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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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Your engine’s faulty; Demios don’t normally make tractor-like sounds

Hello Baraza,
I really love your column and look forward to the Wednesday issue of the Daily Nation. I hope you will respond to my mail this time round.

Now on to my question: I have a 2005 Mazda Demio and of late, I have been seriously disturbed by a noise coming from under the hood.

The car sounds like a tractor/diesel engine and somebody can tell from a kilometre away that I am approaching. In fact, my children have become so used to the noise that they open the gate when I am still some distance away. Several mechanics have told me that it is the normal sound of Mazda engines. Is this true?

Secondly, the car is a 4WD. How do I know whether the 4WD is damaged or in working condition? Could it be the reason the consumption is not good since the car (1300cc) is doing about 11km/l, which I think is awful.I would greatly appreciate your help. MK

I would say something is definitely broken under the bonnet. Demios do not sound like tractors and/or diesel powered cars, unless so equipped. You might have an engine with a knock.

To test the 4WD, you could jack the car up, i.e put it on stands/stones. Just to be safe, prop up all four wheels.

Start the vehicle, then engage the transmission (D or first gear, depending on transmission type). Observe the wheels. If the 4WD is functional, all four wheels should spin.

If they do not, then the 4WD drivetrain has a problem, though I suspect you might get a dashboard light warning you of something to that effect.

Drivetrain problems could be a reason for high fuel consumption, though at 11 km/l, I would first ask what your driving style and environment look like before pointing a finger at the 4WD.

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Hello Baraza,
I am a great fan of your column, which I read religiously every Wednesday. I am in the process of importing a car and after looking at a few options (the usual Honda Fit, Mazda Demio, Honda Mobilio Spike), I settled on a Fiat Panda.

It is a 1200cc automanual model and I would think it might be the only one on Kenyan roads. What is your opinion of the car? I am comforted by the fact that the guys at Top Gear really liked it….

Fiat has a reputation for making unreliable cars and this might actually be reflected all across the range.

Fiat cars have long been known to break down not very long into the vehicle’s lifespan, as do Alfa Romeos, which are made by Fiat, while certain models of Ferrari (another Fiat brand) tend to spontaneously combust, which could be seen as a reliability issue. You cannot call a car reliable if it catches fire by itself, can you?

Let Top Gear be. The UK market is more varied and more forgiving than ours. Cars there, being mostly brand-new, are protected by warranties and dedicated dealer networks; Britons rarely ask whether spares for a particular car are available.

They know there exists such a thing as the internet, which they put to good use (mostly). So, for a motoring journalist with a six-figure annual income (in pounds sterling), a Fiat Panda is more an object of amusement and experimentation than the sole solution to his transport needs, as could be your case. Buy it at your own risk.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
Having just sold my Toyota Surf, I am planning to buy a Nissan Patrol 2007 model, diesel, or a Harrier Lexus 2006/07 model, petrol. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Pandit

This is what we call a vague or ambiguous question. What, exactly, is your dilemma? I think in a case like this, you decide what you want, whether it is a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Harrier or a Lexus RX.

The purchase will mostly depend on how much money you have to spare and what you intend to use the car for. Do not buy the Patrol if you do not do any serious off-road excursions.

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Hi Baraza,
I want your expert advice on the following cars:
1) Between the Toyota Belta 1000cc and 1300cc, which is better for Kenyan roads and fuel efficiency?
2) Is the Toyota Passo 1300 cc better than the Vitz?
3) Is the Nissan Tiida 1490cc a good car to drive and is it fuel-efficient?
4) When importing the above cars from Japan, is it okay to buy cars with mileage above 87,000 kilometres or will they break down?
Andy

1. The 1000cc car is better in fuel efficiency if you are using it in the city. The 1300 will be more appropriate for extended highway use.

In this era of the NTSA and its sometimes mind-boggling speed limits, you might be better off with the 1000cc car. You might not need the extra 300cc, especially if your car does not bear loads that extend beyond your person.

2. Better in what way? The Vitz might be the better car overall.

3. Yes, it is a good car to drive, although the 1500cc version feels a bit underpowered. But remember the NTSA and its speed limits, so you do not exactly need a very powerful Nissan car to drive around the country.

4. They will break down. However, being Japanese cars, this breakdown will happen later rather than sooner. The good thing is, a car with an odo reading above 87,000km will obviously be cheaper than one with lower mileage.

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Hello Sir,
I am a young hustler whose father uses a Toyota Fielder 1400cc 2006 model. I admire the vehicle for its fuel efficiency, stability, and comfort.

I want to buy a vehicle for myself and would like a fuel-efficient one (like the Fielder). My favourite models are the Fielder, Avensis, and Allion. Kindly advise.
Thanks, and I appreciate your work. John Maina

Well, now that you are already familiar with the Fielder, it will not hurt if you get one of your own, will it? The consumption figures are not very much different with the Avensis and the Allion, but there is comfort in familiarity.

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Dear John,
It was a cold day in Wolfsburg, Germany, when your current car, the Mazda Demio, won the World Car of the Year in 2008, its heyday.

However, in true German fashion, the VW board summoned their engineers and ordered them to create the finest hatchback floorpan in the automotive world and wipe the smug smile off the faces of the Japanese Demio makers.

Money was no object. The result was the VW Golf Mark 5, each built carefully in 50 hours bristling with innovation, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating to boot, which was promptly crowned World Car of the Year 2009.

