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Has the gearbox of your VW Golf conked out? Join the club!

Dear Baraza,

I have been reading your column and find it quite interesting and informative.

I am a car importer specialising in Volkswagen Golfs. The past year has been tough for me as I imported three Golf vehicles from Japan and they have given me transmission problems since they landed in Mombasa. I find this quite unfair to importers and I know a number of people in Kenya who have had this problem.

I have not been able to sell any of them. I believe this touches on 30 per cent of the imported Golf MK Vs. Is there a way this can be sorted out and importers compensated and future importers protected?

These are the specifications of the vehicles:

Yr/Mo Registration: 2005

Make: VOLKSWAGEN—MK V

Model: GOLF

Grade: GLI/GT

Chassis No: WVWZZZ1K123456789

CC Rating: 2000

Engine Type: Petrol

Six-speed gear box, triptronic.

I personally know that this is a big story as it has touched quite a number of individuals. We have many dysfunctional Volkswagen vehicles in Kenya and I think the importers are to blame. I strongly believe that the suppliers of these cars know what they are doing.

I would be glad to share this information. Kindly advise me.

Robert Macharia.

When you say the importers are to blame, what exactly are they to blame for? Did they ruin the transmissions? Are they behind the research and development of those transmissions?
The reason people like me have a job is to tear these cars apart in every parameter, including reliability.

That is why we do road tests. And sometimes we take a lot of heat for our findings (trust me, I know), but then again sometimes it is us who dish out the heat, leading to things like pre-midlife model updates or worse yet, the bane of the industry: The motor vehicle recall.

So instead of blaming someone who may not even know how an automatic transmission works, how about doing a little research before dealing in a certain type of motor vehicle? Find out whether or not that particular model ever faced a recall in its life, and whether or not the particular vehicle you are selling was affected by the recall (these recalls are usually recorded using VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers).

Some cars get called back, some do not. Read car magazines and reviews: Some offer used car reviews that let you know the kinds of problems to expect from a vehicle model when it becomes “used”. Motor vehicle dealers in other countries do it, so why not you? That way you can simply avoid selling a troublesome car and blaming a hapless middleman for something that is not entirely his fault.

I once had this discussion with someone else about the exact same vehicle you are talking about and what we thought was this: The automatic gearbox (or parts thereof) has a certain lifespan (granted, it is much shorter in your case than it should be, but such is the way of life). By the time these vehicles reach the mileage at which the gearbox starts failing, they have already been shipped over this side.

Also, given how they spend a lot of time on the high seas (where no sort of maintenance or check-up is done), they could be leaking transmission fluid slowly over the several weeks they are afloat, then when they touch down in Mombasa, some excitable young drivers who get paid per vehicle delivery storm off towards Nairobi at 200 km/h without doing any checks. Another dead gearbox is in the offing.

I do not think the importers are to blame. These vehicles are inspected before they leave their country of origin. They should also be inspected upon arrival.

Then again, if a car is too much trouble, leave it and move to another model. Have you ever asked yourself why nobody imports Alfa Romeos? Or Fiats? Or Peugeots on a large scale? These cars have reputations, and when dealing with large sums  of money, there are some gambles you just do not make.

  
Dear Baraza,

I have purchased a tiny Daihatsu Charade G100s for work runs. Problem is, this car was built way back in 1989 and although the bodywork is still strong and reliable, the engine seems to be letting oil into the first cylinder. I have recently done exhaustive restoration, including body respray, an engine job, and replacing pistons. Re-boring cannot be done again.

This seems to be the only problem between a trouble-free run and myself.

I have been thinking about either:

1. Redoing the engine job to establish the cause of the leaks (badly placed oil seals or compression?) without reboring.

2. Replacing the engine with a reconditioned Toyota G100s engine.

3. Selling the car to Kariobangi as scrap since I would hate to see someone else mistreat it.

Does re-boring have to be done every time the engine is dismantled?

What would you advise since the bodywork is superb and the car, though a three-pot, is quite feisty when in a good mood. It is getting rather costly to constantly change the spark plugs from that cylinder when they clog with oil.

Edwin.

If the engine is admitting oil into the cylinders, then it is either through blow-by (either the piston rings do not fit well in the cylinder or the cylinder walls are not smooth) or through the valve-train (the valve seals are badly placed or need replacement). Re-boring is only necessary in the first circumstance. Are you sure the oil consumption is not via the cylinder head?

