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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.

 

*             *             *             *

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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Mitsubishi FH easily beats Isuzu FRR and UD truck

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work you are doing. Every Wednesday I am very eager to learn new things about the motoring industry.

Now, I am looking forward to buying a medium-size lorry that I can use to transport cement from Athi River to Meru comfortably, doing approximately 10 trips a week. I would like your advice on the choice between a Mistubishi FH, Isuzu FRR, and Nissan Diesel UD (MK 210) on durability, economy, reliability, and maintenance.

Regards,

Gitabu Munene

Hello,

Durability: The FH is the best one here, no doubt about it. Comparatively, the UD is the worst; it does not last very long under hard use, much like the FRR.

Economy: Again the FH wins. It has a 6557cc engine developing some 160-odd horsepower, while the FRR has a giant 8200cc block good for 187hp and the MKB210 makes do with 6997cc and 180hp. The smallest engine putting out the least power; this has to be economical by default, doesn’t it?

However, the Mitsubishi, again, is the oldest one here, dating back to 1996, with the Isuzu and UD making an appearance around the turn of the century or shortly thereafter, so economy will largely boil down to driver skill and tendencies more than outright engine capacity.

Just so you know, the Nissan Diesel (they dropped this name by the way. Nowadays they are simply known as UD Trucks. Even the buses…) has been derided several times for its unimpressive fuel economy and is, thus, considered unprofitable for conversion into a low-capacity passenger bus, the luxury type.

Reliability: Take a guess. Yes, you are right; Mitsubishi’s FH215 truck comes through again. Given that it is the most durable, it is also the most reliable. It is also more basic/less complicated than the other two, meaning there are fewer things that can go wrong with it. The UD suffers more incidents of convalescence compared to the Isuzu.

Maintenance: Ahem… FH. This is determined by the country-wide dealer network that Crater Automobiles sports. CMC outlets are fewer and further between in comparison, which also applies to GM. Also, it is fairly obvious: If durability is excellent and reliability is top-notch, there is no way maintenance is going to be painful, is there?

Greetings,

I would like thank you for your valuable insights into automobile maintenance. As a regular reader of Car Clinic, I must commend you for the time you spend reviewing readers’ concerns, and more importantly, offering the best professional advice.

Your advice has been useful to me and given me new perspectives in vehicle maintenance.

How I wish you would connect me to your network so that I can follow up these features via email or your Facebook page; newspapers are perishable, but the information stands the test of time.

Benson Esuza

Hi Benson,

Thank you for the good word. I try: Not only does it help Kenyans out there (I hope!) but I enjoy the work too, and I take pride in it.

My email and other useable contacts are available on Facebook. Just search for J M Baraza, and you will see a strange name appear. That strange name is my pseudonym on the social network.

I have mentioned before that I am working on a book. This will, hopefully, be done by April. And the good news, if you could call it that, is that there will be two books, not one.

The first will be a bit technical, with useful information for the reader and an in-depth analysis of motoring life and the industry in the country as observed through the years both as the force behind this column, and as a driver/owner of an automobile.

The second will be a bit more personal and will deal with controversy. My apparent dislike for the Prius will feature prominently, as will the imaginary “war” people think I wage against Subaru vehicles and/or their owners. My adventures around the world as a motoring correspondent will be there too, and just for the sake of keeping things interesting, I will also feature the worst article I have ever written for this paper. It should prove to be quite a read.

Hi JM,

Thanks for the information you share in this column. Please compare the BMW 630i Coupé and the Mercedes CLS 350, and then the BMW 730D and the Mercedes S320 in terms of performance, comfort, reliability, durability, and recommendation.

Kindly share any information that can help me make a decision on which car to buy. Assume year 2007 across the board.

Kirera Evans.

Hi Kirera,

That is quite a line-up you have listed. Performance is not very different across the board: None of those vehicles will move any faster than 250 km/h due to factory-fitted speed governors (German regulations). However, the differences arise in acceleration.

Comfort: It is excellent in the 730 and the S320, more so the S Class. It is middling (relatively, it is very good though not as good as) with the CLS and comparatively harsh in the 630 coupé, but again the key word here is “comparatively”. Nobody who owns and drives a 630 will lament about its ride quality.