Richard Hammond, a Top Gear presenter, even had a Mark 5 Golf struck by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest lighting while seated inside as a testament to its German over-engineering.

However, the fly in the ointment and let-down to many Kenyan motorists who ship the used version of this car from Japan is the DSG gearbox which, in simple terms, is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing and working as one unit.

It was designed by Herr and was initially licensed to the Volkswagen Group. Designed to shift gears more smoothly than a conventional manual gearbox and quicker than your reflexes, this automated manual gearbox resulted in a worldwide recall by VW of 1.6 million sold vehicles.

This has caused grief to many a Golf Mark 5 owner, who experience intermittent transmission jerking, usually at low speed, and agonising delays in shifting down once the car has warmed up. VW has finally figured out the cause after a lot of head scratching since the computer does not produce any fault codes.

Apparently, the DSG transmission has a protection mechanism switch built in that prevents excessive power from being delivered to it if the brakes are engaged.

When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator for power, the switch lags and makes the transmission tranny think the brakes are still on, resulting in the annoying shifting delays. Once this brake switch sensor is replaced, the fly is removed from the German ointment.

As a preventative measure, it is also worthwhile to drain all the synthetic gearbox oil from the Golf Mark 5 with a DSG gearbox  and replace it with a good quality mineral oil before making the maiden trip from Mombasa port to Nairobi as VW has confirmed during recalls that in hot climates, the synthetic oil causes short circuits in the gearbox power supply due to build-up of sulphur, a scenario absent in the frigid testing grounds of Wolfsburg.

Lots of innovations remain true to form, like the fuel stratified injection (FSI) engine in the Golf Mark 5 gem in increasing fuel economy in tandem with power, and is kinder to the environment and better built than the Toyota D4 and Mitsubishi GDI employing similar engine concepts. The only catch is to ensure that no adulterated fuel ever enters the filler cap.

The ultimate Golf mark 5 innovation has to do with safety, giving it a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a safe family car packed with curtain airbags, ESP wizardly, and doors like a steel safe to ferry the children to summer camp when needed to a non-turbo Impreza and Evo thrashing hatchback when provoked by their loud exhausts on the way back home to a classy, yet frugal transporter to work on Monday.

Truly, the Golf is the car you will ever need, even in the land where the car in front is always a papier-mâché Toyota. VW fan club member

This is very enlightening. And yes, the Golf is a marvellous car; too bad about the DSG. Impressive gearbox, this one, if a little glitch-prone. I would still have me a pukka three-pedal, six-on-the-floor Golf (GTI, to be specific) if I had the inclination.

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Kindly tell me how a Toyota D4 engine is different from that of other Toyotas and how I can achieve maximum performance.
Also, what is its consumption (km/petrol) rate?

Toyota’s D4 engine is different from (some) others in that it uses direct injection rather than port injection. Direct injection is where the fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders of the engine, where it mixes with air and is then ignited by the spark plug.

This is at variance with previously established systems of port injection, in which fuel was injected/fed into the intake port, where it mixes with air before being delivered into the engine’s cylinders.

Achieving maximum performance is simple. Use high-octane (and reputable) fuel and stomp on the accelerator pedal as hard as you can. The fuel consumption varies, depending on the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle bearing that engine.

D4 engines are quite economical. However, when maximising performance, do not expect the fuel consumption to be impressive.

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How cheap is cheap? Should I invest in a 1997 Mazda Midge?

Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a Mazda Midge 323 of 1997 or thereabouts. It will cost me about Sh125,000 to acquire and about Sh20,000 to repair.

am confused. Should I sign the deal or keep off completely. I have never owned a car before and this car is cheap, with low fuel consumption. I need a means of mobility for my small family. What is your advice on this car?

Arap Kulet Kibs

That sounds like a fair deal to me. A 1997 vehicle that will cost you less than Sh150,000 to get on the road? If you are very sure this is what it will take, then by all means go for it. I have been looking for a Sh200,000 car (part of an elaborate experiment) and you will not believe how hard it is to get one. I even got offered a 1988 Honda Accord for Sh220,000.

1988! That car is older than some of the women I have dated, and the man wanted Sh220,000 for it. The closest I got to a deal like yours was a 1992 Fiat Uno for Sh85,000.

Yes, less than Sh100,000 but for that I was to get rotten tyres, split rims, the brake pads had fused with the discs (and drums), two seats (the front passenger seat and the back bench) no lights whatsoever… but the party piece was…. no engine.

Be glad of the deal you have landed, but I insist: ONLY IF YOU ARE SURE.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent fan of your column and I must say it is very informative.

Now, my question is about engine capacity vis à vis fuel consumption. Many readers have the perception that the bigger the engine the higher the fuel consumption. I remember an article you wrote about a Range Rover covering 17 kpl. With the same engine, not many Toyotas or Nissans can cover that distance.

1. How will a non-turbo car perform when fuelled with V-Power petrol and synthetic engine oil compared to premium/regular fuel and normal engine oil?

2. And by the way, why don’t you come up with your own monthly magazine for motoring fans?

Thanks and thumbs up for this weekly feature.

Ken Migiro.

Ahem, sir, I think you may have taken liberties with some of those figures. I never said a Range Rover does 17kpl. No, sir, I did not. I said, at 140km/h on an eight-lane superhighway, the engine is spooling below 2,000rpm and the “monster” engine is doing an incredible 14 kpl.

There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that the prevailing traffic conditions at the time could best be described as “light”.

