Posted on

Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

Posted on

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.

—————-

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.

——————–

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….

——————–

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.

——————–

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.

——————–

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).

——————–

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”).

——————–

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

Manual cars may offer more fuel economy than autos

Hi JM,
I have an auto 2002 Forester that I would say is quite economical. My wife bought a five-speed manual 2004 Forester that has nearly the same peak power but is far more economical in terms of fuel consumption.

While I spend a thousand bob to Thika and back to Nairobi, she will spend Sh800. This is something I have tested myself and I know it is not tuning because I take both to Subaru Kenya for diagnostics and service. So, is a manual vehicle more fuel friendly that an auto? And if yes, why?

Yes, and for two main reasons. First is a fact that a manual gearbox allows you to short-shift, that is shift up way earlier than an auto would, like at 1,700rpm from first to second.

With an auto, the computer decides when to shift up or down, so there is a tendency for these engines to operate at higher (and racier) rpms, thus pushing up the fuel consumption.

Second is the clutch. Unless the car has an electronically operated friction clutch, most autos tend to have a power sapping fluid clutch, also called a torque converter.

It does not transmit 100 per cent of the engine torque to the transmission; there is some slippage and thus losses at the clutch. These losses translate into less mechanical efficiency and hence higher fuel consumption.

—————-

Hi,
I wish to enquire about the Toyota Verossa. My friends tell me that I may have problems with it when it comes to spare parts and that I should go for Premio instead. Could you kindly advise me on this with respect to fuel consumption in both cars?

The Verossa and the Premio are not in the same class. Your friends should have referred to Mark II or Mark X, which are all similarly sized.

The Premio is a small, compact saloon with a very economical engine while the Verossa is a mid-sized semi-luxury saloon and may be performance-oriented. The bigger engines mean they cost more to fuel over a given distance compared to the Premio.

On a personal note, I do not like the Verossa’s looks. It featured prominently on my list of ugly cars.

—————-

Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a car in January but I am not sure what car I should go for. I will mostly require the car to run work-related errands within the CBD and occasionally outside Nairobi.

With the skyrocketing fuel prices, I am keen on a car that is not “thirsty” but I also do not want something that is small and too girly (IST, Vitz — no offence meant).

I have in mind a Premio, Allion, NZE, Avensis, or a Nissan Primera. I am also torn between buying the car locally (one that has not been used on Kenyan roads) and importing. Kindly advise.

You want a small car? You want economy? And you want something not too girly? And, in the name of nation-building, you also want a locally sold unit? Forget Allion, forget Premio, forget NZE. There is a car that fits the bill exactly, though — Maruti Omni.

It is dirt cheap, even brand-new, it is small but handy (seeing as to how it is a van), and that puny 800cc engine will burn less petrol than anything else on the road, other than a motorcycle.

————-

Hi Baraza,
On the question about the handbrake sign, highlighted here some time back, it happened to my old model Ipsum too. When the handbrake was disengaged, the light would stay on. When I did a diagnosis, I found that the problem was the brake fluid lid.

Thanks for the heads up, but the lady said performance was also compromised, so my thinking was that the handbrake itself was increasing the load on the engine.

—————-

Hi
I have a 2002 Toyota Vista 4WD with a D-4 VVT-i 2000cc engine. The engine light would go on and off for a while, then stay off for months. I did a diagnosis that yielded “p1653 SCV circuit motor”.

I changed the oxygen sensor and the plugs and cleaned all the speed sensors at the wheels, but there was no improvement.

Now, the car misfires in the morning and produces smoke before attaining the operating temperature. I have also realised its consumption has gone up. I was advised by my mechanic to use synthetic oil for service. What could be the problem and where can I get help?

Mwangi

SCV is the swirl control valve and I think it needs replacing. This is one of the weak points of a D-4 engine. I do not know anybody who can open one up and put it back together. Pole.

