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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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Evos, STis, Q7s, and why a smaller engine is not always economical

Hi Baraza,

I have a number of questions, but before I begin you must agree that Subarus are miles ahead of Mitsubishis.

Look at this tyranny of machines: Subaru WRS STi may be outdone by the Evo, but the Forester will outdo the Outlander and the Airtrek. So, who is the winner in the ‘majority race’?

Now, to my questions:

 The other day I got a chance to be in a Volkswagen Golf GTI ABT. What fascinated me the most was the top speed, which, if my eyes did not deceive me, is a sweet 300km/h.  What does ABT mean, and what makes it better than a Volkwagen which has none?

 Between the BMW X6 and the Audi Q7, which is the best in terms of fuel consumption, stability at high speeds and resale value?

 When does a car consume more? When on high or low speeds? I asked someone who owns a Subaru Legacy B4 and he told me that at high speeds, he can make 10km/l but  in traffic jams, he can end up with a painful 7km/l.

 Finally, anybody who owns a Toyota Sienta as a family car must HATE his or her family. Sitting in the  far-rear seats feels like sitting in a pan.  No window, no nothing.

PS: I salute those guys who have dared bring the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini to Kenya. Kindly send me a contact if you know any of them ‘cos I really need a lift in one of those machines. I wonder why nobody has given us the Nissan GTR.

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

If you want to discuss who wins the ‘majority race’ between Subaru and Mitsubishi, I’d like you to first point out a Subaru lorry, a Subaru bus, a Subaru van, a Subaru pick-up and a Subaru SUV. No, the Tribeca is not an SUV because it won’t go off-road, so try again.

Also, point out a Subaru television — yes, Mitsubishi builds electronics too, such as TVs on which you can watch Subarus losing to Mitsubishis.

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

The actual battle lies between the WRX STi and the Lancer Evolution. Leave the rest out of the argument for the time being. That said, I may bash on the little STi every now and then, but I believe I have mentioned here more than once that I might be a sucker for the Forester STi.

That may be the only Subaru I’d actively seek to buy: if I was to buy any other, it would be for lack of choice and/or desperation; which is the same thing really.

I know the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s speedometer has 300 scrawled on the exciting side of the scale, but it won’t do 300 — at least not without some major modifications to the engine.

This brings us neatly to the ABT you inquire about: ABT is not a spec level for the Golf; it is a tuning house that fettles German cars. What they do is take a boring briefcase, which is what most German saloon cars look like; then convert this briefcase into a fire-breathing chariot capable of moving at speeds normal people should not be moving at.

One of my neighbours has a Passat sedan with an ABT touch-up. It still looks like a briefcase, but one with bigger tyres and a Roman candle under the bonnet.

On the BMW X6 vs Audi Q7, both are rubbish. Depending on which engine you have opted for, both will guzzle. At least with the X6 you have the option of the X6 xDrive30d, which has a detuned 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that can still move the car respectably fast if you so wish and return fair economy figures.

The Q7 comes with a large petrol engine that burns fuel at Arab-pleasing rates, or with a puny diesel engine that needs thrashing to eke out any semblance of motion out of it, so it will still send your money to the Middle East either way.

High speed stability is not bad in either car, but then these are big and heavy vehicles, maybe “high speeds” are not what you should be aiming for in them.

Also, at high speed the fuel evaporates in ways that make the stock price graphs in the Arabian financial index blink green and shoot skywards. Resale value? It will not be so great once the general public reads this.

A car consumes a lot of fuel at speeds below, say, 40-50km/h, consumes the least fuel at speeds between 80km/h and 120km/h, then the consumption goes up again from 120km/h onwards.

At 200km/h, it burns quite a lot of fuel. At 220km/h, it eats fuel in huge lumps. At 250km/h, the Arabs will send you t-shirts and Christmas cards.

There are a lot of caveats involved here though; the biggest ones surrounding engine size, transmission type and traffic conditions. Bigger engines are more economical at slightly higher speeds: for example, the Lamborghini you gush about later in your message is better off at 120 than it is at 80.

Smaller engines thrive at “non-motorised” pace: a 600cc Kei car is better at 70-80km/h than it would be at 120km/h.

Automatic transmissions may not allow short-shifting unless equipped with a manual override or has numerous ratios like the Range Rover’s 9-speed. So at low speed, it will likely be at a very low gear, possibly first or second, which is exactly when Shell and BP start awarding bonuses to employees. You may be better off maintaining 100km/h, give or take 15km/h.

Traffic conditions are fairly obvious: an open road is far better than a clogged one. Stop-start driving triples your fuel consumption as compared to steady-state driving.

These factors may apply in a variety of permutations, along with other variables such as vehicle weight, aerodynamic profile, right-foot flexibility, mechanical condition, and fuel quality, to prove one point I have been saying all along: fuel economy is not an exact science.

This is also why I nowadays refrain from quoting definite consumption figures for readers, because there is no telling what particular Arab-centric circumstances may be at play in a particular driving situation.

I have had people who revert like this: You said you did 25km/l in your stupid Mazda. Why can’t I achieve the same result? That is a difficult question to answer.

Interesting feedback on the Sienta. I will be careful not to get into the back seat of one. If Toyota reads this, then good for them. They will hopefully now install a window at the back of this car.

I may have the contact details of the chap in the green Lamborghini, but sadly for you I will not share them. That is proprietary information to begin with; and anyway, I want to get a lift from him too. The fewer of us lift-begging lowlifes there are banging at his door, the higher the chances of one of us actually getting to sit in that car.

In the course of looking for the man, do look around you in traffic. There are Nissan GTRs around; quite a number, in fact. I’d say there are more GTRs around than there are Lamborghinis. And yes, I have the contact details of some of the GTR owners; and no, I will not be sharing those either.

_______

Greetings Baraza,

I bought a 1993 Toyota Starlet EP82 from my employer after she endured all manner of abuse from five different drivers for seven years.

She has done Mombasa, Loitokitok, Nyahururu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru, and Kisumu countless times.

