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Here’s why some predated Mercs are making a comeback

There is a sudden spurt in the number of 190E Mercs on Nairobi roads. Kindly offer your thoughts on why this is so and review the car for safety, reliability, performance and maintenance.
Pete

The car is obsolete, very much so, seeing how it pre-dates and precedes the current line of C-Class Mercs. As such, against the current crop of cars, it will score poorly on all fronts.

Even in its heyday, the “performance” version, the 190E 2.3 16V Cosworth, was too slow, and the dog-leg first gear confused the unwary.

The proliferation of 190Es may be due to the fact that they were built in the Era of the Over-Engineered Benz (124s and 126s), cars that will simply never break down unless you ram a tree, or a wall, so their reputation has gone up. And they can now be had for as little as 300K. And they are fun to drive.

My crystal ball tells me 200Es (whatever happened to the old Mercedes Kenatco taxi cabs of old, I wonder? And the Presidential Escort vehicles…) and 280 SEs are following suit.

This crystal ball has been mostly right over the years (one or two misfires), so let me wait and see how it pans out.

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Hi Mr Baraza,

I have just acquired a new-model Caldina ZT, D4 engine, 4WD, with low profile tyres. I wish to know the following:

1. I have installed two-inch spacers but I feel the car has become a bit wobbly on uneven tarmac. How can I enhance stability on the road? Would things like wider tyres do?

2. As for the low profile tyres, some friends tell me they are not reliable in rough areas, is this true?

3. How best can I maintain the engine since I hear it is a bit sensitive? I am a careful driver, but at times I do about 150kph on the Thika Highway.

4. Any other tips in ensuring long service from this newly found love?
Silvester

1. Lose the spacers and fit taller springs/shocks and bigger tyres (try not to go beyond 17 inches). You could widen the track, but while this reduces the wobbliness, it also corrupts the steering geometry if not done with a lot of maths and could make your car handle funny.

2. Yes, this is true.

3. Being a direct injection petrol engine, run on V-Power as much as you can afford and use fuel from reputable stations when V-Power is a bit too much to run on daily.

There is nothing wrong with driving at 150kph, except, perhaps, for the fact that you are breaking the law. But don’t do 150kph in low gears.

4. Just treat it the way you would want to be treated if you were a car and your owner loved you.

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Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car with a budget not exceeding Sh600,000. I am torn between buying a locally used but well maintained Mitsubishi Galant and a Peugeot 406, both of which can fit my budget. My considerations for the two cars are:

1. Good safety record

2. Ride quality and comfort

3. Maintenance and availability of spares

4. Fuel consumption

5. Speed and stability

I know that both cars have low resale value. Please advise on the best choice.

Safety record: The 406.

Ride quality: I’d say Galant, but that’s from the driver’s perspective; passengers will prefer the 406.

Comfort: 406.

Maintenance: Hard to tell. Peugeots are reputably unreliable, and after Marshalls lost the franchise, one cannot say with any amount of confidence that the new company will service old models.

However, Peugeot owners tend to be fastidious about caring for their vehicles (because of the reputation?) so, most likely, whichever one you buy will have been well maintained.

The Galant, on the other hand, is Japanese. It will still go bang once in a while, but spares should not be too hard to find, or too costly to buy.

However, VR-G and VR-M models tended to be bought by boy-racer types, either as first or second owners, so most of the cars on sale tend to be knackered.

Consumption: Depends on how you drive. If you can get a 406 diesel, with a manual gearbox (don’t!), 20kpl is less of theory and more of reality.

Speed and stability: The Galant. A VR-4 with a boot spoiler and front-splitter is the fastest and most stable car in your chosen bracket. But remember it has a turbo and is 2500cc, so….

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Hi Mr Baraza,

I own a Nissan Wingroad and I need your expert advise on the following:

1. Which is the right plug for the Wingroad; NGK BKR 6e or BKR 5e, and what gap should I keep?

2. The car is 1500cc twin-cam. What is the advantage/disadvantage of twin-cam? It gives me 8km per litre yet the exhaust is clean and clear.

3. When doing the diagnostics, what readings should I get for the injectors?

4. Can I change the injectors to give 1300cc instead of 1500cc? Do Wingroads have VVT-i engines? How can I improve on the fuel consumption?

5. Can the display monitor on the dashboard be changed to English? It is in Japanese presently.

Kasmani

1. To be honest, I have no idea. You have now gone into the details of brand marketing and nomenclature, which I rarely pay attention to. You may have to refer to the NGK website for details on which plug is used where.

2. Twin-cam makes it easier to control the camshafts; very handy when you have variable valve timing.

3. Readings of what? Nozzle clearance? Injection pulses?

4. You can fit smaller injectors but I am not sure how wise that is. I know the 1.6- and 2.0-litre Wingroads have a form of Variable Valve Timing (and DOHC for the 1600), but not sure about the 1.5. Now that you raise the issue of injectors: has your car been tuned?

Does it perform unusually well? If so, then that explains your poor economy. If not, then a change of driving style and/or environment will change your consumption figures.

5. It can be translated, that I believe; I am just waiting for someone really clever to step up to the challenge.

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Hi,
Last year, I wrote in and asked for your advice on my Allion, whose ground clearance was troubling me. Well, a year down the line, the car is still fine and I no longer have issues with ground clearance, even when fully loaded.

