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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Now, to my questions:

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

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

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

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

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

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

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

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

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greetings Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godfrey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is replacing the Toyota Caldina’s engine impossible? I beg to differ…

After fixing the overheating, problem in my Toyota Caldina’s D4 engine, fuel consumption went from an average of 10-11km/l to an average of 7-8km/l.

I would now like to replace the engine with a new 1.8 engine from a Toyota Caldina or Premio. My mechanic says that this change is not possible because the gearbox of a 1.8 is not compatible with that of 2.0.

I also suggested changing the nozzles and replacing them with ones from a 1.8 Caldina, but he disagreed. Though my car is a new model 4WD, I cannot sell it because I have used the logbook as collateral.

Kindly advise me on a way out of this quagmire.

Simon

Your mechanic needs a little more exposure. The engine can be changed, the gearbox ratios notwithstanding. In many car models, the gearbox ratios used are the same all round.

If there is a difference anywhere, it should be in the final drive, which is not part of the gearbox, unless the car uses a transaxle.

Engine swaps are done daily with no corresponding transmission changes and the cars work just fine. Alternatively, you could get an entire powertrain, engine plus gearbox as one unit and replace the whole thing but I don’t see the need for this.

If you find someone willing to buy your old gearbox, you can consider this step.

Changing injectors is also possible; it is done regularly by those in the tuning community, though in their case, they typically go for bigger injectors, not smaller ones.

The injector swap is also not necessary as the current units can be tweaked to run at a lower capacity. That again, is part of what the tuning community does.

This, I advise, is also an unnecessary step, because electronic fuel injection (EFI) tuning is a whole other world that will consume you once you discover the possibilities on hand.

But more importantly, if you decide to dabble in EFI tuning, it is best to start with an engine that is 100 per cent sound. Your change in fuel consumption tells me your engine is not of 100 per cent sound.

There is a third way, which you might not want to hear, but I’ll mention it anyway, since it is what I’d recommend. Don’t change anything; not the engine, not the gearbox, not the injectors.

Find out what caused the poorer economy figures. Start by investigating what exactly that “surgery” entailed and if everything was put back correctly afterwards.

Poor placement of certain components (especially around the throttle body and the mass airflow sensor) can lead the car to go into a kind of safe mode where it burns fuel erratically because the ECU (Engine Control Unit) is not sure whether there is a problem or not, so it goes for the setting that will keep the car running, and that is burning as much fuel as it can. I once had that problem with a leaking Starlet throttle body and the result was 4km/l.

Hi Baraza,

I read your article on the Ford Mustang coming to Kenya… what did you mean when you said it has a “rare axile”?

Mike

I wish some of you would pay proper attention to your writing as I do mine. I did not say the Ford Mustang has a “rare axile” (whatever that is); I said it had a “live rear axle”.

A live rear axle is like a truck axle. It is a beam axle, whereby the wheel-points on either side of the car are rigidly linked and are thus dependent and move as a single unit, though in the automotive world we prefer to say “not independent”.

The connection is a solid beam that does not allow independent axial movement of the tyres (their rotation is, however, not affected). Live rear axle means this is a beam axle, located aft and is also powered. The unpowered equivalent is referred to as a dead axle.

The downside of this kind of set-up is that the vehicle is not as comfortable as one with independent rear suspension (whereby the wheels are independent of each other). This is due to the road surface changes not being isolated to one wheel but are transferred across the entire axle.

It also results in poorer handling around corners because there is no relative camber change between tyres due to their rigid connection: camber change on one side means a similar camber change on the other as well.

The advantage is that the live rear axle is very robust, able to withstand great loads, hence their application in commercial vehicles.

In a car like the Ford Mustang, it made the car a handy tool for drag-racing: enormous amounts of power were able to be channelled to the tarmac, resulting in a hard launch but with minimised axle tramp.

Until now, some of the most extreme drag racing cars use live rear axles because the independent one is too delicate for that kind of abuse.

Dear Barasa,

After reading your article on the Xado magic elixirs, I swiftly purchased their gearbox treatment syringe as well as a fuel system cleaner. I’m still racking up the mileage in my VW Golf Mark 5 and so far, so good.

I paid particular attention to the word “robotised gearbox” on the product package, given that the Mark 5 has a DSG robotised autobox.

My wife has joined your camp and purchased an automatic 2004 Mazda Demio. A very competent hatchback which ticks all the right boxes with its economical 1300cc VVT engine.

However, after about 30 minutes in slow traffic, it emits the distinct smell of a cooking clutch. This is strange because it’s an automatic. Are autoboxes prone to such misdemeanors? 

PS: Please test drive and review the 2008 Mazda Demio currently being shipped in from Japan.

Hatchback fan

Hello Hatchback Fan,

The feedback on Xado the wonder-drug was a little bit more than I expected. It transpires I was not the only one feeding Soviet gels into my car’s internal organs; a sizeable number of fellow drivers were too.

Their responses are unanimous and sound just like yours: We love the Russian lube. Maybe we are on to something, eh? Time will tell.

The “cooking clutch smell” problem is not endemic to automatic transmissions, otherwise traffic jams would stink like a tyre factory on fire.

Most automatic transmission cars use torque converters, which are fluid clutches, so it is unlikely that the clutch itself is the problem. Some auto cars use electronically controlled friction clutches.

If that is the case here, it is possible that either the lockup control is wonky or the clutch itself is on its last legs, but this would also be accompanied by other symptoms such as slippage, vibrations or delayed reactions when throttling up while in gear.

It is not the ATF though. Bad ATF smells like burning bread, for reasons I have never understood. One more theory: the brakes could be binding.

This may be an underlying problem which is then aggravated by frequent braking (you did say slow traffic, didn’t you?).

The result is the calipers hold on to the discs when you start moving, and the resulting friction heats them up to the point of them giving out a smell.

Next time you get the smell, if possible, check the front tyres around the rim and hub areas to see how hot they are.

I will do a review of the new Demio once I get hold of it. Snazzy little thing, though the looks are a touch feminine. But if public opinion is anything to go by, it should be a hoot to drive.

The gearbox of my Toyota Noah jerks everytime I engage the “R” or “D”. My mechanic calls it rough engagement.

He ran a diagnosis and the report indicated it was a solenoid circuit high.

He then opened the gearbox sump and closed it after a few minutes. He put back the ATF and the problem disappeared. However, that same evening, it was back. What could be the cause?

R. Ndungu, Mtwapa

The problem came back because the main issue was not solved. Opening and closing the sump will not really do much if the error report says “solenoid circuit high”.

The solenoid circuit is obviously an electrical component, and these have never been repaired by just looking at them (literally staring at them; did that mech even do anything after opening up the fluid reservoir?).

I have a Land Rover Discovery 1994 model, which has a problem of leakage on the transfer gearbox. I have had several mechanics look at it but all in vain. Is this a problem with the Landrover Discovery?

Daniel

Yes it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If you’re looking for a car simply to ferry your bikes, Avensis is fine

Hi Baraza,
Great work in your column. I am an avid cyclist and have been looking for a car that will help me get my bike(s) from point A to point B without having to completely dismantle them.

This would probably mean a roof-mounted bike carrier or an estate car with lots of boot space, with the rear seat up or folded.

