Posted on

BEHIND THE WHEEL: If it is a Forester and has an STI logo on it, walk past the sluggish Legacy

Hi Baraza,

Kindly look into these two matters:

I have noticed quite a number of the dual-exhaust Legacies having their right exhaust broken/missing. Does this imply these models have an inherent body flaw or have the exhaust pieces become hot cakes like Toyota rear-view mirrors?

I currently own a Subaru Impreza and am looking to upgrade to a 2008 model of either a Forester or Legacy.

I am indifferent to turbo or non-turbo models. If price, running and maintenance costs are not a concern to you, which of these two models (turbo vs turbo and/or non-turbo vs non-turbo variants) would you advise me to go for, and why?

I do about 200km weekly and an additional 600km round trip every two months going upcountry.

 

Hi,

I have never really understood what is going on with these Legacy cars because I, too, have noticed the gaping hole in both estate and saloon versions. I don’t think it is the exhaust pipe that is missing, otherwise you’d notice the absence immediately through the sound coming from  the car.

These are my theories: 1. These vehicles might be fitted with single-exit exhaust pipes but the rear bumpers are swapped from vehicles that had dual-exit exhausts. 2. You might be right that the dual-exit exhaust pipes are highly desirable, so maybe the cars were factory-fitted with dual-exit exhausts (and the bumpers to accommodate them) but these pipes were later removed and replaced with single-exit units, leaving the gaping hole on the right. My money is on the second theory.

Forester vs Legacy: It is a smarter choice to go for the Forester due to increased versatility and practicality compared to the Leggy.

Since you don’t mind turbo engines, how about going the whole hog and bagging yourself an STi version? The car looks good, it will still clear small obstacles without scratching the undercarriage, and it will go like stink should a pressing need to go like stink arise.

You could also go for the more discreet Cross Sport turbo version, which, while not as quick as the STi, is still pretty fast. The naturally-aspirated versions are a bit humdrum, but they, too, will not lead to any major regrets. Take your pick; taste takes preference here rather than all-out mechanical advice.

The same cannot be said for the Legacy. It is a bit low, it is not the most comfortable car in its class and it might be the black sheep in Subaru’s performance stable. The naturally aspirated Legacy has felt underpowered for the last two generations, more so with the 2.0 litre engine.

The twin-turbo GT has a knack for knocking when pushed hard and/or suffering turbo failure when owned by people who shouldn’t really own turbocharged Subarus (turbo Subies are meant for one class of people only: performance enthusiasts who should probably know better).

The B-Sport  seems to make a case for itself — it’s not a bad car at all — but if there is a Forester STi on the menu, then please, for the love of this column, walk past the B-Sport.

 

Baraza,

I envy your knowledge of cars; your column is truly informative.

I have an obsession for vintage cars, particularly VW beetles. I plan to get one this year, and to use it as my everyday car. The problem is that I am afraid I might not get one that will not embarrass me by breaking down in the middle of a highway on a busy morning/evening. What would you advise me to look out for?

Which place would you recommend for well-maintained oldies?

Karim Suleiman

 

Beetles are not known for breaking down in the middle of highways. That said, once you buy one, it is not advisable to start driving it immediately; first have a complete systems check to ensure it actually works.

A good place to get well-maintained oldies would be the Internet. Nowadays there are plenty of forums and some of them specialise in particular brands.

Join one, wait patiently for something you like to pop up, then open a line of communication immediately.

 

 

Hi JM,

My comments below got published on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

I did not know that speed stickers were meant for the driver behind. Thank you for the information.

But I still do not understand why we have to have them only on commercial and public service vehicles;  I mean, private vehicles also have speed limits, and if they provide information to a clueless driver following you (foreigner or otherwise) as you said, then they should be on all vehicles.

As for the chevrons,  we should do away with them and instead have high visibility decals (reflective strips), not just at the rear, but also running along the length, height and width of trucks and matatus.

Pick-ups from the UK do not come with these nondescript sheets riveted to their tailgates. Since it snows there and visibility becomes worse than our worst here, how do they achieve visibility? Do we have to, in this time and age, rivet mabatis to our vehicles?

We are so stuck on colonial and pre-colonial vehicular systems that we have near-zero improvements on what we inherited from the British.

Still on this subject of commercial vehicles and PSVs, they are still subjected to annual inspection, ostensibly to ensure their roadworthiness. Yet some of the contraptions we see on our roads with inspection stickers belong to scrap yards. This is a testament to the failure of this exercise, which only serves as a means for the government to collect taxes.

The recent proposal to have all classes of vehicles inspected attracted lots of protests from motorists, but I think it is the way to go.

Let’s establish inspection centres akin to the MoT test in Britain to keep unroadworthy vehicles off our roads.

 

Hello,

Ideally, any country’s roads are supposed to be well built, well maintained and, most importantly, well marked. Besides, anyone intending to drive in a foreign country should have  rudimentary knowledge of its traffic laws.

The road markings and basic education mostly affect what Kenyans call “personal” cars, that is, non-commercial vehicles, the road markings in question being speed limits. More often than not, most roads will have the situational speed limit indicated on signposts by the road.

Road access laws governing tonnage, height, width and speed tend to target commercial vehicles in almost every country, which is why they have the stickers.  While driving, you might notice that the speed allowance on a particular stretch  is 120km/h, but this does not apply to lorries and buses; they are supposed to stick to 80.