She was also once hit from behind by a Mercedes in control of a drunken guy, but the little lady flew and perched herself atop a fence, with her rear wheels stuck to the body.

Her engine still holds and is strong. With four full grown men cramped inside her as she purrs uphill, she overtakes boys like Fielders, Airwaves, and Pajeros like a joke. I bought her because of the price, the fuel consumption and her power.

Recently, however, she started smoking in the morning like crazy! Grey and heavy smoke. She does this in front of other ladies who park overnight next to her, like Vitzs, Honda Fits and Duets, and she is the least remorseful.

Our parking lot slants 40 degrees, and yesterday I let her rest with her nostrils facing downhill towards the fence. I think she wasn’t happy; to get out, you have to reverse, look for space to turn and head to the gate at the top of the hill.

She embarrassed me so badly with her smoking that I needed full lights to see. I could even hear the other ladies nearby (Vitzs, Fits and Duets) choking.

At speeds of 80kph on Thika Road, if I sneak a peak on the rear view mirror I can see her smoking behind my back.

One mechanic told me to do an engine overhaul, another one said I change piston rings, another that I should replace the entire engine, and yet another that my lady is drinking oil, even though I religiously service her on due dates.

Please help save this relationship because, since I don’t smoke myself, I can’t live with her like this, not matter how much I love her.

Finally, I recently drove an Allion, 1800cc, dual VVTi to Loitokitok and back to Nairobi. It was amazing because, on average, he did 23km/l. The Starlet returns 16km/l on the same journey with the same shopping and passengers, yet I thought a bigger engine consumes more. Some of us fear big engines (by big I mean anything beyond 1,490cc).

Godfrey

 

Godfrey, I also once had an EP82 that gave me trouble-free operation until some idiot tampered with the wiring harness linking to the ECU and from there it was one problem after the other: stalling, poor consumption, lack of power… all this against the backdrop of an intermittent now-on-now-off ‘Check Engine’ light.

It was eventually sorted though, and shortly afterwards, the car found a new owner.

I’d like you to fit four grown men in that Starlet then challenge me to a hill-climb drive-off we see if what you say is true. I’ll bring a Pajero, possibly one with a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (I believe you listed a Pajero as one of your victims), and I’ll be alone in it.

Any readers out there who want to place bets on who reaches the mountain-top first are free to do so, but we split the winnings 50-50. Care to indulge?

Anyway, the smoke: the heavy grey vapours indicate either a blown head gasket (ruptured or cracked), which is letting water into the cylinder; water which is then burnt off as steam; or the vehicle may be burning ATF (automatic transmission fluid), if the vehicle is automatic.

Another cause could be oil and water mixing: either water is getting into the oil and the oil gets burnt, or oil leaks into the coolant, and the coolant in turn is leaking into the cylinders. Either way, that engine needs to be taken apart.

Now, that Allion. First off, it has VVT-i, which the Starlet lacks. That’s a plus.

Then there is the small matter of highway driving. You see, at highway speeds, bigger engines return better economy. It doesn’t apply across the board, I mean, a Bugatti Veyron is not the most economical car at highway speeds, but for motor vehicle engines between, say, 800cc and 2,000cc, at 120km/h the 2.0 litre will be most economical.

Why? Because it requires little effort to attain and maintain that speed. It will definitely have taller gearing, so 120km/h will correspond to roughly 3,000rpm in top gear.

Smaller cars will be revving higher and longer, therefore burning more fuel. The Allion is also more aerodynamic than the little hatch, it has a very pointy nose: so it encounters less resistance at those highway speeds. Less resistance means less engine effort to cut through the air.

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How well does the Nissan GTR stack up in terms of performance?

Hey Jim.

I want to know more about the Nissan GTR 2012 model. I don’t know the right questions to ask but I’d just like to know whether it is suitable for everyday use?

Is it efficient in terms of performance — power, speed and handling?

I have seen it on racetracks as well as locally on the streets. I would really appreciate some detailed information about it.

Martin

 

Hey there,

My name is not Jim; never was and has never been.

About that GTR: I once believed it to be Jack versus Porsche’s fee-fie-fo-fum, beanstalk-climbing 911 Turbo troll giant but lately the odds have started stacking up against it.

If BBC ‘Top Gear’’s recent showings are anything to go by, its earth-shattering performance doesn’t look so earth-shattering anymore.

That said, you will still be hard pressed to find a car that turns as hard as an Nissan R35.

The 2012 car is good for around 542bhp, which is the kind of power you will likely never fully explore.

Couple this to a clever trick-trick 4WD drive-train, a twin-clutch gearbox and huge nitrogen-filled tyres and the end result is… epic.

SPEED DEMON

This is a car that will show just how physically unfit you really are without having to run a mile.

I experienced its violent character at a military airbase in California on the west coast of the United States of Americaland.

It is a violent track car that may break your neck if you fail to sit properly while in it, but that is when ‘Race’ mode is engaged.

Disengage the psychopath setting and it turns into an amiable daily driver that even geriatrics can take for a quick nip down to the mall and back.

Disclaimer: said geriatric is advised not to go beyond 20 per cent throttle opening on such a shopping trip, because even with Race mode off, stomping the hot pedal will still release the demons of performance hell and the car will shoot forward, possibly at a faster speed than a senile mind can wrap itself around.

Expect 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Two. Point. Eight. By the time you read this sentence, the GTR will have launched itself from rest and gone beyond 120km/h. Say hello to Godzilla.

PERFORMANCE

For you to ask whether it is efficient in power, speed, handling and general performance is akin to you asking whether this column is written in English. The answer is “what do you think?” Those four parameters are EXACTLY why the GTR exists, and down the River Styx with humdrum plebeian concerns like economy and maintenance. Those are for losers in 900cc, three-cylinder hatchbacks. This is a twin-turbo, twin-clutch 3.8 litre V6 ground-hugging missile. Only those with substantial testicular fortitude need apply.

