON’T: Ask for “a black Toyota Mark II, new shape, KBG or KBH with alloy rims and tinted windows”. If he does get you such a car, it will either be knackered, falsely registered or stolen. In case he has such a vehicle in stock, he will not lower his price.

2. Open your eyes: For goodness’ sake, don’t be blind. Some people are charmed by the glare of the recent registration (wow! KBM!), or the dazzle of the badge on the bonnet (oooh, a Bimmer!) and fail to see the collapsing trim, the pustules under the paint, the absence of luster on chrome bits, or, worse yet, the tell-tale pool of oil just below the car. Yes, this might sound unlikely, but I have seen it happen. And I don’t tell fibs.

3. Know your budget: A very silly game I used to play with a friend involved the two of us walking into a dealership and “shopping around”. There is nothing wrong with that, except at the time we hadn’t a single red cent to toss between us. We’d sit in Land Cruisers and BMWs, asking this and that before feigning disinterest and walking off. If you are shopping for a used car, do not repeat this, it will only annoy the salesman, and you are unlikely to land a good deal or get useful help. It is pointless to discuss the new E-Class Mercedes for a clean hour before disclosing that your budget does not stretch far beyond Sh200,000. You might be kicked out of the lot. You don’t have to necessarily announce the money you have up-front, but it only makes sense if you inquire about cars you can afford.

DO: Ask the prices of various cars to establish your area of interest before zeroing in on one or two models.
DON’T: Ask “Where can I get the new Premio for less than 200k?”

4. Shop around: We do it for shoes. We do it for clothes. We do it for lunch. We even do it for liquor. So why not for cars? Comparing prices, that is. It has taken you this long without a car; two more days will not kill you. It might seem difficult to believe, but buying a Toyota Premio from that showroom next to the Village Market is not the same as buying the same Premio from an Embakasi outlet. There is bound to be a price difference. Consider the area from which you are buying, and use that consideration to guess the trader’s client base (Lavington vs Kawangware, for instance). In the same vein, look for places where the seller will not steal his car back from you before you drive out of the neighbourhood.

Shopping around also gives you a ball-park figure for the costs of different cars, making you a wiser negotiator by the time you start some serious haggling. It also gives you leverage, where you could bring a greedy seller back to earth with a price comparison with one of his (cheaper) rivals.

DON’T: Buy a car from the first lot you walk into, unless under very special circumstances, none of which comes to mind yet.

5. Vetting: In light of recent events, once you have singled a car you want to buy, run a background check on it. One wily dealer taught us some days ago that it is very easy to make a fool out of a buyer: sell him a stolen, doubly registered car, then set the police on him and recover the loot. Next? Keep both the money and the car, and look for the next victim.

So vet the car. Make sure it has no outstanding police warrants on it (getaway car?), nor is it pegged somewhere as loan security. Ensure it is registered, and that the Registrar’s records and the VIN/engine/chassis numbers all tally. If it isn’t registered, ask why.

While this might all seem fine and dandy at the end of the day, you might need to know how to tell which car is better than the other. You don’t necessarily have to do it like I do by thrashing it on some early morning road tests, risking crashing and traffic fines. Number 6 is a simple guide to areas that will distinguish your next car from the one that almost was.

6. Road Test: If you have been granted a test drive, lucky you. Before turning the key, assess the comfort of the car. Do you enjoy sitting in it? How is the headroom and knee-room — both front and rear? Is the passenger cabin easily accessible, or do you have to be acrobatic to make a dignified ingress or egress? Sit at the driver’s seat and look at the primary controls (steering wheel, gear lever, pedals) and the instruments. Are the controls easy to reach? Are the instruments legible and comprehensible? Do you like the ambience in the cabin?

Now go for the test drive. Listen to the engine. Is it gruff or is it a Lexus? How is the pulling power? Does it strain up hills? Does it idle with confidence or does it stutter like it is unsure of itself? Try a small handling test. Nothing complicated, just cornering a little harder and faster than usual. Does the car lean excessively? Does it head towards the bushes, ignoring your instructions? Brake hard from about 70 km/h. The car should track straight and true within little skidding (if any) and not pull to one side or spin.

Also, use your judgment to compare braking effort and the results. Are the two congruent? I once drove a Carina Ti that wouldn’t stop even when the pedal was pushed almost through the bulkhead. Pay attention to sights and sounds. Any creaks from the suspension, whine from the engine or unexplained thumps from “somewhere below”? Is the bonnet flapping as you drive? How are the mirrors? How big are the blind spots? How easy is it to park?

After the test drive, now you can nit-pick. Look at the fit and finish. Are there huge, ugly gaps between body panels (both inside and outside)?

How are the interior plastics? Are they well finished or scratchy and unsightly? Do you have leather? Look carefully at the gear lever, the steering wheel rim and the pedals. If they are very shiny (not lustrous, but shiny), beware: this car could be having more miles under its belt than the owner is letting on.

Once satisfied, you can now play the fool and part with your money. Good luck!