Secondly, the vehicle in question was powered by a new-age turbocharged diesel engine which develops massive torque, allowing the car to be propelled effortlessly at very low rpm. Third, that Range Rover had just received a transmission update, so it was packing an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. With so many ratios, there is a perfect gear for everything.

Also, given that the car costs Sh18 million or so, the amount of research and development that went into the power train is stupendous, to say the least. None of these factors apply to eight-year-old pre-owned Toyotas and Nissans. Yer gets what yer pays fer.

1. Superior engine oil and fuel grade does not make a car faster or more powerful. It only makes the engine run smoother and last longer.

However, the converse is not true: Sub-standard oil will kill your engine and adulterated fuel (or fuel with a very low octane rating) might push your car into “safe-mode”, where either the timing will be retarded to the lowest possible level or the engine speed will be capped at a certain rpm which is very far from the red line.

Ask anyone who runs high-boost in a turbocharged engine what “safe mode” is and watch their eyes water as they remember the time they told their friends “My car is fast!” Then proceeded to drive at 40 km/h. I know your question concerned naturally aspirated engines, but some suffer from this too.

2. I happen to be the features and road tests editor at a certain magazine run by The Jaw. Sometimes it is a monthly, sometimes it is not.

Dear Sir,

I came across your article on transmission which I found quite interesting as I am looking to sell automatic transmission discs.

The gearbox has transmission discs and at one end is the high nitrile high temp seal rarely available in Kenya. Basically, it comes as an overhaul gasket kit for the transmission gear box, much like an engine overhaul gasket kit.

Nobody stocks these in Kenya, not even Toyota Kenya. When the oil leaks because of a faulty seal, it burns the discs in the gearbox.

So what most mechanics do is look for good secondhand seals and fit secondhand discs. Currently, I have a about 20 types of new discs in stock and have sold a few. I am looking for a market for these products. Please advise.

Interested Seller.

I am not very sure how I can be of help here because it sounds as if you are asking me to assist you in running your business. Since there are no further explanations, these are my guesses:

1. You want to use my column as a platform to palm off your transmission parts to the general public. I cannot be of any assistance here because the Nation Media Group will require the two of us to pay for advertising and, take it from me, those two pages can be quite expensive. Also, I will receive an uncomfortable interrogation from other sellers of transmission parts as to why I endorsed you and not them.

2. You want my advice on how you can sell many transmission parts and make a profit while at it. In this case, too, I cannot really help because I am not a business consultant. Much as the objects involved fall under motoring, the matter at hand is not really about motoring.

Dear Baraza,

Kenya-trained road and railway engineers are the most useless in the world. In a highly populated urban area trains run in tunnels underground or in overhead viaducts. Never ever on the ground.

Jesus Christ! Can you imagine a slow moving 500 metre train trying to manoeuvre in Nairobi traffic. Are some people totally mad? Moreover, underground trains run underground on electric tracks, NOT diesel locomotives. Woi! We are in trouble.

Have you ever wondered why the passenger ride from Nairobi to Mombasa is so rocky and uncomfortable? It is because the track slippers are unevenly laid.

While the distance of the slippers should be evenly spaced, you find the contrary. One slipper may be 100cm apart, the next 200cm apart and the other 120cm apart.

This makes the train rock from one side to the other because it is unbalanced. Not only is the train unbalanced, it also cannot travel at high speed because it will eventually derail due to unbalanced rocking.

That is why a journey from Nairobi to Mombasa takes at least 12 hours to complete because of slow speed. Diesel locomotives can travel at a speed of 60km to 80km per hour.

This means that on a properly constructed railway track, a Mombasa-Nairobi train should take a maximum of four to five hours.

It is also not rocket science to find out why roads designed and built by Kenyan-trained engineers have a maximum defect-free design life of between five to 10 years.

It is because these engineers construct these roads with permeable soft as a base material instead of impermeable concrete. The problem with permeable rock is that rainwater seeps through the road surface easily. Once the water reaches the earth layer of the road, it becomes mud and essentially liquid.

Thus, this part of the road sinks due to the mechanical pressure of passing vehicles. The road surface eventually cracks, exacerbating water seepage. Finally, a pothole is formed.

You may have noticed that the Chinese religiously use concrete as a base material. This is how modern roads should be built. The result is an even road surface that has a defect-free design life of approximately 99 to 100 years.

Naturally, the initial cost of a concrete base road is higher than a permeable base road. But over 99 years, it is actually cheaper because a permeable base road needs to be maintained and rebuilt every 10-15 years.

Njoroge Gitonga.

Wow! I agree on all points. While an inner city train would be a good idea, it is not really workable in ANY of our cities. It will call for an extensive redesign and rebuild of the town centre. In other words, tear the city down and put it up again.

From scratch. I wonder where the three million or so people who infest the town daily are supposed to go in the meantime. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

We do not necessarily have to have a train half a kilometre long snaking through city blocks. Several trams could do the trick. Question is: Where to lay the tram tracks? How to control jaywalking.

How to control the maniacal wayward drivers who believe that the secret to success in life is making sure you are ahead of everyone else on the road (including trams).

I do not think we are ready for this. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.
Trains are not necessarily a bad idea. What we could do is have four or five train stations around the city. We already have one which has a bias on the Mombasa Road side of town. How about another on the Westlands side? And another on the Thika Road side?

And maybe one more on the Ngong Road side? The trick is to reduce motor vehicle traffic, right? Charge people who drive into town in order to encourage them to take the train (like they do in the UK).

From those train stations we could have shuttle services running across the CBD instead of actual trains (which you and I agree will not work inside the town).