Suggesting that we do away with chevrons and replace them with high visibility stickers is redundant: a chevron is supposed to be a high-visibility sticker. I think what you mean is that we need better quality chevrons, unlike what we see on some vehicles.

From your description, commercial vehicles would not have paint jobs; they would just be moving reflective signboards.

When it snows, drivers are required to switch their lights on. Visibility difficulties solved.

You are right, though: we are stuck in colonial times as far as traffic laws are concerned. The 50km/h town driving speed limit  came from the colonial era when cars had drum brakes all round and ABS was non-existent.

The same applies to the 110km/h highway speed limit. The laws might have an effect on speed-related accidents, but they have had no effect on road usage, which I think is our country’s primary problem as far as road carnage goes.

A popular Mombasa bus recently had its face torn off and the vehicle run off the road by a truck whose driver claimed he was asleep. Two other buses suffered a similar fate in the same 72-hour period, and this begged the question: what exactly is the role of the NTSA besides collecting revenue?

They will spend tremendous amounts of energy nabbing drivers doing 55km/h in a 50km  zone and imposing spot fines, but let incompetent — and ultimately lethal — truck drivers by without batting an eyelid.

They will clamp down on PSVs, create an uproar about night travel, seat-belt installation and speed-governor usage; they even go as far as raising hell about paint jobs which, in my opinion, have nothing to do with road accidents, but the real cause of road deaths rumble by unchecked.

How about clamping down on truck drivers with the same zeal and vigor they’ve been pointing their speed guns at the rest of us? We might have stopped killing ourselves due to their stringent laws, but now  truck drivers are killing us.

An MoT-style annual inspection would be a good idea, but how good? Do you still believe in this day and age that unroadworthy vehicles are the cause of accidents? Or will this be yet another avenue for  fleecing drivers?

I insist yet again: our biggest problem is driver indiscipline. A large number of vehicles involved in accidents are actually newish and in top shape… at least before they crashed. Having a vehicle inspected does not remove the lethal variable in the equation: a driver with issues.

Bullies, speed freaks, drunkards and show-offs abound on the roads, and these are far more dangerous than someone driving with a broken tail light.

 

Hi Baraza,

Many thanks for your highly informative column. I own an old model, locally assembled Toyota Corolla NZE, year 2006. Its performance is so good that I want to keep it instead of buying a new one. However, its engine rating is low (1299cc) and it uses manual transmission.

Its maximum speed is 220kph according to the speedometer, which makes me believe it is a high-performance car despite its low engine rating. Once in a while I travel from Mombasa to western Kenya but I have never used it . Kindly enlighten me on the difference between this 1299cc NZE and others that are 1500cc. Keep up the good work.

Mwongera Nick

 

The biggest difference is, of course,  in the engine size: one is 1300cc and the other is 1500cc.

Obviously, the car with the bigger engine is faster and more powerful; however, it might not necessarily be thirstier.

Apart from that, given the traditions of most manufacturers, the car with the bigger engine might more likely be better specced: it might have a better radio, more optional extras such as powered accessories, a better body kit or colour coding, and fancier rims/wheel caps in comparison to its lowlier version.

 

Hello Baraza,

My query concerns the legal requirements for operating a private nine-seater van. I have had several encounters with our esteemed law enforcers and the issues raised have been as varied as the number of encounters.

In some cases, the officer will check the “usual” items: insurance, licence, tyres, etc, as he would in the case of a private saloon vehicle.

However, there have been instances when I have been asked for inspection stickers, “commercial” vehicle insurance and even a speed governor.

I have enquired from senior traffic officers (when I end up at the station), but have not been given uniform answers. And queries to the NTSA through their website have not elicited any response.

Kindly enlighten me on whether the following are mandatory for a private, nine-seater van:

A speed governor

Vehicle inspection sticker

Insurance as a commercial vehicle.

Also, kindly advise if the above requirements would change if I modified it to a seven-seater, like many  SUVs, which do not have any special restrictions.

Please note that the van is a standard Toyota Hiace, customised to seat nine, including the driver.

Patrick.

 

Hello Patrick,

The proliferation of various sub-models, new body types and shapes and the sharing of platforms across model ranges has turned motor vehicle classification into a grey area.

That is why a 4WD double-cab is considered a pick-up (with all its attendant legal requirements such as chevrons), while that exact same vehicle with a canopy over the luggage bay is considered an SUV and is exempt from the commercial vehicle sticker regimen.

As for your vehicle, there is such a thing as guilt by association. That model is widely used as public transport, and/or as a delivery vehicle, so it is a commercial vehicle whether you like it or not. It, therefore, has to go for inspection and requires a commercial vehicle licence.

As for the speed governor, if that vehicle has a PSV sticker anywhere on its body, you need to have a limiter installed. This applies even to vans owned by tour companies and taxi services.

However, yours being a privately owned and operated vehicle, it is exempt from this regulation. Oh, and reducing the number of seats will not help. At all!

Posted on

The non-turbo Impreza is easier to maintain and uses less fuel

 Hello Mr Baraza, I’m interested in buying a Subaru Impreza but there are some things I don’t understand, so I need some clarification: 1. What’s the difference between an Impreza plain, Impreza WRX and an Impreza WRX STi? 2. What are the pros and cons of a non-turbo Impreza and one with a turbo with regard to fuel consumption efficiency, speed and general maintenance?Please highlight any other aspect(s) in relation to the models, their effectiveness, efficiency and engine details.Eric Karani

Hi.

