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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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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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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.

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Have Sh3 million? These are the 4WD options for you

Hi Baraza

I’m looking for a fancy, low-maintenance, hardy, four-wheel-drive mainly for use in city roads but with an occasional off-road run on not-so-rough terrain. My budget is below Sh3 million.

I have narrowed my attention to the VW Touareg, Toyota Lexus/Harrier RX3000, Nissan Murano, Subaru Tribeca and a Hyundai (can’t remember the series). I’m, however, easy with alternative brand suggestions.

My preference is a vehicle that is not so common on the road, that combines space, comfort, speed and reliability, that does not guzzle too much fuel, that is not prone to serious mechanical defects and that would be a quick and good sell if need arises.

Also, advise me on whether to go petrol or diesel and the consequences of each choice.

Mboca Namuthece.

For about Sh3 million, forget the Touareg and the Tribeca, unless you want a car that has seen hard times. And this class of car is not cheap to fix when things go on the fritz. Your best bet is the now-common Harrier/RX and the Hyundai-you-cannot-remember (please try and remember).

Your preference of an uncommon car again favours the Hyundai, the Murano or the Tribeca (which has already been disqualified from the running, unless, again, you don’t mind a car that has been thoroughly used).

The Harrier/RX and the Touareg are becoming a bit numerous on our roads now.
Comfort: the Touareg is not very comfortable. The Murano is, as is the Lexus/RX. The Tribeca is a bit so-so (not as bad as the Touareg, but then also not quite Lexus).

The Hyundai-that-you-cannot-remember — I drove a brand new Santa Fe some months ago and I was blown away by how silky smooth and comfortable it was — could be encroaching upon the Lexus. But you didn’t specify Santa Fe, and that was the newest (2013) model, which costs a damn sight more than the Sh3 million you have hand.

Speed: The 5.0 V10 Touareg takes this. There is also a 6.0-litre W12-powered version that you will probably never see. Both cost a hell of a lot more than Sh3 million . So maybe Tribeca, but the later 3.6 litre model, not the 3.0-litre B9. But the B9 is what might cost close to the Sh3 million you may or may not be having, so that leaves the Lexus RX330. Hyundai… not so much. It comes last.

Reliability: Lexus. Or Toyota Harrier. Don’t even bother looking elsewhere, unless it is at the Tribeca.

Fuel economy: Look at the section under “speed”. Now read that list in reverse.

Resell: Again, the Toyota-Lexus pair prove to be the best bet. The Touareg suffers from the ill-repute (undeserved, though) plaguing German cars as to maintenance costs. The Tribeca and Murano are uncommon, so the subsequent buyer will be concerned about parts availability and the Hyundai is still unloved, much as it is a superb car nowadays.

Petrol vs Diesel: The cars available with diesel engines are the ones worst affected by our low quality diesel: the Touareg and the Hyundai-whatsit (you really should specify next time). The rest do not have diesel engines available in the range. So petrol it is.

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Can I service these cars in Kenya?

Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and would like to return home with any of the following cars: Fiat Panda, Ford Focus/Fiesta, Hyundai i10/i20/i30, or Skoda Octavia/Yeti/Superb. Do we have any local service dealership or franchise for any of them in Kenya, please?

Masiya.

Ford and Skoda are handled by CMC Motors who, according to some of my readers, will not touch with a barge pole a car they themselves did not sell.

Hyundai has an outlet too, overseen by the manufacturer itself and they would prefer if you steered clear of their diesel engines for now owing to the muddy, sulfurous sludge that passes for diesel over here. With Fiat it is “Good luck, you are on your own”.

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What is the problem with modern diesel engines?

Hi Baraza,I recently bought a second-hand VW Touareg with a five-cylinder TDI engine from the UK. While I love the car (after replacing the shocks), I fear I may have not done my pre-purchase selection well enough as I have been informed that local agents refused to stock diesel Touaregs due to a potential mismatch between our local diesel quality and the VW common-rail engine.

I have also been informed that similar issues have been identified with the new Land Rover diesels, which are also common-rail. Is there an identified problem with this type of engine? If so, what is it and what can be done to avoid problems?

Many thanks in advance, Moose

Moose, I find this interesting because I know CMC sold diesel as well as petrol Touaregs, MK I version (or did they?) What I know for sure is that they sell diesel Land Rovers (and Range Rovers); in fact, last year they were proud to show me the new 2.2 turbodiesel in the Defender, bringing smoothness and economy to a car that knew none of these things.

The diesel engines that I am fully aware of failing courtesy of our diesel are Hyundais: a recent visit to the premises revealed that tests done resulted in engine failures after a mere 50,000km —  an unacceptable premise. As such, the Hyundai agent here will NOT sell diesel engines.