I have been considering the Avensis estate but after your review of 30 July, I am growing cold feet. Given that I need the car mostly just to car pool with fellow cyclists while heading for rides, what would you advise?
IKG

How bad was the review of 30 July? I believe my opening statement was “Get the Avensis…”, though I admit I later changed my mind and told my inquisitor to just get a Mark X for reasons completely unrelated to ferrying bicycles.

All you want is to ferry bicycles, right? Looking good at the local eatery or making your neighbours envious is not the priority here, is it?

Nor are RWD dynamics, wheelspin capability, tiptronic-style controlled lock-up automatic transmissions, and V6 power, correct?

I believe I recommended the Mark X for the following reasons: fun to drive, it is bigger, faster, prettier, better specced, and more imposing.

None of these things matter when you are heading to a cycle track for some furious pedalling action, so I would say there is not any black mark against the Avensis here. Get the Avensis.

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Baraza,
I recently bought a Subaru Legacy 2007 wagon. It is a super lovely car, except for the few occasions when I have to use a rough road — which is not often — and experience ground clearance problems.

I have had lots of suggestions, including one that I should have bought an Outback (true, but not really useful advice at this point).

Anyway, between spacers (I have been told they affect stability and could create potential insurance issues), larger wheels (been told this spoils the AWD), and putting up with the occasional knock, what would be the best thing to do?
MN

This is a situation where the ball is more in your court than mine. Of those three options, choose the one that suits you best, though I would opt for spacers as the path that leads to fewest complications.

Provided the increase in loftiness does not border on the ridiculous, you should be safe both from the gremlins of instability and the scrutinising gaze of the insurance agent.

Larger wheels do not necessarily affect the AWD system, unless the wheels are all of different sizes, which, while absurd and unbelievable, some people do.

Those people had hell to pay when the AWD went bonkers on them at the very moment it should have come in handy (this was during the recce of last month’s Murang’a time trial event where one of the hopefuls spun out not once, but twice, during some cornering manoeuvres).

The larger wheels will, however, gear up your transmission, watering down the torque and dialling back the acceleration somewhat. To these options you could add this: avoid rough roads altogether.

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Hello Baraza,
Thanks for your article of 23 July regarding the Evo X and Subaru STI. You did justice by whipping the ignorance out of the Subie fanatics.

I do not know what gets into their heads when they are behind the wheel. Save for noisy exhausts, which Subie drivers mistake for power and speed, the less noisy Evo X beats them hands down, period.

I even gave one such Subie owner a run for his money with my lesser-known Lexus LS460 without turbo, which easily tops 200km/h in less than seven seconds.

Away from that, kindly review the 2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate and advise whether I can go for it or still go for the 2014 LS460-L.
Regards
JM

Your Lexus might be fast, but I think you are taking liberties with statistics. Zero to 200 km/h in seven seconds? That is Bugatti Veyron territory. Maybe you meant 0-100?

I cannot properly review the Hyundai Equus for two reasons, the obvious one being I have never driven one. The second reason is I do not think it is relevant to this market.

That said, the Lexus LS460-L is the better car overall, seeing how Lexus effectively invented this segment (a pocket-friendly alternative to the German threesome of the Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8).

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Hello Baraza,
God bless you for your informative, educative, and occasionally entertaining articles.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Surf with a 1KZ-TE engine. Due to its age and frequent failures of the turbo system, my mechanic has proposed removing the turbo system, essentially reducing it to a 1KZ-T engine.

Obviously, there will be loss of torque (343 to 295 Nm) and power (96 to 85 kW), but probably a gain in fuel consumption. My question is, what other effect will the removal of the turbo system have on the engine in terms of life, maintenance, etc.

Will the effort be worthwhile or should I continue struggling with a failure-prone turbo system?

Besides the obvious drop in torque and power figures, I do not think there will be any other drastic effect with the removal of the turbo.

The only other downside is directly associated with the reduced strength: the vehicle will be slow, very slow.

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Hello Mr Baraza,
I must start by appreciating the great job you are doing in your column. I read the column religiously and have found it quite helpful. I have two questions:

1. I recently imported a second-hand Toyota Premio 1500cc Petrol Autodrive, which I use to travel from Nairobi to Nyeri and back every week.

Somewhere on the speedometer there is an indication of what I believe is the distance covered per litre of fuel (km/ltr).

There are times when the figure is as high as 21km/l; the highest it has ever been is 21.6km/l. My question is, do these figures really indicate the consumption rate and if so, does it mean my Premio is that fuel-efficient?

2. I come from a remote part of Laikipia County where roads look like the surface of the moon and my Toyota Premio cannot manage such terrain.

I have been planning to get an affordable car which can comfortably manage the off-road terrain. The car I have in mind is the Daihatsu Terios (similar to the ones used by Kenya Power). My questions in this regard are:

1. Is it really a good off-road car?
2. Can one get one with a capacity of around 1500cc?
3. Is it a reliable car and are spares readily available?
Kindly advise me on anything else I need to know about it.
Kariuki S.W.

Greetings,
Yes, the Premio is that efficient. However, there is something you should be careful about: does that readout give the instantaneous economy figure or an average over a certain distance?

Do not be fooled into thinking that 21 km/l is the average consumption unless you have some special skill you use (which is both possible and probable).

In realistic driving conditions (factoring in town driving, acceleration from bumps, and the moonscape terrain close to your destination), anything between 11 km/l and 15 km/l on average is the norm for a Premio, but you could still achieve 21 km/l overall if you are something else.

So, yes, the Premio is that efficient (for a while, depending on what you are doing).

1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

The car is small and cramped inside, is a bit uncomfortable, especially on rough terrain where the ride is very bouncy and jars a little, does not corner properly due to its tall and narrow dimensions, and on the open road, it is badly affected by crosswinds, especially at speeds of 100km/h or more.

The gearing is short, so at those highway speeds, you could add noisiness (boom) from the engine to the battle with the wind on the list of crosses to bear.

The car is small inside because it is small outside, so this makes it nippy and easy to tool around town, squeezing into small spaces, and parking.

The small exterior measurements and well-nigh non-existent overhangs means it will tackle a surprising array of obstacles without grounding itself or even damaging the bodywork. Just steer clear of the versions with a body kit, though, because it completely undoes the benefits I just mentioned.

The short gearing allows it to ascend slopes of extreme severity without having to redline the engine, which is small and could potentially be a handful in the clag unless you mercilessly stomp the accelerator constantly.

This small engine, coupled with the small body, combine to create good fuel economy for what is essentially a pint-sized SUV. Just try not to go beyond 100km/h; you will not like it.

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Hi Barasa,
I am a 30-year-old newly married man with an expectant wife. I am looking for a family car that my wife and I would both be comfortable driving.

My options are the Mazda Demio, Mazda Verisa, Toyota Runx, Toyota Allex, and VW Golf. I have a budget of Sh500,000. Please also advise me whether to import or buy one locally.
Richard

Hi Richard,
Congratulations on your recent nuptials and all the best in married life.

I would normally have recommended a Demio, simply because I drive one, but the Verisa is a more practical car for a family man. The Demio is smaller and, therefore, less practical. So the Demio bows out of the list.