Detailed information about this car can be found on almost every motoring website on the internet and some non-motoring ones too. This, however, I will tell you for free: the GTR drives like nothing I have driven before, or since. It may be an adherent to the turbo 4WD formula of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Impreza STis, but while the GTR’s forebears battled these two small saloons, the Nissan R35 grew out of it and went hunting Porsches and Lamborghinis. It is now an accomplished assassin. This is the John Wick of Japanese sports cars.

SNAZZY INTERIOR

It has an interior that belies its badge. Nissans typically boast of naff, monochromatic — usually 50 Shades of Grey, beige or black — interiors festooned with ugly buttons, scratchy plastics, exposed seams, panel gap inconsistency and grainy surfaces with just a touch of faux-aluminium, but one can tell the GTR was made by people who took their time with it.

The leather is exquisitely stitched (and is real), the buttons are thoughtfully laid out, the thick-rimmed steering is good to the grip — which, in inexperienced hands, is less a tool for controlling the vehicle than a lifeline for hanging on to as the car threatens to toss you through the windows in hard corners.

Just to be sure of its everyday usability, there is even a woofer/sub-woofer embedded somewhere inside the back seat. And it has an automatic transmission. The car is quite a dandy daily driver.

Until someone drops the gauntlet and challenges you to a showdown.

You had best be awake when you mash the firewall. The transformation from “automatic Datsun coupé” to “Porsche-Slaying Maniac” is instantaneous. The downshifts become harder.

The upshifts become brutal. The acceleration is relentless. The braking is merciless. Cornering in this car actually hurts, it DOES hurt; more so if you had a heavy lunch involving numerous tacos and several cans of chilled soft drink in the baking California heat like yours truly.

While the car goes like it was launched by a giant rubber band and stops like it has hit a tree, it is through the turns that its ability beggars belief.

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

One can actually feel how heavy this car is (it weighs in at around 1800kg, which is quite lardy), but then again one can also feel the electronic witchcraft and fastidiously built hardware working in tandem to overthrow the reign of heft; and one can feel these electronics and hardware winning the minor skirmish taking place underneath your seat.

The wide nitrogen-filled rubbers and mind-boggling 4WD boffinry really do transfigure what is essentially (weight-wise) an expectant rhino into a heavily caffeinated flea.

The GTR changes direction with the alacrity of a jumped-up insect- for lack of a better analogy- that is how sharp and responsive it is. It is, however, not twitchy with it; it carries this turning capability with grace and aplomb. It is a meister among minstrels.

Go into a moderate sweeping left at 140km/h, which is just about the point where an STi would typically start disobeying instructions, and the car turns with no drama.

It even feels underused. Go in at 160, right about where an Evo would be at its limit and same thing happens.

Try 180. Still works. Try 200…  Then realise that you may need fighter pilot training to fully harness this car’s potential, because while Godzilla will handle the speed with which you are straightening corners, your brain may not. The car goes faster than you can think, quite literally.

We did hot laps on a track laid out on a military airbase at a place called El Toro. Once you learn the track layout and know what the car can do, you then revert to your primeval petrolhead mindset, get the red mist over your eyes and start stringing corners together like the expert you clearly aren’t. The experience is sublime.

ACHING ARMS

Foot down. Exit the pit area and barrel down the short opening straight. Feel the surge of acceleration. Do NOT look at the speedometer; which should read 210km/h or thereabouts by the time you reach the first right which is a short distance away.

No need to brake, in fact you only need to lift ever so slightly to trim down your pace somewhat.

The corner leads into a short series of switchbacks. Still no brakes. Chuck the car apex-to-apex, throwing it left and right with something that may be mistaken as willful abandon. Feel the massive weight try to pull the car out of line.

Feel the tyres holding the car in place. Feel the 4WD system reeling the car back in. Also feel the numerous tacos and gallons of Pepsi slosh around uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach; and your brain bouncing off the sides of your skull. Feel your eyeballs slowly losing shape due to the unbelievable grip.

Feel your arms ache. Feel your neck strain. Feel your palms sweat. Try not to vomit. Exit the switchbacks faster than you thought possible in a car, front tyres screaming, steering on half-lock to the right. Let the steering wheel self-center in a controlled slip through your fingers as the car straightens itself out.

As the steering wheel steadily centers itself, simultaneously feed the power in, in such a way that by the time the car is pointing dead straight, you are at wide open throttle. All this is happening so fast your conscious mind can barely keep up and is not even present. In primeval petrol-head mode, you are not quite yourself; you are the Stig’s favorite Facebook follower.

Thunder down the main straight like a fighter aircraft on takeoff. “Lord have mercy, this car is bloody FAST!” you think, in something closely resembling pure panic. Hit 255km/h. See the huge BRAKE sign at the side of the track indicating the upcoming chicanes. Stand on the brakes.

UP FOR SECONDS

Hold your breath tightly because now it feels like your brains will pour copiously through your nostrils and splash all over the dashboard like projectile vomiting; that is how HARD a GTR sheds speed on the stoppers.

Realise you may have braked a bit too hard and washed off more speed than you needed to — after all, this is a GTR — so lift off the anchors and get back on the power. Maintain this power through the tight chicanes, throttling on and off as the track demands.

This is nothing to a GTR; it eats away at the apexes and leaves them wondering what just clipped them. The chicanes lead back into the pit area. Roll to a halt. Remove helmet. Wipe the thin film of sweat now coating your forehead— a byproduct of the combination of frazzling heat and nervous excitement. The hot lap is over and you did not put a foot wrong. Feel proud of yourself. Grin stupidly at your hostess, who you now think of as a goddess at whose feet you will worship henceforth since she let you drive a GTR in anger.

“That was some driving,” she says. “How was it?” she asks with a patronising smile.

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

 I have a Honda CRV which comes with tyres with the following specs 235/60 R18. I want to buy new tyres from a particular brand but the only specs they have are 235/65 R18 (bigger profile tyres). Will this affect the performance of the car in any way?