Now, I service the car after every 4,000km to 5,000km but I’d like to know whether I can change the engine plugs from the current Denso one-pin plugs to the Denso iridium one-pin plugs.

I wanted to change to the Denso iridium but my mechanic insisted that they are very powerful and can damage some electrical parts of the car.

1. Compare the general performance of the Denso iridium plugs to that of ordinary Ddenso plugs.

2. How real is my mechanic’s argument, and is it applicable to all cars that don’t come with the iridium plugs?

3. Is it true that Denso iridium plugs are more effective than ordinary plugs in terms of power, fuel consumption and maintenance costs, which are my reasons for wanting to install them?

1. Iridium plugs generally last longer and are reputed to perform better, but seeing how their only job is to throw a spark, it is hard to tell whether they indeed fire better than other brands like Champion and NGK (originals; fake plugs will always fail soon after installation), if they still exist.

2. The most important aspects of a spark plug, in order of priority, are: whether or not they fit into your particular engine block, whether they are genuine or fakes, and heat range.

Plugs don’t have “power”, they are merely wires with a gap at one end through which a spark flies. The “power” you speak of is determined by the ignition coil, the integrity of the HT leads and the condition of the plugs themselves.

3. The power delivery of the engine (as determined by combustion efficiency) as well as fuel economy, is, again, determined by whether or not the plugs are fake (most genuine single-pin plugs perform the same) and the number of ground electrodes in the spark plug. Plugs with twin electrodes (what mechanics call “pembe mbili”) are better, but they cost more.

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Mr Baraza,

I wish to get a second-hand car from Japan and I am considering the Passo or the FunCargo. A friend tells me the FunCargo tends to overheat, particularly when on high speed.

Is this true and does the same apply to the Passo given that it is 1000cc? What speed is comfortable driving for these kinds of cars?

Which would you advice me to buy? I am looking for an automatic.

Joan

The Passo is still too new in the (second-hand) market for me to make any substantive statements about it.

What I know is that the FunCargo is fairly crap, what with the overheating and unreliable 4WD transmission in the versions so equipped. Sometimes, the fuel consumption goes up on its own.

Not to mention the car is hideous and lacks a proper boot (the headroom and leg room are both impressive, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I have a 2005 Toyota Fortuner in which I got a slight accident last year. Before the accident, it used to consume about 8km/l.

After the repairs — replacing all the damaged parts and doing a ‘red’ service including fuel filter and mass airflow filter — the consumption is terrible, with an average of 4.5km/l. In fact when driving uphill, it soars to even 1km/l!

In addition, the exhaust is producing a lot of soot, meaning the combustion is not very efficient. Mechanics have tried resolving the problem but all has been in vain. What is your advice?

I blame the MAF sensor; it is misreading the flow of air and making your car burn an extremely rich mixture, hence the sooty exhaust (poor combustion) and high fuel consumption. Either the sensor that was put in is faulty, or is the wrong type (verifiable by remapping the ECU to adapt to the new sensor “type”).

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Dear Baraza,

Following last week’s column, in my view, the problem with electric cars is that they take too long to charge, compared to filling up a conventional car at the petrol station.

I think the solution to this problem lies in changing the whole recharging philosophy.

What if there was a battery that is recharged by replacing the electrolyte? The ordinary lead-acid and lithium ion don’t like electrolyte replacement at all.

That’s why they say DO NOT ADD ACID. But there is a new technology known as “flow batteries”, which have separate electrolyte storage tanks and a reactor chamber.

The electrolyte flows to the reactor, produces electricity and moves out to a second “used” tank.

With this kind of battery, the electric car just needs to pull up at a “petrol” station (okay, electrolyte station), off-load the used electrolyte and replenish it with a charged one.

The beauty of it is that the station can then use grid electricity to recharge the used electrolyte and fill it in the next car.

This type of system can use the existing petrol stations; they only need to add new electrolyte tanks and a charger. I think this is where the future of electric motoring lies.
Mungai Kihanya

Well, with the lead-acid accumulator, not only does the electrolyte get degraded, but the electrodes do too (eroding at one end and getting a metal coating at the other, for a simple electrolytic cell).

So along with the electrolyte, you also need to replace the electrodes. A cheap plastic container is worth about Sh50 to Sh100. Electrodes + Electrolyte + Plastic shell (of negligible cost) = A new accumulator!

Now the questions:

1. Instead of having an electrolyte station, why not just use the shops we already have?

2. How much for a new charge of electrolyte? (and possibly electrodes?) Compare this with the price of petrol and/or hydrogen, and divide by the range provided by each. Cars will be limited to the same group that buys business jets at the moment.

3. A petrol station selling electrolytes is not a bad idea. But charging that electrolyte too? Electrical activity (such as charging) is normally associated with “sparks”, or arcing: a spark + a 10,000-litre tank of unleaded premium = BOOM!

Posted on

Fuel tablets do not improve consumption

Hi,

I had a 1982 Toyota DX-KE70 model that had a 1300cc carburettor for five years. The car was lovely, extremely hardy and very reliable.

It used to do 10kpl but I used to buy fuel tablets, which I would put in the fuel tank — one tablet for every 30 litres or as recommended — and that would improve fuel consumption to 13 kpl.

I sold the car eight months ago and replaced it with a 1995 1500cc Toyota AE100 LX model with an EFI engine that does 15.4 kpl.