The Runx and the Allex are the same car, the difference is that one model comes with chrome side mirrors and door handles while the other comes with body-colour accoutrements.

That is it. This difference is so trivial that I am not even sure which car is lashed with chrome and which one is not, but the two are just the same car.

When these model was trending not too long ago, they cost quite a tidy sum for a vehicle so puny, so they might not represent the best value for money.

People paid a lot for them. Given Kenyans and their attitudes towards Toyota, depreciation (or the lack thereof) will not make things any better, so for Sh500,000 you will not get a vehicle in as good a condition as a Verisa costing Sh500,000.

The Golf will also not cost Sh500,000. A Golf going for that amount is more likely than not either really old (a mid-90s car) or knackered and in the throes of death. Putting it right is something you and the (new) missus might regret, as parts are costly and the labour prohibitive.

Dealer mark-ups are a manifestation of the personal greed that has afflicted modern society. Some cars are commanding as much as 80 per cent dealer mark-ups, depending on demand and vehicle model. This is the sole reason you should import the vehicle yourself instead of visiting a sales yard.

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Hi Baraza,
I will skip the compliments because I am sure many have already told you that you are doing a good job.

I plan to buy a Mazda Axela (Mazda 3). I have checked online reviews and they are encouraging. The driving experience is said to be excellent.

One thing that keeps popping up, though, is road noise. Mazdas are said to be noisy and even for the Axela, they had to firm up the suspension to reduce the noise.

I know you have driven the Demio and possibly other Mazdas on Kenyan roads. How is the noise? Is it tolerable? Please also comment on the Bose Audio system.

Hello,
Feel free to dish out the compliments; they will be accepted both graciously and gleefully.

This issue about road noise could be specific to some markets. Methinks the road noise people lament about could be tyre roar, which can be reduced by simply pumping up the tyres some more or changing brands.

The road noise could also be wind noise, especially around the A and B pillars, but this is more common in cars with steeply raked windscreens such as SUVs.

I drive a Mazda and nope, I do not experience any untoward noises (unless I am gunning for the red line, in which case the only noise is the induction rasp and sub-tenor howl from the engine bay).

I cannot picture exactly how firming up the suspension reduces road noise, but if they claim it helped, then bully for them. The Mazda 6 I tested two years ago did have a Bose sound system, and it was thumping.

It also had USB capability, Bluetooth, mp3, CD, and… well, it worked. I liked it.

I am not as good at reviewing car radios as I am at reviewing cars themselves, but the setup was easy to fathom, the sound was clean (and loud enough for my taste), and the diversity of playable media means you might have to go back 30 years in time and get an 8-track cartridge before you come across something it will not play.

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Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

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If you want a fast car, get yourself a Mercedes C180

Dear Baraza,

Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in German technology and become a fan of their machines. I am torn between buying an Audi A4, a Golf GTI and a Mercedes C180. The never-ending questions arise: fuel consumption, spares and servicing. Which is the best buy between these three options?

I also noticed that the C180 has a “plain” and a “Kompressor” version. What is the difference and does it matter if I want to buy the car? Albert Mwangi

A: The aspects you ask about are broadly similar across the range. Germans are notorious for designing cars shaped like briefcases that are exact copies of each other, irrespective of the logo on the bonnet/grille. Since you mention a Golf GTI and a C180 Mercedes, I am guessing by default the Audi should have an engine size of 2000cc or less, right? Turbo or naturally aspirated? I’ll go with turbo, since the GTI is turbocharged and the Kompressor is supercharged.

This brings us neatly to your second question without answering the first: the difference between the “plain” C180 and the Kompressor version is that the Kompressor is supercharged, while the plain one is, well, plain. No forced induction whatsoever.

This difference matters if you like to get where you are going really quickly and are ready to sacrifice a bit of fuel economy in the process. It also matters if you like overly complicated engines with many extra parts, which increase the likelihood of something very expensive going wrong. I like Kompressors. They are fast and offer seamless power from damn near idle, while turbo cars suffer from lag in most cases. Lag and heat problems.

So, to your original question: the consumption is good (a bit high in the GTI compared with the others), the parts are expensive, and so is servicing, but with proper maintenance, spares and servicing shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

n other words, all three are good buys. The question is whether you want a slightly unsubtle boy racer hatchback (Golf), an anonymous understeering briefcase (A4) or every overpaid Kenyan yuppie’s first automotive acquisition (C180K).

Dear Baraza,

Your column is one of the things that make the paper worth the coins and the time. Keep up the good work.

I drive a Toyota Raum 2006 model (NCZ20), 1490cc. The car is spacious, comfortable and handles very well – much better than other small cars I have driven. However, its fuel consumption of 10km/l seems out of line with my expectation of 15km/l. I have worked it out several times by filling the tank, setting the trip computer, filling the tank again when near-empty then dividing the kilometres by the litres. I consider myself a gentle driver, though I mostly drive in city traffic, and the car is always serviced at Oilibya before exhausting the service interval. Given this information, is the consumption normal or am I expecting too much of the vvti? Muthaura

A: Even though you drive in city traffic, that traffic must be spectacularly awful to push a Raum’s fuel consumption up to 10 km/l. Clearly, something is up.

My main suspicion is that the air cleaner element needs dusting or replacement. It could be clogged, thus suffocating the car and forcing it to burn more fuel in an effort to keep up appearances, appearances being the typical behaviour of a 1.5 litre four. The ECU wouldn’t be caught dead churning out the power of an 1100, now, would it?

Are there any warning lights blinking or glaring within the instrument cluster, especially the “check engine light”; is it on? How often do you use the AC? How much deadweight are you lugging around in your car? Are your tyres filled with air to the correct pressure? All these affect the fuel economy of your car; some in little ways, others majorly.

Hi Baraza,

I recently replaced the brake pads on my Nissan B15 and ever since, they have been screeching when I slow down or stop. My mechanic said it was because the disks were dirty so I had them cleaned but the noise persists. What is the problem? They also vibrate whenever I slow down.

Please help. Dave

A: The brake discs could be warped or the pads were not properly installed. Or maybe it is the pads that are dirty, not the discs.

Dear Baraza,

I have for a long time wanted to get myself a good 4×4 that will handle well and yet still be affordable to maintain. A vehicle that is comfortable but has luggage space. Affordable being that the parts are readily available and the prices reasonable, not prices that would make an ordinary citizen think of taking a soft loan to repair or fix. I admire the Porsche Cayenne, VW Toureg, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL, Jeep, Ford, Land Rover Discovery, basically most of the 4x4s.Please advise me on a good option.Victor

Hi,

None of the cars you list here falls in the affordable segment, going by your definition of affordable.

At least they are all comfortable for the most part, and will tread off the beaten path, though with varying degrees of success. They also offer luggage space, though the Touareg and the Cayenne might not be as good as the GL and Discovery in that respect. You need to specify which Jeep and which Ford you are referring to here.

I have always insisted there is little wrong with a Landcruiser Prado. It is more “affordable” than the vehicles you have listed.

Hello Baraza,

You write well. Very well. You know that. But compliments never hurt.

I am looking for a car that is a cross between a horse and a camel. It needs to have power measured in race horses with the looks to boot, desert camel hardiness enough to carry teens, bags, market shopping and planting maize for grandma.