Martin

Yes, but the effect will be so minimal you will not notice it. I believe the word we scientists use to describe such an effect is “negligible”

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

Hi Baraza,

I have been advised by at least three mechanics that coasting damages engine components, especially the clutch due to what they called “shock” when engaging ‘D’ from ‘N’ especially on high speed, downhill…..what’s your take?

Matata

 

This only applies to manual transmissions if declutching is not done properly.

With automatic transmissions, the engagement of the clutch mechanism is computerised, as is the gear selection; so the “shock” of re-engagement is not any harder or any softer than it is during normal upshifts and downshifts.

However, there is the risk of engaging ‘two’ or even ‘one’  instead of D, in which case… well, shock on you and your gearbox/clutch.

Posted on

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

JM,

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

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

 

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

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

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

Things are different now.

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

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

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

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

It’s not all about the driver, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hallo Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Hi Baraza,

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

Thiga

 

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

 

Whats up JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

**********

Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

***********

Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

***********

Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

**********

Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

Posted on

A gel that repairs your worn-out engine? Let me go have a look-see

Hi Baraza,

1) I have a Subaru WRX Impreza with a manual transmission that produces a buzzing noise in Gear 5. What could be the problem?

2) As you might have noticed, I am a diehard Subaru fan and I do not think much about your Evo reviews. I am a keen follower of the time trial competitions and was at the Murang’a TT. The Evos might have won the battle, but they are yet to win the war. I noticed that there were only two branded vehicles competing, one of them a Subaru Impreza N8 with the stickers of a revitalisant. What is that?
Subaru Diehard

Greetings, Subaru Diehard,

1. The buzzing noise is more like a continuous drone, especially at highway speeds, is it not? This sounds as if a synchroniser might be worn out or the gear itself might be chipped. The remedy in such a case is to open up your manual transmission and replace the offending component, be it the gear or synchroniser unit.

2. I did a little research and the results were… well, VERY interesting. This is what I learnt:

a) The manufacturers of the revitalisant have a whole line of products, most of which are in liquid and gel form. If there is a liquid that goes into the engine (oil, transmission fluids, power steering fluid etc), more likely than not, they have their version of it, save for petrol/diesel.

b) They also have other products that they call “revitalisants”, which in essence are “metal conditioners”. What these conditioners do is “heal” scarred metal, like your gear in 1 above. Scratched surfaces can be “revitalised” by the application of a “revitalising” product such as benzoyl peroxide in the control of acne or Candid B cream in getting rid of ringworms.

Now, here is where the plot thickens. Their own blurb says that the revitalising cream (it really is hard to think of it as anything else) will seep into the hairline fractures and scratches on any metal surface, sealing them completely.

It apparently forms a ceramic layer over old metal surfaces, rendering them “as good as new”. Since most metal surfaces damaged in this manner are part of a rubbing, friction-prone pair, the mode of the gel, it is claimed, is to form a kind of hard-pack cement the more heat and pressure is applied, and if it is heat and pressure you seek, you need not look further than the engine. The result is filler material and a coating that effectively restores the metal surface to its factory smoothness.

Derision was not far off. Real petrolheads are a discerning lot and are incredibly difficult to please and/or convince about certain matters. There were those who cried “Heresy!” and dismissed the metal conditioner as a marketing ploy for “magical cement” that has no place in the real world.

Further research reveals that this marketing ploy is nothing short of a cliché, seen before in a million other miracle cures that do not really work, preying on fear and gullibility to generate sales. Then there was the warning notice on the tubes of gel, which tend to come in threes (engine, transmission, and something else, I am not sure what): “Parts, if worn out, will still need replacing.”

Parts will still need replacing. The next question is fairly obvious: if these parts will still need replacing, what is the point of the conditioner?

It turns out that some people blew their engines, then applied the gel thinking that it would restore them. That is not how it works. It does not unblow your engine. It will not fuse broken metal pieces together, nor will it reduce the mileage covered. It repairs distressed surfaces.

The theory is embedded in nanotechnology, which I will not delve into right now for fear of making this column look like the introduction or research notes of a Michael Crichton novel. Nanotech is a field known to many but understood by few. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the manufacturers chose this word to sell their stuff.

A bit of their history (this should make good reading for Cold War pundits): The discovery of the active agent in their revitalisants came about from a mining operation in Russia in which the engineers noticed that the further down they dug, the “newer” their drill bits became, which was the exact opposite of what they expected.

Apparently, the drill bits were coated in a kind of ceramic material derived from the soil, which kept the bits in a shiny, new condition, whereas in normal digging, the drill bits get eaten away and need replacement every now and then.

This happened very many years ago and some Soviet scientists got interested and started poking into the soil around that particular mine shaft, conveniently located in or near Siberia, in what I believe was a government-sanctioned and KGB-protected undercover experiment lasting several years before the agent (still a secret, clearly, since it goes unnamed) was isolated and put to the test in industrial applications.

This sounds a bit like a flight of fancy, does it not? A legend created by the legend itself in the style of Verbal Kent/Kaiser Soze. Maybe, maybe not, but ask yourself this: Have you ever seen a Russian tank breaking down in any war theatre? Those things are more reliable than the rainfall in Kakamega. In fact, have you seen any old Russian tank? They are all new. There could be some truth to this.

Stepping out of the Ludlum novel and into the real world, the world of testimonies. Of course there are those who will dismiss the revitalisant as a joke, what with the crazy Russian story behind it, the incomprehensible nanotechnology explanation (I do not know if those scientists discovered a colony of nanobots living in the cold Siberian wilderness or what), and the fact that it is cheap for what it does.

Given how much income evangelists generate from mere prayers, imagine how much money Jesus would make if He came back and decided to charge people for resurrections. This is the logic here: If it is actually a miracle cure, why does it not cost more?

There is the flipside of the coin. I have colleagues who have dared to revitalise their engines with the gel and this is what they say. The first one declared “no noticeable difference” and described it as just another oil. Clearly, this person did not follow instructions. You are supposed to add the gel to the oil in your engine. He does not recall any gel, so he is out.

