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Let’s clear the air on these noisy Subarus

Hi Baraza,
I have this weird obsession with tuned WRX /STi monsters but every time I praise them near my ‘ethical’ and ‘professional’ friends, they dismiss the cars as anti-social and ‘bad boy’ rides.

What’s even worse is that many of my friends deem the cars as the Number One killer on our roads, and that owning one is embarking on the pathway to your grave. What’s your take on these observations? Once you are done with that, please tell me:

What’s the difference between a Blow Off Valve and Anti-lag and N2O? What negative implications have they on the engine and a car’s life span?, and has NEMA raised (or likely is it likely to raise soon) any concerns about turbo loud exhausts?

Steven Maina.

When they say “anti-social” and “bad-boy”, are they actually talking about the car or do they really mean the owners/drivers? There’s nothing wrong with the WRX Subaru (this cannot be said for some owners of these cars though).

It is a mighty fine car, affordable performance in a compact, user-friendly package, but unfortunately it has attracted a client base that, the less talked about, the better. You would not believe the things a section of this “client base” said about me the day I declared that I enjoyed driving an Evolution more than I did an STi.

Those friends that allege the WRX is the No. 1 killer on our roads: ask them for proof. Where are they getting their figures from? And if this was true, then was I being insulted by ghosts a few weeks ago?

Logic demands that most of those WRX owners would have been a goner by now. Getting an STi is not a short-cut to an early grave, unless of course a person’s driving skills are worse than terrible, in which case any car will kill that person, not necessarily a Subaru.

The BOV is used to “dump” compressed air into the atmosphere (hence its other name — dump valve) when the throttle is closed. This prevents compressor surge, which could damage the turbo.

Compressor surge occurs like this: when the throttle butterfly valve is closed, this traps incoming air, which is under high pressure (it is coming from the turbo). Back pressure is created as the air tries to expand backwards into the turbocharger, and this can slow down the compressor wheel to undesirably low rpm, or even cause it to stall, creating a lot of stress in the turbo.

The disadvantage with having a BOV located after the MAF sensor in the air channel is that every time the BOV dumps air, the car will run rich since the compressed air has already been accounted for by the ECU (which receives instructions from the MAF sensor) and fuel dispensed accordingly.

Plug fouling and clogging of catalytic converters are the more immediate outcomes of this. A cure for this is placing the MAF between the intercooler (if so equipped) and the throttle body.

The anti-lag system is used to eliminate turbo lag, the instance where there is a flat spot before the turbo starts spooling. It does this by allowing an air-fuel mix to be in the exhaust manifold (when the throttle is closed) outside the engine block but before the turbo fan vanes.

The heat in the exhaust manifold ignites this charge and the resulting explosion forces air into the turbo, keeping it spinning even when the throttle is closed. When the throttle is opened, the turbo will still be spooling, so lag will have been eliminated.

The biggest disadvantage of ALS is shortened engine and turbo life because the force of the explosion in the exhaust duct is extremely large and places a lot of stress on nearby components.

To close it off: if NEMA enforces drive-by noise laws, all I can say is good luck to them as they try to catch the perps. I see them using DMAX pickups which, everybody will agree, is no match for an STi under full power, BOV hissing and ALS popping….

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your advice and informative read. I own a Subaru Impreza 2004 GG2 a with manual transmission. I have a problem when it comes to taking steep inclines from stop.

I have changed the clutch and pressure plate (all original parts) as recommended by mechanics but the problem still persists. I have now been told that the problems is because the car uses a Cable Clutch System and not the Hydraulic System. Is there a solution to my problem? What is the difference between these two systems?


You do realise that you have not told me what this “problem” is. You just said you have a stick shift Scooby and you “have a problem” with hills. Describe the problem. The cable setup is used in mostly old school vehicles, and a cable is used to connect the clutch pedal and the release forks within the clutch mechanism.