1. The difference could be as much as 150bhp. The regular Impreza is good for about 150bhp, the Impreza WRX makes roughly 230bhp while various forms of the WRX STi (JDM, factory-spec) develop anything between 276bhp and 320bhp. The Impreza “plain” is naturally aspirated, while the WRXes have turbos and intercoolers. They also have body kits, alloy rims and various addenda, which get less and less subtle the higher you go up the power scale.

2. The naturally aspirated “non-turbo” Impreza is far better where maintenance and fuel consumption are concerned. The turbo cars, not so much. However, if it is speed you want, you can never go wrong with the STi. De-limited, it will clock 260 km/h.

Effectiveness: The STi is very effective at what it does, which is going fast and cornering quickly, hence it’s rally heritage.

Engine details: the 2.0 litre cars all have EJ20 modular engines. With a turbo attached, the engine code is EJ20T.

Dear Baraza, Thanks for the great work you are doing. As a young hustler in Kisumu, I am thinking of getting a Mazda Familia (2000-2003) as my first car. I would appreciate your view on this car in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption, spare parts; in short, I’m interested in the economics of owning one. Regards. Andy

The economics of owning one are good. The car was cheap when new, so it will be cheap used. It uses a variety of puny powerplants, so no worries on the fuel economy front. Just make sure the unit you acquire is in a sound mechanical state. The vehicle is low maintenance (it is Japanese, you know, and small) and spare parts should not be a problem to obtain and/or buy.

Hi Baraza,

I am one of those people the government, and in particular the traffic police, are looking for because of using a Probox as matatu.

I use a 1400cc Probox to transport passengers from one town to another in a rural area  and it has been a very profitable business for a long time because on a normal day, I pocket between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500. That is more than a 14- seater makes, given that a Probox doesn’t have very my expenses because it requires only private insurance.

My question is, what makes the Probox a donkey that never gets tired because I overload it all the time and I have never replaced any part of the engine and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking down soon. I carry 10 to 14 passengers per trip and sometimes even 18, not counting kids, plus luggage like potatoes.

Now, what amazed me was the speed, because the traffic police chased me using their 110 Defender for an hour but didn’t catch me; I had 18 passengers and it was on a rough road. What’s more, it is a hilly village, so I became the village star.

How strong and durable is the 1400cc Probox engine, considering that I have had it for three years, I bought it second hand, and it doesn’t have any mechanical problem.

Gabu

Interesting confession, this. Also, one that is difficult to believe. If you earn Sh3,500 per day, which is more than that made by a 14-seater, exactly how much does a 14-seater make daily? I expect it to be more. But I don’t own a 14-seater matatu, so I wouldn’t know.

Cars don’t get “tired”. They are not living organisms, least of all donkeys, which is what you describe your Probox as. Provided they have fuel in them, motor vehicles will run endlessly until certain parts break/explode/shatter/disintegrate/fall off. Cars only suffer wear and tear.

So you carry between 14 and 18 passengers in your illegal PSV, plus luggage? How do they all fit in? Please, send in a picture of the 1.4 litre donkey in action. I have seen videos of similar vehicles used to smuggle would-be terrorists… sorry, illegal immigrants – from our unstable neighbour in the north-east into the country and the best they did was 12 (not counting driver and “conductor”). How to fit in six more people yet the ones already inside don’t even have breathing room?

The least credible part of your story is the point where you say a police Defender 110 pursued your overloaded (18-deep plus luggage) donkey over rough ground and lost. Either your Probox is not really a Probox, or the ground was not rough, or you didn’t have 18 people on board, or maybe even the pursuit didn’t happen.

Whichever of these factors applies, there is one undisputable fact glaring through this seemingly tall tale: you have cast aspersions upon the abilities of police drivers, and I don’t know what the boys in blue have to make of this. You will not outrun a Land Rover Defender 110 over “rough ground” if the helmsman of the said Land Rover is even remotely capable of driving. If this gets published, I guess it is “Goodbye Probox”, not just to yours, but also to all others operating in shadowy ways like yours.

To conclude: much as the veracity and quality of your email is in question, this I can say with confidence: The Probox is not built out of titanium or granite. It will give in eventually if you continue using it like that. There is nothing special about its construction or its engine, it is just a cheap car which is easier to drive flat out compared to something costlier.

Hello JM, Towards the end of last year, the motor vehicle enthusiasts’ fraternity and the fans of the series Fast and Furious suffered a tragic loss following an accident that occurred somewhere in the US.

It cost the life of one Paul Walker (RIP) and a colleague of his. More importantly though, is that he and his colleague were driving a Porsche Carrera GT, V10 engine capable of churning out around 600hp even though it is a 2005 model.

I have read some reviews online and some imply that the vehicle is quite aggressive and would require expert skill and experience. Do you have any idea what it feels like sitting behind the wheel of such a beautiful monster, plus I thought these kinds of vehicles (really powerful vehicles since there were those who believe that the particular Porsche in this case was modified to produce more power) have magnificent braking systems?

Regards.

RM

Hello,

Paul Walker’s demise was a shock to many, yours truly included, and very untimely: it came while filming of the seventh Fast and Furious movie was still under way. It is particularly galling, given that Paul Walker was a real-life motoring and racing enthusiast who owned a selection of potent and interesting motor vehicles, up to and including, but not limited to, a BNR34 Nissan Skyline GTR (the exact same car used in the 2 Fast 2 Furious film opening sequence) and a V8-powered Volvo station wagon.