According to the Internet, our diesel contains 50ppm (parts per million) sulphur content, same as South Africa and Morocco. Sulphur is a naturally occurring component of the crude oil from which diesel is derived.

Fuel-bound sulphur is also the enemy of the environment. During combustion, this sulphur creates soot and particles, among other things, and this is where a device called the DPF comes into the picture.

DPF in full is diesel particulate filter. When the soot and particles (particulate matter) are formed after combustion, in the interests of emissions control, the DPF traps them as they try to leave with the exhaust gases. Accumulation of these particles in the DPF results in a slow clogging process that increases the exhaust back pressure.

There is a sensor for this back pressure that informs the ECU to increase fuel delivery via the injectors so as to create a heat build-up just ahead of the DPF and thus burn off these particles. It is a circle of life, so to speak, and it happens so fast you will not notice it in a process called “regeneration”.

All new age diesel engines (of late CRD — common rail diesel — has been the fad, rather than DI — direct injection) are required to have this device to control emissions.

The push for low-sulphur diesel also caters for those old engines that have no DPF and are yet to be grounded. The Euro IV standard is 50ppm diesel. Euro V calls for 10ppm or less, enforced in 2009.

Naturally, every quick-thinking manufacturer would have started building Euro V-standard engines ahead of time so that by the time it comes into force, they will not be caught on the wrong side of the fence.

So what happens when you feed Euro IV-compliant fuel into a Euro V-specified engine? Soot build-up is going to exceed regeneration ability. The DPF will get clogged. A warning light will come on the dashboard. Fuel consumption will shoot up. Power will drop.

At the critical level of 75 per cent, the vehicle will stall (same point at which many more dashboard lights will come on). So you will have to bring the car in for regeneration or a DPF replacement. These things are not cheap: one costs Sh130,000 or more, depending on manufacturer.

With this happening on a regular basis, you can see why my Car Clinic and the income statuses of several garages will flourish. Replacing a DPF every three months will ring alarm bells with your bank manager and your spouse, who will both refuse to believe that the expenditure falls under “running costs” of a vehicle (are you driving a Veyron, for goodness sake?)

A trick that I have seen some people use is to remove the DPF altogether, but if you opt for this, you had also better have knowledge on how to map a vehicle’s ECU because the car will not fire up when the DPF is absent. Reprogramming allows the ECU to “overlook” the missing DPF, or the new programme simply omits the DPF code, so as far as the ECU is concerned, the engine was built without a DPF.

One way to avoid problems is to avoid town-based stop-start driving. This does not create enough heat for passive regeneration (where the heat of the exhaust is used to heat up the DPF to burn off the soot), so instead active regeneration is applied, which is what I described (the DPF sensor tells the ECU to burn more fuel).

It is self-defeating in a way that burning more fuel to de-clog the DPF results in more clogging. Also, regeneration as soon as the warning light comes on will save you replacement bills (but this will still happen often).

The third option is to remove the DPF. If you go for this, I know of one Amit Pandya, from AMS Chip Tuning & Performance Centre, who knows how to sucker ECUs into doing his will. (Note: This is illegal in countries where emissions are taken very seriously).

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Baraza, I like your informative columns. I bought a Toyota Fielder six months ago. Whenever I start the car it behaves alright but upon accelerating, the engine light flickers on and I always notice gear(s) above Number Three do not engage. This makes the rev counter stretch towards the right and by the time I hit 120kph the rev counter is beyond four.

When I drive for long distances the Check Engine light goes off, then the gears engage smoothly and the revs fall to between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, depending on the speed.

I have changed the engine oil and the ATF and also ensured that the right quantities are maintained, but the problem persists.

Diagnosis on two occasions has indicated revolution sensor failure. In the first instance, the mechanic said the entire gear box needed to be be changed but since I did not have the money I went to the second one, who suggested that I change the reported sensors, but the problem persists. I would like to know the following:

1: Must I change the entire gear box, as suggested by the first mechanic, or can the failing gear(s) be repaired?

2: How many gears does my car — a 1500cc Fielder, 2004 model — have. Are they four or five so that I can know how many after the third are failing?

3: Why does the engine light sometimes disappear and gear(s) engage normally? Could it be a wiring problem?

Thanks,

Very Disturbed.

Hello Mr Very Disturbed,

Here are the answers I could come up with for your quandary:

1: I do not think replacing the entire gearbox is necessary. Sensor failures are best cured by sensor replacements. Also, I find it unlikely that individual gears within the gearbox may be ruined. Yours sounds strictly like a sensor problem. Sensor replacement SHOULD cure the problem, although in your case I strongly suspect the sensor replacement may not have been done properly.