With a hydraulic clutch, a fluid and lines (small-bore pipes) are used to transmit foot power to the release forks without losses, since the hydraulic fluid used cannot be compressed, so it does not absorb energy (hence the name hydraulic).

The cable setup is prone to cable snags (jamming) and snaps (breaking), while the hydraulic system is susceptible to leaks and air locks (air is compressible).

Thank you for your informative column. I own a 2002 Toyota Fielder 4WD that I crashed months ago and since then I have been struggling to restore it to its pre-accident condition. So far I have solved a lot of the issues that developed after the accident but a few major ones still remain. They include:

1. The CHECK ENGINE light stays on throughout. One electrician once checked it and in fact it disappeared for a few days, but was back on when I next started the car.

I sought clarification and he sent me somewhere to do “re-programming” which worked, but with a similar result. Now they advise me to replace certain sensors which do not come cheap. Do you agree with this prognosis?

2. The AIRBAGS CHECK light stays on throughout. Is there a chance I’m driving a car without air bags or is it just a case of wrong fitting? (NB: The dashboard was changed after the crash).

3. The car is awful on the road. Occasionally it performs just well, but most times (especially in the morning) the car lacks power so much that even Vitz’s pass me.

This is worse when climbing a hill. I have tried to observe the car keenly and I realise that (a) The REV GAUGE on the dashboard is almost always beyond 3,000rpm. (b) The SPEEDOMETER CLOCK on the dashboard does not go beyond 80KPH.

(c) The car emits an unusually loud roar when running and even when idling (the windows rattle when it’s idling). (d) On the times when it emits the loudest roar when running, I realise that there is no shifting that takes place in the transmission. The rpm at such times also goes beyond 3,000 which I think is unusual.

Sir, what is wrong with my ride? Could it be the gear box, or do I just need a throttle service as one mech told me? (He claimed the problem is that the engine cannot pull in enough air, thus is underfed of oxygen). Please help. I am desperate.


1. First, find out what that Check Engine light is all about. Don’t cure the symptom, find the problem and solve it. I cannot “agree” or “disagree” on whether or not you need to buy “sensors” (which sensors are these anyway?) until I know what the engine is complaining about. Come back with a code, then we’ll take it from there (including the flush, or “reprogramming” as you call it).

2. Yes, there is a strong likelihood that the airbags may be dysfunctional, or missing, or simply were not connected when the new dash was installed.

All these will make your car tell you, via those tiny bright instrument lights, that your airbags need looking into.

3. See 1 above. I believe the two are connected somehow.

Hi Baraza,

Most people recommend Robs Magic spring coils and Monroe shock absorbers, but would you recommend the non-branded heavy duty Chinese coils and shocks, especially for the rough Kenyan roads? What advantage do the branded spring coils

involving steel. Also, of late the steering wheel of my car is stiff to turn when driving. I have had wheel alignment and balancing and the tire pressure is okay. Could this be connected to worn out shocks?


There is a lot more to coils than meets the eye. It may just be a foot-long bit of twisted metal, but the processes involved in “smithing” that metal is what makes the difference.

I remember an ad for the second generation Land Rover Discovery that alleged the metal in their coil springs underwent tensile stretching and compression 10,000 times, was alternately chilled and superheated for a week (or something) and finally blasted with millions of tiny little balls non-stop before being forged into a Discovery coil spring.

Obviously not everybody does that, and there must have been a reason for Land Rover to brag about doing it. So a coil spring is not always the same as the next coil spring, in spite of appearances. I will not dabble in brand names just yet, but yes, different brands have different qualities, the most important being brittleness, energy storage (spring rates and stroke room) and life-span.

The hard steering is not necessarily down to bad shocks. Maybe your power steering fluid has run low. Or there is a problem in the steering box, or the steering geometry is off…

Bwana Baraza,

Thanks for your good advice. I read you regularly. Most of the cars imported into this market years ago had manual gearboxes and were carburetor injected. However, with the advent of EFi and VVT-i

technology, these cars have been very hard to re-sell, with a lot of people preferring the EFi technology. What are the advantages of either technology over the other?