1. This sounds like a plan. It makes me wonder why you have not done it yet.

2. If the first step yields no positive results, then this is another way to go. A favourite engine swap for the Charade is installing the 5A-FE Toyota engine. It fits well and works just fine in the Daihatsu Charade.

3. I do not see why you would scrap a vehicle that only has an oil leak in one cylinder. I hate to sound like a miserly, penny-pinching Kenyan, but there are cars still running on our roads with far worse problems than that and nobody seems flustered. I would advise you take care of the leak and continue your relationship with the little chariot.

Re-boring is not always necessary every time the engine is opened up. A physical inspection will tell you whether the scouring on the cylinder walls demands a reboring or a few more kilometres can be eked out of that block before the grinding machine is unleashed.

For some engines, instead of reboring, one can buy cylinder sleeves that are replaceable, leaving the structural integrity of the engine block intact (too many rebores result in thin cylinder walls that can easily crack).

 

Hello Baraza,

I am the second owner of a Subaru Impreza hatchback, automatic transmission, 1998 model. Early this year, I started noticing that it jerks hard when going uphill. It also jerks hard on rapid acceleration on flat surfaces.

My mechanic has been telling me that it is normal for automatic cars to behave that way because they change gears “on their own”.

He once advised me to be driving at D3 to avoid the jerking, and went ahead to explain that placing the gear on ‘3’ while on the road “advances” the gear box and prevents the jerking.

Also, there is a green POWER message that is always blinking on the dashboard once the ignition is on, yet the power button on the gear lever is non-functional. What could be the problem since the Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is at the correct level? I have never driven my car in any other position apart from “D” since I do not know the use of D3, D2, and D1.

Also, what is the use of the timing belt, how does a car behave when the timing belt is broken or loose, and what damage can it cause when it breaks when driving at high speed? I am naïve when it comes to cars and I hope your advice will help resolve the motoring problems that I have had since I bought this car two years ago.

Donboss, Kakamega.

That mechanic of yours: Jail sounds too good for him. If your child walked into the house limping in an unusual manner, then the doctor at the hospital tells you “there’s nothing wrong, children sometimes fool around. They are children, they limp for fun…” you would want to punch that person in the neck very hard, wouldn’t you?

Automatic cars do not “normally” change gear with any sort of violence. In fact, they are not supposed to. There is DEFINITELY a problem.

Another issue I have with your mechanic is the nonsense he is spewing about driving with the lever in ‘3’ instead of ‘D’. In other words, what he is asking you to do is to burn more fuel than is necessary and strain your engine by constantly driving at high engine speeds. And what, in the name of used transmission fluid, does “advancing the gearbox” mean anyway? I have never heard such rubbish.

Those positions you call D3, D2, and D1 (they are actually just plain 3,2, and 1; D is a separate, discrete selector position) are used to “lock” the gearbox. Being an automatic, the transmission will select gear for you depending on engine load and road speed.

However, a modicum of control can still be recovered by the driver somewhat using these selector positions.

When you slide the gear lever into 1 (or D1 as you call it), what you have done is “locked” the gearbox into first gear. It will not change up no matter how hard you rev, even when you hit the limiter. When the lever is in position 2 (D2), you have now given an allowance for the gearbox to go into second gear, but not beyond that.

It will only change between first and second gears, but not third. Position 3 allows it to go into third (and second and first) but no further than that.

So you can see my point. By driving in 3 (D3), your gearbox cannot go into fourth or top gear (if they are not one and the same). On an open road, you will be doing 100 km/h almost at the red line, heating up your engine, straining it also, and burning enough fuel to single-handedly create more wealth in the Middle East. And pedestrians will not appreciate the noise. You will look like a bum. That mechanic should be forced to foot your fuel bills for a month for even daring to suggest such madness.

When you say the Power button on the centre console is non-functional, what do you mean? This could be a contributing factor to the jerking (though even in Power mode the changes are not supposed to be rough). In that mode, the transmission changes up at higher RPM (revs per minute) and the clutch action is a bit more aggressive — faster disengaging and engaging if it is an electronic friction clutch, or full lockup control for a torque converter. The shift action is a bit more aggressive, but like I said, it is not supposed to be violent or rough.