I decided to try the fuel tablets on it but there is no significant change; the best it can do with or without the tablets is 16 kpl at an average speed of 100 km/h, which I do on the Nairobi-Embu highway.

I thought that with the tablets and the EFI engine, I would get better results, like 18 kpl. Why is this not the case? Please advise.

Phil

Fuel tablets belong in the same category as snake oil and Father Christmas; they are best left as bedtime stories. They NEVER work, much in the same way that Santa Claus will never show up at anyone’s house at Christmas time.

If you achieved a lower consumption with your E70, then the tablets had a psychological effect on you and turned you into a gentler driver, hence the improved economy. In simple terms, you have been buying a placebo.

Hey,

I have a Forester and I’m now thinking of buying a Wingroad for the sole reason that the price is fair and the interior does not look too bad.

Kindly tell me what I will be getting myself into with this car and if you think I should put out this fire. Thank you.

Flo

From a “personal friend” point of view, I’d ask you to “put out this fire”. But if you owed me money, I’d say ditch the Forester, get a Wingroad and pay me sooner than immediately.

As it is, it is entirely up to you. I don’t entirely agree with your judgment of the Wingroad’s interior, but this is an apple juice-lemon juice sort of thing, so I will not dictate matters of taste.

Beware of the car’s flimsiness and watch out for various electronics, especially the dashboard lights. They may light up like a Christmas tree once in a while.

Stick to proper roads if a suspension overhaul is not on your budget in the near future. Fuel is not a problem, nor is the asking price.

Hello,

I will be a first car owner very soon and need your advice. I am thinking of getting one of these Japanese “econoboxes”; FunCargo, Passo, Vitz or a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. If you were in my situation, what would you go for?

Sandra

If I was in that position I would go for a Vitz, but not for the reasons you might think. It turns out that when a Vitz is supercharged, it becomes a pint-sized Bugatti Veyron for those living close to the poverty line.

What do you expect from these cars? Forget any sort of performance (you could supercharge a Vitz though) and forget space. If it is economy you are after, any of these cars will do, but the Pajero Mini is not a very smart choice.

It is a very smart choice, however, if light off-roading forms part of your weekend activities.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes A160, a 2000 model, which is a beautiful little car. But a year ago I blew up the sump pan after hitting a stone while driving on a rough road.

This damaged the gear box and it cost me almost another car to fix.

During my time at the garage, I learnt that these cars are poorly designed and heard that almost all of them experience a gearbox failure in their lifetime. Others say that the Mitsubishi Cedia also suffers from the same illness.

In summary, these small cars tend to have a problem with the gearbox design.

I’m now scared of these small cars and have lost faith in them. What do you have to say about them?

Small cars are awful, and you get what you pay for. You see, small cars exist so that the not-so-well-to-do can also experience the world of motoring, but these cars are half-baked lest the not-so-well-to-do forget their station in life and think they are now haves and have-mores.

Truth is, for small cars to be as cheap as they usually are, R&D costs have to be minimised, and cheap, fragile materials used to build them. Learn to accept this.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Nissan B15 and it recently developed a fuel pump problem. I changed the pump but the new one is now producing some funny noise when I start the car or when moving.

The mechanic tells me that new pumps behave that way and that the noise will go away in time. What do you think? The car is also consuming more fuel than before.

Your mechanic seems to think every component of a car needs a bedding-in period to work properly, but this is not always the case.

What is the noise like? It may be that you are running on low fuel and the pump is sucking a mixture of fuel and air (and sometimes just the scent of fuel) hence making a buzzing noise.

Or maybe you have sludge in your tank and it is getting into your pump, in which case the new pump will go the way of the old one. Check these two theories out, if it is none of the above, get back to me.

Hello Baraza,

Do you have any experience with the Citroen C3 Super Mini, specifically the 1.4-litre petrol model in the Kenyan market?

I understand that, in accordance with its manufacturer’s (PSA Group) policy, the C3’s chassis was used for the Peugeot 1007 and 207, and that many of its components are the same as those of the 206. Is this true? You have written of your experience with Peugeot models, so I am hoping you can advise me on this.

Also, I would like to hear your thoughts on why the Citroen WRC team tends to excel consistently with their range of Citroen racing cars. I thought that, on this basis alone, people would be buying this make, but you can hardly sport a modern-day Citroen on our roads.

Mwaura

I have not had much experience with Citroens, new or old, nor have I had much experience with the new crop of Peugeots. The newest I’ve tried is the 307, I think, which is currently obsolete anyway.

It is true that some Citroen cars share platforms and components with Peugeot products. Whether or not the franchise will take this into consideration is a matter of conjecture.

Citroen’s WRC success comes from a variety of factors, some of which include a strong team and the withdrawal of past supremos like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Also, the Citroen WRC is not on sale as is, while back in the day, the Impreza WRC, Lancer Evo, and even Group B monstrosities like Lancia’s Delta HF and Stratos could be bought in a spec very close to that of the competition car.

Kenya’s taste in cars is an odd one. Citroen cars in Europe enjoy a huge market, especially with the successful DS3 (a new car), but here in Kenya, if the car is not Japanese, then it had better be cheap to buy, cheap to run and its spares readily available for plucking from the nearest tree.