In this day and age, there is hardly any vehicle still being manufactured with a carb-fed engine. EFi is better than carburetor-injection for many reasons, chief among which are improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

Carburetor engines are also much harder to tune (the carbs themselves actually, not the whole engine), more so when it comes to altitude compensation.

Then there is a tendency of carb-fed engines not to rev smoothly throughout the entire rev range (a common affliction in performance cars); more often than not there is a “dead” spot somewhere (usually in the mid-range or towards the top).

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It’s a tight contest between the Hilux, Navara and L200

Hello Baraza,
What are the in-trend features in the new Toyota Hilux D4D, the Nissan Hardbody, the Nissan Navara, and the Mitsubishi L200? Which of these, in your opinion, is likely to out-sell the other, based on consumer satisfaction, pricing and durability?

That is one elaborate question you have there. The Hilux D4D started off well in terms of sales because of the sheer power of its brand reputation, but buyers soon caught on the fact that the Hilux was not what it used to be.

The 2.5 litre is underpowered, making the 3.0 litre a more sensible buy, but then again the 3.0 is much thirstier, and the car costs a lot when new.

The Hardbody (YN25) has been largely ignored, I do not know why. The vehicle is a strong workhorse and will commonly be found around construction sites and road works in use by engineers. In other markets, the Hardbody was called Navara.

The Navara we know is increasing in popularity, and with good reason. It is quite comfortable for a utility vehicle, spacious, and luxurious inside if you spec it up properly. It will outrun the rest of the pack on any road and is now quite cheap, fresh from the UK (about Sh2.5 million to Sh3 million).

It also looks really good (a quite handsome fella, this). These pros have convinced buyers to overlook its two biggest cons: the car does not stop very well and hard use will age it faster than a cup of fresh milk in warm weather. Also, ECUs may or may not get emotional once a month (wink wink…). It also works well off-road, if you avoid the optional side-steps.

The Mitsubishi L200 is a paragon of controversy. It was styled after the Hilux, but whereas the Hilux’s swoopy lines make it quite a looker, the L200 “splits opinions”.

That is diplo-speak, for not many people like its styling and the few who do cannot explain convincingly just what exactly they like about it. It is a strong vehicle, though. Pity they had to pair the torquey engine with a gearbox whose ratios are a bit mismatched and the interior is a bit bland.

In the path set by the previous model L200 Warrior, the L200 Sportivo is best used as a hardcore off-road vehicle. None of the others can match its skill and grunt in the clag.

That is why you will not see many around: how often do we need to sacrifice comfort and “swag” for the sake of military-grade diff-locks and a billion Nm of torque in our daily driving?

Hello Baraza,

I’m torn between a non-turbo Subaru Forester and a Nissan X-Trail. I prefer a good off-road vehicle since I drive upcountry regularly. However, my mechanic says that X-Trail is plagued with problems — hence dies faster — and recommends a Forester. Please advise me on the following:

1. Which is the classiest of these two?2. Compare their fuel economy and maintenance.

3. Of the three X-Trail engines (T30 diesel, T30 petrol, T31 petrol), which would you recommend?

4. Give me any other information on these two as the word out is there is that buying an X-Trail might push one into the poverty line if it decides to misbehave.


1. Class boils down to personal taste. Some would prefer an X-Trail because it sits taller, I would prefer a Forester. STi. SG9 model spec. With a stonking huge turbo…. But this is not your area of interest, so let me stop there.

2. The fuel economy will depend on your driving style, the environment and vehicle load, though after answering close to 7,000 e-mails over the past two years, I would say the Forester returns a slightly poorer mileage. But not by much.