The car that killed him is aggressive and difficult to drive. It takes a lot of skill to push it, and not many people can get anywhere near its limits. Theories abound as to what actually happened, and they vary from speeding (widely dismissed by on-the-ground witnesses), to street racing (also widely dismissed, though there was a yellow Honda S2000 on the scene immediately after the crash, the occupants of the Honda say they were going about their own business and were there to rescue any survivors), to avoidance of yet another accident, to the most absurd-sounding: that the man was murdered. I am not a CSI agent, so let us leave it at that.

I have sat behind the wheel of similar fare, literally sitting, but when it comes to driving, the farthest up the ladder I have reached is a 2012 R35 Nissan GTR. Its performance parameters compare thus to the Carrera GT’s: Power is 542bhp compared to the Porsche’s 620. Acceleration: the Nissan takes an otherworldly 2.8 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest, while the Porsche takes about 3.5. Top speed of the Nissan is about 318 km/h, the Porsche pushes matters to the scary side of 330 km/h.

Whether or not the red Carrera GT was modified is moot: even in stock, factory-spec condition, that car tries the abilities of anyone who dares drive it. The Nissan’s abilities look quite similar (and superior in some cases) on paper, but the Nissan is harder to crash because it uses many computers to achieve stability and it has a very complicated 4WD system.

The Porsche is RWD and the last of the purpose-built no-frills supercars. The chips in the Nissan will intervene in the event of loss of directional stability, but even before that, they ensure that loss of grip does not occur in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Porsche will show you up for the driver you are, and the outcome is you will see God. Even BBC Top Gear’s anonymous race driver (The Stig), arguably one of the world’s most capable drivers, spun the Carrera GT several times before completing a full lap in it. That is how “dangerous” the Carrera GT can get.

The Porsche can get dangerous, but it is not dangerous. Advanced aerodynamics (including the deployment of the rear wing once a certain speed-110 km/h- is reached), a very low centre of gravity, even weight distribution, top-tier braking ability (100 km/h – 0 in 31m only) and fat tyres make for a stable and very fast car in the right hands.

The question is: was Paul Walker’s friend and business partner that much less of a driver? No. He and Walker both had racing experience, and their joint business interest dealt in vehicles of that calibre. Clearly, they knew how to drive these vehicles, and doing abnormally high speeds in a restricted zone in a flashy car would just be asking for unwanted attention from the authorities. Were they speeding? I don’t know. Does the Carrera GT require advanced driving skills to push hard? Yes. Is the Carrera GT dangerous? No.

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a Japanese import car to buy. I have a question, though. How do I know if the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with? I learnt from a car importer that odometeters are tampered with in Mombasa, then the vehicles are advertised as having low milage. Is there a definitive way to tell what the actual mileage is? Thanks

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

1. Examine the odometer. Cars do an average of 20,000km per year. Use that against the age of the car. If the figure comes up short, get suspicious. Look closely at the numbers in cluster. For some analogue systems, a white space instead of a black space between the digits means the system has been tampered with. For some digital systems, interference with the mileage causes an asterisk to appear next to the readout.

2. Ask for FSH (full service history). Use the number of services against the service intervals to calculate a ballpark figure of the vehicle’s actual mileage.

3. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.

4. Check the pedals and floor mats. If they are shiny and/or worn out, that is a car that has seen many miles.

5. Inspect the vehicle for wear and tear. It should be consistent with the alleged mileage.

6. Check the tyre tread depth. Some people may roll back the od,o but their subterfuge may not be elaborate enough to get rid of such telltale evidence. Or the tyres might be too new for the indicated mileage, while the indicated mileage, might not being high enough to warrant a change of tyres.

Dear Baraza,I have a Nissan Navara  DCI D40 model Ex UK year 2006 and would like your professional opinion on what engine oil I should use. Currently, it is being serviced at D T DOBIE  and they are using normal oil 15w 40 but a friend of mine recently advised me to switch to full synthetic oil 5w 40 if I want a longer engine life for this vehicle. What’s your take on this?Kind Regards, Appi

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

Tell your friend to sod off. Unless the oil s/he is talking about is cheaper than yours, then s/he doesn’t have a valid point to make. The 15W 40 oil means the viscosity index is 40 for normal conditions, and 15 for winter conditions. The 5W 40 means a VI of 40 for normal conditions and 5 for winter.

We don’t have any winter here, do we? No. So we have no interest in the winter rating for the oil. It follows that the two of you are discussing the same bloody oil: one with a viscosity index of 40. If, for the sake of argument, we had winter, then “your” oil would be better than “theirs” due to the higher winter VI. So, again, tell your friend to sod off.

Mr Baraza JM,

I wish to thank you for the good work you are doing, educating us on various issues touching on different types of motor vehicles and motoring in general every Wednesday. I would like you to compare and guide me on which the better vehicle is between a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Rav 4, each of 2400cc or thereabouts in terms of:

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

I wish you had been more specific about the vintage of the vehicles in question. Factors like safety ratings and fuel economy tend to vary quite a lot from generation to generation. For your query, I will assume a 2007 car.

1. Passenger Safety: Interesting result here. The RAV4 scores 4 stars out of 5 for the UCSR (Used Car Safety Rating) while the Outlander scores the full 5 out of 5.

2. Fuel Economy: Again another interesting result. The RAV4 does 9.3 km/l while the Outlander out-teetotals it at 10.5km/l.