Do this. There is such a thing as a transmission control module (TCM). In layman’s terms, it is the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for the gearbox. Get a read-out from it with an error code, then send the error code to me (if you get one). From there, I will tell you the exact problem. It could be as simple as needing a new transmission filter or as bad as you needing a new transmission, but do not panic yet.

Timing belt: The timing belt is a belt (duh) that is turned by the crankshaft and is used to rotate the camshaft(s) in an engine with overhead valves. Since valve opening and closing is a very sensitive and keenly timed affair, there should be no slip whatsoever, otherwise disaster might result.

When broken or loose, the resulting catastrophe will depend on whether your engine is an interference engine or non-interference engine. The latter tends to have some substantial space between the valves and the pistons. A loose or broken timing belt will result in the engine stalling and no amount of effort will get it running again.

Things are much worse for interference engines. The space between the valves and the pistons is pretty small. A loose/broken timing belt will turn your engine into scrap, literally. This is because the relationship between piston motion and valve motion is put out of kilter, so at one point a piston moving upwards will meet a valve moving downwards with no buffer zone. The two will meet and mutual destruction will occur.

The engine will stall on the spot, just like with the non-interference type, the difference being this time round you will need a new engine. At high engine speeds, this destruction can be quite spectacular and noisy with it. Replace it before it is necessary. If the “T-BELT” light goes on on your dashboard, park the car and replace it (rather than tightening, unless you are in some remote area, in which case tightening might get you to the next garage where you can now replace it in peace).

Dear Baraza

Like many Kenyans, I have bought and driven second-hand Japanese cars for a couple of years now. Currently, I own a Toyota Gaia and I am tired of it. I have no intention of selling it but wish to get another minivan. Which way to go? Toyota Alphard or Toyota Estima (both 2007 or 2008). My main consideration would be service and comfort.

Mwangi Francis.

Well, there is no clear winner for you, according to your criteria. The Alphard is superior in comfort terms, far more superior than the Estima (this is the Previa, right?) but then again the Alphard is a highly engineered, overly elaborate piece of kit full of electronics everywhere, so repairs will  be a real headache, more so given the guesstimation, smart-Alec, hit-and-miss sort of approach Kenyan mechanics give to motor vehicle systems they do not fully understand.

So, decide. The Alphard is more comfortable. The Previa/Estima is easier to repair (but there is no guarantee, given what I have just said about most mechanics).

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The Surf slightly edges out the Pajero and RAV4

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your advice on motoring.

Could you kindly take your time to help me decide on what is the best vehicle in relation to the issues I state below?

1. Infrequent travel on the rough roads of areas like Marsabit, Turkana, and the coastal region.

2. Going to work in town.

The vehicle should be able to tackle rough roads with potholes and other rough road conditions, be fuel efficient and comfortable, have good ground clearance and strong suspension, and be affordable.

The vehicles I have in mind are the Honda CRV, Mitsubishi Pajero (SWB or LWB), Toyota Hilux Surf, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Discovery, and any other you may suggest.

Regards,

Livingstone T.

Livingstone, the Land Rover Discovery does not tick the ‘affordable’ box on this list, but it more or less covers the rest. Watch out on the “strong suspension” aspect also; the air suspension on the Discovery 3 is very leaky and someone once told me that replacement costs Sh300,000 per corner… and you have to fix all four corners because they are all linked in a car with air suspension.

Since you say those off-road excursions are infrequent, this is a risk you can take if you can afford the car to begin with.

Toyota’s RAV4 fails on the ground clearance and strong suspension aspects. It neither hugs the ground, nor is its suspension built out of spaghetti; it is just that this list also includes the Mitsubishi Pajero, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Surf, and the Suzuki Vitara.

The RAV4’s shortcomings similarly plague the Subaru Forester and the Honda CRV. Comfort, efficiency, and affordability are well covered by these crossovers (for the Suzuki Vitara, comfort is a bit lower than in the other three).

Having eliminated the Land Rover Discovery and three of the four crossovers (the Suzuki Vitara just barely crosses the line into the next elimination stage due to comfort), we are left with the Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, and Suzuki Vitara.The little Suzuki is the cheapest, so we could call it the most affordable. Diesel-powered versions are not very common, and the petrol engines are 2.0, 2.4, and 2.7.