Hi Baraza,

Why do you say the B14 belongs to the gutter when I was thinking of getting one? Second, what would you say of the Mazda Familia in terms of fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, what would be a good car in the rural area where I work and operate a chemist? And would you recommend a second-hand auto or manual?

Eliud

Drive the B14’s main competitor, the Corolla 110, and you will see where Nissan went wrong. Check power, suspension and build quality especially. The Mazda Familia is an OK car on both fronts.

What exactly will this rural-based car you seek do? And how is the infrastructure in that rural zone? These two questions will decide the type of car to buy. Auto or manual is entirely up to you. Which one do you prefer?

Hello,

My friend bought some Tata 407 trucks in a public auction by a parastatal and wants to sell one of these to me. Please advice on cost, maintenance and fuel consumption. Do you think it would be a wise investment?

Given what it is, it cannot cost much. Given that it is sold locally, maintenance should not be too difficult. And given that it is diesel-powered, fuel consumption should not be too high.

Whether or not it is a wise investment, hmmm… I find it crude and badly built at best, with poorly contained NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and unresolved design. So many of these that I see on the road smoke harder than wet firewood. You decide.

Hey Baraza,

I own a 1977 Range Rover Classic three-door model with an original 3528cc petrol engine. My mechanic proposes that we fit it with a TD27 power plant for better fuel economy.

He further proposes that we retain its original four-speed gearbox. Please advise on the merits and demerits of this move.

Macharia

Die-hard Land Rover lovers like me will deride you for installing the engine of a Japanese commercial vehicle into something as regal as a Range Rover Classic.
More importantly, how does your mechanic know that the engine will fit? The 3.5 was a V8, the TD27 is an in-line four. And then the gear ratios may not be appropriate.

Baraza,

I want to buy my first car, which must be either a Toyota NZE or a Premio, and there are some issues I would like you to advise me on.

1. Is it true that a 1800cc Premio has a fuel consumption similar to that of a 1500cc NZE?

2. What is the meaning of the alphabet letters at the end of the model name, like Premio G, and Corolla X?

3. How can a 1200cc Datsun have a speedometer reading a top speed of 200 km/h and a 3000cc Prado have one ending at 180km/h?

4. If an 1800cc Premio and a 3000cc Prado are driven on a straight 20-kilometre stretch, both at a speed of 120km/h, which car will reach the end before the other?

1. Depends on very many things. How and where are they driven? How loaded are they? Their aerodynamic profiles? The 1800 might be more economical at highway speeds but thirstier in town, though by a very small difference, if everything else is kept constant.

2. It is what we call spec levels, or trim levels: cloth vs leather seats, wood vs aluminium trim and such. These letters differentiate the various spec levels.

3. It is mostly because at the factory, the 1200 was given a 200 km/h speedo while the Prado was given one maxed at 180 km/h. Actually, the Prado is most likely ex-Japan while the 1200 isn’t. In Japan, there was a gentleman’s agreement that all cars made in Japan will have a power cap at 280 hp and will be limited to 180 km/h. Finally, a 1200cc at 200 km/h is drivable. A Prado at 200 km/h (if it can even get there) is a handful.
4. This is not a very well thought out question. Read it again. Which one do you think will get to the other end first?

Dear Baraza,

What is the fuel consumption of a 1000cc Toyota Platz? Can this car be driven for over 500 km? Does it have a problem in climbing a road that is steep?

If I take a Platz on an economy run on the highway, I can clock 22kpl. I have managed that in an EP 82 Starlet. I have a friend, though, who I am sure will do no better than 8kpl.

The difference between us is body mass (I am a bean pole) and driving style (when the mood takes me I can be ridiculously snail-like in pace). Go figure.

About the driving distance, yes it can. Surely, there would be no Platzes (Platices?) on our roads if they could only drive 500km or less (other cars get to hundreds of thousands of kilometres before dying).

If you are asking whether it can do 500km in one shot, then the answer is maybe. I wouldn’t risk it though, one or two stops in between are advisable.

How steep is the road? If the slope has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or what we call a 50 per cent incline (forgive the jargon, this simply means the slope is at 45 degrees off the horizontal), then no. But a Land Cruiser can. Much gentler slopes can be tackled in a Platz, though.

Baraza,

We all know that Kenyan number plates are some of the ugliest in the East African region. As a result, many owners, especially of high-end cars, are getting customised plastic plates with all types of artistic fonts and customisation.

What is the rule on such plates? Are they illegal and can one be arrested for having them? Does KRA issue customised number plates, and how does this work?

Moses

As far as I recall, custom plates were and are still illegal. This includes funny fonts and personalised plates, like BARAZA 1. One can be arrested for having them.

Thing is, these are mostly found on high-end cars, and there is no telling who is being transported inside that car. I doubt if there is a traffic police officer willing to risk his employment just because he pulled over the “clandestine arrangement” of a high-ranking individual for having illegal plates.
JM,

I came across an article about the CVT transmission (specifically in Honda cars) and was amazed that they perform way better than all others in terms of fuel economy and power output.

Yet we Kenyans remain stuck with the Toyota mentality. Now I think I know why you were quite positive about Honda cars, though a select few. Maybe you could tell folks around here to look at that brand.

Yes, it’s true, CVTs are close to sorcery in operation and efficiency. Don’t be so quick to deride Toyotas though, they do have CVTs also (Allion, Wish…), but not all. Some are just regular automatics.