Durability: Will depend on what you do with the car, but these are all high-end luxury vehicles; they tend not to wither away quickly.
Recommendation?

Depends on what you want from the car. For a sporty, enjoyable driving experience, the 630i will suffice, closely followed by the CLS. The CLS and the two bigger saloons offer more practicality, with the 730 and S320 being most practical.

The 730D will appeal if you also have economy in mind while the S Class dominates with gravitas and sheer presence. The coupés will do you good if you like to stand out and draw attention to yourself.

My personal preference is the CLS: You get the coupé good looks (the CLS is marketed as a “four-door coupé”, which I consider an oxymoron), structural rigidity, and low roof with the seating capacity and practicality of a pukka four-door saloon.

For the 350 V6, economy is not bad either, though the 730D dominates in this area.

Hi Baraza,

Congratulations for the good work you are doing.

I am a hustler who rears chickens for commercial purposes and intend to start a taxi business. I sell eggs in crates as well as scratch cards using a motorbike. But I am finding this hectic, so I want to advance to a small car.

The Jeep Wrangler is the type of a car I am looking for, if I am not wrong. Of course I do not know much about it, that is, its consumption efficiency, availability of spares, whether it can travel on rough roads, especially during the rainy season, and its price, both brand-new and second-hand.

At this point I am not really interested in comfort, but rather, fuel consumption. When I am not selling eggs and scratch cards, I would like to use it as a taxi. Please advise me accordingly. Also, compare this car with a Suzuki Maruti with regard to the above-mentioned aspects.
Bosire Ndege

Hi Bosire,

You are one strange hustler… or your hustler ambitions, at least, are unusual. Before I help you out, I do have a few questions of my own:

1. Where exactly do you intend to conduct this taxi business of yours?

2. You do know what a Jeep Wrangler is, don’t you?

You are not wrong. A Jeep Wrangler is a type of car, but it is not exactly what we would call “small”. It is an off-road vehicle, not unlike the infamous police Mahindras of yore. In fact, those Mahindra Jeeps were direct knock-offs of the original Willys Jeep, of which the Wrangler is a direct descendant.

Thankfully, you do not care about comfort levels because the Jeep you ask about is awful, really awful. It manages to take a stony, jarring ride and then imbues it with wallowy, wobbling, swaying, staggering, and bouncing characteristics.

If you have never been car-sick, this will be the car that initiates you into the experience. The interior is worse than Spartan, it is below basic, and it has no doors, so the outside weather gets in and out at will.

Now that you mention the Maruti, I daresay they share the same qualities, the difference being that the Maruti’s interior is even worse than the Jeep’s, but at least that one has doors, so the climate stays out. So how do the two face off in the traits you are interested in?

1.“Consumption efficiency” (next time just say fuel consumption or fuel efficiency): It is very poor in the Jeep. It has a huge 4.0 V6 engine as the poverty-spec power supply. That engine is archaic and it is mated to a 4-speed manual-plus-overdrive/three-speed automatic with short gears and an even shorter final drive.

This makes the vehicle very, very thirsty, 5km/l or less will be your lot. Hedonists opted for the 4.2, which is even thirstier without being much faster or more powerful than the 4.0.

Apparently, there was also a 2.5 litre engine, but I think this must have only been available in Iran, where this vehicle was assembled unchanged six years after it was updated elsewhere in the world. I am not sure.

The Maruti, in comparison, uses a puny little carb-fed 1.3 litre engine that is very good for “consumption efficiency”, though not as good as other 1.3s because a) the Maruti is a jeep (small “j” for jeep, take note) and b) carburettor. The Maruti is also feather-light. So, while the Jeep will struggle to reach 6 km/l, the Suzuki will happily do twice that.

2. Availability of spares: Difficult for the Jeep unless you have a good Internet connection, an understanding of eBay, and a PayPal account. This is because the Internet is where most of your shopping will be done; not many Jeep Wranglers found their way here, more so because they were almost exclusively LHD for a very long time (RHDs were introduced in the UK around 1998). DT Dobie now sells a modern version, which I am told is good, but I suspect is not actually that good.