3. Depends. What do you want it for? For economy and torque, get the diesel. For smoothness and Forester-chasing pace, get the petrol.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 2001 Subaru Impreza GG2. At 128,000km mileage, my timing belt broke and, as a result, ruined six valves in the engine. I replaced the timing system components (the timing belt, bearings, and tensioner) and replaced the six valves.

I was doing 60KPH when the belt broke. Now I always hear a small ticking (like a clock) noise from the engine when accelerating. The ticking increases in pace and loudness the more I accelerate. What could this be?

Please advise people to change timing system components according to manufacturers’ recommendations regardless of how good the condition of those components looks like to the naked eye.

Secondly, the car always drags to the left when my hands are not on the steering wheel. It works well after wheel alignment, but the problem returns after two days max. How can this be fixed? Alignment does not seem to solve it.

Does the ticking noise come from the top of the engine? I agree with your surmise: the timing kit was not re-installed properly and the valves could be bouncing in their seats, the lifters are malfunctioning, or the belt tensioner is loose. One more theory could be a badly fitted exhaust gasket.

If wheel alignment is not solving your car’s wayward steering, then the cause could be something else, something as unusual as different size tyres left and right of the vehicle or unequal tyre pressure on the two sides.

However, you allege that after alignment, things work fine briefly before the pull to the left is experienced again, so you could be the victim of binding brakes.

After the brakes, check for toe-in and toe-out on the offending side, and suspension integrity: ride height should be equal both sides of the car WITH THE DRIVER IN IT, and camber should not be too negative.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a 124-chassis, 102-engine Mercedes 200, manufactured in 1989. Since you started this column, you have dwelt on Toyotas and done little on the Mercedes side of things, especially on the older models.

My research on the Net shows that the car was the best researched and ever designed Benz, but mine seems to have developed a fuel and oil consumption problem.

I am its second owner and acquired it in 2009 at 77,000 kilometres on the odometer. It has now done 140,000 kilometres. I have done four trips to Mombasa at between 140KPH and 150KPH comfortably, and many others to Garissa.

I am not bragging about it, but the fuel efficiency on these runs has been 12 kilometres per litre at constant speed.

Over the past two years, I have noticed that the car smokes from the dashboard and consumes a lot of oil. I usually do 5,000 kilometres before the next service, and personally supervise the mechanic, who is from a reputable Kenyan car dealer.

The car is currently doing eight kilometres per litre and sometimes I have to top up the oil three times before the next service. That regular top-up may consume up to 15 litres cumulatively.

The differential is making some noise at 80KPH and above and the suspension is wearing down at an alarming level. I have to buy at least two suspension brackets for either the left or right sides in a month because the car has developed the habit of breaking them regularly.

The car’s body is as good as new, the interior better than a five-year-old ex-Dubai import. I love it, and although selling it is not an option, it is becoming hard to maintain. What is your take on this? Or are there charity companies that sponsor the rebuilding of these cars?


Forget about charity for now and start saving. The smoke from the dashboard sounds like a short-circuit in the dashboard electronics, where a wire is burning its insulation or singeing a nearby equally flammable component.

Another theory is overheating, although I would not expect this from any Benz, let alone the mighty 124. The engine might be due for an overhaul (common symptom is increased oil and fuel consumption). Has the car lost power also?

If and when you buy new suspension parts, it is advisable to replace the entire setup — from mount to shock to spring (especially the mount).

This is because sometimes the new (springs, especially) units have a bedding-in period; that is, they start off rock-hard before settling into their particular characteristic after a certain mileage.

During this time, if your mounts are brittle with age, they are susceptible to breakage because the new spring does not store enough energy (very low spring rate), so impacts from the road surface are channelled directly to the mounts and brackets.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car and I am torn between my college-day dream car, the Subaru Legacy B4 RSK 2000 Edition, and the Toyota Mark II Grande (35th Anniversary Edition).