And no, that is not why I rave about Hondas. I like Hondas chiefly because of the high-revving, dual-natured VTEC engines (where available) and the trick helical differentials that make the front-wheel-drive variants such sweet cars to drive and corner with.

Posted on

Turbo operation depends on engine speed, not road speed

Hi Baraza,
I have learnt a lot about cars through your column, thanks. I own a Lancer Cedia wagon 2001 model that has a GDI and turbo 1830cc engine. I like it because its pretty powerful compared to my bro’s “flimsy” Toyota Fielder.

Now, If I may ask:

1. I was told that the turbo will kick in only beyond 80km/h, and only if I use a particular type of fuel, is this true?

2. The car has a small delay between the time the accelerator pedal is pressed and when the car actually responds (about half a second), what could be causing this?

3. I use 5W oil for the engine as I was instructed that its the best for this car, is this okay?

4. There was a motorist in one of your columns who claimed that his Subaru Forester (2000cc) can do Nairobi to Thika and back on Sh1000 worth of fuel; I do not think my car is consuming a lot of fuel but I also know it cannot do a thousand bob for that distance, yet its lighter and has a smaller engine. How can I verify that its consumption is okay? A diagnostic was last done in August and it came out clean; the consumption hasn’t changed since then.
1. No and no. The turbo operation is dependent on engine speed, not road speed, so watch the rpm instead of the km/h. For proper boost achievement, keep it boiling at 3500rpm plus, but get ready to pay through the nose for fuel. Speaking of which, provided you have put petrol in the car and the engine is running, the turbo will work. Let no one lie to you that one particular brand of fuel will activate the turbo while another won’t.

2. The delay could be caused by turbo lag or a faulty throttle sensor. My money’s on the lag.

3. The 5W sounds a bit inappropriate and just a touch worrisome. We do not need a winter-use oil in these climes, and the low viscosity index means that the oil changes viscosity rapidly with heat; and if there is one thing in plenty from a turbo engine, it’s heat. But if the 5W is for kinematic viscosity, then that is what you need, to allow the oil to seep into the turbo workings properly. If I were you I’d try maybe a 10W, or 15W.

4. I have said repeatedly that driving style is the biggest contributing factor to fuel economy, though, at Sh 120 a litre and given the kind of traffic conditions that prevail on Thika Road, our Forester couple may or may not have been making their trips at 3am when everybody else is asleep. So if the diagnosis says your car is okay, and your car looks, sounds and feels okay, then it is okay.

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Hi Baraza,

I have an automatic 2009 X-Trail which I bought two years ago. Could you please tell me its advantages and disadvantages? Also, please tell me how much horsepower it has… and if its ugly or not.

You do not know if your car is ugly or not? Have you seen the car in question or is this hypothetical? Anyway, I like the X-Trail’s external looks, it is very handsome.

In fact, I think it is one of the best looking cross-over utilities (eat that BMW X3, you ugly thing!). I don’t care much for the interior though.

Here are the power figures:

2.0 Petrol: 103kw/134hp @6000rpm, torque – 192Nm @4000rpm

2.0 Diesel: 110kw/143hp @4000rpm, torque – 320Nm @2000rpm

2.2 Diesel: 84kw/112hp @4000rpm, torque – 270Nm @2000rpm

2.5 Petrol: 132kw/176hp @6000rpm, torque – 245Nm @4000rpm

These figures apply to all 2004/2005 cars, except the 2.0 Diesel, whose figures also apply to the 2010 model.

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Hi Baraza,
I have a Subaru Legacy GT Twin Turbo and have three queries:

1. Is there any specific engine oil type for this model (I prefer synthetic oil)? What about spark plugs?

2. I went for greasing and was told Legacies cannot be greased unless the wheel mechanism is removed. Now is there a grease type that can last around six months for this type of car?

3. If the spark plugs are overused, is fuel consumption going to be on the higher end? What are the signs of over-used spark plugs?

1. Synthetic oils are recommended for turbocharged engines, so you are bang on the money on that issue.

2. Does the car need greasing? If yes, then go ahead and grease it. Forget about wheel mechanisms and time lines.

3. Fuel consumption will definitely go up. Signs of dying spark plugs include misfiring, a notable drop in power and the smell of unburnt or poorly combusted petrol coming from the exhaust.

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Hi JM,

I want to buy a small car which is not thirsty (1000cc to 1300cc) but with good space and good performance. I had the following cars in mind: FunCargo, Platz, Vitz, Duet (all Toyotas) and Mazda Demio. Which one of these might be the best, something I can own for over five years?

Mulwa

Go for the Demio. It is the roomiest, followed by the Platz (boot space) and/or FunCargo (headroom, rear legroom). Forget the Vitz.

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Hi Baraza,
I am an automotive technologist and would like to help you out on the question by Juma (DN2, December 14, 2011) on the red button on auto gear levers. It’s actually used when trying to shift to neutral in case you would like to push or tow the vehicle if you do not have the key. Normally, you cannot shift if the ignition is not turned on and the brake pedal depressed. The little red button helps you avoid all this.
Cheruiyot

Okay, thanks for the heads up, Cheruiyot!

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Hi,
I am a great fun of your column. Now, I have an interest in the BMW 116i, kindly advise me on its mechanical reliability of suitability in this region. According to some online reviews I have read, the fuel efficiency of the car is quite okay at 4.8l/100km.