Then again, the problem could be in the wiring: there might be a loose connection somewhere, or a circuit board has been jarred free of its connections, hence the new sensor not making a difference. Electronic problems can be a real headache sometimes. If this is the case, then believe me; a new gearbox will not help either.

2. The OEM automatic gearbox in a 2004 Toyota Corolla Fielder 1.5 has four speeds.

3. Yes, as I mentioned in Point 1 above. Now, what you have to do is get a more enterprising mechanic who is not afraid to think outside the box. He will go through the entire electrical path until the problem is found: and more likely than not this will solve the problem.

Hopefully you will stop being Mr Very Disturbed and become Mr Very Relieved.

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Dear Baraza,I am very curious about the Toyota Vanguard. I have seen a few around and I would like to know the difference between it and the RAV4 because they look so similar. Thanks,Muya

Actually, you are right: it is the same car, it is just that one is slightly longer than the other.

Since the Generation 3 RAV4 came out in 2006, Toyota has been building the vehicle in two wheelbase configurations. The smaller cars went to Europe and Japan. The US and Australia got the lengthy version. Japan also got the longer vehicle, but to keep it apart (and away) from the RAV4, they called it the Vanguard.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. I drive a VW Passat 2003 model (1800cc) imported from the UK. It has been a smooth ride since I imported it two years ago. However, lately, I have had issues with the transmission system. When the engine is cold, I have no problem engaging Drive. However, when in traffic and change from Neutral to Drive, I experience a severe jerk which started out slowly but is now quite noticeable.

Computerised diagnosis turned negative results, while my mechanic recommended that we top up on the ATF, which we did with the recommended type from CMC. Sadly the problem persists.
My mechanic now says we should replace the current ATF, but I am wary of this, considering the exorbitant cost.

Another mechanic reckons that my engine’s revs are rather high and that this is what causes the jerking when the engine is fully warmed up. Any idea how to sort out this nagging problem? I love the car but I am worried that soon it might just stall in the middle of the road… at night!

Regards, Jeff.

When the mechanics say the revs are high at idle, how high are we talking about? What rpm? Quite a number of engines have a high idling engine speed when cold-started in a bid to warm up the engine quickly, though this high idle usually drops immediately the gear lever is slid into Drive.

However, that fast idle may be connected to the violent drive engagement. The first steps of diagnosis are usually:

1: Verify that the transmission fluid level is correct, which you say you did, but it could be too high and I suggest you also flush the system and put in all-new ATF, just to see if it works. It is not as expensive as having your car coming to a stop in a dangerous neighbourhood at night.

2: Verify that the valve body, throttle valve, and transmission shift linkage are adjusted properly. A slightly open throttle valve will cause the engine to rev up, and the drive engagement will create a shock, which you experience as that thump.

However, a more technical approach (when the above has failed) involves the replacement of the transmission valve body’s upper housing separator plate and a valve body check ball. It also involves erasing and reprogramming the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) with new software.

These are the steps:

1. Refer to the appropriate year information on Transmission and Transfer Case removal and installation instructions of the transmission valve body, check ball, upper housing separator plate, and pan gasket.

2. Replace the original rear servo check ball with a new plastic check ball.

3. Clean the new separator plate to remove any dirt or rust inhibitor prior to installation.

4. Instal the new transmission valve body upper housing separator plate.

5. Reassemble the transmission.

6. Instal a new transmission pan gasket.

7. Lower vehicle and instal transmission fluid.

8. Verify fluid level after warming up the transmission and cycling the shift lever several times.

9. Verify, and if required, adjust the transmission shift linkage and the transmission throttle valve cable per the appropriate service manual procedures.

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Hi Baraza,I am an avid reader of your column and must commend you for the good work. I own a Subaru Forester, year 2000 turbocharged model. She has been awesome, to say the least, but time has come for me to move on. I have been eyeing one of the following: Basic Outback, 2.5-litre engine (year 2006-7), Outback 3.0R (year 2006-7) and BMW 3-series (328i) saloon or estate (year 2006).

Given my relationship with the Forester, I am a sucker for power and stability. The upgrade should match this and also offer added comfort (Foresters have had the reputation of squeezed rear leg room). Slight off-roading (village terrain but not Rhino Charge) is also one of the requirements.

What would you advise me to go with, taking into consideration fuel consumption and maintenance? One more thing, any issues to look out for from UK imports?

Many thanks,

Mugambi.

The BMW will tick almost all the boxes until it comes to the village off-road part. Then it bows out. The 3.0R Outback will offer everything, but you will pay at the fuel dealer forecourt. The 2.5 Outback’s performance may not be at the same level as the 328 and the 3.0R, but then again, how fast do you want to go in a bus designed to ferry the children of the well-off to grade school in the morning, music classes in the afternoon, and out-of-town horse stables on the weekends? It will also not burn as much Premium Unleaded as the 3.0R.