With me being a typical Kenyan buyer, kindly advise on the following parameters: performance, speed, fuel consumption, durability, and spare parts availability. Solomon.

Performance and speed: The RSK is better than the Grande. Fuel consumption: You are looking in the wrong car segment. Try two rungs lower in the hierarchy because both these cars will not see 10kpl without involving a lot of maths in your driving technique.

Durability: Maybe the Grande. The RSK is built for hard driving, so the cost of brakes and clutch kits will be included in your budget more often than not.

Spare parts availability: I wish people would stop asking about spares. If they cannot be found along Kirinyaga Road or in Industrial Area, they can be found on the Internet. And they might be cheaper on the Net because that price does not include dealer mark-ups (Kenyans can be shockingly greedy sometimes).

Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy my first car and my budget is Sh450,000. I have the option of going for a Toyota 110 and a 2005 Mitsubishi Cedia. The Cedia is relatively new, but I am being discouraged that its gearbox breaks down easily and that the car does not have consistency in fuel consumption.

The Toyota, on the other hand, looks a bit bland in its interior and I am more inclined towards the Cedia, which looks better and more lady-like. Please advise.

You really have to decide what matters more to you: do you want to look lady-like and pretty but run the risk of a broken gearbox, or do you want a boringly reliable car with a boringly grey or beige interior and run the risk of being stopped at every road-block simply because all traffic policemen assume that all 110s are taxis (and unlicensed, at that)?

If you can handle a manual transmission (stick shift), you could get a Cedia manual. The gearbox will be cheaper to replace (if it ever breaks), and you will still look ladylike. You will also achieve good economy if you know how to use a manual gearbox properly.

Hi Baraza,

I have just imported a 2005 Nissan X-Trail. Although everything else is fairly simple to figure out, I have failed to work out how the reverse camera works.

I am told that it should show up automatically when the car is put in reverse gear, but this does not work. I have searched the Internet for a solution in vain. Any helpful suggestion? Could this also be the reason the boot lights are not lighting up when the door is lifted? (I admit I have not checked the bulbs yet).

Are you sure you do not have a broken connection somewhere between the front of the car and the boot-lid? Think about it: what are the odds that the reversing camera (which is mounted on the boot-lid) and the boot lights (which are inside the boot) both do not work?

There might be a loose connection in the wiring harness that powers the rear end of the car. Drive the X-Trail to an electrician and see what s/he comes up with.

Hi Mr Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. I have a Noah Liteace SR40, 1990cc, 2001 petrol model. Now, on the gear handle:

1. When do you put the ‘O/D’ switch on and off, and how does it affect fuel consumption in either case?

2. What’s the standard fuel consumption for such a car in km/l.


1. Keep the O/D on. Only turn it off when towing another vehicle or when taking off on a steep hill and the vehicle is fully loaded. When ON, economy is good, when off, the economy is affected negatively.

2. The manufacturer alleges up to 15kpl, but I would say 11-12 is more realistic.

Hi Baraza,

I love your work and always look forward to reading something new every Wednesday. Today (September 18, 2012), one of your readers, Sarah, caught my attention.

She upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and is confused with the new gear arrangement. The Belta’s gear selector arrangement is labelled P-R-D-B-S, and the meaning of B and S and how they function is as stated below:

B (Brake): This is a mode selectable on Beltas and some Toyota models in non-hybrid cars. It allows the engine to do compression braking, also known as engine braking, typically down a steep hill.

Instead of engaging the brakes, the engine in a non-hybrid car switches to a lower gear and slows down the spinning tyres, hence holding the car back instead of the brakes slowing it down.

S (Sport): Commonly referred to as sport mode, it operates in an identical manner as D mode, except that the up-shifts change much higher up the engine’s rev range.

This has the effect of maximising all the available engine output and, therefore, enhances the performance of the vehicle, particularly during acceleration. Predictably, it has a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

I hope this will sort out Sarah’s confusion, otherwise thanks for your good work. Keep it up. Fred.