Isaac

At 4.8l/100km, that must have been the 120d. Why do you want a 1-Series? The only reason anyone would buy a 1-Series is for performance ONLY, because it is unnecessarily expensive, its rear-drive chassis means rear seat space and boot capacity are a joke, and it is not exactly a looker. If I was to buy a 1-Series, I would go the whole hog and get me a 130i.

Mechanical reliability? Well, it is a BMW, so it will not fail easily, but when it does, expect the usual tear-jerking repair bills. Pertinence to the region? As a developing country, our choice of cars is quickly turning to personal preference rather than mechanical capability as was the case previously.

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Hi Baraza,
I have a 2002 Mitsubishi Cedia wagon, 1800cc, 4WD tiptronic. My nightmare started when it stalled and the gear indicator on the dashboard started blinking N even after shifting to D or R. I hopped from one mechanic to the next and all of them told me to buy a new gearbox. One even told me to write off the car. Finally I got one who fixed it by replacing a chain in the gearbox and a sensor.

One month ago it started making some really loud noise from the left side and stalled 10 metres from where it started making that noise. The mechanic did a diagnosis and found it was the 4WD gearbox that had broken down; the main gearbox was okay.

I had to replace the whole gearbox plus the pressure sensor (and it wasn’t cheap at 110k). It took a while to find it because, apparently, Cedias are not that many on our roads and they haven’t been in accidents enough to get parts from their write-offs, so spares are rare and expensive.

After changing the gearbox, there was some other noise; this time, the flywheel had cracked. I changed that. Now, when starting the car there is a noise that sounds like stuff banging against each other in the chassis. This goes on for a while then goes silent when the engine warms up.

When the gear lever is on N it’s silent, but on R or D its there even when I engage manual. The car also vibrates when at idle on D but not on N.

My mechanic tells me he has changed the engine mounts, so I’m at a point where I am thinking writing it off would have been a better solution. I need your insight here. Saidia!

Caroline.

Unfortunately, not even I would have had the foresight to tell you to get the entire transmission system overhauled — starting from the clutch to the primary gearbox, transfer case and shafts — had you come to me with the problem earlier.

The damage the transmission suffered earlier could have warped some of your drive shafts, hence the noises and subsequent failures.

Either that or, after the 4WD system, chain, sensor and flywheel, your clutch is now taking cue and packing up too.

Writing off the car sounds extreme but, with six-figure repair bills, I can see where you are coming from. It might be the wisest move at this point.

You could scrap the car. Sell it in bits. To avoid getting short-changed, go to the shop, ask how much a part costs (as if you want to buy) and then offer to sell them the parts at that quoted price or slightly lower. See what they tell you…. It might help you recoup some of your losses.

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Hi Baraza,

Please enlighten me on the following:

1. Is there any performance change when wheel sizes are altered?

2. What is the allowable extent of adjusting wheel sizes (plus one or plus two inches of what the manufacturer gave)?

3. Is it true that the main effect of changing the wheel diameter on a car is the need to change the gears, which change the ratio of engine speed to wheel rotation speed?

4. Is it true that larger wheels rotate more slowly for a given car speed?

5. Is there any (even the remotest) possibility of compromising stability and therefore safety of the vehicle by replacing smaller manufacturer-spec wheels with larger ones?

May 2012 be yet another good year for all motoring enthusiasts through your column.

1. Yes, such a change will definitely affect the car’s performance.

2. It is wise to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but the available space within your wheel archs will guide you too.

3. Not the “need”, but bigger wheels do have an effect of gearing up the transmission at tyre level. The bigger the wheels, the more noticeable the effect.

4. Yes, they have a lower angular velocity. Speed= Distance/Time, so for bigger speed, you have bigger distance (circumference of the tyre) and constant time.

5. It’s a definite yes, not “a chance”, outsize tyres will definitely corrupt the manufacturer’s settings.

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Hi Jim,
What is your opinion on the Mercedes ML class? The used models are mainly available in the ML 280 and ML 320 diesel versions, what’s your take on them? The few reviews I have read have ranked the M5, Q7 and Range Rovers higher. Although I like the classy looks, Range Rovers are rather ubiquitous locally. I shall be much obliged to hear your views.
Eric

Not a good car. Heavy, ugly, the diesel versions were not Daimler’s finest moment and the car was built in America for Americans, so built quality is dodgy and panel gap consistencies are measured to the nearest foot. The AMG version is an overweight, over-thirsty pointless exercise. The M5 is a saloon car and does not belong to this group.

The Q7 is not that good either; it has a woeful turning circle, is extremely heavy and, as such, the engines are overworked and fuel consumption suffers. But it has the best interior in the world.

Oh, and my name is not Jim.

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Dear Baraza,

I own a Toyota K70 saloon car. The vehicle was manufactured in 1980, but registered in 1983. I have christened her ‘Historic’ because there are very few of them remaining on the road. The vehicle is very intact.

Having had two previous owners, it has done only 110,000 kilometres and still wears authentic Firestone tires of old. Since it was manufactured, according to my mechanic, the clutch had not been charged and this was done only this year when some young adults I was teaching how to drive a manual burned the clutch (whatever this means!).