It also needs to be a 7-seater and high enough not to scrape the large mini hills we call bumps. The price must also not be thoroughbred. What do you suggest? Judy

Hi Judy,

Your email makes for wonderful reading but not much sense. It is very vague and uses terms not commonly found in motoring. Besides, you need to narrow down my search parameters to a few models that you have your eye on. You DO have a few preferences, don’t you?

What you describe is a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G Class, or G Wagon), especially the G500, or one of the AMG-fettled versions. It has “racehorse” power, it looks very fetching, especially with a subtle body kit and black rims, and it is very hardy (it gets military applications with just a few modifications). If it carries several army men and their weapons, teens, bags, groceries and grandma’s corn will not faze it. It is a 7-seater and bumps mean nothing to it.

Unfortunately, the price is thoroughbred. In fact, it costs as much as several thoroughbreds in AMG guise.

Kindly specify how much power you need, what constitutes a good-looking car to you and how far your budget can stretch. A J70 Prado could also fit this description if an engine swap is made, as could a Landcruiser VX, Land Rover Discovery and many others. Get two or three cars you have your eye on and let me help you choose one from there.

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

I am in the process of buying a Toyota Sienta to use as a taxi. I would really appreciate a review of this car and its off-road capabilities. Mwele

I have not driven this car far enough for me to do a comprehensive review but one thing I know is that it is not meant for any off-road adventures. However, it would be good as a taxi: it is economical, reliable, and roomy; and the sliding doors make it ideal for inner city use where outwardly swinging doors make exiting into the street a risk. It is also cheap to buy and repair.

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read your articles. In one of the 2012articles, you viewed the Scannia monster machines (the P380 and the R440). You mentioned semi-manual transmission ,where cars have both manual and automatic transmissions. Could you please go into details about these cars. I am eager to hear from you. Boniface

Explaining the full workings of a semi-automatic transmission would take up quite a lot of space. Also, it is something I have done before and I’m not quite in the mood of repeating myself, though I sometimes do.

However, all is not lost. I am working on a book, a sort of almanac: a compilation of some select articles I have done over the years, the explanations behind those articles (and some Car Clinic Q& A classics), along with indexed addenda to clarify some things I might have skimped on with details. I will let the world know when this book is available and how to get a copy. You can be sure my demystification of transmission types will form part of the line-up.

Baraza, I am a fan of your Wednesday column and appreciate your efforts to educate us about cars. I have gained a lot, and thanks for that.
Now to business: I want to buy a vehicle and it is left-hand drive. I would like to change it to right-hand drive. Please tell me the dangers involved in changing, if it’s possible, and whether it will have any problems once it is changed? Kane Quntai

A: There are two problems to be faced in this endeavour of yours, the first being how to import the vehicle in the first place. The government will not allow you to bring in a car where the driver sits in the passenger’s seat, unless it is an emergency vehicle. Are you by any chance importing an ambulance or a fire engine?

That means to import the car, you have to switch the control panel to the correct side of the car BEFORE you import it, and therein lies the second problem: it is expensive and extremely difficult to do so, and for some cars, the shape of the firewall (the bulkhead between the engine and the passenger compartment) is heavily dependent on, and greatly limits the positioning of, the steering system, clutch and brake assemblies/linkages. Why not just buy a right-hand drive version of the same car, if available?

Dear Baraza,

Thanks very much for the helpful tips you give us every Wednesday.

Now, a close relative of mine has a Premio Model UA ZZT 240 that developed some engine problem that he is not very sure about but suspects that somebody malicious tampered with the engine even though the car is moving. Mechanics have tried to repair it, to no avail. I’d like to take it from him and replace the whole engine since he has two other cars and is disposing of the Premio “as is”. My problem is that my mechanic told me to ensure I buy an engine complete with gear box (automatic). The mechanic says this will guarantee a good future for the car in terms of maintenance.

Considering cost, I wanted to replace the engine only since the current gear box is okay. Please advise. Philip

A: If the current transmission is okay, just replace the engine; you don’t have to buy a new gearbox. This may sound callous, but from your friend’s perspective, it makes business sense: he is disposing of the vehicle, right? That means the car’s future is not really his concern. It will be out of his hands, won’t it? Selling the car is supposed to recoup some losses, isn’t it? If the gearbox fails later on, let that be someone else’s headache. And if he buys a new gearbox, what does he do with the old one? Selling a second-hand automatic gearbox is not easy, especially given that it is a Toyota one, and Toyotas are notorious for their unfailing reliability. Nobody knocks on my door asking for a Premio gearbox (and that is saying something, considering this is Car Clinic). What are the odds that someone will knock on HIS door?

Hello Baraza,

I want to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Kindly inform me about its pros and cons. Is it better than the Toyota Premio? Let me know the engine capacity, cost of spare parts and their availability in Kenya.Wainaina

Hi,

I was meant to test drive the Hyundai Sonata sometime back but I couldn’t because the sellers did not have a demo unit and putting test mileage on a customer car is not only unbecoming, but also hurts the asking price, thus lowers profits and, therefore, makes shareholders uncomfortable. A butterfly flapping its wings in Indonesia means no road test for me, if you get my drift.

I know it is one hell of a good car, better than the Premio, seeing how it is in the Camry’s firing line while the Premio sits one rank lower. Engine capacities vary between 1800 and 2500cc, and spare parts are available at the Hyundai base on Mombasa Road, though I have no idea how much they cost.

Hi there, You know how we, Toyota Country, take it when there’s even a hint of new upstarts getting undeserved credit when put up against the establishment! To even start suggesting that the subject Mitsu has the drop on the establishment is emasculation personified. Auto-sacrilege. Song of the damned. We won’t start debating reliability and retained value at later resale or how much punishment the car will take before flunking out (durability), although we should. Not to mention the number of years the car will last, looking nice and straight with equal care and use.Let it go. Live and let die! Sincerely seething, Kariuki

A: Interesting. Very interesting. You will notice that durability and resale value were NOT some of the criteria the inquisitor desired knowledge of, and so like a wise student who passed his exams at school (or most of them anyway… or some of them), I will not answer a question I wasn’t asked.
However, in terms of reliability (shock!), fuel economy and safety ratings, the Mitsu — as you call it — not only had the drop on the establishment, it was a Quick-Draw McGraw type of standoff and the Toyota found itself lying on the ground with its kneecaps blown off before it even came near its holster.

Next time they will think twice before releasing a half-baked car, though I am using the term half-baked here rather loosely. Rivals are awake and coming, and soon songs of damnation and cries of sacrilege will fill these pages.

Posted on

The Merc 180’s main problem is the battery and wiper motor

I recently bought a ’99 Mercedes Benz C180 (? 202). Having driven other cars, namely, Toyota, Daihatsu Rocky and Honda, I must say this car is a different thing all together.

The engine delivers real power effortlessly, the handling is very smooth and the fear of excessive consumption, I discovered, is unfounded because its consumption is comparable to most Toyotas with engine capacities above 1500.

I think the Germans build their cars well. I would be glad if you could point out the troublesome areas with this car. So far, I can’t complain about this machine.