I do not know how much power and stability the turbo Forester gave you (for all I know, it could have been an STi), but you have to make the choice here. The 328 is not even closely related to what you were experiencing. The decision lies between the Outback 2.5 (better economy than the 3.0R) and the 3.0R (runs like hell, but also burns fuel like hell).

Choose.

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Dear Baraza,

I currently drive a Kenyan muscle car, the Toyota DX 103. It has been a good car and has been to all the corners of this country, but lately it has developed the habit of leaking engine oil. My engine gurus are yet to crack the problem, despite advising me to start using Shell oil and checking the cooling fans.

What do you think could be the problem?

S N Mwangi.

What type of engine does that DX 103 have? Because I suspect you are using the term “muscle car”  very loosely here. Either loosely or with sarcasm, in which case I salute your literary skills.

What I do not salute is the problem-solving approach you and your “engine gurus” have. Either there is something you are not telling me or your “engine gurus” must deal with some other engines, not the internal combustion versions.

I do not see why, when your car has an oil leak appearing on the engine block, you check the cooling fans and replace the oil. What gives? You have not even said that you tried to find the leak; from your description it sounds like you were trying to solve a cooling problem and upgrading your brand of oil.

Check for a leak (obviously). These are the common causes on how one could find oil on an engine block as a result of a leak:

Bad or worn out gaskets (valve cover gaskets, oil pan gasket).

Oil plug (drain plug) not secured properly.

Oil plug worn or damaged.

Oil filter not attached correctly or missing gasket.

High oil pressure (a problem in itself).

Oil coolant line corroded or leaking

Rear seal.  This one is difficult and expensive. There is an oil seal at the rear of your engine near the transmission.  Typically it is difficult to see this one but you will know if you have a leak due to lots of blue smoke coming from the underside of the car at the rear of the engine. If you have this problem, bring it to a mechanic as the engine will have to be removed to replace the seal.

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Hi Baraza,

I am currently in Australia and will soon come back home after studies.
I really love Land Rover vehicles, and a friend in the UK has agreed to help buy one and ship it to Kenya for me. The Freelanders are a cheaper, but another friend tells me these cars are very problematic but does not give me the specific issue with the engines. TheFreelander V6i ES model has an engine capacity of 2,497cc, the Freelander Kalahari S/W 1,796cc, and the Freelander XEI S-Wagon 1,796cc.

I need a car that is fuel-efficient and can last for many years. Does a lower engine capacity mean better fuel efficiency? What is the difference between the Freelander diesel engine and the petrol one?

Thanks,

Alex.

Generally, yes, smaller engines burn less fuel… disregarding issues like forced induction and heavy bodies. The difference between the Freelander petrol and diesel engines is that, well, one uses petrol and the other diesel. Also, some diesel engines are limited to 2.0-litre capacities only while petrols have varying capacities and cylinder counts (from 1.8 to 3.2 and 4-6 cylinders).

However, as of January this year, the Freelander 2 now has TWO diesel engine options: 2.0 and 2.2, and the V6 petrol 3.2 has been done away with. Instead, you can get a turbo 2.0 petrol with only four cylinders.

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I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

Posted on

The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

**********

Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

**********

Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

**********

Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

**********

Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

Posted on

Toyota RunX beats the Spacio and Peugeot 206 hands down

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column and I must say I appreciate your work, even though I don’t own a car yet.

However, I am looking to buy my first car, and I have in my sights a Toyota RunX/Allex, Toyota Spacio and a Peugeot 206.

Please advice me on the best buy between these three in terms of durability, availability and cost of spare parts, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns given that I will be a very careful driver), fuel consumption, off-road capability, ease of handling, and resale value.

Thanks and God bless,

Wanjiru.

Thank you for the compliment. I am always glad to help where I can. On to the three cars you ask about:

Durability: The Runx/Allex is best. It is basically a Corolla with the boot chopped off, and we all know that Corollas run tirelessly.

Only a really abusive ownership will ever bog down a Corolla. The Spacio is not so good on longevity. I have seen several lose shape quite badly after only a few months’ use on Kenyan roads. It does not seem like a solid car.

Even worse, by sheer power of reputation, is the little Peugeot. Nobody uses the words “durability” and “Peugeot” in the same sentence, unless one is telling a joke.

This I know from experience (I owned a 405 for a while) and from observation. I once did an article on Peugeots, and I remember saying acquiring ownership of a Peugeot is like getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is very exciting, but there is no knowing where it will lead to.

Availability and costs of spare parts: Spares are there for all these cars, but the Toyotas will have cheaper ones than the Peugeot.