Meanwhile, the Maruti has spares everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. There is not a village that lacks at least one Suzuki or its various derivatives. Its rugged simplicity makes it very difficult to break down, and very easy to fix if it ever does, and would you believe it, the things are still on sale! I think it is the cheapest SUV in the market right now.

The last time I checked, a brand-new, zero-mileage unit was going for a million flat. And it is the same car they were selling back in 1988…

3. Travelling rough roads, especially in the rainy season: Both will do the job perfectly (a bit of green-lane skill is necessary, though). Both will make you hate yourself for doing it because both are nasty and punishing to the human body.

The Jeep is slightly worse, because you will get rained on in your discomfort. Remember, it has no doors; there are some that claim to have “doors”. Those are not doors, in my opinion.

4. Pricing: I really do not know the Wrangler’s pricing. As I mentioned earlier, a brand-new Maruti costs around a million. A used one could be bought for next to nothing.

I will conclude with a repeat of my first question: Where exactly do you intend to operate this taxi business? The choice between the vehicles you have given are rather extreme:

These are hardcore off-road machines inappropriate for carrying eggs and/or paying passengers, unless the eggs and passengers live in a remote area, like, say, the top of a tall, rocky mountain…or in the middle of a deep swamp.

Hi,

During a heavy downpour, I got to my car and found a small puddle on the footwell on the driver’s side.

Should I be worried or is it just condensation? The car has had no structural damage and the seals seem to be okay and I see no signs of water leak marks.

AA

Hi,

Condensation will never lead to a puddle, if it is actually a puddle that you saw. Is there a puddle in the passenger footwell as well? I daresay there is definitely a leak somewhere, and a more thorough inspection will lead you to the source thereof.

Focus mostly on the bulkhead, especially the ports through which the various linkages — accelerator, brake and clutch — go through. The door seals could also be the culprit, but this should be apparent as you are driving, unless you normally park in a puddle before leaving your car.

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Which is king between Mazda RX-8 and Toyota Celica GT?

Dear Baraza,
I am an ardent reader of your informative column and I thank you for the great work and research.

I am planning to buy my first car and I plan to use it to travel approximately 140km to Nairobi every Saturday and Monday.

I am a fan of sports cars, so when I came across Mazda RX-8 with a 1.3-litre engine, and fell madly in love with it.

However, I realised that the car uses a rotary engine which makes its fuel consumption very high. I would like a car that is economical with fuel and has a high resale value. Kindly advise me on the following,

1. Whether it is possible to replace the RX8 rotary engine with another one that is not as thirsty.

2. How does the RX-8 compare with Toyota Celica GT? Kindly advise me on any other better sport car models.

3. Finally, since I would like to import the car, is the import duty for sport cars higher than that of ordinary boxes?

Duncan Muthoni

The Mazda RX-8 is a sweet little car, but the rotary engine technology was doomed from the start, which was way back in the late 1960s, because it was not really a workable one.

Mazda just insisted on exploring that option as a way to look “unique” from other manufacturers, but even they had to eventually accept the circumstances and adapt accordingly. The RX-8 was the last car ever to use a rotary engine and it is no more.

Anyway, the high fuel consumption comes from the fact that there are three power strokes per every revolution of the crankshaft for a single rotor — the Wankel equivalent of a reciprocating engine piston — as compared to “half” for the piston — one power stroke per two revolutions of the crankshaft. The power stroke is the phase when fuel is burnt to produce power.

Other complications connected to a rotary engine are high oil consumption, lack of torque, which necessitates a high-revving engine, which in turns leads to even higher fuel consumption (the RX-8 revs to 9,500 rpm) and is expensive to maintain since the rotor tips, made from carbon, get cooked very fast and are always in need of replacement.

Anyway, to your question:

1. Yes, it is possible to replace the rotary engine with a reciprocating one. However, the work and money involved are off-putting, especially in fabrication and computer work.

At the end of it all, you may have even forgotten that the original intention was to save money. You might be better off sticking it out with your rotary and replacing it with another rotary once it goes bang. With good care, this might not necessarily happen.