3. Spares: these vary widely in availability and cost, depending on where you look and who you ask. But trust Toyota parts to be widespread, though they may not necessarily be “cheap”
Comfort: broadly similar all round.

Posted on

Do Subarus really wear faster than Toyotas? I don’t think so

Hallo Baraza,

I want to purchase my first car and I’m in love with the Subaru Impreza (LA-GG3, 1500cc). Some of my friends are advising me to instead opt for a Toyota 100, 110, G-Touring or Allion, based on the following arguments;

1. The Subaru Impreza 1500cc consumes more fuel than a Toyota of the same engine capacity. The reason being that a Toyota Allion, for example, has a VVT-i engine while Subaru doesn’t. Is this true? If so, does Subaru have a similar offer to Toyota’s VVT-i engine technology?

2. Subaru spare parts are quite expensive compared to Toyota’s. How expensive are they on average? Ten per cent more, for instance? But again I hear Subaru parts wear out less often than Toyotas, thus the maintenance cost balances out. How true is this?

3. Subarus depreciate in value quite fast as compared to Toyotas, thus have a poor resale value. What is the average depreciation rate of a Subaru per year? What makes it lose value that fast compared to a Toyota?

Please advise as I intended to use my car mostly within Nairobi. Over to you.

Sande Stephen.

1. Let those friends of yours conduct a scientific test that specifically proves the Impreza will burn more fuel than a Corolla 100/G-Touring/Allion under the same conditions.

In the course of doing that, let them also say exactly how much more fuel is burnt, and let them also prove that the disparity (if any) in consumption cannot be compensated for by a simple adjustment in driving style and circumstances. While at it, ask them what AVCS means in reference to a Subaru engine, what its function is, what VVT-i means in reference to a Toyota engine and what its function is.

Make sure the answers to these last four questions are not similar in any way. If they are, then they owe you an apology for leading you down the garden path. Some friends, those are.

2. The same technique applies. I cannot quote the prices of these cars’ parts off-the-cuff, and my status as columnist has reached the point where any inquiries will be followed by cries of “Put me in the paper first, then I’ll get you a good deal!”

And anyway, my work is to review cars and offer advise where I can, not provide cataloging services for manufacturers and parts shops. So ask your friends to come up with two similar price lists: one for Toyota and one for Subaru, and compare the listings. And yes, Subaru cars are generally more robust than Toyotas, so they are less likely to break in similar conditions.

3. The question is: which Subaru? From (b) above the opposite would be true: since Subaru cars are less likely to go bang, then it follows they would hold their value longer. That is, unless we are talking turbocharged cars, in which case engine failures are not uncommon. Of particular notoriety is the twin-turbo Legacy GT.

Poor care and/or lack of sufficient knowledge on how to properly operate a turbo engine on the owner/driver’s part is the chief contributor to these failures.

Also, when one buys a turbocharged Subaru, one finds it extremely difficult to drive “sensibly” (for lack of a better word). Hard launches, manic acceleration and extreme cornering manoeuvres tend to be the order of the day, and these tend to wear the car out really fast. So maybe you are right: Subarus may depreciate faster than Toyotas, but this depends on the previous owner’s tendencies.

**********

Bwana Baraza,

1. I have had an ex-Japan Nissan X-Trail for the last three years. It must be about 11 years old now. As it grows older, something pleasantly surprising is happening; it is using less fuel per kilometre than it used to when it was ‘new’. In the past, I would fill the tank, drive to Naro Moru (about 190 kilometres, five of them off tarmac) and by the time I got back in Nairobi I would have just about a quarter tank to go. The empty tank light would come on at around the 470-kilometre mark.

Of late, I am coming back with slightly above half. I have hit the 560-kilometre mark with the fuel light still off. Might it be because these days I use only V-Power fuel for long journeys?

2. I want to purchase a used Isuzu D-Max or Hilux. Which would you advise me to go for, considering petrol or diesel as well as maintenance costs? It will be used for farming purposes in Naro Moru and regular trips to Nairobi. I hear (these may be rumours) that diesel engines demand prompt service, and that the service parts are more expensive compared to petrols.

I also hate the ‘morning sickness’ they exhibit when cranked in the wee hours. Given that Naro Moru is quite cold at night, the sluggishness might be regular. But I could be wrong.

B Chege.

1. Must be the V-Power. It has better quality additives and a high octane rating which not only cleans various engine parts, but also reduces the risk of knocking. Another cause of “improved” engine operation with time would be “bedding in”; where the various engine components tend to “settle” and assume tight-fitting mating surfaces.

I find this unlikely because the car has been in use for 11 years…  the engine must have bedded in by now, and anyway, with new technology, bedding is becoming less of a factor in engine performance. A third, and very unlikely cause, would be a malfunctioning fuel gauge.

2. You must be referring to the KB300 (that’s the name in South Africa, around here we just call it the DMAX 3.0). In maintenance terms, the petrol engine is cheaper overall, but diesel engines offer better performance — in terms of torque — and economy (both the Hilux and the DMAX have 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines).

The “rumours” are true, diesel engines require careful service, especially now that these two are turbocharged. And they are more expensive — in case of repairs or replacement. That “morning sickness” you describe is because either the driver is not using the glow-plug (it warms the engine block prior to starting), or the glow plug itself is not working properly (or at all).