The 2.7 is best but it compromises on fuel economy. Also, much as it has ground clearance and strong suspension, it is eclipsed by the Mitsubishi and the Toyota; it just cannot compare. So it falls by the wayside in third position.

The Surf and the Pajero are not very different, except that the Pajero is a bit more upmarket and, therefore, more expensive. It is also more comfortable, but by an almost imperceptible margin. The Surf will go anywhere the Pajero does. Since the disparity in cost is not proportional to the disparity in comfort, we have a winner.

The Toyota Surf.

My suggestion? Get a Defender 110, in white. The latest version has a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine, so it is very economical. It will go anywhere (which Defender cannot)?

It is not very expensive compared to brand-new versions of all these other vehicles (ignore the little crossovers, they failed our test quite early in the game). Ground clearance like that was last seen on a giraffe.

The suspension is strong, but it is well optimised, making the new Defender actually hospitable to be in (Defenders of old had the ride quality of Fred Flintstone’s car). Check, check, check, and check.

The added bonus is that your car is unlikely to be stolen. There is a reason I specified a white one… wink, wink!

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Hi Baraza,

I love your articles; they are very informative and helpful.

However, I beg to differ on the advice you gave on February 6 regarding car resale value. If someone buys the Nissan at, say, Sh250,000 and its re-sale value is Sh100,000, is it not the same as someone investing Sh800,000 in a Toyota whose re-sale value is Sh600,000?

You have also mentioned that you do not understand why some cars are overrated in this market. Do you not think that the extra amount tied in a car can be used in income-generating activities? After all, only good maintenance and care ensures that you get from point A to point B, regardless of the make.

What say ye? On that note, I want to buy a KIA Sportage. It is beautiful. Any advice? Fuel consumption and availability of parts is not an issue.

Regards,

BO

I see you suffer from an affliction I once suffered from too: excessive number crunching. The figures you give there are true in percentage terms or ratios, but not in the real world. In one case, the owner loses Sh150,000. In the other he loses Sh200,000. That is not the same, irrespective of the numbers involved. This is one of the reasons why very expensive cars depreciate badly.

This is what I mean by the real world. You have a salary of Sh100,000, the Bible says to submit a tenth of that to God. So you have to part with Sh10,000. Depending on how devout you are, that is something you can live with.

Now, here is a shrewd business man with earnings of close to Sh100 million a month. He is not going to give up Sh10 million, no matter how devout he is, because Sh10 million is a lot of money, although in both cases it is 10 per cent of the principal sum.

If I have a sit-down with a friend and I tell him about how I lost Sh150,000 on a B12 and he tells me how he lost Sh200,000 on a Vista, I will not care about percentages. I will laugh at him because at the end of the day, he has lost more money than I did.

The KIA Sportage is a good RAV4 alternative, and friendlier to the pocket. We also have a KIA dealership, and KIA are world-famous for giving ridiculously generous warranties, so you will be in a good place in life if you get one. And, as you say, the car is beautiful.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column. Keep up the good work. I have developed a liking for the Jaguar X and would like to own one. Kindly advise me on:

1. Availability and affordability of spare parts.

2.Its performance off-road and on-road.

3. Its fuel economy.

Thank you,

Anthony.

Availability of spares: Questionable outside of the Internet. However, affordability should not be too much of a worry, under the skin of that Jaguar you are swooning over is actually a Ford, a mid-range Mondeo saloon.

Performance on-road: Very Ford-like. Which means it is very un-Jaguar-ish. Not as fast as a real Jag. But while Ford-like, it is just a mite better than the Mondeo saloon lurking in its genes.

Off-road performance: That you can dare ask me this tells me maybe you are not as regular a reader of my column as you claim to be. Several times I have asked my readers not to use cars on tasks for which they were not designed. The X-Type is poor off-road. But the 4WD version is good on ice, which is irrelevant.

Fuel economy: A diesel-powered X Type will do 18kpl without breaking a sweat. A V6-engined 3.0 petrol X Type will dip below 5kpl if you drive in such a way as to make your passengers break into a sweat. The middle positioned 2.5 litre and 2.0 litre petrol engines should do about 11kpl and 13kpl respectively.

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Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your ever-refreshing motoring advice. Your column’s value to us motoring novices in Kenya is truly ineffable.