————–

Hallo Baraza,

I drive an automatic 1.6 litre 2002 VW Golf Mark 4 (station wagon). Unfortunately, I have never driven other cars so whenever people ask me about its consumption compared to other vehicles, I am at a loss. Could you please clarify or provide insight into the following issues.

1. What, in your view, is the normal consumption in km/litre for a 1600 cc vehicle (whether Mitsubishi, VW, or Toyota) in peak traffic (Nairobi situation) and on the highway?

2. When I suddenly slow down, like when approaching a bump or something is crossing the road, accelerating afterwards is problematic, the vehicle behaves as if it is in neutral gear. But if you step on the acceleration pad once then release and then step on it again, it picks up well. Please unravel this for me.

3. When driving, mainly on the highway, at gears three to five, should the rev indicator settle at, say, less than 2,000? How should the rev counter ideally behave when driving? Does the consumption of the vehicle change when the rev counter is higher?

Finally, it may be a good idea for you to lead a forum for motorists to exchange experiences. For instance, you can organise a forum for Mitsubishi Galant owners on where they physically meet and share experiences such as how they rectified a particular problem.

Tom

1. In traffic, expect anywhere between five and nine kilometres per litre, depending on the severity of the gridlock. On the highway, anything from 14 kpl upwards is possible, with as much as 24 kpl for a diesel engine of that size.

2. Is your car automatic? If so, then the gearbox is what we call “lethargic” or slow thinking; it takes some time before it realises that it should have geared down by that point. If not, another suspicion could be a jamming throttle pedal, so much so that the first gentle prod does nothing, so releasing and depressing it again resolves the jam, allowing it to move as it should. Just a theory.

3. Ignore the rev counter. How does the car feel and sound? If it stutters, judders, or sounds like it is about to stall, the revs are too low or the road speed is too low for that gear and you should downshift. If the engine sounds belligerent, high strung, “shouty”, or if the needle points towards the red line, shift up or ease off the throttle, you are almost over-revving the car. And yes, at higher rpms (4,000 plus), the fuel consumption is a little bit higher than at mid-level revs (2000-3500 rpm).

Finally, visit www.carbaraza.com to start a discussion topic — physical meetings will call for a venue, an announcement and, knowing Africans, refreshments will be expected. In other words, non-refundable costs. So I prefer the Internet.

————–

Hi JM,

I am interested in purchasing a mini-van and I am inclined towards a Nissan Serena 1990cc, but everyone I know advises that I should get the Noah instead. I am sorry, but I think Toyotas are a bit over-rated. Would you kindly compare the two vehicles in terms of consumption, road handling, parts, and anything else that you may find useful, especially for female drivers?

Christabellah.

Yeah, the people’s faith and belief in Toyotas is damn near religious in intensity, and for good reason. Count how many cars you see and express the number of Toyotas in that group as a percentage and you will see what I am talking about.

The Serena, if we are to go by reputation, has an ugly ancestry — one of the earlier models (late ’90s) earned the dubious honour of being the slowest accelerating new car on sale (at the time), taking a calendar-filling 19 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest.

Later versions are, of course, better than that, but the damage has already been done. There is a new version out (2012), but I doubt this is the car you intend to buy.

Consumption should be broadly similar but the Serena may edge the Toyota out slightly, but nothing that cannot be corrected with a small adjustment in driving attitude.

Handling is a mostly redundant characteristic in vans (I do not see you oversteering a Serena on purpose) but maybe the Toyota takes it here.

Parts and service also go to the Toyota; there are plenty around, so mechanics have been practising a lot and dealers bring in spares in droves because of the ready market.

So, against my better judgement, I would say go for the Toyota if you want a cautious approach. Go for the Serena if you have a pioneering spirit; who knows, you might start a fad like someone did with the Galant some years back.

—————–

Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a Toyota Cami. Is it friendly to a low -lass earner and does it have different ccs? What are its general advantages and disadvantages? Where would be the best place to buy one?

It is very friendly to a low-class earner — cheap to buy, cheap to run, and will rarely break down (it is also called Daihatsu Terios). I know it is 1300cc, but there could be a 1.5 somewhere in the line-up.