2. The Mazda RX-8 is “sportier”. It has more horsepower (230hp vs the Celica’s 190hp), it is revvier (9,500 rpm is not a joke), it looks more snazzy, handles better, and is generally quicker. Other options would be a Nissan 350Z, a Honda S2000, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Chrysler Crossfire (stay away from this one), and BMW Z3 or Z4.

3. This I am not sure of, but I hardly think so. A friend just imported a crazy-fast sports car (R35 Nissan GTR) and initial calculations based on KRA’s universal customs duty criteria closely matched what the actual payment made was. So I do not think there is a “special” sports car importation tax.

Dear Baraza,

I have have been seeing buses with engines mounted at the rear and I am curious to know the following:

1. How does this setting compare with engines mounted at the front in terms of transmission, efficacy and maintenance.

2. Assuming two buses with the same engine specificiations (with one having the engine in front and the other at the rear) are going uphill, how would they compare? I am assuming one engine is pulling the load and the other is pushing.

3. Do the rear engine buses have a drive shaft since the engine is on top of the driving wheels?

Chris M M

I have had this debate between rear-engine and front-engine buses before. We had some interesting points, but these are the ones that stood out regarding your question:

1. Transmission: Front-engine buses have some advantage here because a rear-engine bus requires remote controls from the driver area to the back, where the engine is. These remote controls include the accelerator and clutch (for buses with a manual transmission). Also, the placement of the transaxle (gearbox, engine, and diff is all in one unit) means repairs and maintenance is a lot more complicated than in a front-engine bus.

However, rear-engine buses have been found to be much quieter than their front-engine counterparts because there is noise isolation. The rear-engine setup also means the engine and the driven wheels are at the same end of the vehicle, eliminating the need for long prop-shafts travelling along the centre line of the bus from the front to the back axle.

This absence of a lengthy prop-shaft means that the bus body can be fabricated with a much lower floor, thus maximising the available space from that chassis and hence optimising efficiency.

2. The difference would be hardly noticeable. Buses rarely suffer from loss of traction, and I know this particular question concerns that. In both cases, the engine would be pushing  the bus because either way, drive is going to the the rear axle. Placing the weight over the rear axle will not really make much of a difference.

The difference between pushing and pulling usually comes from the driven axle and not engine position. A front-wheel drive car pulls, while a rear-wheel drive car pushes, irrespective of engine placement.

3. Yes, they have to have a drive-shaft. There is no other way in which power from the engine can reach the wheels for a traction engine without drive-shafts. (Note: traction engines are the sort where the engine power directly powers the wheels.

The other type is a reaction engine where the vehicle motion comes from Newton’s most famous law. A good example is a jet engine, where the momentum of the exhaust gases pushes the entire vehicle)

Hi Baraza,
I have noticed that Scania F330 buses are quite adept at scaling steep sections, and that Isuzus, on the other hand, are more of jacks of all trades but not good for speed and power on either flat or steep surfaces. Nissan Diesels, I have also learnt, are quite underpowered when going uphill but become beasts on flat surfaces and even outsprint the Scanias and Isuzus. Could you kindly demystify this phenomenon and also drop in a word or two on efficiency and durability of the three.

Victor Dola.

From your description, I would guess either you are referring to obsolete models of these buses or maybe the respective drivers had different ideas on how to approach bus driving. The F330, for starters, is no longer on sale. It has since been replaced by the F310, which is just as quick but more fuel-efficient due to having a smaller engine, a 9,000cc five-cylinder unit compared to the F330’s 11,000cc six-cylinder.

When you say the Isuzu is “not good for speed and power in either flat or hilly surfaces”, I am tempted to think that you are referring to the old Isuzu MV118, which has been out of production for, what, 13 years now? It was replaced by the Isuzu MV 123, which is turbocharged and intercooled up to 270hp and 980Nm of torque, with a six-speed gearbox, and, from experience it is not exactly slow.

It might not have the sheer go of the Scania pair (which have 330hp and 310 hp respectively), but is works just fine on hilly and flat surfaces. Unless you were referring to the smaller FRR, in which case that is a lorry dressed as a bus, so forgive its lethargy on mountains.