Christopher

Hello Chris,

The W202 (which I guess is what you meant by ?202), like other cars, does have a few problem areas, the first being electrical: wiper motors and indicators intermittently packing up, power seats sometimes malfunctioning and ECU failures. Other known issues include: faulty MAF sensors (this causes erratic acceleration) and automatic transmission problems (rough shifting of gears).

There was an issue with exploding batteries – instigated by gas emissions building up in the boot area and ignited when the owner opens the trunk lid while smoking/using his cell-phone, which causes the hydrogen gas to explode. Some vehicles were recalled while others were fixed under warranty.

A solution to this was for the owner/driver to check electrolyte levels regularly to prevent the gas buildup. To confirm whether your car was part of the recall, check your owner’s manual. There should be big stickers placed over the original battery maintenance information section.

Most of these issues (except for the battery and wiper motor problems) stem from isolated cases and will not necessarily happen to your car. They are just things to watch out for.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I read your column every Wednesday and cannot honestly imagine not having my copy of the Daily Nation on this particular day of the week. It is both informative and well researched.

I currently own  2004 and 2006 Toyota Vitz. Both cars have served me very well for the past year. They are mainly used for town running and are both very efficient. However, my concern is with the 2006 model (I will address the concerns of the 2004 model separately). It has a 1000cc engine, with 3 cylinders. I have noted that there is no dip stick for the gear box. Subsequent research informs me that these cars use long-life oil, capable of running for 100,000 km.

If this is the case, which is the correct oil to use? Over the years I have noted that Volkswagen Golf and Passat gearboxes have failed due to the use of wrong lubricants. Will I run into the same problem?

PS. I agree with you on fuel consumption of Subarus compared with other models. They are less efficient and more expensive to run as non-original parts do not work on these cars. I have experienced it and will share more on that later.Best regards.

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

Has your car covered the 100,000km yet? If yes, how far is it from the next 100,000km transmission service interval? Does it have FSH (full service history)? It should. Under that FSH, they should specify what transmission fluid was used, if flushing and replacement were done. If it has not been done yet, then it is about to be done, under your care.

Your car does have a service/maintenance handbook, doesn’t it? It should specify what transmission fluid should be used.

Whether or not your car will experience Volkswagen-type problems depends on how badly off the grade of transmission fluid is. For some cars, there is a huge tolerance built into the components, such as the gearbox, to allow for some errors of judgment such as in replacement or maintenance of transmission fluid levels.

For other cars, such as the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, the smallest mistake will lead to the acquisition of a whole new gearbox.

**********

Dear car doctor,

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed every article of yours that I have read, but since the upgrade to the new site, it been hard to get your articles http://www.nation.co.ke/ , unless you look at the site on a Thursday. Well, enough of the whining.

I recently bought a Subaru Forester 2006 cross sports, auto transmission, which I have come to love, but there is this button with a selection of three levels next to the gear shift marked   ECO, A/T and Hold, I don’t know what it does, so I would appreciate some help regarding when to use it, but when it’s on A/T the picking is excellent. Warm regards,

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

The ECO button initiates a gearbox setting that improves the fuel economy but at the expense of performance. The “Hold” button, I guess, makes the transmission shift up sooner and holds the higher gear while preventing downshifting unless absolutely necessary, but it still skips first gear.

It is ideal for snow and slippery conditions where the high torque of lower gears would just lead to wheel-spin and little or no forward movement. When used in D, the car takes off in second gear instead of first.

When position 3 is selected using the gear lever, the cars shuffles between gears 2 and 3 (takes off in second and quickly shifts into third). When 2 is selected, the vehicle uses only second gear, skipping first. It is claimed that HOLD also makes the transfer clutch in the centre differential lock up sooner and harder.

By inference, A/T would mean “All Terrain”, which would make the transmission automatically react to the grip conditions, depending on which wheel is spinning. It uses input from the traction control system.

You are right; the format of the new website makes it extremely difficult to locate my write-ups, unless you delve deep into the pages searching piece by piece. It is a bit frustrating to my online readers and you are not the first to complain about this.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I find your column informative and was amazed by what I read in the January 1, 2014 issue. One gentleman thanked God that he had not landed in a ditch despite doing 180 in his Nissan Wingroad.

Andrew claimed that the Prado is very stable even at 170 kph. Please advise the two gentlemen to stop doing these speeds on public roads. They pose great danger to other road users and themselves. Such risky manoeuvres are simply against the law.

Vincent

Gentlemen, you heard Nick. Maxing out your cars is not safe, and it is illegal… (I don’t know about Andrew’s case, though, since he says he is in Afghanistan, and the traffic laws there are unknown to me).

**********

Hi,

First things first. Your column inspires me a lot. My dream towards the end of this year is to own a Range Rover, manual transmission, from around year 1990 to around 2000, with 3.9 V8 engine or slightly above. The reason is that I am a —rrain is quite a challenge. Besides, I am a Rhino Charge enthusiast and like tough machines.

Second, I would like to look a bit formal walking in high offices pursuing tenders and the like without switching Machines.

Kindly enlighten me on this since I am an automobile novice if I am willing to spend between 1m

and 1.6m.I have googled one on OLX website: year 1990, mileage 139,000 kms, 4wd with a 3.9 V8 engine going for Sh1.250m but I thought it was a bit old and maybe I will have to make some costly replacements. Hope I can read your article online. Get me into class, please.

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

A bit ambitious, aren’t we? Your demands are quite specific, and not all of them can be met.

You cannot get a 3.9 litre V8 Range Rover any newer than 1992-spec. The 3.9 engine went out with the Classic in 1992, and was substituted by a bored-out 4.2 V8 until 1996 before being replaced as the range-topper (so to speak) by the 4.6-litre V8 in the P38.The P38 is also available with a 4.0 V8, which should be closest to what you are looking for, but again herein lies another impediment:

The P38 had a manual transmission available on only one spec level: the BMW-powered 2.5 litre DSE diesel. The V8s only have automatic transmissions.

This means the particular car you want cannot be any older than a 1990 model or any newer than 1996. That really narrows down the scope of availability, as these were the final years of manufacture for the Classic model. This means these are the units in best condition. Seeing how they are fast becoming collectors’ items, getting one in good condition for sale is a search for a Land Rover Holy Grail. The people who have them will not likely be selling them, cheaply or at all.

Should you come by one, expect the following: a stiff asking price, rust problems, poor handling and unavailability and/or costliness of parts. Owning a Range Rover is not for the weak of pocket.

**********

Dear Jim Baraza,

Hallo sir. I am recently married and I want to replace my ageing 2001 model Toyota Corona with a bigger, affordable 4x 4. I am a Toyota person due to the availability of spare parts so I was thinking of getting either a 2007 Toyota Harrier 2.4 litre or a 2007 year Toyota Kluger. I have little knowledge of the performance of either and I would greatly appreciate your input on the performance, problems and reliability of the 2007 Harrier and the 2007 Kluger.

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

Congratulations on your recent nuptials. My name is not Jim.

Performance: Depends on what engine the Kluger is packing. The 2.4 Harrier is a bit underwhelming, but should do slightly better than the 2.4 Kluger. However, if the Kluger has a 3.0 engine, or even the 3.5…. then the Harrier fails.