The second one said that his engine actually ran smoother after adding the gel; not just smoother, but noticeably smoother after a distance of about 500km. He is seconded by a third individual.

The fourth one says he, too, had a slightly noisy transmission (like yours in 1 above), with the added benefit of a notchy gear-shift action, but this has since improved dramatically after putting in the gel. There was one who suffered a seized engine following a crankshaft bearing failure, but he swore it had nothing to do with the gel.

I looked each of them straight in the eye for several seconds to determine whether brown Russian envelopes had changed hand, particularly in the case of the last guy. They all seemed legitimate and their claims seemed to hold water (I may have ridden in one or two of these “smoother” vehicles and they are not half bad), so this is where I will conclude my response: I, too, am taking the plunge in the name of research.

I am going to test the revitalisant first week of November. Not that my car actually needs it, though I might have started developing a “slightly notchy” gear-change too. My engine is perfect, if I may brag a little. If the nanotech is nonsense, as some people claim, then I would rather risk my gearbox, which is easier to fix, than my engine.

**********
Jambo Baraza,
In one of your articles you said: “Nobody ever supercharged a diesel engine.” You were wrong. Check the website Diesel Hub, Supercharged Diesel engines. Also, supercharged and turbocharged are two different things.
J. Jesse (Mzungu)

Yes, Mzungu, I know supercharged and turbocharged are two different things. I have explained this difference too many times for me to make an error in response.

Yes, supercharged diesel engines exist, but these are mostly 2-stroke engines, marine diesels and generators on oil rigs. Some of these engines are V12s with pistons boasting 8-inch bores — not the kind of engine you will find in any car. More importantly, how old are these engines anyway? Few, if any, of the current crop of modern diesel engines used in any application are supercharged.

Part of the logic is this: diesel engines use economy and efficiency as their main selling points. A turbocharger derives its functioning energy from what was otherwise dismissed as waste, increasing its efficiency rating by a wide margin.

A supercharger uses precious engine power to run, which would be self-defeating and in contravention of the conceptual purpose of a diesel engine: efficiency. While providing a substantial boost in power, superchargers are inherently inefficient, more so in comparison to turbos.

The beauty of a diesel engine is that it can take insane boost pressures in the turbochargers with little risk of getting wrecked. Generating more power from a turbocharged diesel engine is relatively simple: keep increasing the boost pressure in the turbo and tweak/replace the injectors with bigger ones.

If you hit a horsepower ceiling with the current set-up, get a bigger turbo, or a second one (or even third, if you are BMW), and even bigger injectors. To begin with, the robust nature of the diesel engine block means it can accommodate a massive horsepower jump with little need for strengthening.

This explains why BMW has an xDrivex30d and xDrivex40d in the X5/X6 line-up. It is the exact same 3.0 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, but in the x40d, it develops a lot more power with little modification.

With the supercharger rendered pointless (now that you can turbocharge the diesel engine endlessly), and it being wasteful in its own way, why would anyone in their right mind want to supercharge a diesel engine?

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Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you for your good advice to people. I want to buy my first car and am torn between a Toyota Premio, Wish, Voxy, and Nissan X-Trail.

I am an off-road guy who does a lot of travelling upcountry, so I would like a machine that is economically efficient in terms of both fuel and maintenance costs. Secondly, it should manage off-road trips and carry luggage because I am also a farmer. Kindly advise.

Bob

Interesting query we have here because you want to choose between a saloon car, a people carrier, a van, and a crossover, but what you actually need is a pick-up with 4WD. These are five different classes of vehicles.

The saloon car (Premio) will be cheapest to fuel and maintain. The crossover (X-Trail) has running costs not entirely dissimilar to that of a saloon car, itself being based on a saloon car (the Primera), and also has the added benefit of a modicum of off-road talent. Among the crossovers, the X-Trail is actually surprisingly adept at tackling the hard stuff.

None of these cars is exactly ideal for carrying a farmer’s “luggage” (your words, not mine), because in my mind, a farmer’s “luggage” would include tractor parts, ploughs, bags of seeds, fertiliser, animal feed, the animals themselves and/or plants, pesticides, acaricides, fungicides…

You need a pick-up for this kind of “luggage” because, who knows how many bags of seed you will be moving around? Who knows what tractor parts you might be carrying? A diff and a gearbox count as parts, don’t they?

For fuel efficiency, you will need a diesel pick-up. For lower maintenance costs, you will need a diesel pick-up without a turbocharger. For off-road purposes, this diesel pick-up will need to have at least good ground clearance, and possibly 4WD…

Posted on

The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

Posted on

Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

Posted on

A beginner’s guide to importing a car… minus the headache

Hi Baraza,

I’m one of the regular readers of your column and I must say that I appreciate your work very much. I’m planning to import a Toyota Corolla on my own, but my friends who have done it before are not willing to help me.

Please advise me on genuine dealer websites that I can trust in order to carry out this exercise without losing money, and kindly detail the general procedure of importing a car. I feel this is a dangerous venture because I have never done it before.

Thanks in advance.

I am not sure about the selling/clearance companies, though SBT Japan seems to make quite an impression on a lot of people. Anyway, I gave it a try for your sake and this is what happened:

1 Since I wanted to look for a car, I first created a user profile (they want names, numbers, e-mail addresses and the like).

I wanted a Lancer Evolution IX. So under the vehicle makes I chose Mitsubishi, under model I chose ‘Lancer’ (there was no option like Lancer Evolution. Only Wagons, and Cedias and Cedia Wagons…). Pah! I didn’t want any of those.

2 Two minutes later, a phone call, from a +815 number. SBT called me up from Japan to personally inform me that they had no Lancer Evos at the moment.

“What about a WRX STi?”