Now, I am looking to buy an MPV for ferrying my family around town and I am totally confused on which is best. I am torn between the Toyota Wish, Toyota Estima, Mazda Premacy, Toyota Avanza, and Toyota Ipsum. Kindly compare their build quality, light off-roading ability, fuel consumption, parts availability, and resale value (in around five to seven years).

Most importantly, can I get any of these cars in manual transmission? I absolutely hate automatic cars and would only buy one if there was no other option.

Regards,

Kevin.

Build quality: The Mazda Premacy is incredibly well-built.

Light off-roading ability: The Avanza is better than the rest, which are equal in their uselessness in this area.

Fuel consumption: Again, the Avanza. It is the only one available here with a 1.5 litre engine with VVT-i. The rest have 1.8 litre-plus engines and are big vans. The Avanza is thin and small.

Parts availability: If you cannot find parts for your car, use Google. Or your friends.

Resale value (in around five to seven years) is hard to tell. But the Mazda and Estima/Previa seem to hold their values better, more so the Toyota.

Manual transmission: Yes, the Avanza and the Previa are available with manual transmissions, but the Previa is UK-spec only. Otherwise… live with an automatic.

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Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your very informative articles. The information has really been helpful. I drive an automatic Toyota Wish. When driving to and from Mombasa I find myself hitting 140km/hr. I usually prefer a steady 120 km/hour.

When I notice this, instead of braking, I usually engage the free gear (neutral) and let the car slow down. A friend noticed this and told me applying free gear (neutral) destroys the gears while another friend tells me it lets the engine rest. My queries;

a) Does engaging the neutral gear allow the engine to rest ?

b) Does it destroy the gears, as my friend claims?

c) Does it save on fuel?

d) What would be any advantages and disadvantages of engaging the neutral gear?

Thanks in advance,

Antony Ng’ang’a.

a) No. Does the engine need to rest? Is it a living organism? With adequate fuel, lubrication, and cooling, an engine will run endlessly; it does not need to ‘rest’.

b) Only if re-engaging the gears is done improperly. This is why I always speak against driving in neutral. It is also a bit hard on the clutch, especially if no rev-matching occurs.

c) No, not really. Not as much as intelligent driving (driving in neutral to save fuel is not classified as intelligent driving, unless in desperate situations where the engine is off).

d) Advantages: you get to enjoy the feeling of “free-fall” when going downhill. Also, if done with plenty of forethought, driving in neutral will save fuel (this involves the engine being cut off).

Disadvantages: the risk of damaging your transmission is very real. Also, it does not save as much fuel as people think (if you drive with your engine off you ought to be shot).

Do not do it. I once did an article in the newspaper back in 2010, and you can read it here:http://www.autotalk.co.ke/neutral-is-it-overrated-as-a-gear/

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Hi,

Your article on fuel saving devices a few weeks back was spot on. I would like to get your opinion on a number of issues:

1. Is it illegal not to have a spare wheel for your car in Kenya?

2. If it is illegal, don’t you think we should have a clause exempting vehicles with run-flat tires like Toyota RAV4 sports and BMW X3 from having the spare wheel because, with such cars, the spare wheel is of no use?

3. Is it illegal for car dealers selling cars, whether imported second-hand or new, to sell cars without spare wheels in Kenya?

1. I am not sure, but it should be if it isn’t. Last week I promised one of my readers I will read the Traffic Act nicely and clear the air on what is what. I am yet to get a copy, the elections have everybody on edge and all I am getting is a curt “Wait!” from relevant sources. Watch this space though.

In addition, I was once stopped by traffic policemen who wanted to see my spare (the Starlet EP82 I mentioned once or twice before had just gotten into my hands), only for him to discover that the tyre and the rim were two separate entities. He asked what I would do in case I got a flat. I told him something about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking. He let me go.

Less than an hour later I got a puncture. To add to the irony, the rubber got shredded by the rim so that now I had TWO wheels whose tyres and rims were separate: the flat and the spare.

I have never been so stranded in my life (this was in Timboroa, at night). I have also never been so cold. I have also never been so happy to see a village mechanic (he oversaw the marriage ceremony between the rim and tyre of my spare).

2. Ah, but you see, run-flat tyres are not spares. There is a limit to how far and how fast you can go on a run-flat tyre. Typically its 80km and 80 km/h respectively. The faster you go, the less the distance it will stay put.

Then what? If you are far from civilisation, you will start thinking about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking to avoid panicking; then you will wish you had a spare and not a stupid run-flat.