Problems: none in particular stands out as “recurrent” or “notable”. Most of these seem to stem from poor maintenance. Toyotas are highly reliable. Whichever car you choose, just stay on top of the maintenance schedule and you will be fine.

Reliability: see “Problems” above. The Kluger is more rugged, or at least was intended to be more rugged than the Harrier, so it should suffer less use-related glitches in the course of its lifetime.

Posted on

Getting a VW is fine, but forget about the TDI engine for now

Hi Baraza,

I am a loyal reader of your articles and appreciate the work you are doing, giving advice on vehicles.

I am looking to purchase a vehicle. I would like a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. I was considering a VW Golf or Jetta with a 1.9 litre TDI engine. How are they in terms of service and repair costs and reliability?

Regards,

Joel.

Hello Joel,

You are, in fact right, when you refer to a Volkswagen as a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. However, while the former is fairly obvious, the latter is not so straightforward.

Many will tell you that Volkswagen parts are not the cheapest out there, not by a long shot; nor are servicing and repair work.

Fortunately, reliability comes into play here and it will be a while before you get to shell out your hard-earned cash for the upkeep of the vehicle. This is as long as it is not a Golf Mk. V automatic or DSG…. Those things have issues with the gearbox.

About that TDI engine: steer clear for now. It will very quickly sink you into poverty because, being a relatively small, highly developed and tech-laden turbocharged diesel engine, it will not run well— or far— on the muddy oil we call Kenyan diesel. Diesel engines are expensive to repair and/or replace. Very expensive.

Go for a petrol engine, whatever little extra cost it might have at the fuel pump compared to the TDI, just remember that the money would have gone into fixing the derv-drinker, and then some.

*********

Hallo Baraza,

I want to know, if someone wanted to learn about safari rally driving, which is the appropriate place to get such knowledge And secondly, my father has a Morris Marina car which is now rare and would like to change the engine. Which engine will fit well and be able to perform?

Dennis

Greetings, Dennis!

You are in luck, because there is such a thing as a rally school here in Kenya. It goes by the name ASRA, which is the Abdul Sidi Rally Academy in full. ASRA can be contacted by a variety of means, the best (and cheapest) being by searching for it on Facebook. You will find plenty of information there (up to and including lesson scheduling — event— and group). You can’t miss it.

Guess what? My daddy had a Morris too, but at the time I was not even self-aware, so I didn’t get too acquainted with it. To be honest, I am not very familiar with Morris motor vehicles at all; except for witnessing the unapologetic and ruthless brutality they endure at the hands of BBC Top Gear TV presenters.

However, I found an obscure forum on the Internet (research tends to lead me down strange paths)and after brief consultation with three of the denizens, someone from the UK told me that the Datsun 1200 engine fits into the Marina engine bay.

He was a bit too specific: he said the Morris Marina 1275… maybe he meant 1275cc, because someone else mentioned the 1300… Anyway, I left before they asked me for pictures of my own Morris Marina to prove I was a genuine questioner and not an Internet troll.

So there you have it. Get a Datsun 1200 and take out its engine. How you will do that is entirely up to you.

**********

Baraza

You stand corrected regarding your response to the last question asked by Munyonyi. You can, in fact, fit airbags within the rear springs — mostly done in Australia where they use 4wds properly — to tow caravans.

The airbags help the driver set different ride heights for the vehicle. An interesting use for them is also to give increased rear clearance when rock climbing.. I believe that locally, Robs Magic has a similar product for the 90 series.

Happy new year btw!

Sally

Hi Sally,

Ahem! Happy New Year to you, too. Now, you and I are going to disagree over jargon and reference terms. Just to be clear, are you referring to gas shock absorbers by any chance? Those are quite different from “air bags” as used to describe suspension systems.

When the term “air bags” is used to describe motor vehicle suspension, this is taken to mean air suspension, which is a very complicated and expensive piece of kit. The rubber bellows are used in place of conventional metal springs and shock absorbers, and the air in them is controlled by a compressor, which gives the adjustable ride height characteristic.

Gas-filled shock absorbers, on the other hand, are normal shocks, but instead of being filled with oil, they are filled with air (gas). Some of them are adjustable for stiffness and height.

Now, air suspension is complicated and expensive, when factory-fit into a vehicle (think Range Rover or Land Rover Discovery). For the sake of example, we will stick with the Disco.

To keep the vehicle smooth and level, the four bellows are interconnected, á la Citröen’s Hydropneumatic and/or British Leyland’s Hyrdamatic water-filled systems. Pumping the air from one corner to the other in real time calls for some fancy boffinry, hence the costs involved.

Back when the Land Rover brand was under CMC Motors, someone once told me it costs Sh300,000 per wheel to fix the system once it springs a leak. If replacement is recommended (which is more likely than not), you are looking at a bill of Sh 1.2 million…. just to fix the suspension. So how much do you think it will cost to install one where there wasn’t any to begin with? How long will the calibration take?

Gas-filled shocks, on the other hand, are just shock absorbers. Raise the car off the ground, take off the wheels, dismount the factory-installed springs and shocks, throw away the old shocks, put in the new air-filled units (which fit exactly the same way as their oily kin) and you are all set.

Now that you mentioned it, I think that is what Munyonyi’s mechanic was referring to, because there are adjustable versions of these. You can now see what I mean whenever I tell my readers to be clear about what they are trying to say.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I appreciate the good job you are doing with regard to motoring. I just want to know the ideal fuel consumption rate for a Peugeot 504 four-speed vehicle. I find the vehicle very “thirsty” as it is doing less than six kilometres per litre. Lastly, between gas and oil shocks, which would you advise to be fitted on a vehicle; the front shocks, that is.

Thanks

John

John,

Yes, Peugeots have a reputation for thirst, more so if they use carburetors. Six kpl or less is not ideal, though, but this figure depends on many things: driving style, driving environment and state of tune of the car. The engine capacity matters too. It should be doing at least eight kpl though, if it is properly maintained.

Gas vs oil… This is a decision for you to make. I’d buy oil-filled shocks, because they are cheaper and less likely to leak. But that’s just me.

**********

Hi.

I read the column every so often and I like it. Good work you are doing.

Now, I drive a VW Passat year 2000 turbo APU engine. I bought it about four months ago.

It had an oil leak which I had fixed, but that’s when my problems began. I climbed the Naivasha to Nairobi hills one day at good speed and the car gave an oil pressure error. Since then, it comes on every so often with a frequency I cannot explain; sometimes under hard driving and high revving and other times when doing a Sunday drive.

I had the sump removed and the silicone on the oil strainer was put in such a way that none was left inside but the error has not gone. It is really frustrating. I have a really good mechanic and we are working on fixing it. But will I have to use a gasket to seal the sump to do away with the silicone business, or buy a new oil filter? I hope not. Basically, what do I do?

Please advise on what the problem could be. Thanks.

Gichuhi Waweru

Hello Waweru,

When your car says there is an “oil pressure error”, there is a problem with oil pressure. It could be too little, hence the need to check the oil levels (is there a leak? Is the car burning oil?) or condition of the oil pump (not pumping oil hard enough).

Then again, too much pressure is also a problem and will generate warnings. Maybe you were a little too generous with the plastic bottle at your last service. Maybe the oil filter is clogged, leading to a back-log in the flow of oil. Maybe some oil passages are blocked.