“Nope, these have all been bought out. In the sports car category I have some Toyota Celicas, but let us do this. I will send you an updated inventory of what we have. Look through it and tell us what you like…”

3. Well, the stock list came, and I looked through it. Not very interesting. No Evos, no STis, just a few regular GD and GG chassis Imprezas…

I ended up choosing a 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 with an automatic transmission (ARGH!! The only manual transmission cars were a few lorries and one Corolla NZE 121). Black in colour, 2000cc, 95,000 km $5,300 (Sh464,015) FOB, $800(Sh70,040) Freight, and $200 (Sh17,510) for Inspection. A total of $6,300 (Sh551,565). I also took note of the Stock ID Number.

4 Having my stock number ready, I went back to the website, typed in the Stock ID Number in the relevant text box and voila! My Legacy was there! There was a negotiating option which I didn’t explore, because, you see, I was NOT going to actually BUY the car. This was research for a reader.

The negotiating page included a breakdown of the $6,650 (Sh573,452) it would take to release the vehicle from Japan, and a choice of shipment (RoRo, whatever that is, a 20-feet container or a 40-feet container). The $6,650 (Sh573,452) came from the $6,300 (Sh551,565) total cost plus $300 (Sh26,265) Vanning fee and $50 (Sh4,377) insurance. I clicked on “Buy Now”.

5 You have to select a consignee, give his address, then place your order. I chose Kenfreight as my consignee, but they had quite a number of requirements.

You need the Import Declaration Form (IDF), Certificate of Conformity, Master Bill of Lading (MBL), Packing List, Commercial Invoice, Exemption Letter where applicable, then they started going on about Customs Clearance Procedure and a lot of other technical importation-finance-accounting-speak, and to be honest I quickly lost interest. After all, I was not actually buying the car.

You need an IDF from KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority), which you will have to fill out in order to get a consignee. The consignee is the clearing and forwarding company at the port of entry for your imported vehicle. The best way of getting the exact procedure is to ask a friend. I have asked a friend and he is yet to get back to me.

After giving the consignee, click on the button that says “Place Order”, then I guess from there it is a case of ‘yer pays yer monies and yer waits fer yer steed at th’ neares’ port, mate’.

7 Anyway, we cannot forget Caesar. The taxman. The government will charge you to introduce your imported good onto our sovereign soil. This is where a website like autobazaar.co.ke comes in handy. There is an option where you can calculate exactly how it will cost you to get your car ashore and ready for a KBU plate. On the home page of autobazaar.co.ke, there is such a tab as “Buyer Tools”. Click on it and select “Calculate Import taxes on used cars”.

That will bring you to a page where you can quickly estimate how much it will cost to import your car according to the prevailing KRA rates. My 2006 black 2.0 litre B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 automatic had, as cost of vehicle, Sh497,250 (at Sh85 per dollar exchange rate, the $5,850 — all costs minus freight) and KRA taxes amounting to Sh671,354, bringing the total cost to Sh1,168,604.

On the same page you could get a consignee by filling out the form on the right hand side of the page, after which they’d contact you with their clearing and forwarding process quote. Interestingly enough, from the AutoBazaar website you can also get loan quotes and insurance without having to leave the website. They seem to have everything, short of the vehicle itself…

As of the time I wrote this, none of the clearing companies had gotten back to me. Also, I did not have the Sh1.2 million I would need to get the black 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 2000cc automatic gear box, four doors and 4WD ontomy driveway.

A more comprehensive answer coming soon….

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Dear Baraza,

The information you provide on this column is invaluable, and you deserve all the compliments. I am keen on acquiring a non-turbo, manual-gearbox, locally assembled Toyota Prado that is affordable to both buy and run.

My search has yielded two machines; an L3 and an LJ95, one of which I am considering purchasing. Both of the machines were manufactured in 1999, and while they are in very good condition, are powerful and have smooth engines and superb bodies, they have clocked very high mileages — 245,000km each.

Both machines were previously owned by UN agencies, probably explaining the long distances covered. Before making up my mind, I’d like your advice regarding these vehicles on:

a) Availability and affordability of spare parts, including a complete suspension system for both.

b) If the machines are in perfect working condition — no pungent exhaust smoke — does the high mileage matter?

c) Their overall performance.

Your advice would be deeply appreciated.

a) Availability of parts: This should not worry you. At all. Affordability is entirely up to you, but if you are running a Prado, then you should afford to keep it running.

b) Does mileage matter? Yes, it does… a bit. For the sake of service intervals, and also to give you an idea of when a complete engine overhaul or rebuild is due. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear before taking action. Most engines are rebuilt at around 300,000km to 500,000km, depending on where and how they are used.

c) Overall performance? Well… they are very good off-road, not so bad on-road, poor in corners. Is that it?

**********

Hi Baraza,

I am a constant reader of your column, and thanks for the good work. I am planning to buy a Nissan Sunny B12, 1300cc, for use on tarmac roads, save for the occasional drive on all-weather tracks. Now;

a) What is the market value of this car if in good condition?

b) Are the spares parts of this car readily available? And are they expensive?

c) Can this car cover 500km without demanding a rest?

d) What is the maximum speed this car can achieve without compromising stability?

e) What is its standard fuel economy?

Thanks,

F Kirochi.

a) A car of this age will go for any price, literally, irrespective of mechanical condition. A well maintained car from this era could command as much as Sh300,000, but try selling someone a B12 at that price and watch them laugh in your face.

Then watch them make a counter offer of Sh100,000; not a penny more. It really depends on buyer-seller relationship, but on average, a good car should go for about Sh250,000.

b) Spares are available, I am not sure about the “readily” part. They are cheap though. Very cheap.

c) Depends. If it is in a mechanically sound condition, I don’t see why not. But first make sure you have enough fuel.

d) Maximum speed should be 120KPH. Anything beyond that and you are gambling with physics.

e) Expect about 14KPL on the open road for a carburettor engine, and about 16KPL to 18KPL for an EFI. Town use depends on traffic density.

**********

Hi Baraza,

We always appreciate your articles and the professional advice you offer to car owners, and even those who wish to own one.

Please advice me on the best buy between a Toyota Premio and the Allion in terms of performance, cost of spare parts, longevity, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns), off-road capability, ease of handling. Also, which one would you recommend for a car hire business, and please compare the NZE for the same role.