With these new diesel engines, the glow plug operation is automated, it is not necessary to operate it separately like earlier engines.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I would like to hear your opinion about the Toyota Mark II Blit; its power, comfort, stability, off-road capabilities, maintenance costs, fuel consumption and spare parts.

SM.

Mark II Blit, eh?

Power: Good, especially the one with the 2.5-litre turbocharged 1JZ-GTE engine.

Comfort: Good. Not excellent, and not shabby either. Just “good”.

Stability: Good also. A bit prone to oversteering, especially due to its propensity for spinning the inside wheel when a corner is taken hard under power.

Off-road: Don’t even go there.

Consumption: Depends. If you keep in mind that you are driving a large vehicle with a 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre 6-cylinder engine, then it is understandable that asking for 12-15kpl might be a bit ambitious. If you expect Premio or Corolla-like economy figures, you will be bitterly disappointed.

Spare Parts: What about the spares?

**********

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a small family car and I’m thinking of the Suzuki Alto, 2007 model, 800cc with a manual gearbox and the Toyota Duet, 1,000cc with an automatic box. Both are going for Sh250,000. Advise me accordingly because I’m after :

1. Fuel efficiency

2. Reliability

3. Travelling up-country twice a year

4. Minimal maintenance cost.

God bless you.

David.

A small correction, Sir. These are NOT family cars, unless you are looking for a divorce and for your children to hate you. Or your family consists of three people only, but even then….

1. Fuel efficiency: The 800cc car wins in city driving, but by a small margin (by small I mean really small, given how tiny these cars are to begin with, and how minute their engines are). The 1.0 litre car will fare better on the highway.

2. Reliability: Could go either way. I’d vote for the Suzuki, because the Duet is a re-badged Daihatsu and may not have Toyota’s trademark reliability as part of its DNA.

3. For your own sake, you are better off in any other car except these two (and their ilk of similar size and engine capacity). But since you asked, the Duet is better, because of its “bigger” (more substantial) engine.

4. I seriously doubt if there are any actual differences in maintenance costs in cars this small.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a Mitsubishi Outlander. The car has a number of accessories, though I can only figure out two of them (the ABS and PS (which I presume is Power Steering). Kindly assist in interpreting the following: ABS, AC, AW, FOG, NV, PS, PW and WAB.

Samuel.

ABS: Anti-Blockier System, better known as Anti-Lock Brakes. It is a vehicle safety system that allows the maximum braking effort without locking the wheels and/or skidding. It applies the principles of cadence braking (on-and-off braking technique, such as you might see drivers of heavy commercial vehicles applying) and threshold braking (applying braking effort until the point just when the tyres begin to lock up).

AC: Air-Conditioning. Keeps you cool when the world outside your car is sweating.

AW: Given the make and type of car, I think AW in this case means All-Wheel Drive. Other possible meanings could be “Auxiliary Winding (voltage regulation)”, “Anti-Wear (hydraulic oil, additives)”, “Anchor Winch (for off road vehicles especially)”, or even “All Weather”

FOG: Fog lamps present. I think.

NV: No idea. I know NVH stands for Noise, Vibrations and Harshness. However, these are not car accessories but characteristics directly linked to a car’s construction

PS: Power steering. A more common acronym would be PAS: Power-Assisted Steering

PW: Power Windows. Electrically controlled.

WAB: No idea either. The best I can come up with is “Wheelchair Accessible Bus (?)”

**********

Hi Baraza,

I have a question about my recently imported 2006 ex-Japan VW Passat fitted with V5 engine:

1. The car has a 2324cc, five-cylinder petrol straight engine and is a station wagon. Is it common on our roads?

2. I do 40 kilometres daily to and from work and, gauging from the amount of fuel I use, I do about 7.8kpl and spend Sh3,000 from Monday to Friday (on Sh117/litre). I am a very careful driver, is this fuel consumption normal?

3. At some point the Check Engine light came on and upon taking it for diagnostics, the errors were cleared and the light went off. The mechanic said it was due to a previous engine service interval. After two weeks, the same light came on again, this time the mechanic blamed it on Unleaded Super petrol and recommended I use V-Power. Do I really need to be using the more expensive V-Power?

4. The engine used to whine a bit, especially in the morning and evening. The same mechanic told me the power steering pump was damaged and needed replacement. He, however, refilled the power steering fluid and the whining sound is now gone. Do I still need to replace the pump?. A second-hand unit will cost me around Sh23,000 while a new one is going for Sh52,000.

5. Is this car a good buy, considering the expenses? I imported it in April this year and it has clocked 81,000 kilometres on the odometre.

I will appreciate you feedback.

Mwangi.

1. I agree with you: I don’t think this car is very common. I think I have seen no more than three B6 Passat estate cars here in Nairobi. Then the V5 engine is also not a popular import option, and it was not sold by CMC.

2. How bad is the traffic on your road? The figure seems realistic to me, especially given the car has a 2.3 litre engine… with five cylinders (sporty).

3. What error codes did you get when the diagnosis was done? And if the octane rating of the fuel you were using was not ideal, then V-Power should have cured it. One other thing. Some petrol stations would “claim” to be selling Unleaded Premium but instead they peddle some swill that would only be fit for motorbikes and chain saws.

If you understand octane ratings, check out the results of the test done on some “super” petrol that was anonymously acquired from a local fuel forecourt (the company’s identity has been retained until further investigations). Tell me what that octane rating is worth. Clearly not Premium as recommended by manufacturers.