The Nissan Diesel UD is another one. The CB31 SXN is a weak noisy thing which eventually found its calling in life — ferrying prisoners between courtrooms and jail. The updated version, the CB46 Turbo Intercooler, is a lot better: It is quieter, quite fast, and hugely reliable. Again, it is no match for the Swedes in making molehills out of mountains, but then again it is not THAT bad now, is it? Have you ever been in a CB31? Now, that one was POOR on the hills.

Anyway, the phenomenon of different performance capabilities… The Scanias use close-ratio gearboxes and taller final drives in the diffs (mechanical devices that transmit torques and rotation). This gives them almost unbelievable acceleration and hill-climbing power, but trims down their top speeds somewhat.

Not forgetting the advanced turbocharging AND turbo-compound technology that yields massive outputs from the relatively small engines — the F310, like I said, has a 9,000cc engine but it also develops the most torque: 1550Nm. The Nissan Diesel UD CB46 Turbo InterCooler does 290hp and 1,079Nm of torque, but from a 11,670cc engine. The Isuzu MV123 Turbo Intercooler also has a small unit; 9,800cc, giving 270hp and 980Nm.

Though the UD and the Isuzu are also turbocharged and intercooled, theirs are much simpler setups and are combined with taller, widely spaced ratios in the gearboxes and much smaller diffs to give high top speeds, but the acceleration and climbing power are slightly compromised. I hope this helps.

In terms of efficiency, the Scanias rule. Both of them. The Isuzu is not so bad, but sadly for the UD, it comes last. Durability sees the list almost being reversed. UDs do not die; they get sold and continue working on other routes.

They are harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids. Isuzus (MV 123) are ephemeral by comparison and are prone to turbo failure, especially when driven by people who did not take the time to listen when care for turbo engines was being explained to them. The Scanias fall somewhere in between.

Dear Baraza,

I am a die-hard enthusiast of the Peugeot pedigree and happy that for the first time in many months you critiqued the ‘Simba’ but dwelt on an old model. Anyway, to my problem. I have owned the Peugeot 405GL for six years and cannot complain except for a rear right suspension, which was eventually fixed.

However, due to two factors — my retirement and and the high cost of fuel— I approached my mechanic who suggested that we change its double carburettor to one fixed on a 305. It was fine until I noticed an increase temperature.

He replaced the cooling fan but now my three-month-old Chloride Exide battery is unable to crank the engine if the car stays static for a day. What is the problem? Would a 305 carburrator compromise power?Any known/tried benefit and/or damage?

Ossome.

I believe you installed the wrong carburettor in your Peugeot 405 GL. It is a, what, 1.8-litre? 2.0-litre? The smallest I would give it is 1.6 litres. The Peugeot 305, on the other hand, was most commonly found in 1.3-litre guise.

By installing a carburettor meant for a smaller engine into a bigger one, you are starving the bigger engine of fuel. The result is that it burns air and fuel in incorrect ratios. The ideal or stoichiometric air-fuel ratio is around 14.7:1. If it goes any lower, say 10:1, then the car is running rich — burning more fuel than it should for the air coming into the engine. If it goes any higher, say 17:1, then the car is running lean, i.e it is burning a lot less fuel for the air getting into the engine.

I believe the smaller carburettors have led you to the second circumstance: You are running lean. The symptoms are typical: a lean-running engine also runs very hot and it is hard to start because a lot of fuel is used in the cranking process and yet here you are, starving the engine even further with your small carburettor jets. And once it is running, yes, power will be severely compromised.
The only remedy is to revert to the original carburettors.

Dear Baraza,

First, you are doing great work. Your column is witty, informed, and clever. Keep it up.

Now, I like to keep my car very clean, so I hose down the engine, wax the body and tyres, and spray the undercarriage.

1. Does hosing the engine have any effect on new V-Tech engines?

2. Is it true that a buildup of dirt and oil affects the engine’s ability to cool down?

3. Does waxing and polishing affect the paint work?

4. What is dust-proof car paint?

5. Why does local paint work seem inferior to the original?

Lastly, I have come up with a fuel dispensing pump concept after getting conned by my driver. Who can I pitch this concept to?

Mathers Davies.