Anthony.

These two cars are the same. Believe me. The differences are very small, with the Allion seeming to age just a little bit faster than the Premio.

And I ask again: why do you people buy an Allion to take it off-road? What is wrong with you? Do you just willfully ignore what I say, or do you derive some pleasure from using the wrong tool in a task?

The Premio seems a bit more popular in the car hire business, although it costs a bit more on the dealer forecourts. On that front, the Allion might be the better choice.

Posted on

Evolution vs WRX STi: The White King vs the Dark Knight

It is by sheer happenstance that we had with us the best of both worlds: the best Evo ever made versus the best STi ever made (in my book). Or is it really coincidence? You see, these cars have been provided by The Paji, a man I introduced on these pages some weeks ago.

If there is a connoisseur of savage sports cars from the land of sushi and sake, it is him. And much as the Lancer Evolution and the Impreza STi are built specifically to try and embarrass the hell out of each other, our pair here could not have been more different.

In the white corner stands the CP9A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Extreme Edition, and from its registration plates you can tell that it is not what we could call “new”.

The car is bone stock, with a transversely mounted DOHC 1997cc, turbocharged and intercooled 4G63 in-line four block and packing a fancy 4WD powertrain with electronic diffs.

In the other corner, resplendent in black, stands the Subaru Impreza WRX STi in GD8 guise, a much later example (as the plates again tell us): 1998cc EJ20 flat-four block, turbocharged and intercooled and having 4WD too, though it uses mechanical diffs rather than electronic units, like the Evo.

The difference (besides the age and colour) is that while the Evo is largely untouched (new shocks and an aftermarket dump valve for the turbo are the only non-factory parts), the GD8 has undergone Stage 2 tuning and is developing what I would guess to be 400bhp against the Evo’s 276 horses. This will be interesting.

Subaru start

I have a go in the STi first. A very dark interior is festooned with gauges giving various pressures and temperatures in various systems: oil, turbo, water etc.

I also notice a short-throw shift kit and the DCCD (Driver Controlled Centre Differential), the pride and joy of all Subaru-nauts (they keep singing about it as though it is the best thing ever installed in a car).

The DCCD allows the driver to manually control the distribution of torque between the front and the rear axles. This particular DCCD has been set to channel more power to the rear rather than 50:50 back and front.

This setting is to have a big influence in later events.

Fire the GD8 up, clutch in, select first, and away we go, with the Evo leading. The clutch in WRX STis is usually a bit heavy, and there is no surprise here.

The surprise is the short throw shift kit: it needs a bit of forearm deftness to get the cogs into place, but what is even more amazing is the accuracy with which gears are selected.

Mis-shifts are almost impossible. Trail the Evo slowly, carefully, as I acclimatise to the driving experience in a Stage 2 modified car until we reach our secret test venue, at which point all hell breaks loose.

Without warning, the Evo breaks formation, hunting the horizon like a starving cheetah hunting down a baby gazelle. The fight is on, and I am not about to lose face. Shift down into third and slam the accelerator pedal to the floor. That is when I realise the beauty of Stage 2 tuning.

The car takes off as if it has been launched from a catapult, and the tach sails towards the red line (8,000 rpm). The roar coming from both ends of the car is deafening and the rate at which the engine gains and loses revs is shocking.

I am forced to short-shift into fourth at 6,000 rpm: stomp the clutch, blow-off valve sounding like an angry snake, yank the lever into fourth, dump the clutch, power on, get my nape forced into the head-rest as a relentless surge of torque is released, keep one eye on the road and the other on the tach; oh dear, 7,000 rpm, and I am almost on the limiter, if there even is one, clutch in, BOV goes pfft, slam the lever into fifth, listen to the ever-increasing roar emanating from under the bonnet and… oh shucks, here comes a corner. And the Evo is in it. I am catching up.

I have driven an STi before, but two things were different this time round. This one was Stage 2 tuned and had been set up with a rear-drive bias. Combine those two and what you have is a perfect drifting machine, as I learned the hard way.

Pile the car into a corner at full tilt and you get several feet of understeer (I could actually hear the tyres howling in protest). In a normal STi, to kill the understeer, you need to dial in more power. In a Stage 2 pseudo-rear drive STi, if you add on more power, the back breaks out. Oh my God!

The rear swings out. Apply opposite lock. The front washes out again. Again counter steer. Then you end up in an (admittedly unintentional) four-wheel drift. If you do not get your senses of judgment, perspective, and geometry right, you could easily leave the road… in reverse.

Kill the power, dab on the brakes, the car lines up nicely within the corner. Feed the power in again, this time more gently. Realise that all that floundering means the Evo has gained some yards on you. Try to catch up on the straights.

The problem with the STi is that it is a bit inaccurate, and violent with it. You cannot drive it with finesse, the way you can the Evo (I do not care what die-hard Subaru-holics will say to this).

The power may have been a bit too much. The steering may have been a touch on the heavy side, as was the brake feel. And speaking of brakes, they did not inspire much confidence.

They worked, yes, but feel was largely absent and one got the sensation that they were not working. The end result was that you lose too much speed on corner entry due to over-application of the anchors, so you get left by the Evo.

Enter The Evolution

Swap cars. In the Evo, it feels totally different. To start with, it is more comfortable… a lot more… until one wonders how Subaru-heads manage to drive any distance at all in their cars. The driving position is lower, and the car feels more intimate. The STi feels like a bus in comparison (oops, did I say that?)

Clutch in. Mmm, nice, smooth, oily clutch action, and lightly weighted. It is like dipping your foot in ultra-refined yoghurt. Shift into first. Since the shift kit is a factory affair, it feels a touch more vague than the aftermarket equipment in the STi, and is longer in the throw, but the gears slide in easily and surely. Take off in pursuit of the Subaru I have just exited.

The difference is immense. The steering is lighter, with a lot more feel. The engine revs more smoothly and more freely, and is quieter in the process. Also, though the red line is set at 7,000 rpm, one can rev the Evo’s power unit to 8,000 before hitting the limiter.