Advantages: It is small and, therefore, easy to park and not too thirsty. It can also do 85 per cent of the off-road tricks that a Land Rover Defender can. Disadvantages: It is bloody uncomfortable, 100 km/h plus on the highway is more dangerous and nerve-wracking than an afternoon as a matador, and the small size means you will be getting pretty intimate with your passengers.

Posted on

Car clinic: expert answers to your motoring woes

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

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

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

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

Njeru.

——————

Hello Njeru,

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

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

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

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

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

———————

Dear Mr Baraza,

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

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

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

Kindly advise.

David Malonza

———————–

Hello Malonza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

—————–

Hello Baraza,

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

Muriithi

—————-

Hello Muriithi,

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

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

——————

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Grace.

—————

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

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

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

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

————-

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Henry.

———————

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————–

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Really Frustrated X-Trail Owner

—————————

Sorry, Mr Frustrated,

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

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

Posted on

My Nissan X-Trail stalls for no reason, what’s wrong

My X-Trail has become a constant ulcer-inducer. Around the time of the recent fuel shortage, I had to accelerate hard, and when I slowed down the vehicle went off.

Since then it has been doing it every now and then. On particularly bad days it can go off four times on a 10-kilometre stretch, yet other times it can go for weeks without as much as a whimper.

I have had the car checked and I changed the crankshaft sensor since that was the only error registering on the computer.

I also suspected the cause could be the fuel, so I changed the fuel filter — it had never been changed since I bought the car because my mechanic and some blogs say this does not have to be changed.

I have also noticed that if I refuel during one of those dying spells the car becomes perfect… until the fuel starts inching towards the quarter tank mark. Do you think I need a fuel system cleaner?

Regards,
Gitau

————————————
Hello Mr Gitau,

Yours sounds like a fuel pressure problem. Maybe it is time you looked at the fuel pump if the filters are fine.

You say that, as the fuel gets less in the tank, the problem gets worse. You could be suffering from another fuel pressure problem called “running out of gas”.

I have seen this happen before, in a Toyota Ipsum (the old one), where the car would go off at exactly the quarter tank mark, and nothing less than Sh1,000 worth of fuel would get it moving again.

So another diagnosis would be a faulty fuel gauge. The constant stopping is usually a failsafe that is fitted in most cars: the first time it goes off is a warning that you are running on fumes.

The next few engine cranks will see you actually running on fumes, so coming to a dead stop would be a gamble.

About those blogs and those mechanics, depending on what you feed your car, where you feed it and where you drive, sometimes the fuel filter WILL need to be changed, just like the other filters: the oil one and the air one.

————————————
Dear Baraza,

I drive an old model Subaru Impreza (1998). I have been having two problems with my hitherto well serving machine.

First, I one day woke up to some whistling sound from the engine when I turned it on, coming from around the bearings near the alternator, the fan belts and the bearings.

The whistling disappears after some minutes when I continue moving. Two, the vehicle is auto, and it jerks when I slow down and need to accelerate again.

I recently changed the fuel and ATF filters. Earlier I had changed the CC and ATF oils. The jerking has reduced, but it is still there. What could be causing these issues?

Thanks,
Mwangi.

————————————
Hello Mr Mwangi,

Is the whistling more of a shriek or is it just a whistle? If it sounds like someone is stepping on a cat with a sore throat, then the fan belt is the problem: it could be worn out or out of kilter within the pulleys.

If old, replace. If out of place, push it back into place. One bush remedy I learnt from a motoring mentor is that a cure for the symptom is to splash some brake fluid on the fan belt, irrespective of the cause.

This is a temporary respite from the noise; you will still have to solve the problem. Then again, maybe the bearings have reached the end of their usefulness and are just expressing their need for change or replacement.

To confirm whether it is the fan belt is simple: while stationary, with the engine on, turn the steering wheel all the way to the end (either left or right, you decide).