The clutch of my 405 cost me Sh14,000 to replace, and that was three years ago. Compare to the then cost of Sh3,000 for the same job on a Corolla 110.

Maintenance: The Peugeot will frustrate you, let me be honest. The RunX, like I said, is a Corolla, which never breaks down unless you force it to.

Fuel consumption: Buy a 206 diesel and discover the joys of 25 kpl-plus motoring. Briefly. That is, until the DPF (diesel particulate filter) gets choked by mud and/or the little turbo over-spins at high altitude and fails.

The RunX will hover around 12-15 kpl, more if you drive like a lady (pun intended). The Spacio will give slightly worse economy than the RunX.

Off-road capability: None of the above, least of all the Spacio, with its long wheelbase and minimal ground clearance. How many times must I tell you people to use appropriate cars for specific activities?

Handling: The 206 has the sweetest handling of the three cars you mention, especially if you opt for the GTI. The RunX is a close second, losing out only because there is less “feel”, or driver engagement.

The Spacio looks like a small van, and handles like one. Don’t try to get on its door handles through tight corners, because it WILL get on its door handles.

Resale: You will grow old and die trying to transfer the Peugeot’s problems to someone else.

The Spacio will not exactly fly off the shelf either, but it will not gather as much dust as the Peugeot before getting a new owner.

The RunX is pretty popular: someone might even make you an offer while sitting in traffic; that is how much Kenyans love them. Kenyan ladies, to be exact: I know a few women here and there who drive a RunX. Join the pack.

Dear Baraza,

I am writing for advice on the cooling system of my 1987 short-wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser.

I’ve had it for one year now and bought it without an engine and gearbox. I installed what I was told was the ‘original’ engine, the 2H. While the radiator is large and the fan as large as can fit within the available space, the vehicle overheats when driving up steep hills slowly.

I’ve had the radiator flushed, coolant added, and the fan is working. Also, if the car is idling in traffic I do not have a problem with overheating. This suggests that the cooling system is just not efficient enough.

Could this be the case, or could something else be wrong? I had a similar problem with a previous vehicle and the fundi told me the fan was spinning too slowly, tightened something to increase the speed and I never had a problem again.

Would this help?  Another suggestion I’ve had is to add a fan guard to better channel the air to cool the engine. I’m reluctant to try this as it seems yet another expense without sufficient promise of solving the problem. Could you please advise?
Cheers,

Darcy Ogada

The capacity of the current cooling system may be inadequate to counter the 2H engine’s thermal output. Either that or the car is running lean under power, which causes heating problems (and may even damage the exhaust valves).

For the first cause, a bigger fan may help, as may a fan guard. Some people go the extra mile and upgrade the entire system, fitting bigger/auxiliary radiators, fatter hoses and high-capacity water pumps, but this is costly.

Before diving into extra expenditure, first ensure the following:

1. The radiator core is clean

2. The radiator screen is clean

3. Side panels have nuts at the bottom

4. The water/antifreeze ratio is right (typically 50:50)

5. There are no blockages in the cooling system hoses/water jackets.

Check the timing also, and the valve tappet clearance.

Hi Baraza

I have an Opel Astra 1.4 1996 model. I’ve driven it for 10 years and it has given me excellent service.

Benta, for that is her name, still looks good, drives fast, handles well, is solid… and strong. An excellent, extremely reliable ride.

In the last six months, though, I’ve been to the mechanic more times than in the 10 years combined. My question: Is my car just old, has the mechanic lost the plot, or is it a combination of both?

(It’s the same mechanic I’ve used all along and though he’s been super in the past, he has employed many young men who may not have the same thorough training he obviously had)

Lately, when the car goes to the shop it is fixed for one thing but leaves with another problem, usually small, but still a problem. So, is this the signal that I should start looking for another car? Or should I hang in there, get all her little problems fixed and move on with her for another 10 years?

If you think I should move on (sob!), what car would you recommend that is just as strong and fuss-free as my girl has been? I live in a place where there is no road, so this new car has to be solid enough to handle that, be fuel-efficient, look good, and not attract thieves

Thanks for your help,

Judy.

Benta, eh? Prejudices are like foreheads, everybody has one; and some are bigger than others.

I have one concerning people who name their cars and call them “she” and “her”. Don’t let that stop you though; the good thing with prejudices is that they are almost always unfounded.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I wish you were more specific about the little problems you mention. How bad is the frequency with which you keep returning to your mechanic? And what does he say?

A 10-year-old car is still serviceable and should easily give you another six years of painless ownership, unless you bought the car second-hand, in which case it may be time to lay Benta to rest (or palm her off to someone else to struggle with).