Anyway, the logistical hell that is the Nairobi traffic situation is not my headache. At least not now. Even with the new “digital” traffic lights, it still takes a traffic policeman to restore order at junctions and roundabouts, the same officer who will tell you to go when the light is red and pull you over when you drive past a green light “because he said to stop and you didn’t”. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

As for road construction, I also agree with you in that the workmanship is sloppy. Some acquaintances believe that it is intentional: Not only does the contractor make an abnormal profit, but he also guarantees himself another tender.

When the road falls apart a few months after completion, he will be called back to do repairs, hence make even more money. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

Just a question: Those rail things. Are they “slippers” or “sleepers”? Just asking.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla 110. It recently had a minor accident and after the mechanic repaired the gearbox, I noticed that the light on the dash board keeps indicating that the overdrive is off (O/D off).

My mechanic says it does not affect fuel consumption because I do not travel long distances. Please advise.

Lucy.

How did this mechanic repair the gearbox? With the light indicating “O/D OFF”, one of three things could be happening:

1. The overdrive is actually on, but since the mechanic fiddled with the transmission and its many electronics, the light says OFF in error. Or…

2. In the course of fiddling with the transmission and its many electronics, the mechanic ruined the overdrive switch, rendering it permanently off. In which case he should pay for the extra fuel you would have saved by driving with the overdrive on. Or…

3. Maybe there is nothing wrong and you should try and put the overdrive on. There is a small button labelled O/D on the right side of the gear knob. Sometimes the only solution to a problem is the most obvious one.

Hi Baraza,

I love the advice you give in this column. I asked this question before and did not get an answer. What is a guzzler? If I drive a Toyota with an engine capacity of 2,000cc and a Subaru or Mercedes of the same engine size, how do they compare in terms of fuel consumption?

What of a saloon car and a sports utility vehicle (SUV) of the same engine capacity, for example the Toyota Mark X versus the RAV4/Harrier?

Cleo

There are very many things that determine the fuel consumption of an engine, most of them being external factors that fall under the general term “load”.

Intrinsic qualities that determine the rate of consumption include material science (low friction, lightweight and heat resistant materials lead to better economy as compared to their diametric opposites), degree of technology that goes into the R&D stage of making the engine (Electrical Fuel Injection (EFI) engines offer better economy than carburettor engines, direct injection also leads to better economy compared to port injection, Electronic Control Unit-controlled and other electronic engine systems are more efficient than purely mechanical ones) and the basic design: Number of cylinders, layout of those cylinders, and so on.

As for Toyota, Subaru, and Mercedes engines, these are too many and too varied to say which is which and the consumption factor is determined greatly by load, seeing as all three companies develop really high-tech engines for different applications.

One may be naturally aspirated, another one turbocharged, and another one supercharged. One may be used in a small compact saloon, another in a rally-ready performance hatchback, and yet another in a relatively heavy premium saloon… you get my drift, don’t you?

The same engine used in a saloon car will generally burn more fuel per kilometre when used in an SUV because the SUV is much heavier and has a higher coefficient of drag than the saloon, which means that it has to work more/spend more energy to move the body to which it is attached.

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Can I service these cars in Kenya?

Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and would like to return home with any of the following cars: Fiat Panda, Ford Focus/Fiesta, Hyundai i10/i20/i30, or Skoda Octavia/Yeti/Superb. Do we have any local service dealership or franchise for any of them in Kenya, please?

Masiya.

Ford and Skoda are handled by CMC Motors who, according to some of my readers, will not touch with a barge pole a car they themselves did not sell.

Hyundai has an outlet too, overseen by the manufacturer itself and they would prefer if you steered clear of their diesel engines for now owing to the muddy, sulfurous sludge that passes for diesel over here. With Fiat it is “Good luck, you are on your own”.

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The Voltz: Thank God its production was stopped

Hi Baraza,

1. How does the 2004 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT compare to the 2004 Toyota Voltz S 1.8/2.0 in terms of performance, comfort, driver appeal, practicality, safety and insurance?

2. Why was the production of the Voltz stopped after 2004?

3. What criteria is used to determine a vehicle’s insurance policy cover in relation to premiums?

4. How much would it cost annually in terms of insurance for any one of the above cars?

5. Is it true that tuning a vehicle’s performance and appearance may void insurance?

Githaka

1. Performance: Forester XT.

Comfort: No idea; I have not driven a Voltz, but I’d say Subaru again.

Driver Appeal: Subaru, again. It looks better and is based on the Impreza chassis, which ensures good handling.

That Voltz is based on a Pontiac (Vibe), an American car, which was itself based on yet another Toyota (Matrix), so the Voltz is the derivative of a derivative, with American influence thrown in. That can never be good.

Practicality: Take a guess. Yes, you are right: Subaru. It has a bigger boot and better interior seating space. AWD is a much bigger advantage than the Voltz’s FF chassis, especially with Noah’s revenge falling from the skies this season.

Safety: Hard to call, because both cars have airbags and ABS and whatnot. But where the Subaru wins it (are you surprised?) is by having AWD, which provides directional stability when the going gets unpredictable. I know the hardships of driving an FF on slippery roads, so I would opt for the AWD.

Insurance: Please see your agent for details.

2. Production of the Toad, sorry, Voltz, stopped in 2004 due to poor sales (Thank God!). I don’t know what they were thinking putting it on sale in the first place.