At full lock (the very end), the shrieking should start again, and stop the moment you let go of the wheel. About the jerking transmission, I was going to suggest you check the ATF, but you beat me to it.

Now, which ATF are you using? One local brand (I dare not mention it) is notorious for its uselessness and unreliability, and is only used in power steering systems.

And I thought automatics only use ATF*, while manuals use CC*, so why did you put CC in your auto? (* this is pending confirmation).

The last suspicion would be that maybe it is time you got a new gearbox; your current one also having reached the end of its usefulness, in which case you have my sympathy because the repair bill that is coming your way will be horrendous. Let us hope this is not the case.

————————————
Hello Baraza,

I have a 1997 Mitsubishi Galant VRG. When cornering hard left, I feel a pulsating tug to the right through the steering wheel, at the rhythm of a ticking clock.

There is no cracking noise to suggest any problems with the CV joints, but could this be a problem with the same?

And while you’re at it, Sir, please tell me at what rpm my engine should idle. I suffered low idling (as low as about 400rpm) and occasional stalling recently.’

Had a mechanic adjust it to 1,000rpm, but now it has an annoying vibration that only goes away when I engage ‘Drive’, bringing the rpms to about 700.

Regards,
Kuria.

————————————
Hello Mr Kuria,

How bad is the pulsating? If mild, it could be what we road test people call “steering feel”, the pulsating could be the shock wave coming from the tyres as they scrabble for grip at the limit, as well as the self-centering I talked about last week (the harder you push, the more nature — and physics — fight back).

Then again maybe the bushes in your steering arms/tie-rods/knuckles are aging, so they do not do as much damping as they should, hence the feeling.

Four hundred rpm is ridiculously low for a petrol engine to idle, even though the larger displacement units idle at lower revs than smaller plants.

Your car should idle at about 850 rpm, so even the 1,000 you set is higher than normal. The prime suspect in the vibration at idle is a dying spark plug, or one problem commonly experienced but not commonly diagnosed correctly — and thus not commonly cured.

You might have a problem with a vacuum leak. Check the intake plenum, the PCV valve (Positive Crankshaft Ventilation), hose and elbow.

Also check the connection between the air cleaner and the throttle body. If a crack or a hole appears anywhere on these sections, then you have your culprit.

Silicon should shut these escape routes convincingly. IAC (Idle Air Control) is supposed to send more air through the engine to compensate for an additional load such as A/C or alternator.

Clean the terminals to it and take it off and spray some WD40 into the two chambers. It is located on top of the throttle body.

To check for a vacuum leak, put a vacuum gauge on any intake port and it should read 18 to 20 inches at idle.

If it has less than that you have a leak or the catalytic converter is plugged or the muffler is plugged. If you have normal power at speed this can be ruled out.

Another cause could be loss of compression in one of the cylinders. A simple compression test would confirm this, and from there your mechanics will tell you what is next: maybe a leaking gasket, worn piston rings or little oil (very unlikely).

The lack of equality in compression pressures across the cylinders causes vibrations.

————————————
Hi,

I recently changed my tyre rim and size and now notice that, to achieve a 100kph on the speedometer, the car takes the acceleration needed to achieve 120kph on earlier tyres.

The vehicle seems slower now, yet I only changed from size 14 to 15. What is the effect of bigger rims/tyres?

Anthony.

————————————
Hello Anthony,

I had discussed this before. Bigger tyres have the effect of gearing up a vehicle (takes more torque to turn the bigger tyres than it does smaller ones.

That is how gearboxes work). So, in effect, the gears in your powertrain are virtually “taller” courtesy of the bigger tyres.

Bigger rims on same-size tyres have no effect on torque delivery to the tyres: the low profiles look good and improve handling, but send the comfort levels to the dogs.

However, the difference between 14- and 15-inch tyres should be negligible. Consider looking at the tyre type and pressures you are using.

Lower pressures increases rolling resistance, causing you to overwork the engine, while low friction eco-tyres offer little push-back to reduce the need for hard acceleration.