There are reports of other dealers selling water and subsequently ruining people’s engines in the process. You may be a victim of this. More to come soon.

4. If the power steering pump was actually damaged, then yes, you need to replace it. If it was not damaged — the whining was just a result of the whirring of a hydraulic fluid pump spooling with no hydraulic fluid to pump — then a replacement is not necessary… especially given the figures you are quoting.

5. I would say the car is not a bad one. Volkswagen make good cars, the B6 is a looker, wonderful to drive (I am sure that 2.3 litre V5 engine is a hoot) and the estate version must surely be more versatile than the sedan. the trick is to find someone (a garage) who will maintain it well for you.

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.

Posted on

Diesel is the new petrol, thanks to science and technology

Hello Baraza

For years, people have always had different issues on petrol and diesel engines. Some say diesel cars do not perform like petrol ones, they do not last long and are more expensive to maintain. Please clarify this issue for me in respect to the questions below:

1: I’ve always thought that car performance is determined by the power output of an engine and therefore would argue that a car with a two-litre diesel engine with an output of 163hp would be faster than a car with a two-litre petrol engine but with a 150hp power output. Am I wrong?

2: Taking into account two similar vehicles, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine, does it mean that the diesel engine vehicle will have a higher maintenance cost?

3: I’ve always been of the view that diesel engines are more efficient on SUVs rather than sedans, but these days there is a great number of sedans powered by diesel engines. What is your take on this?

4: At what point would it be effective having a diesel engine vehicle rather than a petrol one? That is, from what engine capacity would one rather go for a vehicle with a diesel engine?

5: I’ve seen lots of SUVs with diesel engines that have had long life spans. Is it true that their petrol engine counterparts would last much longer?

Kind regards,

Ndung’u.

I see the old argument is back.

1. You are right, generally. The higher the power output, the better the performance. To put this in perspective: Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once demonstrated how a Skoda Octavia Diesel out-dragged a Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk IV over the quarter mile, and by quite a margin.

His point, however, was how bad the Golf had become, but our little discussion here applies too. A diesel car can be faster than a petrol car of similar capacity; if the diesel car’s power output is higher.

Other factors that determine these disparities in performance in vehicles of similar engine capacity are gross vehicle weight and gear ratios in the ‘box.

2. Again, generally yes; more so if that diesel car has a turbo also (as is common nowadays). This is down to the use of heavier (and sometimes bulkier) components that can withstand diesel torque and the application of high pressure injectors in the engine. They also have shorter service intervals.

3. My take on this is that diesel power can be used almost anywhere now. In fact, diesel engines are so developed that major races (Le Mans 24 Hours and Dakar, for instance) are now being dominated by diesel-propelled entries, in a history plagued by petrol victories.

The development of diesel engines is such that they are as smooth as, and as powerful as (if not more than) their petrol equivalents. This is due to turbo technology and material science.

Diesel engines have the added bonus of having good economy and low emissions, which is why they are finding their way into small cars, with incredible success. In France, more than half of the cars bought, irrespective of size or class, are diesel-powered.

4. From Point 4 above, any. Engines range from as small as the 1.0 litre 3-cylinder turbo in the VW Polo BlueMotion to massive units such as the 6.0 litre V12 TDI in the Audi Q7. These are just road cars.

Trucks have engines as huge as 16,000cc V8s, then we have trains, ships, earth-moving equipment…. There is no limit to size for diesel engines nowadays.

5. This greatly depends on how they are (ab)used.

*********

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Toyota Probox and would like to know how you rate this car in terms of speed, stability on the road and fuel consumption. Second, the fuel gauge is not working and it’s thus difficult to tell wether the car has enough fuel or not. What could the problem?

Eric.

The Probox’s speed is typical of Japanese econo-box cars: nothing special, in spite of what people may say (this includes those who will tell you that nowadays these things are used to transport miraa).

If and when you get to 180 km/h the car will stop accelerating. Japanese cars have a limiter set at this speed. Stability on the road is not the best either, especially given that the car is a bit tall and some use leaf-spring rear suspension.

Fuel consumption is good though, if you avoid trying to clock maximum velocity all the time. I’d say 10KPL is the worst reading you’ll ever get, but 16KPL is possible with sensible driving.

About that fuel gauge: eliminate the usual suspects first. Check to see the wiring in the dashboard is in order. These are the other common causes:

1. Defective Dash Voltage regulator (voltage limiter) or gauge

2. Loss of ground/earth at the sending unit

3. Break in the wire going to the dash

4. Bad Sending Unit

5. Fuel gauge itself is defective

**********

Hi Baraza,

I’m planning to buy a 2005 Pajero IO. I like the boxy look and whatnot, but I’ve been discouraged by those who say it has a high fuel consumption and its GDI engine is problematic.

If I decide to go for it anyway, should I buy one with an automatic or manual transmission? Plus, what is its off-road capabilities and comfort?

Mark.

As for whether to buy manual or auto: that is entirely up to you. Which do you prefer? I would go for the auto myself (that is not saying much: there is nothing to nominate the auto over the manual, I just prefer autoboxes on such cars).

Off-road capabilities: I’d give it a “Lower Fair”, on a scale of Poor – Average – Fair – Land Rover Defender – Mountain Goat. Maybe 5.5 out of 10, where 0 denotes a Lamborghini Aventador and 10 is a Rhino Charge-spec off-roader.