The engine still bears the manufacturer’s nuts and bolts as it has never been opened (I have only changed the fuel pump after some malfunction). Though it has a carburettor system, it does about 12 km per litre (is this good? Can it do better?) and have travelled immensely with it going to far off places like Eldoret. Spares, though Taiwanese, are available both in Kirinyaga Road, Industrial Area or even Kariobangi.

I normally find your answers quite straightforward and realistic, so I pose this question: Do you have something good (or bad) to say about this small vehicle? Something that can justify my holding onto this old relic that went out of production many years back? Please let me know, in your own honest way, the good, the bad and the ugly of this vehicle.

Lawrence

Congratulations on two fronts: One, now I can relax knowing I am not the only one out there still flogging carburettors, and two, honestly, congrats on a car well kept. But I think you may have to change the tyres sooner rather than later.

For any car, 12 kpl is quite good, let alone one with a carburettor. And the K70 can do better, but you’d rather not because this means resorting to some funny techniques, not all of them sensible or legal.

By all means, keep your car. I don’t see why you would want to sell it, given how you have gushed about it and extolled its virtues. It is something special given that it has survived to its current age and in its current condition, and it is a show of just how well you can maintain your car.

Again, congratulations!

Posted on

Toyota beats them all when it comes to reliability in the 4X4 category

Hello,

I work and live in the rural area, so I deal with a lot of rough roads, especially during the wet season.

Please recommend a good 4WD with a VVTi engine (diesel or petrol) and has good clearance. Other than Prados, what other makes would you recommend?

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Hi,

The moment you say VVTi, you limit yourself to Toyotas. But, anyway, any fully-fledged 4WD SUV will do the job.

I’m guessing you do not want a full-size SUV (Landcruiser 100 or 200, the “VX” or a Nissan Patrol), so you can have a Nissan Terrano, a Mitsubishi Pajero (a good choice, actually, in terms of comfort and ability), maybe a Land Rover Defender if you do not mind the hedonism of an Eastern European prison cell, a Land Rover Discovery if your pockets go deeper than mine, Isuzu Trooper… the list is endless.

I would, however, advise you to stick to Toyotas, especially if you can get your hands on one made in the mid to late 1990s.

I assume now that you operate from the backwoods, reliability and ease of repair should be top on your list after the very obvious off-road capability.

If you have, say, a Discovery, what would you do when the air-suspension goes phut and you are a million miles from anywhere?
Try the J70 Toyota.

It might be a bit too geometrical in shape, and carrying milk in it might see you change your business to sales of cheese and ghee, but, as cars go, it is unbreakable and will go anywhere.

The J90 Prado is also an option, with a bit more comfort added to the equation, but anything newer than that and you will be gambling with expensive repair jobs.

Choose wisely.

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Hello Baraza,

My car smells of petrol after going six kilometres. What could be the problem? I service the car regularly.

Lorine

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Hi Lorine,

Maybe you have a petrol can inside the car with you? What happens beyond six kilometers?

Anyway, it could be one of many problems: leaking fuel lines, a loose air cleaner connection, a loose fuel filter, plugs that are not firing properly…. I need more symptoms for a more definite answer.

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No, I do not keep containers in the car. Three days ago, it stalled. I thought the battery was down so we ‘jacked’ the car.

It went for about two metres then stopped, showing the battery, engine and ABS signs on the dashboard.

The mechanic seems not to know what the problem is. The petrol fumes are now so strong that you can smell them from outside.

The car is a Toyota Vista with a D4 engine, which people have been telling me is problematic.

Please elaborate on the engine and its maintenance.

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Lorine,

You jacked the car? Do you realise that you have just told me that you stole the car? Did you mean you jacked it up, or jump-started it?

Displaying all those notifications on the dashborad is normal. When starting a car, the moment the key reaches the “ON” position, all the dashboard graphics come on.

They then go off when the key reaches “START” and stay off when the engine is running (unless the car really has all those problems).

When a car stalls, all those lights come on (because the key is in the “ON” position but the engine is off).

I think I can now presume what your problem is. One of your fuel connections is leaking badly, as I had approximated earlier.

The only marriage between a strong petrol smell and a stalling car is a compromised/breached fuel system: you are fuelling the car, but the fossil fuels seem to go back to the ground rather than finding their way into your cylinders.

I cannot say for sure that this problem is connected to the D4 characteristic, but I do know D4s have problems.

Tell your mechanics to check the connections between the fuel lines feeding the fuel filter, the ones from the filter to the throttle body and at the throttle body itself.

If they don’t know what a throttle body is, it is the chunk of metal at the top of the engine into which air is fed from the air cleaner, and the origin of the injectors.

All the best.

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Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota FunCargo, 2003 model and thus relatively new. Every time I drive on a highway and do above 100km/h, it starts vibrating, literally affecting the entire car.

I have not sought advice from a mechanic because I wanted to consult a specialist first.

Please advise.

Regards,

Edwin M Kihara.

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Hello Edwin,

Your FunCargo could be suffering from one of these: the wheels need balancing or one of them is loose and needs tightening. Check the alignment also, but I doubt if this is it.

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Hi Baraza,

I have recently imported a Toyota Wish, manufactured in 2004, and just want to know if there is anything in particular to look out for with this model.

Also, mine does not come with a CD-DVD player/TV (as is usual with the more recent models), and would like to know if you can suggest a good and honest person who can install these for me at a pocket-friendly price.