High praise indeed, Davis. I am flattered. Now, to your questions:

1. Hosing down the engine is never advisable. That powerful jet of water could easily make its way into nooks and crannies where it is not needed i.e into an electrical system, then you will find yourself in undesirable circumstances where your car will not start, or will not run properly, or the Check Engine Light is on and the diagnostics are not isolating the problem.

The best thing would be to wipe the engine with a wet/damp rag using water where the dirt is easy to get out and the relevant cleaning agents (degreaser and such) where necessary. Yes, it is more taxing physically, but it is the way to go.

2. Yes, that build-up causes cooling issues. While it may not interfere directly with your cooling system components, the grime and dirt around the engine forms an overcoat or a sweater. Part of the heat loss form an engine is through radiation. The heat build-up may sometimes exceed the cooling capabilities of the equipment available.

3. Only if you are using bad quality wax or polish. If anything, waxing and polishing your car is supposed to IMPROVE the appearance, not deteriorate it.

4. Some paints/waxes/polishes can get sticky in very hot sun, and then attract dust which then embeds itself in the goo. I think (I am not 100 per cent sure) dust-proof licks are those that stay crisp even when baked to within an inch of their lives, thus whatever dust falls on them can still be wiped off without any risk of damage to the paintwork.

5. I would say poor business practices. Profiteering. The need to make a quick buck without having to invest too many resources in a venture.

This device of yours: There are two ways you can sell it. The first is if you can mass-produce it yourself after approaching owners/proprietors of various petrol stations and convincing them that not only does the device actually work, but that they also need it, and need it now.

The second is to approach the multinationals that own the oil companies. You could sell you intellectual property rights to them or enjoy royalties for the rest of your life but that will only happen if they believe that it benefits them.

Posted on

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

Hallo Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Sande Stephen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bwana Baraza,

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

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

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

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

B Chege.

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

SM.

Mark II Blit, eh?

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

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

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

Off-road: Don’t even go there.

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

Spare Parts: What about the spares?

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Hi Baraza,

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

1. Fuel efficiency

2. Reliability

3. Travelling up-country twice a year

4. Minimal maintenance cost.

God bless you.

David.

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

Samuel.

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

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

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

FOG: Fog lamps present. I think.

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

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

PW: Power Windows. Electrically controlled.

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

**********

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will appreciate you feedback.

Mwangi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 1 Comment

Can I drive my Toyota Mark X without the oxygen sensors?

Hi Barasa,

I have owned a Toyota Mark X, 2005 model for six months. Last week, it started showing the check engine light. A diagnostic revealed one of its oxygen sensors had stopped functioning. Is it ok to still drive it?

A lot of Mark X have these problems. Also, when I press on the brakes, it makes a ticking noise. I have put genuine brake pads but the problem persists. A mechanic told me it is the front shocks that have leaked and are causing the noise. Please advise,

Mark X owner

It is not okay to keep driving when one or more of the oxygen sensors is malfunctioning. There is the real and present danger of the catalytic convertor getting damaged or clogged in the process.

When you finally have to replace one of these, you will wish that you had taken care of the oxygen sensors.

With a failed sensor, the engine control unit (ECU) can’t tell whether or not the car is effectively burning its fuel and cannot thus adjust the timing accordingly.

What happens is that a good amount of unburnt hydrocarbons make their way to the cat and from there… clogging. Premature replacement or unclogging, can cost a pretty figure.

Just get a new sensor. Maintenance, replacements and repairs are part of motor vehicle ownership, much in the same way that when one has a child, school fees and medical bills are part of the deal.

The ticking noise under braking could be anything. A more definitive description would make it easier to narrow down on probable causes.

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Hi Baraza,

My car has been consuming vast amounts of coolant lately. I thought it was normal until one evening when the fan belt refused to stop. My mechanic advised me to disconnect the battery terminal.

The next day as I was driving to the mechanic at CMC, I noticed cloudy substance spewing out. I stopped and checked. The coolant container was empty, with the lid thrown out.

Surprisingly, the temperature gauge on the dashboard was reading normal. I let it cool, poured lots of water and drove to the mechanic, who on inspection said the coolant was leaking from the thermostat and some other pipes. I am about to replace the thermostat, but I wish to know the following:

1. How could this leakage have started?

2. What would have been the likely outcome if I never discovered the leakage early enough?

3. What are the possible remedies to prevent future leaks?

4. Water, red or green coolant; which one is preferred?

5. Could the tempereture gauge on the dashboard have been faulty and the reason it didn’t show that the engine was heating up?