If you don’t mind buying a second-hand car, stay German. An ex-Mashariki E39 BMW 520 should cover most of these bases. Or you could look farther back and get a W124 E200 (or 200E) Mercedes. From Japan, the ideal car would be a Toyota Corolla, or even a Camry, but a locally sold, fully tropicalised unit. The problem is, it might get stolen.

Generally, any locally sold saloon with an engine of 2.4 litres or smaller will serve your purpose. Just don’t buy an Alfa though… Car & General sold a few units some years back and keeping one on the road will be a hard lesson you will not easily forget.

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1997 Toyota Premio that has served me well. Recently it has developed two problems.

First, when the gear lever in on neutral or parking, the idling is high at about 1200rpm and the engine is rather noisy. I have checked with my mechanic and he pointed out that the problem was with the throttle and opened it up and cleaned with WD40. However, the problem still persists.

Second, in the morning the steering wheel is difficult to turn but softens after a short drive. I replaced the automatic transmission oil pump but the problem still persists. Kindly advise what could be wrong.

Regards,

Macharia.

That high-rev idling: when does it occur? If it is only on start-up, then that is normal, the engine is warming up. If it happens all the time, check your Idle Air Control valve. There could also be a vacuum leak at the intake manifold or at the vacuum hose.

For the hard steering: your PAS fluid could be low, or the pump is taking too long to work. Check the fluid levels first, then the pump. Does the car make a screeching noise when you turn the steering? If so, then the fan belt is not sitting true within the pulley of the power steering pump.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly talk about Korean cars, specifically the Hyundai Accent.

I own a 1996 model and it has never disappointed me. The fuel efficiency is more than excellent (at 19 kilometres per litre). Of late I have seen many Hyundai minibuses plying the Embakasi route, could it be a sign of Kenyans realising that they have colonised their minds for too long with Japanese models and ignored better alternatives?

Give people time, they will realise how good Hyundai cars have now become.

Once upon a time they were close to rubbish (if not actually rubbish), and they stayed above water by building and rebadging obsolete vehicle models.

Then they tried their hand at making their own cars (also bottom-rung stuff). Now they build their cars in a way convincing enough for the American market to sit up and pay attention. Maybe it is about time we did too.

Hi Baraza,

1. Ever since Toyota changed their double-cabin pick-up, why are Volkswagen and Ford copying the look? And who told Volkswagen to venture into that pick-up field yet it’s not their thing? I know Ford has a history with the Ranger, but why copy the Toyota look?

2. Now that the ‘freno’ is always on heavy commercial vehicles, how come I have heard it on some Subaru? What purpose does it serve in both cases, and how come in some vehicles its auto while some are manual?

Regards,

Brian.

1. The VW pickup you deride here is actually quite a machine, and it rocked the double-cab world at launch. It is not as hopeless as you may suspect. As for Ford and VW “copying” the Hilux look: well, that is your opinion.

In my view they took completely different design routes. The VW has a blocky, butch, almost square design, the Hilux is swoopy and curvy while the Ford is Amero-centric: big toothy grille, plenty of chrome, oversize with a simplified execution, though not as simplified as that of the Amarok.

2. What you heard in the Subaru cars was not an exhaust brake (so-called ‘freno’), it is called a BOV (blow-off valve/dump valve), and it is used to prevent compressor surge (air rushing the wrong way up the turbo) when the throttle is closed (the compressed air is trapped between the closed throttle plate and the turbo fan blades, and starts depressurising backwards into the turbo, causing the turbo to slow down suddenly).

Automatic and manual exhaust brakes depend on the manufacturer’s wishes. I know the exhaust brakes on Scanias are integrated into the foot brake (they also have a separate engine brake and retarder).

On most other trucks/buses it is manually activated using a lever/stalk on the steering column. However, deactivation may be manual (pull/push the stalk back into its original position) or automatic (the exhaust brake is deactivated automatically whenever the accelerator or clutch pedals are touched).

The exhaust brake is used in HCVs to slow down without having to use the foot brake. This reduces wear and tear on the wheel brakes, and is especially handy at high speed where there is a real risk of burning out the wheel brakes due to vehicle momentum.

Hi Baraza,

Great work with the column. I know it is specified ‘car trouble’, but I have a question on motorsports in Kenya. Which categories are there? Which is the easiest (read cheapest) way to join the industry, assuming all I have is the passion and a little money?

Under KMSF, I know of the rally circuit and karting competitions, especially in Mombasa. There are also buggy races (I don’t know the exact name of that race series).

Then there is the Concours D’Elegance (yes, believe it). I doubt if the Rhino Charge falls under the aegis of KMSF.

Outside of KMSF we have the Great Run (sic!). It is not competitive, but hey, you get numbers and stickers on your car. And it is cheap to take part in.