3. It is not illegal, but there should be disclosure. I know abroad that is how it is: anyone selling a car is required to fully disclose any underlying defects or deficiencies so that the new owner does not break the law by proxy.

If you are sold a car, and the law requires you have a spare, a warning triangle and a fire extinguisher, it is uncouth for the seller not to advise you to get these things if they are missing from the car, otherwise you have no defence when stopped by the upholders of the law and you have none of them.

Some people (like me) buy a car and immediately drive long distances, provided there is oil in the engine and fuel in the tank. The seller should let you know that you need to acquire such and such.

This also applies to mechanical aspects. You may buy a car with worn suspension and understeer through the first roundabout you come across, wrecking your car.

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My Toyota RunX has a ‘check engine’ light on throughout

Dear sir,
I own a Toyota Corolla RunX, 2001 model. Recently, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on as the engine was idling. Since then it has remained on whenever the engine is running.

Sometimes it goes off, but for a very short time. At first I thought it was the faulty battery I had which had problems cranking the engine, but after I replaced it, the problem persisted.

The car runs well, there are no funny noises from the engine, even at highway speeds. I haven’t taken the car to a mechanic (I’m low on cash right now), but I’m still bothered. Is there any cause for alarm?

Kenneth.

The best way to know what that ‘Check Engine’ light is all about is to do a diagnosis. However, these here are common causes of the light coming on out of the blue:

1. Faulty Oxygen Sensor: the device is not transmitting accurate information to the ECU and this is sometimes accompanied by a reduction in fuel economy. Cars have two to four of these sensors: the OBD code will identify the culprit for you. The cause is this: over time, the sensor gets covered in oil/soot and thus does not determine the quality of oxygen in the exhaust properly.

2. My research leads me to a very strange cause: a loose or cracked fuel filler cap. Apparently leakage of fuel vapour from the tank can very easily confuse the entire fuel system. This is also accompanied by worse fuel economy. Check the filler cap for cracks, or remove it and tighten it again, then drive a bit to see if the light will go off.

3. Faulty Catalytic Convertor: Failure of this device can be caused by 1 above (a faulty oxygen sensor makes the car run rich and this fouls up the plugs and the cat. Fouled plugs can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor too. As you can see, these problems can sometimes be interconnected in a veritable web of complexity)

4. Faulty MAF Sensor: This is NOT the oxygen sensor as some are wont to believe. The oxygen sensor senses the amount of unreacted oxygen in the exhaust and adjusts the timing accordingly to optimise economy and reduce emissions. The mass air flow sensor senses the amount of air going INTO the engine and instructs the ECU to meter out the fuel accordingly via the injectors.

MAF sensors tend to fail because of a badly installed or rarely-replaced air cleaner element. A once-annual replacement of the air cleaner is just about enough to keep the sensor from failing.

5. Weak Electrical Connections: Plugs and wires in particular. This is usually accompanied by the vehicle jerking while in motion. Since you have not mentioned this, we can leave that at that. Only Part 3 would cause you to worry because cats are expensive to replace and require specialised skill to install.

Hi, I hope you enjoyed your trip down south. I confess I did not take your advice to sell my Mitsubishi Chariot when it started giving me trouble. I had it repaired and, despite the cost of having to change several sensors, I still kept the car.

Call me names, but I had become accustomed to its comfort. Now, the mother of all problems has come up; the gear is stuck at Three. I have had several diagnosis from different mechanics until my head is now spinning, but none of them has been able to solve the problem.

I have sworn the moment the problem is solved I SHALL SELL it. What do you think could be the problem? This time I promise to heed your advice.

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

To reduce guesswork, obtain a code from the TCM (Transmission Control Module). This will give you a code from which you will know exactly what the problem is.

Usually this 3rd-Gear drive is the fail-safe, limp-home mode, which is usually triggered whenever the TCM receives an electronically generated error code. In case you cannot communicate with the TCM, then therein lies your problem: the TCM itself is cooked.

The transmission may have to be opened. A coil pack may have failed and overheated from an electrical surge, melting the module. Mitsubishi, for some reason, thought it wise to place the two in close proximity to each other. If this is the case you are facing some major (and expensive) repairs. I can bet the mechs will tell you: “Nunua gearbox ingine, Mummy!”