I am also on the quest for a good and honest mechanic based in Nairobi. Female car owners out there know what I’m talking about.

We are charged double or triple the price for some of the services provided to us by unscrupulous and unprofessional mechanics.

Pamela,
Nairobi.

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Hello Pamela,

About your Wish lacking CD/DVD, maybe the very first owner (the one who bought it in 2004) did not specify these on his/her vehicle.

But in case they did, these things get stolen at the port in Mombasa. A while back, it was almost impossible to get a second-hand import with the stereo/TV intact.

Most aftermarket tuners/modifiers install these entertainment kits. The most experienced are of course the ones who do matatus, but they might charge you matatu prices and you might have to join a queue.

One way of ensuring honesty might be a bit tiresome: buy the kit yourself and then ask what the installation labour cost is. Theft and dishonesty typically occur at the point of purchase of the kits you seek.

As for the mechanics, there are no guarantees unless you enter yourself into a crash course in motor vehicle basics.

For now, find a trustworthy male friend who knows one or two things about cars and have him accompany you to the garage, or better yet, let him take the car to the mechanics. Several of my lady friends do this with me, and I think it works.

All the best.

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Hello,

I drive a Toyota Mark II Regalia, old model (KAY XXX). I took it for an engine wash and it appears some sensitive sensors got in contact with water because it is now too slow to accelerate.

My question is: are there known dangers associated with engine washes? If yes, how can they be avoided? Thanks a lot for the informative column.

Jackson,
Mombasa.

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To be honest, Sir, I think this is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, because similar complaints are coming thick and fast from other readers.

Yes, water might have got into the electronics. And yes, it is rectifiable either lizard-style or hairdresser-style.

The lizard style involves parking your car in the sun with the bonnet open for some hours (not 100 per cent effective, bad for your paint job and the car will be uncomfortable inside when you finally pick it up).

The hairdresser style involves getting a blow drier and applying it to the areas you suspect the water might have got into (logistically tricky: most blow dries have short cords, and it is also embarrassing for a man to be seen using a typically female electronic device on his car).

Do this: Perform the engine wash yourself, because it seems like most car wash outfits out there are putting drivers into difficulties.

Engine wash is not the same as body wash where copious volumes of water and detergent are needed to acquire a gleam.

A wet rag, meticulously used, should clean your engine and spare your car future hiccups.

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Dear Baraza,

I drive a Nissan Sunny B15, 2001 model, that I imported three years ago. My agony started when the original front shocks got worn out.

All other shocks I have fitted hardly last three months. We even replaced the front coil springs with “tougher” ones but this has made little difference in prolonging the lifespan. The bushes are alright.

The car is only driven by me, covers a distance of six kilometres daily (Ngara to Parklands) and occasional trips upcountry.

It covers on average 600 kilometres a month and is carefully driven. The rest of the systems are okay (engine, electrical, steering, braking, transmission etc).

Is this a common problem with this model? What would you recommend?

Sincerely,
Daniel.

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One common mistake people make is replacing the springs and shocks but forgetting to change the mounts too.

This tends to be counterproductive: it is like washing one sleeve of a dirty shirt, or replacing one worn out shoe in a pair.

The suspension problem could be typical of B15, but I do not see how a drive from Ngara to Parklands and back would warrant a suspension change. Maybe the mechanics are short-changing you; I don’t know.

My advice towards addressing this problem will sound harsh and generate heat among some circles: maybe it’s time we started paying more attention to locally franchised cars, even when buying second-hand.

They have the advantage of having dealer support and in some cases you might even get a car with an outstanding warranty, which will be a relief to you, your bank manager and your dependants.

When I discussed tropicalisation, I was disparaged as a minion for the local outlets, but now it seems a good number of readers are facing complications from “new” imports.

Maybe the chicken have come home to roost?

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Hello Mr Baraza,

My Nissan Sylphy N16 does not engage the reverse gear after travelling for a distance.

It however has no problem in the morning or after parking for more than two hours. What could be the problem?

Thanks, Isaac.

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Hello Sir,

Is it manual or auto? Either way, it looks like you will have to face the music and have the gearbox dropped to the ground for further investigation. Take it from me, it is not an experience you will enjoy.

Have them check the linkage (on either transmission type) first before disassembling the gearbox.

If the linkage is intact, for the automatic have the electrical systems also checked (with the manual just go straight to disassembly). If the electricals are fine, well, take the bull by the horns.

Just so you know, you might have to buy a new gearbox… or learn how to make three right turns in order to go backwards.

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Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet (YOM 2000) which was a perfect car until some time last year when it stalled on the road.

When the car was fixed by the mechanic, it started vibrating. He told me the mountings needed to be changed, which I authorised and the work was carried out.

Several months later, despite numerous visits to the mechanic, the vibrations have not stopped.

This problem is more pronounced when in traffic jams and the car is in gear. I have now changed all the mountings and I’m wondering what is next.

I love the car and its fuel efficiency. It normally does not give me any other problems as I take it for service regularly when it is due (every 5,000 km).

Alfred Njau.

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I strongly suspect you changed the mounts for nothing. I think the first mechanic messed up the idling settings on your car, so have the idle checked (at the throttle body), before you commit yourself to more expensive measures.

Let me know how this goes and we will take it up from there.