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Take note, Shell V-Power won’t turn your Vitz into a Ferrari

Hello Baraza,

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the ordinary super petrol and the V-Power fuel sold by Shell. I drive a supercharged Vitz — RS 1600cc — and have tried using both fuel types and experienced no difference at all in terms of speed, performance and kilometres per litre. Let me hear from you on this.

Nawaz Omar.

Shell were very careful when pointing this out. Much as the ads starred a Ferrari road car (and an F1 racer too, if I recall), it did not mean that putting V-Power in a Vitz will turn it into a 458 Italia. Nor did it mean that the fuel economy of a small car will be changed from the incredible to the scarcely believable.

Shell V-Power contains extra cleaning agents that will wipe away all the dirty sins, sorry, dirty deposits from your engine and fuel system, just like Christians insist Jesus will if you call out to Him.

Even more importantly (for those of us who love performance engines), it also contains octane levels high enough to allow high compression engines to run on it: engines such as those with forced induction (turbocharged/supercharged) or even… yes, a Ferrari F1 racer.

So Nawaz, take note: V-Power will clean the engine of your Vitz, not transform it.

Hi Baraza,

I enjoy reading your column every week. Good work! I would like to know the relationship between engine size and fuel consumption. Basically, what is the relationship between the fuel injected into the combustion chamber and engine size?
Thank you,

If we were in the year 1930, there would be a clear-cut answer to your question, but it is 2012 and we have with us technologies like Variable Valve Timing and Direct Injection which make things very hard to explain without pictures.

Anyway, I will try to make things as simple as possible, and, before I start, I hope you know the basic physiology of an engine.

For normal running, we have what we call the stoichiometric intake charge ratio, which is simply referred to as air-fuel ratio, and stands at 14.7:1. If it goes lower, it is called a rich mixture (such as 10:1 or 5:1). If it goes higher, it is called a lean mixture.

Now, if it was the year 1930, the calculation would be simple: for every 15 metric units of air sucked into the engine, the fuel levels would drop by just a shade more than 1 metric unit.

So for a 2.0 litre engine operating at a constant 1,500rpm, you have four cylinders, which go through 1500 revolutions in one minute, consuming fuel in one stroke out of every four, and two strokes make one revolution (0.5×1500=750 fuel-intensive strokes). Since the cylinders occupy 2,000cc, 750 strokes of 2,000cc would be 1,500,000cc worth of intake charge.

I talked about metric units, and it is here that you have to pay attention because it ties in with all the economy advise I give people about filling up early in the morning.

While at the dispenser down at the petrol station you will buy fuel by VOLUME, the injection system of a car measures it by MASS for the intake charge ratio.

The density of air at 25 degrees Celcius (RTP — room temperature and pressure) is about 1.2 kg/cubic metre. So 1.5 cubic metres (1,500,000cc) will weigh 3.6 kg, which constitutes 14.7/15.7 (93.6%) of the intake charge, with fuel covering the remaining 1/15.7 (6.4%), which by simple arithmetic translates to about 0.25 kg of fuel.

Fuel has a density of 0.74 kg/L, so 0.25 kg of petrol will translate to roughly 338 ml of the stuff, or about 1/3 of a litre.

This is for the 2.0 litre engine running at a steady 1,500rpm for exactly one minute under the stoichiometric intake charge ratio. In the year 1930.

Nowadays, with electronic engine management, direct injection and variable valve timing, the cars can run lean and the effective volume of the cylinder changed in real time, so it is not that easy to calculate the consumption by hand like I just did.

Hello JM,
I drive the new-model Caldina and whenever I encounter dusty roads or wade through muddy waters, the brakes become a gamble. Recently, I noticed the same on my friend’s Subaru Outback. Is it a manufacturer’s error or just the pads? I almost rammed another car because of this.