Off-Road Comfort: I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5, where 0 denotes maximum likelihood of car-sickness (vomiting due to the bounciness or the need for physiotherapy due to rock-hard ride.

It’s a little of both, actually and 5 is the point where you can’t tell if the car is off or on road, such is the smoothness (2013 Range Rover).

**********

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I’m writing to make a rather unusual enquiry: I have a budget of just Sh200,000 for either an old 1.3-litre local Nissan B12, a Toyota AE86 or 90, or a Duet which I will use to cover a distance of 20 kilometres daily to work and back. Bearing in mind that I have never owned a car before, kindly tell me which of these, or any other, would suit me.

Thank you.

I was reading through your e-mail until I go to the point where you mention an AE86, and my eyes turned misty. Where can I get a Hachiroku for 200k? I definitely want one of those.

Maintenance and economy of course favor the Duet, but a Duet going for 200k is not likely to be a wise purchase. There must be something seriously wrong with it.

It is thus a close race between the B12 and the AE90 (the B12 was the last good Nissan Sunny car we saw for the longest time. Later models were rubbish), but I would say the AE90, especially if it is 1.3 like the Nissan.

The 86 Corolla might not be as economical as the others (the difference is negligible anyway), but it is a damn good car to drive.

Where can I get one for 200k?

**********

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing. I had a petrol Isuzu Trooper 2 and a Toyota Sprinter K25 which I have liquidated in order to acquire the old box-type Prado.

I would like to know the cons of this car since I made the mistake with the Trooper, which once guzzled Sh20,000 in fuel from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

This time I don’t want my December journey to the coast to become a nightmare again, so your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thumbi.

The only con I can think of is that the Prado does not corner too nicely, but then again, this is not a car built for cornering. The box shape is also aerodynamically inefficient, but if you got one with a diesel engine (a well maintained one), Sh20,000 worth of fuel to and from Mombasa will be confined in the dark chasms of unpleasant memories and life’s hard lessons.

**********

Dear JM,

I am looking forward to purchasing two cars in the near future, kindly enlighten me on the following:

The first is a family car (madam, two daughters and I) to be used within Nairobi and going to Nakuru once in a while. I am torn between a Honda CRV, a Nissan X-Trail, and Volkswagen Tiguan, all local and manual versions. Which of these is the best in terms of performance, comfort and safety?

The second is a personal car for use within Nairobi. I am again torn between two versions of the same model, Mitsubishi Lancer GLX or EX.

Again, in terms of performance, comfort and safety, which is the best? I am made to understand that the Lancer EX comes in two versions, which is the best? The sport or the ordinary one?

Lastly, I prefer manual cars after near-death experiences with automatics. In a manual car, I feel more in control compared to autos, where one just sits ‘there’. Do manual cars have any distinct advantage over their cousins?

Performance may favour the X-Trail in the first lot, but only if it is the X-Trail GT. Otherwise, the Tiguan may be faster. And safer. And more comfortable.

For the second lot, the EX may be better than the GLX in comfort. Performance and safety is the same (it is the same car, after all, with different trim/specs). Of the two Lancers, I would opt for the GT, mostly because Mitsubishi tells us it is sporty, and it does look like an Evo X. I know these are not sensible reasons for choosing it, but hey: we all have our own peculiarities.

Manual cars offer better control (as you point out) as well as slightly improved fuel economy and marginally better performance.

**********

Hallo,

Thanks for your good work. I wish to take you back to the old-school era and I hope you will assist because, hey, we deserve your attention too!

I have driven a Peugeot 205 for 10 years, initially an 1124cc and later 1.4 which actually is 1360cc and the performance of the latter is above-average, except for suspension issues. I have two issues, though, that require your help:

1: How can I fix gear number two in the 1.4, which makes a loud sound when slowing down but all smooth when the car is stationary? I hear this is a common problem with these cars.

2: Any advice on dealing with suspension issues, especially on stabilisers and bushes, would be much appreciated.

3: How would you rate the 205 against the 206 and the Toyota Starlet?

Regards,

Joseph.

1: You are right, 205s suffered from jumpy drivelines, and this problem was most pronounced in the GTi. However, I suspect you may also be downshifting a bit early. A 405 I once had also did not favour early downshifts.

Try this: when slowing down, wait until you lose as much speed as possible (with the clutch engaged, wait until engine speed dips to 1,000 rpm or less) before shifting down. Tell me if there is a difference.

2: Yes. Change them when they go bust, and only use genuine parts. Avoid cheap fakes (or expensive fakes, for that matter, if they exist).

3: I sort of prefer the 205 to the 206. The 206 looks too girly and I have a thing for old-school, bare-knuckle, no-frills driving, which is what the 205 offers.

The 206 is more modern, softer, heavier, more mild and generally… feminine. Compared to the Starlet… well, they are very similar in terms of utility. The Starlet may be more practical though because it has a wider opening hatch at the back compared to the 206.

Posted on

When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

Posted on

Turbo operation depends on engine speed, not road speed

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

Now, If I may ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****************

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Here are the power figures:

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

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

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

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

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

******************

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****************

Hi JM,

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

Mulwa

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

*******************

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

Okay, thanks for the heads up, Cheruiyot!

*******************

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

Isaac

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

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

***********************

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline.

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

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

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

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

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

***********************

Hi Baraza,

Please enlighten me on the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

************************

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

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

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

Oh, and my name is not Jim.

***********************

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Lawrence

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

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

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

Again, congratulations!