3. This criteria varies from one agent/company to another, so I cannot speak for them. But stuff like driving records (previous accidents), age and sex would determine the individual’s premiums; with the car’s value, mechanical condition and age determining how high or how low your premiums will be set.

4. Third party insurance is Sh2,500 for one month’s coverage. Anything beyond that, please see your agent.

5. Depends on the company, but in some countries it is the law. Changing the car’s appearance (such as a repaint or adding spoilers) will not really affect your insurance, but some mechanical modifications (installation of spacers, abnormally lowered suspension systems or having nitrous injection kits) are both insurance and warranty voiding, and against the law (some people have been known to inhale the nitrous oxide themselves instead of directing it to the car’s engine).

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Hi Baraza,

I fitted my X-Trail with Rob’s Magic springs and got better ground clearance but the vehicle is now very bumpy. The dealer told me that they will stabilise with use but since I don’t often use the vehicle, they are still very hard. Will they affect the car’s body?

Away from suspension, there are small vehicles made in Korea called Atos and Tico, and others found in Italy that I hear have very good consumption. Do we have these vehicles here in Kenya? And if I were to get one, who would I go to for service?

About the springs, sometimes this happens when a car’s torsional rigidity is not up to par. The worst victim of this was the first generation Land Rover Freelander whose body would flex to such an extent that the doors would not open (or close) properly, and sometimes the windscreen would crack (typically a crack would appear at the base of the windscreen in the middle and then snake its way up and to the left). I am not sure how the X-Trail would behave in this respect.

In the olden days, I would stop at the word “Korea” and reply with ROFLMAO, but not anymore. The Koreans have really come of age; have you seen the new Sonata?

It is beautiful. Anyway, the Hyundai Atos (called ATOZ in the UK, which is actually A to Z) was once on sale in Kenya but not anymore. If my memory is not playing tricks on me, a former Miss Kenya had one of these. I don’t know what a Tico is.

Italian micro-cars are just the best, but again, nobody seems to sell them here.

I remember the tiny Cinquecento Sporting had a 7-speed gearbox in a body barely three metres long and two metres wide.

The old Fiat 500 was a “bubble” car; very tiny. Nowadays we have the Alfa Romeo MiTo (Milan, where the design is done, and Torino/Tourin, where it is assembled) and the new Fiat 500 (I would go for the Abarth version of this. Abarth is like AMG).

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Dear Baraza,

I have recently become a fan of the Nissan brand because their vehicles are cheaper in terms of price compared to Toyota models. Now, is there a major difference in regards to fuel economy, stability, durability and maintenance costs between the B13 and B14?

Also, I have been shopping around for a B15, but after 3 test drives I was not happy with the way the back suspensions felt. On a rough road, or when I hit a pothole, it sways sideways at the back. Is there a known problem with these vehicle?

The B13 was more unstable, especially at 110 km/h with the windows open; it experienced an alarming degree of lift. Fuel economy is similar, though the B13 had carburettors for some cars while the B14 is mostly EFI. The B14 is flimsier than the B13 and loses shape (and parts) much faster, hence its bad reputation.

I don’t know if I can call it “known”, but I recognise there is a problem with the B15 suspension, especially at the front, as far as bad roads are concerned.

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Hi,

I am about to be a first time car owner and I am torn between a Toyota Allion, Premio (new shape) and the “Kenya uniform” (Toyota NZE); all automatic transmission, 1500cc and 2003 model.

I am looking for a car that is easy and cheap to maintain and comfortably does 15 kpl (I do Kasarani to town and back every day). If you were in my shoes, which of the three would you go for and why?

Nderitu

The Premio looks the best, but costs the most. The Allion is the sportiest but also the most fragile. The NZE will make you look like an undercover CID officer (they use these in large numbers).

All are easy to maintain, with the NZE’s parts costing the least of the three, and all will do 15 kpl without too much struggling (though between Kasarani and town 15 kpl is a bit ambitious, irrespective of the new Thika Road).

Of the three I would go for the Premio. Not only is it a looker and economical, it is also smoothest and the most comfortable.

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JM,

1. Between petrol engines and diesel engines, which ones pick better on turbo?

2. Are petrol engines faster compared to diesel engines that have massive torque?

3. If you put two turbocharged 3000cc Prados, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine against each other, which one would come first on straight stretch?

4. Do turbocharged engines consume a lot of fuel as compared to NA engines, assuming both cars have 2000cc engines?

It really depends on the degree of tune of the turbocharging setup. In some cases, the diesel will beat the petrol on initial acceleration, but the petrol will come out tops in terms of absolute speed. In other cases, the petrol will shine all the way.

Turbocharged engines generally burn more fuel, but in factory spec, some have transmissions that compensate for the extra push that the turbo provides by having slightly taller gears, thus improving economy.

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Hi Baraza,

1. Are there Toyota sedans that come with an automanual gearbox? I ask this because I saw an advert for a Toyota Avensis on sale that was said to have an automanual gearbox.

2. What’s the difference between 4WD and AWD in saloon cars?

3. Why, for example, do the NZE-Toyota Luxel and some Toyota Wish have rear disc breaks while others in the same family don’t, including the much loved Premio?

4. Sometime back you said that Allions physically depreciate faster than Premios if carelessly used, is there a difference in how their bodies are made? And does Allion’s chassis being heavier than Premio’s have anything to do with this?

5. What are CVT and FAT transmissions and how are they different from the common transmission?

6. Is the Toyota Verossa related to the Mark II in any aspect and how does it perform compared to other popular machines in the Toyota family of equal engine size?