I didn’t get the silicone-strainer part. Was there silicone in the strainer, or was silicone used to seal the area around the strainer?

And the oil pressure error: are you sure it is not in reference to the oil for the turbo? You did say the error appears under high-load, high-rev conditions, didn’t you?

Get an OBD readout, complete with error code, to be sure of what it is, because you and your really good mechanic could quite easily be chasing clouds.

**********

Hallo,

I have a Toyota Corolla NZE 2005 model, X grade, 1390cc I’ve owned for one year now, first local owner. The fuel consumption has increased. I have not done the maths of late, but I have realised that when driving home from Mombasa (to Meru), this thing consumes a full tank way before the Machakos junction.

A tank used to take me to Thika road through the Cabanas bypass. I have also noticed that the engine oil level drops significantly way before it is time for service.

I change the oil every 5,000kms, sometimes having to add oil to keep the level high to the next oil change. Having ruled out any leakage, my mechanic says that some “rings” may be worn out.

I have used several oil brands, including Total’s Quartz 20W50, Shell’s Helix, and Mirr Alma, which are synthetic. What could be the cause of such high oil consumption? How repairable is it, at how much? Am I even using the right oil?

Nick Mwenda.

Your mechanic is referring to the piston rings (compressor and oil scraper rings), and he might be right. It would explain the increased fuel consumption and rapidly dipping oil levels.

Replacing the rings is not a very complicated matter if the mechanic is competent, but costs vary from one garage to another. Use recognised oil brands of the manufacturer’s recommendation and you will be fine.

Posted on

Has the gearbox of your VW Golf conked out? Join the club!

Dear Baraza,

I have been reading your column and find it quite interesting and informative.

I am a car importer specialising in Volkswagen Golfs. The past year has been tough for me as I imported three Golf vehicles from Japan and they have given me transmission problems since they landed in Mombasa. I find this quite unfair to importers and I know a number of people in Kenya who have had this problem.

I have not been able to sell any of them. I believe this touches on 30 per cent of the imported Golf MK Vs. Is there a way this can be sorted out and importers compensated and future importers protected?

These are the specifications of the vehicles:

Yr/Mo Registration: 2005

Make: VOLKSWAGEN—MK V

Model: GOLF

Grade: GLI/GT

Chassis No: WVWZZZ1K123456789

CC Rating: 2000

Engine Type: Petrol

Six-speed gear box, triptronic.

I personally know that this is a big story as it has touched quite a number of individuals. We have many dysfunctional Volkswagen vehicles in Kenya and I think the importers are to blame. I strongly believe that the suppliers of these cars know what they are doing.

I would be glad to share this information. Kindly advise me.

Robert Macharia.

When you say the importers are to blame, what exactly are they to blame for? Did they ruin the transmissions? Are they behind the research and development of those transmissions?
The reason people like me have a job is to tear these cars apart in every parameter, including reliability.

That is why we do road tests. And sometimes we take a lot of heat for our findings (trust me, I know), but then again sometimes it is us who dish out the heat, leading to things like pre-midlife model updates or worse yet, the bane of the industry: The motor vehicle recall.

So instead of blaming someone who may not even know how an automatic transmission works, how about doing a little research before dealing in a certain type of motor vehicle? Find out whether or not that particular model ever faced a recall in its life, and whether or not the particular vehicle you are selling was affected by the recall (these recalls are usually recorded using VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers).

Some cars get called back, some do not. Read car magazines and reviews: Some offer used car reviews that let you know the kinds of problems to expect from a vehicle model when it becomes “used”. Motor vehicle dealers in other countries do it, so why not you? That way you can simply avoid selling a troublesome car and blaming a hapless middleman for something that is not entirely his fault.

I once had this discussion with someone else about the exact same vehicle you are talking about and what we thought was this: The automatic gearbox (or parts thereof) has a certain lifespan (granted, it is much shorter in your case than it should be, but such is the way of life). By the time these vehicles reach the mileage at which the gearbox starts failing, they have already been shipped over this side.

Also, given how they spend a lot of time on the high seas (where no sort of maintenance or check-up is done), they could be leaking transmission fluid slowly over the several weeks they are afloat, then when they touch down in Mombasa, some excitable young drivers who get paid per vehicle delivery storm off towards Nairobi at 200 km/h without doing any checks. Another dead gearbox is in the offing.

I do not think the importers are to blame. These vehicles are inspected before they leave their country of origin. They should also be inspected upon arrival.

Then again, if a car is too much trouble, leave it and move to another model. Have you ever asked yourself why nobody imports Alfa Romeos? Or Fiats? Or Peugeots on a large scale? These cars have reputations, and when dealing with large sums  of money, there are some gambles you just do not make.

  
Dear Baraza,

I have purchased a tiny Daihatsu Charade G100s for work runs. Problem is, this car was built way back in 1989 and although the bodywork is still strong and reliable, the engine seems to be letting oil into the first cylinder. I have recently done exhaustive restoration, including body respray, an engine job, and replacing pistons. Re-boring cannot be done again.

This seems to be the only problem between a trouble-free run and myself.

I have been thinking about either:

1. Redoing the engine job to establish the cause of the leaks (badly placed oil seals or compression?) without reboring.

2. Replacing the engine with a reconditioned Toyota G100s engine.

3. Selling the car to Kariobangi as scrap since I would hate to see someone else mistreat it.

Does re-boring have to be done every time the engine is dismantled?

What would you advise since the bodywork is superb and the car, though a three-pot, is quite feisty when in a good mood. It is getting rather costly to constantly change the spark plugs from that cylinder when they clog with oil.

Edwin.

If the engine is admitting oil into the cylinders, then it is either through blow-by (either the piston rings do not fit well in the cylinder or the cylinder walls are not smooth) or through the valve-train (the valve seals are badly placed or need replacement). Re-boring is only necessary in the first circumstance. Are you sure the oil consumption is not via the cylinder head?

1. This sounds like a plan. It makes me wonder why you have not done it yet.

2. If the first step yields no positive results, then this is another way to go. A favourite engine swap for the Charade is installing the 5A-FE Toyota engine. It fits well and works just fine in the Daihatsu Charade.

3. I do not see why you would scrap a vehicle that only has an oil leak in one cylinder. I hate to sound like a miserly, penny-pinching Kenyan, but there are cars still running on our roads with far worse problems than that and nobody seems flustered. I would advise you take care of the leak and continue your relationship with the little chariot.

Re-boring is not always necessary every time the engine is opened up. A physical inspection will tell you whether the scouring on the cylinder walls demands a reboring or a few more kilometres can be eked out of that block before the grinding machine is unleashed.

For some engines, instead of reboring, one can buy cylinder sleeves that are replaceable, leaving the structural integrity of the engine block intact (too many rebores result in thin cylinder walls that can easily crack).

 

Hello Baraza,

I am the second owner of a Subaru Impreza hatchback, automatic transmission, 1998 model. Early this year, I started noticing that it jerks hard when going uphill. It also jerks hard on rapid acceleration on flat surfaces.

My mechanic has been telling me that it is normal for automatic cars to behave that way because they change gears “on their own”.