Hello Baraza,

Just to let you know, your column is remarkable! Here is my dilemma. I am looking for a seven- or eight-seater vehicle for airport transport business and car hire services, mostly around Western and Nyanza (as you know, Kisumu is now an international airport).

Comfort, reliability, availability of spare parts and a bit off-roading are important. I have in mind these cars: Toyota Estima 4WD 2.4cc, Toyota Isis 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Wish 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Sienta 1500cc 4WD.

I am aware they are all Toyotas, but you will have to forgive me because I am new in this. Any other suggestions will be really appreciated.

In an unrelated matter, there is this car I wanted to buy from a friend, a Skoda Octavia station wagon, 1.9 diesel TDi, 2006 manual gearbox model, for my personal use.

How would you size up this car in terms of reliability, performance, spare parts availability and fuel consumption. It is going for Sh650,000.

Thank you in advance.

Buy the Previa, also known as Estima. None of these cars will go off-road properly (what international airports are these you visit that require one to off-road a bit to get there?), but the Previa is the best in all the cars you mention.

You may have to compromise on economy (2400cc compared to sub 2.0 litre for the rest, and the bigger body); but not so you’d notice. And, believe me, that Estima is worth it.

It is roomier, more comfortable by far and better equipped. The Isis may have powered sliding doors as a boasting point (these doors fascinated me so much I took the car for a spin in the dead of night to find out what else was good about it) but that is just about it. It won’t do anything that the Previa will not. Thew same applies to the rest of the pack.

About the Skoda: damn fine car that is. Reliability is Germanic (good), as is performance, even in the diesel iteration you mention. It can outrun a Mk IV Golf GTI over the quarter mile, which is saying a lot.

Spares are also Germanic (a touch pricey) but CMC should have them. If not, try the Internet. Economy is superb. Just watch out for DPF failure due to our twig-ridden and waterlogged diesel, and there is the fear that high-altitude use causes the turbos to spin too fast and fail within a year.

Care should be taken. Invest in a turbo timer to be safe, use only high quality oil and, unless you are at the coast, keep the revs low. Avoid the temptation to drag-race a Golf GTI between red robots.

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your Car Clinic articles and I must stay I appreciate your work. Good job. I’m planning to buy a car but I can’t seem to make a choice between the Audi A4 (2005) and the Mercedes Benz C180/200 Kompressor (2005).

I am a Second Year university student and I want a car, between the two, that I can service well and move up and about with. Also, of the two, which one has a quick resale value?
Thank you.

Mwaura.

As a Second Year student, my choice of transport was to either walk or take a bus. Clearly you are facing a dilemma a lot different from that which I faced. Anyway…

Spare Parts and Maintenance: If this is a worry for you, then maybe you should be looking eastwards (read Pacific Rim/China/Japan) for a vehicle, not Germany; but here is your answer anyway.

Audi has no franchise at the moment; at least none that I know of, so getting spares may be a hit-and-miss affair. Also, these are not cars you want to take to the seedier avenues in lower Nairobi, or any other town, so getting someone to do a proper job of maintaining that A4 will not be easy.

You may have to queue up at Arrow Motors and wait your turn. Mercedes, on the other hand, receives good support from DT Dobie, so it wins this.

Fuel consumption: Again, if this is a worry, then maybe you should be making Second Year decisions like mine. Both cars will not hurt your pocket fuel-wise though: provided you don’t drive in a way that will fascinate your impressionable lady classmates.

Expect town-bound economy of about 7-9KPL and highway figures up to 16KPL. This also applies to the supercharged Mercedes. Keep those classmates away from your car though: extra weight is an enemy of good economy.

Resale: The Benz will fetch customers faster than the Audi. Kenyans fear Audis, except for the Q7, which for some reason (I don’t know this reason) they seem to love and worship. On the other hand, we also love Mercs and we are buying them in large numbers, especially the C and E Classes.

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

1.What determines the engine capacity of a given vehicle?

2.How is the engine capacity related to engine rating?

3.My car is a 1300cc Nissan B12. What is the typical fuel consumption rate of such vehicles?

4.What is the most economical speed one should drive at to ensure the car does not exceed the designed fuel consumption rate under ideal conditions?

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

1. The volume of one cylinder, which is got by the base area of the cylinder (pi multiplied by the square of the bore multiplied by 0.25) multiplied by the stroke of the cylinder.