No need to, though; the car is quick enough without redlining it, but mostly because this is not my car and a blown engine is not something I want to think about early on a Sunday morning.

The intimate feeling; that feeling that one is at one with the car, means you can charge harder in the Evo than you can in the WRX. And the Lancer charges hard.

It has endless grip, it feels lighter, smaller, and more solid, and the reaction to input is instantaneous, so much so that the driver now in the STi, who had earlier humiliated me with the Evo, cannot pull away as easily as before in spite of being in the more powerful car.

The Subaru gains on the Evo on the straights, but driving behind, I can tell my rival is having to work much harder to get his racing line right through the corners, and he seems to be standing on the brakes a lot more often than he did in the Evo.

Behind him, I am having a picnic. In fourth gear, I do not need to brake to corner; if anything, I barely lift the throttle as the Evo’s sharper handling characteristics allow me to get the perfect line through the bends while still on part throttle.

The frequent brake lights and the popping of the anti-lag system in the STi tell me someone is trying his best to stay on the road through the power of restraint.

The battle ends with a unanimous verdict. Take a guess what it is.

Sum Up

First is the Subaru. It is a brash, violent, brutish, loud sledgehammer of a car. It is awesome. But more awesome is the laser beam, the precision instrument, the Evo VI.

This is why, despite four subsequent development stages (we are now at Evo X), the VI is still considered the best Lancer Evolution ever in its entire production history.

The Impreza requires a master’s touch to fully harness its, let us be honest, almost unlimited potential (all that power!) and corral its wilful and wayward nature. The Evo, on the other hand, flatters anyone who drives it, even the slightly inept.

Where the STi required wrestling to get any semblance of graceful motion out of it, the Evo was effortless. Cornering in the STi required bigger arm movements (so much so that my shoulders started aching at the end of the exercise), a constant sawing at the wheel to keep it in check as, first, understeer then oversteer reared their ugly heads.

The brakes were also not very comforting; especially given the acceleration abilities of the Stage 2 car, one needs the reassurance that one can stop on time if one runs out of talent (or sliding space) mid-corner.

It was also very loud (could be intentionally so, given the size of the tail-pipe), and it was uncomfortable; the ride was hard and the driver’s seat was not a good fit. The grip (before the loss thereof) meant that one was squeezed hard into the side-bolsters when turning hard.

This is a car for hard-core enthusiasts and only those with skills a cut above the rest can enjoy it. It is also the best Subaru I have ever driven, despite shaking my skeleton almost to bits. It is for this reason (and the colour also) that the Stage 2 GD8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets the title of The Dark Knight.

The Evolution was a different kettle of fish. Much quieter and with an engine that revs more smoothly, the fact that it was mostly standard did not mean it was a weaker entry.

Its relative shortness of breath on the straights was compensated by the sensation that the tyres have been glued to the road through the corners. This car will NOT slide, unless the driver does something stupid.

It was also more comfortable, a lot more, again a paradox given that it is built as a race-ready rally car and other car reviewers claim the STi is softer (maybe it is, in stock, non-Stage 2 format).

That an older, bone-stock Evo could almost kill a much newer Stage 2 rival earns it the title of The King. The White King.

Do you agree? Send your comments to [email protected]

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What is a Stage 2 Modified Car?

THE DEGREE of tuning done on a car can be wide. So, to specify the level of modification a car has undergone without necessarily listing the actual changes (this list can be long), a quick way of expressing it would be to classify the amount of tuning by stages. There are typically three stages of tuning:

Stage 1: Typically a single mod, more often than not a bolt-on part or small change of settings. It requires no more work for the car to still function as a daily driver. General reliability and ease of use is maintained. Examples are an ECU remap, sports exhaust, cold air intakes, or a brake upgrade.

Stage 2: A bigger power jump over Stage 1, Stage 2 tuning calls for the upgrading or replacement of several other parts, otherwise certain systems will fail or the car will behave unpredictably.

Typified by shortened service intervals. An example is a hybrid turbocharger that demands a remap and/or change of manifold, new dump valve, sports exhaust with different headers and mounts and internal components that call for a higher grade of fuel. Ideal for track use.

Stage 3: Applicable to motorsport. Also known as competition tune. Inappropriate for road use due to harshness: erratic idling, poor economy, and uncontrolled emissions are some of the characteristics.

High performance brakes that require heat before they work compound this problem. High timing causes the bad idling and heavy competition clutches make balancing a bitch. Not for the weak.

I wonder what a Stage 2 Evo would be like….

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Vroom your way to the concours this Sunday

FOR THE last 42 years, the annual Concours d’ Elegance, organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, has become an elegant, stylish, and fun-filled family day and is now a major event on both the social and motoring calendars of Kenya. This year’s edition, which will be held at the Nairobi Racecourse this Sunday, promises a lot of fun.

The core activity of the event remains the judging of the highly prepared vintage and classic cars and motorcycles, and officials must comply with regulations approved by the Kenya Motor Sports Federation.

The event is also recognised and sanctioned by the FIM-AFRICA (the Africa edition of The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, an international organisation acting in all matters connected with motorcycling).

For many of the spectators who will be thronging the Nairobi Racecourse grounds, dressing up for the day is a priority. To reward them, the organisers have put various prizes up for grabs.

Throughout the day a team of brand ambassadors will be roving around to pick out the best dressed ladies, gentlemen and children.

Spectators are offered the choice of going for style and elegance, African patriotic dress, classical hats and the best representation of CBA colours (green and dark brown). Wearers of outfits that impress the brand ambassadors will be photographed and rewarded with instant prizes.

For spectators who would like to take a break and socialise between following the judging of the classic and vintage cars and motorcycles and walking through the motor trade stands, an Elegance Garden has been added to the menu.

Throughout the day, Concours competitors, officials and spectators will turn their attention to the sky from time to time to watch a series of fly pasts, a model aircraft display, and a spectacular free-fall parachute drop. See you there!