He once advised me to be driving at D3 to avoid the jerking, and went ahead to explain that placing the gear on ‘3’ while on the road “advances” the gear box and prevents the jerking.

Also, there is a green POWER message that is always blinking on the dashboard once the ignition is on, yet the power button on the gear lever is non-functional. What could be the problem since the Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is at the correct level? I have never driven my car in any other position apart from “D” since I do not know the use of D3, D2, and D1.

Also, what is the use of the timing belt, how does a car behave when the timing belt is broken or loose, and what damage can it cause when it breaks when driving at high speed? I am naïve when it comes to cars and I hope your advice will help resolve the motoring problems that I have had since I bought this car two years ago.

Donboss, Kakamega.

That mechanic of yours: Jail sounds too good for him. If your child walked into the house limping in an unusual manner, then the doctor at the hospital tells you “there’s nothing wrong, children sometimes fool around. They are children, they limp for fun…” you would want to punch that person in the neck very hard, wouldn’t you?

Automatic cars do not “normally” change gear with any sort of violence. In fact, they are not supposed to. There is DEFINITELY a problem.

Another issue I have with your mechanic is the nonsense he is spewing about driving with the lever in ‘3’ instead of ‘D’. In other words, what he is asking you to do is to burn more fuel than is necessary and strain your engine by constantly driving at high engine speeds. And what, in the name of used transmission fluid, does “advancing the gearbox” mean anyway? I have never heard such rubbish.

Those positions you call D3, D2, and D1 (they are actually just plain 3,2, and 1; D is a separate, discrete selector position) are used to “lock” the gearbox. Being an automatic, the transmission will select gear for you depending on engine load and road speed.

However, a modicum of control can still be recovered by the driver somewhat using these selector positions.

When you slide the gear lever into 1 (or D1 as you call it), what you have done is “locked” the gearbox into first gear. It will not change up no matter how hard you rev, even when you hit the limiter. When the lever is in position 2 (D2), you have now given an allowance for the gearbox to go into second gear, but not beyond that.

It will only change between first and second gears, but not third. Position 3 allows it to go into third (and second and first) but no further than that.

So you can see my point. By driving in 3 (D3), your gearbox cannot go into fourth or top gear (if they are not one and the same). On an open road, you will be doing 100 km/h almost at the red line, heating up your engine, straining it also, and burning enough fuel to single-handedly create more wealth in the Middle East. And pedestrians will not appreciate the noise. You will look like a bum. That mechanic should be forced to foot your fuel bills for a month for even daring to suggest such madness.

When you say the Power button on the centre console is non-functional, what do you mean? This could be a contributing factor to the jerking (though even in Power mode the changes are not supposed to be rough). In that mode, the transmission changes up at higher RPM (revs per minute) and the clutch action is a bit more aggressive — faster disengaging and engaging if it is an electronic friction clutch, or full lockup control for a torque converter. The shift action is a bit more aggressive, but like I said, it is not supposed to be violent or rough.

Do this. There is such a thing as a transmission control module (TCM). In layman’s terms, it is the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for the gearbox. Get a read-out from it with an error code, then send the error code to me (if you get one). From there, I will tell you the exact problem. It could be as simple as needing a new transmission filter or as bad as you needing a new transmission, but do not panic yet.

Timing belt: The timing belt is a belt (duh) that is turned by the crankshaft and is used to rotate the camshaft(s) in an engine with overhead valves. Since valve opening and closing is a very sensitive and keenly timed affair, there should be no slip whatsoever, otherwise disaster might result.

When broken or loose, the resulting catastrophe will depend on whether your engine is an interference engine or non-interference engine. The latter tends to have some substantial space between the valves and the pistons. A loose or broken timing belt will result in the engine stalling and no amount of effort will get it running again.

Things are much worse for interference engines. The space between the valves and the pistons is pretty small. A loose/broken timing belt will turn your engine into scrap, literally. This is because the relationship between piston motion and valve motion is put out of kilter, so at one point a piston moving upwards will meet a valve moving downwards with no buffer zone. The two will meet and mutual destruction will occur.

The engine will stall on the spot, just like with the non-interference type, the difference being this time round you will need a new engine. At high engine speeds, this destruction can be quite spectacular and noisy with it. Replace it before it is necessary. If the “T-BELT” light goes on on your dashboard, park the car and replace it (rather than tightening, unless you are in some remote area, in which case tightening might get you to the next garage where you can now replace it in peace).

Dear Baraza

Like many Kenyans, I have bought and driven second-hand Japanese cars for a couple of years now. Currently, I own a Toyota Gaia and I am tired of it. I have no intention of selling it but wish to get another minivan. Which way to go? Toyota Alphard or Toyota Estima (both 2007 or 2008). My main consideration would be service and comfort.

Mwangi Francis.

Well, there is no clear winner for you, according to your criteria. The Alphard is superior in comfort terms, far more superior than the Estima (this is the Previa, right?) but then again the Alphard is a highly engineered, overly elaborate piece of kit full of electronics everywhere, so repairs will  be a real headache, more so given the guesstimation, smart-Alec, hit-and-miss sort of approach Kenyan mechanics give to motor vehicle systems they do not fully understand.

So, decide. The Alphard is more comfortable. The Previa/Estima is easier to repair (but there is no guarantee, given what I have just said about most mechanics).

Posted on

Should I expect better fuel economy?

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. I have two questions:

1. I have a Peugeot 405 station wagon on which I did an overhaul recently, even though I had been servicing it regularly with the best available oil and other consumables. All the bearings, crankshaft, and rings were “standard” (had not worn to the point of needing over-sized replacements).

However, the fuel economy has not improved. It is hovering around 10km/l on long journeys, and 7-8km/l in town. Is there something I am not doing right, as I would expect better from a 1600cc, naturally aspirated car? It has its original twin-carburettor, but its power is not as good as older, heavier cars like the 504.

I also have a VW Golf Wagon GT, 1800cc, twin-charged and I get similar mileage. Is there something I need to look at again or should I accept this as a fact and “move on”?

2. I would like to get in touch with the mechanic (Innovative Mechanic, Car Clinic, May 29, 2013), who had said tuned his carburettor to give 13km/l. You can share my email address and phone number with him so I can find him some business.

Thanks,

George M. Ochenge

Hello George,

1. Methinks you may be expecting too much from an engine with two carburettors, but before we leave it at that, I was wondering: Has the consumption gone up recently or was it always like that? If it was always at 7/10 city/highway then do not expect a miracle where none has been performed.

If the economy has gotten worse, there might be a change in circumstances that you have not noticed: Maybe you carry a bigger load. Maybe you drive faster than before… maybe you use the air-con more… all these because you say the car is mechanically sound.

The power might not be as good as the 504 because the 504 you tried had a bigger engine or a carburettor with a bigger jet. You have not mentioned the consumption of that 504… you will be shocked.

2. I would advise — possibly to the chagrin of said inventor — that you first wait for results from his project. I think it very unlikely that the technology has undergone extensive testing, so there is no telling the effects of long-term use. Nor of short-term use either because the result of strangling carburettor jets is that the car runs lean, which comes with a host of other problems, including stalling, power loss, and overheating.

Give it time before you try it unless you are ready and willing to be a guinea pig for the experiment.