No, Sam, that is not a manufacturers’ mistake. It is your mistake. What you are telling me is: “Look, I drove over a police spike strip and now all my tyres are flat. The manufacturer must be really useless.”

When wet or dirty, brakes don’t work as well as they should because the foreign material interferes with the friction surfaces that convert your kinetic energy into heat energy; and that is why at the driving school they told you to increase your braking distance by at least half if you are driving on a wet surface.

Just to prove my point, tell me, honestly, really truthfully, with a straight face: When clean and dry, the brakes work fine, don’t they?

Hi Baraza,

I imported a Subaru Imprezza GG2, 2004 model late last year and the mileage on the odometer at the time was around 82,000km. I had a small accident with it along Valley Road, Nairobi a month ago and the insurance company fixed the car, but since then there’s a “wheezing” sound that comes from the back as I drive.

Two mechanics have independently confirmed to me that the rear right bearing is the source of the noise and that, for this particular model, the bearing and the hub are sold together as one component. Could you confirm this? What would be the risk of driving it that way before I get it fixed? Can the rear right wheel come off as I’m driving?

Secondly, having done that mileage, what particular parts or components should I replace? Do I need to change the timing belt or any other particular thing? Kindly advise.

You could go to a shop and ask to buy a bearing. If they tell you that it sold with the hub as a unit, then there’s your answer.

I went through a similar case with a Peugeot 405 I had: the fourth gear synchroniser unit was damaged, and when I went to buy a new one, they handed over the unit, to which was attached a gear, and they quoted an unfriendly price. Told them the gear in my car was fine: lose the cog and drop the price. Can’t do, they said; the synchro is the one that costs that much, the gear is actually free. I wanted to weep.

The rear wheel will not necessarily come off, at first, but the bearing could collapse and this might lead to the studs in the hub breaking when the wheel wobbles. Then the wheel will come off.

You could pre-empt breakages by replacing parts such as the timing belt, but the Kenyan way is to drive a car until it stalls, right at the moment when you are at the front of a queue in a heavy traffic jam and the lights turn green or a traffic policeman waves you off.

A physical check will let you know what to replace before your dashboard lights up like a gaudy neon sign, but look at tyres, brakes, the timing belt and the transmission. The suspension too, the shocks especially.

Hi Baraza,

On a trip abroad I had a taste of the great Lexus LS400 and the Chevrolet Lumina SS, though I fell in love with the Lexus as it had a huge, all-leather interior and that ‘cruise feeling’ to it.

You wouldn’t want to go to work in that car, it makes you feel rich and lazy. The consumption, I was told, is on the higher side, but wouldn’t that depend on how heavy your foot is?

Then came the Lumina. She is a beauty, though fitted with plastic interior. I couldn’t help but feel the car had that ‘I’m gonna fall apart soon’ look. I mean, it looks like it wouldn’t survive a head-on with a Vitz. Fuel consumption was much the same.
Considering I can afford the two cars, which one would you suggest I go for?


Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

The SS is not meant for driving to the office through heavy traffic (the Lexus will shine here), it is meant to go through corners while facing the wrong way, executing massive powerslides and doing great big drifts in the process. It is a car for having fun in.

Your wife will not take it kindly if you show up one day exclaiming: “Honey, we are broke, but at least we have a 6.0 litre V8 car to show why.” The massive spoiler, fat tyres and unsubtle body kits will not tickle her fancy as it would yours. The SS is a sports car. Buy the Lexus.

Hi Baraza,

The ‘check engine’ light on my Nissan Wingroad 2001 model is permanently on. I did an OBD and the fault detected was the primary ignition coil, which I replaced. The plugs were also checked and found sound and of correct specification, but the engine light has refused to go off. I have tried four other OBDs and the result is the same. My mechanic is advising that I change the computer unit. Are the units repairable? Kindly advise.