You don’t even need a specialised vehicle, your own daily runabout will serve the purpose quite well.

Let me get a more comprehensive answer from KMSF then I will get back to you with it…

Posted on

The Mahindra Genio: You don’t know whether to love or laugh

For some people, 2012 is the year when the world as we know it will come to an end.

For me, 2012 will be marked down as The Year of Great Surprises, one of which was a Mahindra vehicle.

If the world actually does end, that will be another (stop laughing at the back, please, this is not funny).

The Mahindra brand is back in the country and out in full force to do battle with Japan, and possibly Europe (I said stop laughing. I am serious). They have a whole line of vehicles to do this, with more to come, and within their stash of secret weapons is something called M-Hawk, which I will discuss shortly (for the last time, will you cut out the tittering back there?)

The Mahindra Genio

I have had a chance to sample one of their new products, and I must say the prognosis thus far is very promising. The vehicle in question is the Genio 4X2 single-cab pick-up, and it is quite unlike a lot of other pick-ups you may have seen.

To put things in perspective, I will compare it to the usual suspects that dominate the market, the output from the other automotive corner of Asia that is not India. Or China. Or Korea. Or Malaysia. Japan, in other words.

1. Physical Appearance:

The Genio looks a bit odd in the face. It is not as critically pretty as the Toyota Hilux or the Mitsubishi L200, nor does it have the conventional robust handsomeness of the D-MAX.

It actually looks a little bit like Hyundai, which is forgivable for a company that has not been in the game long enough to master car design.

Nevertheless, Mahindra is getting there, especially when you see what else they have to offer. The cabin is taller than the Japs’. However, and this gives the Genius — sorry, Genio — a driving feel akin to that of an SUV; a feeling that most of us desire, owing to the generous view outside.

It also has a short stubby bonnet, so threading the front end into and out of tight spaces will not be a hassle. However, threading the back end into and out of tight spaces might be a hassle because of…

2. Carrying Capacity:

Look carefully and you will notice that the payload area of the Genius — sorry, Genio — is a little longer (at 2.4 metres) than that of the D-MAX and the Hilux, which are already quite long (at two metres).

While the rest are classified as one-tonne pick-ups, the Genio is rated at 1.25 tonnes, with the capability to stretch to two. Therefore, either Mahindra as a company has a lot of insight into the thought processes of Kenyan businessmen, or they are trying to sell us a lorry and are calling it a pick-up. I am vouching for the former because of…

3. Price:

The Genius — sorry, Genio — 4X2 diesel will cost you Sh2.2 million, which you can negotiate down to Sh1.95 million, so let us just say that it costs about Sh2 million flat.

This is clearly not lorry money, so the Genio is definitely a pick-up. However, even as a pick-up, that is quite cheap, far cheaper than all three members of the Japanese Triad. Some of you might call that China money, so you might be getting a China-grade vehicle. I disagree, because of…

4. Build Quality and Amenities:

That SUV feeling comes about again. The cabin, in beige, looks a bit too fancy to be on a commercial vehicle.

It is not exactly a Volkswagen Touareg in here — panel gap consistency is still one or two degrees off and there might be a bit of plastic — but the execution is stupendous.

The steering wheel is chunky and feels nice to the touch. Talking of steering, the rack has been tightened up a bit. There is no play whatsoever (on the road, so instantaneous is the response to tiller twirling that it feels like you are driving a Golf. Yeah, I said it).

The controls are just where you want them, and there are one or two (actually four) little touches that people take for granted but will come to appreciate in the long term.

The air-con actually works as it should (Toyota Hilux, please pay attention), heating and cooling as instructed. There are cup-holders within sight and within reach. There are arm-rests (yeah Japan, you never thought of that, did you?) and what is more, there is a good-looking, crystal clear stereo that will play CD, MP3, and has a USB slot for those who cannot afford iPods and still walk around with flash drives full of pirated music.

One particularly fancy touch I liked was the cubbyhole on the left, also called the glove compartment in American English. While in most cars the lid drops open like the jaw of a hand puppet, in the Genius — sorry, Genio — it appears as a sliding door, and not just your typical French window style portal.

No, this door is made of flexible plastic, so when you slide it open, it opens wide as the plastic disappears to God-knows-where. You can have a full width gap, enough to push a wheel spanner through. Or even a whole wheel, though it will not fit into the box itself. That SUV feeling does not end with the interior. It is also felt through the…

5. Ride Quality:

I have driven the new Hilux 2.5, and I have driven the D-MAX. I have also driven the NP300 Hardbody, and I am sorry to say none of these holds a candle to the Genio in terms of comfort. Yeah, I said that too.

The Hilux is too hard to the point of being uncomfortable. Its stiffness is to such a degree that one is afraid it will oversteer dangerously if driven hard on a loose surface. Many call that stiffness an advantage. A visit to the chiropractor is not an advantage.