Ben

Let me guess, the vehicle in question is a MK 1 Freelander, right? The very early pre-facelift examples, right? They were not a manifestation of Land Rover’s finest moment, having come into production when the Rover Group was facing imminent death (and was subsequently rescued by BMW). Anyway:

1. This is a CSI-type question because the exact source of the problem cannot be determined without dismantling the cooling system. However, the Freelander MK 1 was engineered in a hurry and on a shoestring budget, so build quality was not one of its strong points. Nor was reliability.

The research that went into material science is sketchy at best, and attention to detail must have been placed under a management team full of ADHD sufferers.

About 136 different faults were discernible on any car that left the factory, ranging from searing drive-shafts that rendered the car FWD only, to seizing power-steering pumps and upholstery that somebody forgot to drill HVAC holes into.

UK dealers were secretly asked to take a knife and cut holes into the fabric/leather dashboard and panel linings for the front and rear windscreens. Otherwise, the demisters would not work. If such an obvious thing as an outlet for the heater/AC was forgotten or shoddily executed, what then would you expect to happen when the engineering team started handling complex systems like the cooling and transmission?

The cause could be a blockage, a poorly strapped cooling pipe, a circlip that was left unfastened, a bolt omitted, a hole somewhere… or they simply did not take time to find out how long the cooling system would last before the fan got a mind of its own and blew the coolant cap off its moorings. It is really is hard to tell.

2. Overheating is what would have occurred, and from there it is a probability tree of various disasters depending on your luck. Your menu would have had options like blown head gaskets, warped cylinder heads and compression leakage. Further down the tree, you would be facing an engine seizure or a bonnet fire that could easily consume your vehicle if it went on long enough.

3. You need a complete overhaul of your cooling system. This is where I’ll ask you to subscribe to Land Rover Owner magazine because there is a wealth of information in there, specific to your vehicle. I have never overhauled the cooling system of a Freelander before, and even if I had, the process is too long and detailed to get into here. The general exercise involves replacing OEM hoses and pipes with units that are:

i) Made of better material and,

ii) possibly of larger diameter.

A new water pump is also typically added to the list as might a radiator core, and of course the offending thermostat replaced with something more trustworthy.

If there are any modifications to be made, that LRO magazine from the UK will be of more help than me.

4. The colour of coolant is hardly a selling point of any brand. Just use manufacturer-recommended coolant mixed with water.

5. About the temperature guage, the answer is yes, and also no. The temperature gauge is calibrated to indicate a certain range of temperature. There is a slight possibility that the car boiled away its coolant at temperatures within the “normal” range. With the filler cap blown off and the thermostat leaking, you don’t need a hot engine to quickly run out of coolant.

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Hi Baraza,

Your column is a must read for me.

Thanks for the good work. I am want to my first car and due to budgetary constraints, I am focusing on a used subcompact. My top considerations are fuel efficiency, reliability, longevity and ease of maintenance.

With these factors in mind, please help me choose between Mazda Demio, Honda Fit and Mitsubishi Colt, all 2006, 1300cc engines.

If you were in my shoes which of the three would you buy? What other small cars would you recommend? Finally, is it possible to get locally assembled, tropicalised versions of the three cars?

John

There is not much to split these three cars on whatever criteria you are asking about. However, if I was in your shoes, I’d buy a Colt R, simply because that thing is very, very quick. With that haste, away goes comfort and fuel economy.

The Demio is also a joy to drive, but I’ve tried the punchy 1.5cc. The 1.3cc could be underwhelming.

An untuned Honda Fit is the car for a person who lacks imagination. I know, I have not really answered your question but refer to my first statement: cars of this size are very similar irrespective of manufacturer.

Another way of looking at them, if you really have to pick one, is this: the Colt shares a platform with the Smart car, which in turn is a joint project between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the Swiss chronometer assembly masters. So you could cheat yourself that it is a Benz. However distant the relationship (and it is very, very distant). The Mazda Demio also has some Ford DNA in it. The Honda is a Honda, full stop.