You should have flushed the ECU after replacing the coil, especially if that cured the problem. It has to be done to most cars. The recommended method is using the same OBD scanner or a PC with the appropriate software and hardware links. Another method is to disconnect the battery overnight.

Dear Baraza,

I drive a 2002 Toyota Corolla station wagon EE103, 1490cc. It has served me diligently, but I would like to sell it to another financially challenged Kenyan and upgrade myself. I like fancy cars but I’m afraid of the cost implications.

I have made many visits to garages manned by thieving mechanics and would like my next car to guarantee me few mechanical breakdowns.

So help me make the big leap. Of the following, which one should I go for: Toyota Mark X, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Wingroad or Toyota Wish? If I remember, you likened the Wish to a bicycle, but still….

Hassan Mahat

The only fancy cars in that list are the Mark X (lovely machine) and the Diamante (dodgy ancestry — Diamantes of old were unreliable). The rest are common fare, especially among the “financially challenged”.

The Wingroad feels — and is — cheap, and ages fast. The Lancer is pretty but suffers from wonky powertrains, especially as an auto. The Wish is aimed at those who have little interest in cars (and from the seating capacity, little control over their loins too).

Hi Baraza

I am 29 and want to buy my first car. I have sampled what’s on offer and this is the fare that has caught my attention: VW Golf, VW Polo, Toyota RunX, Mazda Demio, Toyota Cami, Toyota Opa, Suzuki Maruti and Suzuki Swift.

I’m looking for a second-hand car priced between Sh500,000 and Sh750,000, a car that can do long-distance drives twice a month (Nairobi-Mombasa), a car that is not a ‘Kenyan uniform’ and would still have a good resale value after four or five years. What should I go for?

Second, where is the best place to buy a car? Is it okay to trawl through the classifieds?


Job, maintenance and consumption aside, what you want is the Golf if you are serious about doing the Nairobi-Mombasa run once in a while. The rest of the cars will prove to be a heavy cross to bear. For economy, get a diesel Golf.

On where to get it, cars can be bought from anywhere, but do not commit yourself to anything until you see the car itself. I know of some people who have been sold non-existent vehicles after following newspaper and Internet ads.

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a car for the first time and I’m so much interested in the Subaru Forester. But after enquiring about it from various people, I’m beginning to get confused. Those who own it swear it’s the best car on Kenyan roads today, while those who don’t feel nothing for it. Kindly tell me more about this car, especially the 2000cc model.

Also, between the turbo-charged and non-turbo, 4WD and 2WD, which one is better in terms of fuel consumption, availability of spare parts, durability and performance.

In addition, what is the difference between these two Foresters: the 2.0XT and the 2.0XS?

Thank you.

I had no idea 2WD Foresters existed, but if they do, then they should have lower consumption but lose out on performance to their 4WD compadres. Turbo cars are faster, thirstier, harder to repair and a touch fragile compared to NA versions of the same vehicle. Generally.

The XS model is naturally aspirated (non-turbo) and has auto levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, climate control and a CD Stacker (six-disc in-dash).

The XT is turbocharged and shares features with the the XS, but additionally, also has 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a Momo steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo.

Hi Baraza,
1. I recently came across and advertisement for a motorcycle that can do 70 kilometres per litre. Is this practical?

2. VW have developing a car called the 1L and claim it can do 100 kilometres per litre, thus 10 litres will take you from Nairobi to Mombasa and back. Kindly shed more light on this.


1. Yes, especially if it’s engine is of 50cc or less.

2. The reality remains to be seen, because the self-same Volkswagen had a “three-litre car” (3L/100km) which I have  discussed before, the Lupo/SEAT Arosa/Audi A2. It might have done the 33kpl, but not exactly daily. Our roads, diesel quality and traffic conditions may hamper drivers from easily attaining this kind of mileage.

Practicality will depend on the intensity of engineering genius behind it: how many passengers, how much luggage, whether or not it can sustain highway speeds, how easy it is to live with, and so on.