Fanon

1. Yes, there are automanual gearboxes (more accurately referred to as automatic transmissions with manual override) in Toyota sedans, the latest of which I have experienced in the 2012 Camry saloon.

2. AWD is similar to full-time 4WD, except that torque distribution between axles and tyres varies. In 4WD, the torque distribution is constant.

3. The cars with rear disc brakes are of a higher spec (and thus cost a bit more when new) than their drum-equipped stablemates.

4. The details of the construction of these two vehicles are unknown to me, except for the fact that I know both use steel spaceframe chassis and aluminium body construction. Or something.

5. CVT stands for continuously variable transmission while FAT stands for fully automatic transmission. CVTs are alleged to optimise performance and economy, but some types actually do the opposite and feel weird to drive (such as the car accelerating at constant engine revs or the road speed and engine revs seem at odds with each other).

6. Yeah, the Verossa, Mark II, Mark X and Camry are all members of one family. The Camry is the FF option (front engine, front wheel drive), the Mark II is the FR option (front engine, rear wheel drive), the Verossa widens the variety with optional 4WD and the Mark X is the spiritual successor to all these, except the Camry.

The Premio and the Allion are also siblings (but of a different class from the Verossa) with the Premio bending towards comfort and the Allion towards sportiness. The Wish is just something I don’t think much about, it could be a bicycle for all I care.

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Dear Baraza,

I am intending to purchase a Japanese import among the following: a 2000cc Subaru B4, a 2000cc Mitsubishi Galant GDI or a 2000cc Premio. Looking at the market price, the Galant seems to be the cheapest. What is your take on the longevity, consumption and reliability of the three vehicles and what which one do you think would be the best purchase?

Gichohi

Longevity: Poor across the board.

Consumption: Subaru and Galant will burn more fuel than the Premio, especially if their electric performance capabilities are tapped.

Reliability: Also not very good across the board, again with the Premio possibly holding out longer than the other two before packing it in.

Advice: Buy a Galant or a B4, but not one that was in use in Japan. Simba Colt used to sell Galants, so a locally sold unit with full FSH will be a much wiser purchase than an ex-Japanese example. The same applies to the Legacy: one that was sold and maintained by Subaru Kenya will offer better longevity and reliability. Of the two my pick is the Galant.

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Hey,

I want to purchase my first car and I am stuck between the Subaru Legacy and the Mitsubishi Galant. I drive both offroad and on the highway for about 30 km to my workplace. Please advice on which one to go for considering fuel consumption, maintenance, stability when in high speed (I like racing) and style.

Offroad, both cars will break your heart, but on road, the Galant feels better to drive. Fuel consumption will go as low as 5 kpl for both if you indulge your urge to race, and maintenance costs will bite for both (frequently replacing tyres, brakes, maybe a burnt clutch here and there, using high grade engine oil etc).

Stability is good for both. The Subarus are (on paper) more stable though, because of the symmetrical AWD, but then again word on the street is they weed out the unskilled by sending them to hospital and/or the morgue. I find the Galant more stylish than the Legacy.

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Hi,

I intend to purchase a 2.4-litre Toyota Harrier and would appreciate your advice on the following issues in regards to the car:

1. What is the difference in respect to fuel consumption and maintenance cost between a 4WD and 2WD? How many kpls can either of the two do in town and on the highway?

2. How does the Harrier compare to a 2.4-litre Toyota Ipsum in terms of fuel consumption?

3. What other Toyota model that can do offroad, has a VVT-i engine and with an engine capacity of 1800cc-2400cc would you advise?

Fred.

1. The disparity is marginal at best, but 4WD systems lead to higher consumption due to added weight and increased rolling resistance, and are more complex mechanically than 2WD. About the kpls, it largely depends on your driving style, but it’s roughly 7 kpl in town and 10 or 11 on the highway, for both. Like I said, the disparity is not noticeable, and the weight issue could easily swing the other way with the inclusion of a heavy passenger.

2. The Ipsum is optimised for gentle use and might be less thirsty. 3. Depends. Could be anything from an Avensis to a Surf. What are your needs?

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Hi Baraza,

I am 24 years old and thinking of buying my first car. I love muscle cars and there is a Ford Capri I have been eyeing (I think it’s a former rally car). What advice can you offer about muscle cars in terms of fuel consumption and other technical issues such as maintenance. Also, do you think it is a good buy considering that I can resell it later since its a vintage car?

Muscle cars and fuel economy are two concepts that will never meet. Maintaining it also requires commitment not dissimilar to that of marrying a temperamental, high-strung, materialistic (albeit achingly beautiful) woman. Finance and passion are the two key requirements to owning and running a muscle car.

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Cami vs Fielder

Hi Baraza,

I am a teacher who is about to acquire his first car. Therefore, forgive my KCSE-like question: After much soul-searching I have settled on acquiring either a Toyota Fielder or a Cami. Could you please compare the two in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, handling of rough roads, maintenance cost and resale value?

Comfort: The Cami is bought by those who don’t love themselves. Hard ride and bouncy, and it won’t track straight at speed because cross-winds affect it badly. It is like being in a small boat sailing through a typhoon. It makes the Fielder look like a Maybach in comparison.

Fuel economy: The Cami is bought by those who spend their money on other things that are not fuel. A tiny body with a 1290cc engine means very low consumption. The Fielder is commonly available in 1500cc guise, a whole 210cc more, and in a larger body.