The bore is the diameter of the cylinder and the stroke is the height of the cylinder. The figure you get from this calculation is then multiplied by the number of cylinders in the engine block (possible configurations are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16).

The final figure is the engine capacity you are talking about, usually expressed in litres (L), cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (ci, commonly used in the US when quoting the capacities of classic muscle cars/trucks).

2. By engine rating I assume you mean power rating. The general rule is: the larger the engine capacity, the higher the power output, but this applies up to a point. Other factors play an equally big role in getting the power of an engine: forced induction, material used to forge moving parts, valve timing/camshaft profiles, torque development of the engine, and how high (in terms of rpm) the engine can carry that torque.

3. There is what the rest of the world achieves when driving such cars, and then there is what I can achieve (if I may say so myself) when I go “economical”. Expect 10 or 12KPL in town conditions (this is greatly dependent on how bad traffic conditions are.

It could be as low as 5KPL in a particularly tight gridlock) and as high as 20KPL on the open road. I have once achieved 25KPL in a 1300cc EP82 Starlet without trying really hard. Typical returns should be about 17 or 18 KPL for “normal” highway driving.

4. Keep the revs at about 1,800rpm or slightly less in top gear. This avoids engine strain due to low-rev driving, and the revs are still low enough for the car to sip.

Whatever speed this occurs at is the optimum driving speed for economy. It is possible to get even better economy than this, but from there you will be straying into hypermiling territory, which is highly risky, a bit technical and sometimes dangerous.

Hi Baraza,

Greetings from southern Tanzania! Great work you are doing with straight-up answers to our motoring queries. My organisation wants to buy several double-cabs for a project this year.

The options are Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, Ford Ranger and the all-new VW Amarok. Kindly share your thoughts on power, off-road capabilities, comfort, drive feel and overall ranking.

Cheers,

Sam

Power: The Amarok Bi-Turbo and the Ford Ranger lead the pack at 176 hp and 197 hp (2012 model, 3.2 TDCi) respectively. The rest are left floundering at the back. The Ranger wins out on torque also: 470Nm compared to the VW’s 400Nm.

Off-road ability: All these cars will go off-road convincingly. They are all fitted with proper off-road kit in their 4X4 iterations, and they have ground clearance to boot. Seeing how none of them use fancy viscous couplings/torque vectoring technology with that 4WD, this makes them all equal players in the field.

Getting far from the beaten track in one will depend on how skilled the driver is.
Comfort: Interesting state of affairs here.

The Amarok I tested was the base model 4X2 diesel turbo, and it was the most uncomfortable double-cab I have ever driven, owing to a ride quality that was both bouncy AND hard.

A South African colleague, however, has driven the Bi-Turbo, and he, on the other hand, tells me it is the most comfortable in the pack of double-cabs he has tried. This may be true, as you will see in just a moment. The Hilux is next in line from the bottom, then the Hardbody is in third place.

Feel: Hard to tell. The base model Amarok is really not that good, but again, the Bi-Turbo comes with an options list like that of a German saloon: featuring things like wood and leather.

The Hilux has a bright grey interior that is not at all endearing while the Hardbody’s is a bit better and darker shade of grey. The Ford’s interior, judging from what I saw at the launch, could very easily be the best here (until I see that wood-and-leather Bi-Turbo, that is).

Drive: Both the base-model single-turbo Amarok and the Hilux suffer from tremendous turbo lag. While the Hilux stays breathless almost throughout, the Amarok will run off into the distance.

The Bi-Turbo should counteract this by having that extra turbo under the bonnet to reduce lag. The Hardbody is a bit so-so (definitely more involving than the Hilux) while the Ranger….

Overall Ranking: You might think this will go the Bi-Turbo way, but then you’d think wrong. You may have noticed that I don’t say much about the Ranger in Drive, Feel and Comfort; and there is a very good reason.

Even after promises were made, I am yet to drive the Ford Ranger. So I cannot rank it conclusively against the rest of the pack. Judging from what every other motoring journalist has said, however, the Ranger T6 is almost as good as good gets in the double-cab world. So it gets first place.

Then the Amarok Bi-Turbo comes second. The Hilux is stone dead last. Poor ride quality and the unresponsive, lag-plagued and underpowered engine are the car’s worst failings. A naff interior also doesn’t help matters. The Hardbody is much better.