The D-MAX, on the other hand, is soft to the point of wobbliness, and it actually does oversteer, even on tarmac. There is a YouTube video as evidence of this dynamic infidelity (where it eventually overturns and pours out a mass of humanity off its bed).

The NP300 is both hard and bouncy, somehow managing to combine the two wrong qualities of the preceding pair. I will concede, the hardness and the bounciness of these three Japanese commercials arise from tropicalisation, but the Genio is also tropicalised (so they say), itself coming from an environment very similar to ours, and yet it rides well.

On the highway, it does not feel like a ship on the high seas (D-MAX), nor does it feel like the suspension has been set in concrete (Hilux). On rough roads, it will not grind your teeth to dust (Amarok, base model).

The clutch weighting is just right (again, base Amarok), though the gear lever seems to have been borrowed from the Scania, which I reviewed a few days ago. Mis-shifts are not on the menu, thank God. The brakes feel right and the accelerator pedal is easily modulated. This complements the magic ingredient of the whole setup, the…

6. Engine:

Mahindra calls it M-Hawk, which sounds like a currently fashionable (and questionable) hair-do common among both men and women below the age of 25. It is a 2.2 litre 4-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, good for 120 bhp and 295 Nm of torque.

So proud of it Mahindra is, that they use the exact same engine in the XUV 500, their idea of what a BMW X5 should be, only that in the XUV it has been tweaked to 140 bhp (you cannot keep up with an X5 if you only have 120 bhp; that is obvious).

There is some art behind the science of the Mohawk engine. Rather than having a front-mount intercooler in the style of a Lancer Evolution, the heat exchanger is located on top of the engine block, like a tea tray, as seen in a Subaru STi.

This setup would call for a bonnet scoop, but again the artists take over from the engineers: instead of an ostentatious scoop, the intercooler is fed by ducts, which start from the grille and feed into a pair of externally invisible plastic nostrils, which then force the air into air-ways carved into the underside of the bonnet.

These terminate halfway up the bonnet on top of the intercooler. To keep it airtight, the air-way terminus is lined with a rubber seal where the bonnet meets the fridge.

As with front-mount intercoolers, this arrangement reeks of potential cooling problems because the radiator has been robbed of precious airflow by the needs of the turbo-intercooling kit, and that is why the Genio has such a wide face. The top side of the grille (on the bonnet leading edge) feeds the heat exchanger, while the rest of the face provides the airflow channels for the radiator. All is well.

All is well because the turbo and the intercooler work in tandem with the 2.2 diesel to provide grin-inducing low-end torque and high-end power. Wheel-spin is possible in first and second gear (!!), even on tarmac, and overtaking in fourth is not a gamble with the idiocy of the person being overtaken and/or the bravado of the person coming the other way. Or even your own.

Seven times out of 10, all my overtakes along Mombasa Road were made in fourth: it was as simple as changing lanes and stamping the accelerator. No discernible turbo lag (Volkswagen Amarok), the torque band is quite wide (again Amarok, and the Hilux) and no mis-matched gear ratios (Toyota Hilux double-cab).

I have never enjoyed driving a pickup as much as I did this one. Mahindra claims fuel economy in the region of 12kpl. I believe them.

Sum-Up: The power of reputation

From my ramblings, it is easy to assume that the Mahindra betters its Japanese competition in almost every aspect that matters, and the quick answer is yes.

I know most readers will be cagey about buying something Indian over something Japanese, and this is down to the power of reputation: How can the Indians, makers of the Mahindra jeep that threw egg on the face of our police force, master, in a few short years, what has taken the Japanese, makers of the most reliable vehicles on the planet, decades to master?

I do not know, I honestly do not. But this is how good the Genio actually is: my fellow test driver, with whom I have test-driven the Hilux, the Range Rover Evoque, the Scania truck, and several other cars (in other words, whose opinion I trust) was so impressed that he suggested we take a Genio to Meru and pit it against the grand-daddy of toting miraa, the Hilux, to see if it will beat the Hilux at its own game.

That is how confident he was of the Genio’s abilities. And no, he is not a shareholder at Simba Colt, owners of the Mahindra franchise.

And no, he is not the fellow you saw at the Car Clinic Live event.

I, however, prefer a more cautious approach: let us not be so quick to draw conclusions from a single road test of a new model of car. A long-term test is called for.

While the Genio is a step above China-spec, it is still a step below Japan-spec for now, especially seeing how longevity and reliability is yet to be confirmed. Japan has been in the game for a while, let us not forget that; and the tall cabin and increased ride height might not gel well with the high-speed application that is the transportation of perishable narcotics.