Handling on rough roads: The Cami is bought by those who are scared of Land Rover Defenders (or cannot afford one). It is available with proper off-road hardware, and its ground clearance means it won’t get easily stuck. Its compact dimensions and light weight means it can be carried by hand when it does get stuck. Possibly. The Fielder will get stuck long before the Cami does.

Maintenance cost: The Cami is bought by… I don’t know, but it should not cost much to fix when it goes belly up. Tiny engines are usually very cheap and easy to repair and maintain, that is why motorbikes are everywhere.

Resale value: The Cami is bought by those who did not think hard about disposal when buying it. Unless you fool your potential buyer into believing that the Cami is a better vehicle than the Fielder (pray that the said potential buyer does not read this), you are most likely going to lose that buyer to someone selling a used Fielder. Unless you lower your price to unbelievable levels.

Posted on

The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.

Posted on

In motoring, many Kenyans want a kind of come-we-stay

Hi JM,
I have owned a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia wagon 1800cc GDI for more than three years with no problem other than the usual wear and tear, brakes, shocks, etc.

And so I fail to understand the Kenyan phobia for any car with an engine other than a VVT-i or stone-aged engines, minus some rare options like the smaller but stronger, faster and quieter engines.

I use recommended platinum sparks, Shell V-power or equivalent, and full synthetic oil to keep the car in optimum performance — these might be pricey for some, but I considered them while purchasing the car.

Most of the time, the petrol mileage pays for most of the maintenance cost, especially if you drive as much as I do; I bought the car with the mileage at about 110,000 km and it’s now at over 400,000 km.

I wonder why Kenyans always go with advise from Toyota crazed people, some of whom have never owned a car or who want a car that they can neglect.

People rarely ask what your needs are and what you can invest to maintain and repair the car.

My dad gave me six months tops on the car yet his 2004 Nissan AD VAN has cost him more in repairs and petrol than my Cedia, which offers me better options, safety, comfort and power.

My advice: There are better cars out there, just make sure you know what you are getting into, that is, the advantages and disadvantages.

Also, having a mechanic who knows the car’s ins and outs on speed dial helps. So, am I crazy like all the people (and the Government) who have cars with GDI, FSI and turbo engines or what?

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Nice one. There are several problems with Kenyans as far as motoring is concerned. That is why 110 per cent of the mail I receive concerns either “how thirsty is it?” or “are the spares expensive?”

We want the motoring equivalent of a come-we-stay marriage, getting the milk without buying the cow, colloquially speaking. That is why I once told my readers not to rush into car ownership if they are not ready for the commitment involved.

But what can I do? I cannot tell a person, “You are not mentally ready to buy a car yet, so don’t”; I will wait for them to buy the car, mess it up and then contact me for help. The variety of vehicles in South Africa is staggering and yes, there are Toyotas too, but they, surprisingly, are not the majority.

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Hi Baraza,

I religiously look forward to the Wednesday paper just to have a go at your column. Now, I have two questions:

1. I drive a Nissan Bluebird U11 1985 model, 1800cc carburettor engine. It does 7–8 km/l in town and 10–12 km/l on the highway. I am planning to purchase a new ex-Japan EFI engine for the car because I fear the carburettor is not 100 per cent reliable. I am torn between a Wingroad and a Nissan B15 1500cc engine. Most of my friends prefer the B15 engine while I feel the Wingroad one is more faithful. Kindly advise on which one would be best for stress free driving on such an old car.

2. This is a bit personal and I’m sure I will get it rough from you. What car do you drive because I got shocked to learn that you drive a Toyota Platz — in a previous article you really dissed the vehicle.

Akala

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First off, I don’t like either of the two Nissans, and sadly for you, both are prone to glitches.

From the mail I receive from readers, the B15 has suspension made out of used matchsticks while the Wingroad suffers electrical gremlins.

From what I see on the road, the Wingroad ages gracelessly while the B15 clings on tenaciously for a slightly longer time before succumbing to old age. So maybe you should go for the B15.

Now, about your second question: What I drive is not very important at the moment, but it sure as hell is not the unsightly Platz! Where did you get that information from? If a friend told you they know me and that I drive a Platz, lose the friend.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly offer your thoughts on the Audi A4. How does it compare with BMW 318i and Mercedes C-class?

Looks: Near tie between C-Class Mercedes (pretty) and Audi A4 (understated and classy).

Performance: The BMW 3-Series both handles and performs better than the other two.

They have recently started offering 4WD (x-Drive) versions, so Audi no longer has the advantage of traction.

The A4 can be a bit lethargic with the smaller non-turbo power units.

The C-Class is a pleasure to drive, such is the smoothness, and the supercharged Kompressors are plenty quick.

Handling wise, the BMW is best and the A4 worst, courtesy of its understeering tendencies.

Cost: When you buy a Merc, you will know, mostly from the moths that will fly out of your wallet and the echoes coming from the emptiness that is your bank account. BMW follows not too far behind, but is a bit more affordable.

A4 is the cheapest, generally. Where you buy and what spec you choose can easily swing the order one way or another.

These are premium cars, so you will fork out for spares. Good thing is it will not happen often.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Wish with a 2000cc VVT-i engine. The vehicle has no overdrive button but there’s an ‘S’ button, which I presume stands for “sport”.

On engaging it, the vehicle becomes lighter and speed shifts with a lot of ease.

What I need to know is, how is the fuel consumption when I engage this gear, is it high or low?

Is it economical/safe for the engine if engaged at low speeds? There’s also another button labelled ‘Snow’ but I have never known what it is for. Kindly help.

Abdulrehman

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When you engage this “S gear”, does the car leave a trail of your belongings on the road behind you? Or maybe a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of cogs, nuts, bolts, trunnions and wing-nuts? The car does not become lighter, it “feels” lighter, because the transmission is in a ‘Sport’ setting and so the vehicle’s performance is optimised, or “sporty”. The lightness may also come from the suspension stiffening, but I doubt this is the case for the Wish; such technology is found in costlier fare.

The consumption will definitely go up, but not enough to bankrupt you in one trip. It will also not damage the engine, or gearbox, at all; engines are built to withstand a wide range of performance parameters.

The ‘Snow’ setting acts as a sort of traction control for the gearbox, slowing down changes and sticking to higher gears at lower revs to minimise torque-induced wheelspin and skids.

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Hi Baraza,

Once, I went upcountry with a Toyota Prado and had no problem climbing the long hills.

But on another day, when I used a Land Rover Discovery Tdi, I realised its performance was weak compared to the Prado’s. Is it that the car had a problem or does it mean Prados are more powerful than Land Rovers?

Please compare the two. Also, I’m puzzled by words like supersaloon, special edition, splendid, and so on, that are used on Toyotas and Nissans. Do these cars have anything special?

Kahara

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Which Discovery did you use? And which Prado? The earlier Discovery cars were a bit agricultural, crap to be honest, especially because of the ageing 2.5, 4-cylinder diesel engine they used.

The new ones, on the other hand, are Range Rovers for those who cannot afford real Range Rovers. I will compare the two — similar vintage and matching specs — in a future road test, just give me time to set this up.

Those labels ‘SuperSaloon’, ‘Executive’ and so on are actually names for trim levels and specifications.

Instead of saying “this car has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, automatic transmission, sunroof, air-con, climate control, leather interior, alloy rims, six-CD changer, etc”, just call it SuperSaloon.

For the same model of car, the “Executive” could be the same as SuperSaloon but with no leather interior and no sunroof.

A lower spec model (let’s call it Deluxe) deletes climate control but maintains air-con and swaps the six-CD changer for, say, radio/tape/CD.

Follow?

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy my next car, either a Subaru Forester or a Toyota Kluger.

But the one I have currently is a Fielder, which is good when it comes to fuel consumption, spare parts and resale value.

I want you to advise me on the car (Forester or Kluger) that is fuel efficient, has reasonably priced spares and a good resale value.

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Just drive decently and both will not hurt where consumption is concerned.

Spares should not have too big a disparity between them, though I suspect the Kluger’s might command a slight (very slight) premium over the Forester’s. Asking around will clear this up.

Resale? It is hard to tell. Klugers have not been around long enough for statistical data on second- or third-owner territory to be gathered. And there has been a now-diminishing phobia of Subaru cars, so for now, steer clear of the Turbo.

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Hi,
I am importing a Subaru Outback and I want to use it for my upcountry excursions, which include a very slippery road to my upcountry home.

How good is it in wet, slippery, hilly roads? Can you suggest some modifications or areas to watch on this ex-Japan model?

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Smart choice. It has 4WD, so it should tackle the slippery stuff quite convincingly.

But no serious off-roading (fording rivers that have burst their banks or trying to drive up a sheer cliff), leave that to the Land Cruisers).

It can survive without any major modifications, but heavy duty suspension would not be money wasted when installed.

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Hi,
I intend to buy a second-hand car whose engine capacity is 1000cc or below.

I particularly have the Toyota Platz, Toyota Starlet or Toyota Alto LX in mind. Please advise me in terms of maintenance and performance.

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Once you go below 1,000cc, cars stop being cars, they become a means of transport.

As such, there is precious little to separate them, unless you go for mentalist hardware like the turbocharged Daihatsu Miras and “twin-charged” Fiat 500s. Otherwise, they are all the same.

I have had quite some experience with a Starlet EP82, which at 1300cc, could still run with the best of them (19.76 litres of fuel yielded 407 km, empty to empty. Try and beat that, even in a Vitz).

The three cars you mention should be about the same in performance and maintenance, so if you are hard pressed to choose, close your eyes, throw a stone in the air and see where it lands.

That will be the car to buy. Or just go for the Alto — it is newer than the Starlet (so obviously better engineered) and much, much prettier than the goggle-eyed “Platzypus”

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Hello Baraza,

I bought a five-speed 1996 Hyundai Accent car from a friend. The vehicle is quite okay, but I need your advice on the following:

1. Where do I get spare parts, such as door locks, water pumps and radiators, among others, at a fair price?

2. Is it possible to get a good place to refurbish its interior, especially the seats, floor covers, inside door covers etc?

3. What are the merits and demerits of this vehicle since I hardly hear people talk about it?

Yatich

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The reason nobody talks about the Hyundai Accent is because it is Korean, and 1996 is a clean decade and a half ago. Anybody born at that time would be in high school second or going to third form now.

Later iterations of this car have not been good either (there is a 3-cylinder diesel that takes 20 secs to hit 100 km/h from rest). So it is in this vein that I will answer your questions:

1. Fellow Hyundai enthusiasts will help with this, but until then, the usual trawl through Kirinyaga Road and Industrial Area will give you an idea on the rarity of spares.

2. Interior reworking can be done at any good body shop.

3. Merits: None that I know of. Cheap, maybe. Demerits: Not a feat of engineering, flimsy, performs poorly and not that pretty. And there’s also bad interior design and poor use of materials.