Again, I know this is of no help at all, but for the third time: it is not easy to split these cars on characteristics other than pricing and specs. And the fact that you are looking at vehicles built seven years ago, these are moot points.

Those two qualities will vary greatly depending on who is selling them to you and where that person got them in the first place.

A small car I would recommend is even more irrelevant than the useless nuggets of information I have just given above.

A Fiat 500 looks like a good drive, and a Mini is most definitely a hoot to drive, but these will cost you, and I may not have an answer when you inevitably come back asking where to get spares for them.

Unfortunately for you, none of these cars were assembled locally, nor was there any franchise that sold them new in Kenya. So forget about tropicalisation.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the very informative responses that you give every week about motoring. Between an Isuzu TFR single cab and a Toyota Hilux single cab, which has lower maintenance costs and would be best suited in an agricultural business? And which one would be advisable to purchase between petrol engine and diesel engine?

Which of the two is more durable and has better resale value in the event that I considered reselling at a later date.

Andrew
Any of the two pick-ups would do well in agri-business. They are both powerful. They will both lug heavy loads. They have good ground clearance, large payload areas and are both available in either 2WD or 4WD.Maintenance: If we are strictly referring to a TFR, then it will cost more to run because it is an older vehicle and is more likely to break down because it will be used.

However, if you are referring to the DMAX, then as new vehicles, both that and the Hilux will be covered by warranty. If and when the warranty runs out, then word on the street is that Hilux parts cost more but break less often. Do the math.

I advise in favour of a petrol engine simply because they last longer. Diesel engines are a bit fragile, especially with poor care; and these two pickups are nowadays available with turbodiesel engines, which require special handling to avoid early failures. If you can get a naturally aspirated diesel Hilux, go for that one. The advantage of diesel engines is that the fuel economy is amazing…. in a good way.

Durability is relative: This depends on how you treat the vehicle. But by sheer force of reputation, the Hilux wins this. The car will simply not break. This also applies to resale value.

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Hi Baraza,

I am interested in buying a car for personal use. I do about 400km a week. I am interested in a fuel efficient, easy to maintain and comfortable car to ride in. I have identified two cars, a VW Golf plus 2006 1.6 FSI and Toyota Corolla NZE 1500cc in terms of build quality, reliability, safety, comfort, fuel consumption and ease of maintenance. which of the two cars do you recommend.

In addition any suggestion of an alternative to the above cars is welcome. My friends are urging me to consider the Toyota Avensis or Premio, but I do not fancy them. I would like an expert opinion.

Douglas

Golf Plus vs NZE Corolla, eh? From your first requirements (fuel efficient, affordable and comfortable), the vote swings to Golf (but this depends on driving style and environment).

The NZE, while not exactly a bed of rocks, lacks the refinement of the German hatchback and crashes a bit over potholes, so it loses out on comfort. It is, however, cheaper (or easier) to buy and maintain.

Your other requirements are more about expounding of those three. Build quality is unmatched in Volkswagen products, ever since one can remember. The Japanese simply cannot hold a candle to the Germans when it comes to building solid, well-put-together cars.

Incidentally, both these vehicles started out as “world cars” for their respective manufacturers, but while the Corolla stayed true to its roots, the Golf has been inching steadily upmarket with every model change. You cannot creep upwards without raising your standards respectively.

Reliability would also theoretically look like an even split between the two, but the complaints against the Golf, more so regarding the automatic gearbox, are coming thick and fast. You might be better off with the manual.

Fuel economy depends on how you drive, and where. And what you carry in the car with you. Both engines have clever-clever tech, Toyota brags with its VVT-i system while VW’s Fuel Stratified Injection (the FSI in the name) is as close to magic as one can possibly come. It works wonders. In a controlled environment, the NZE would win because it has a smaller engine and it is lighter. Ease of maintenance: The Corolla, obviously.

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Hi Baraza,

I bought it recently from a friend. It’s a 2000cc YOM 2005, VVTi engine and fully loaded. Its from Japan but seems intended for European Market since my friend shipped it from Germany, where he was working.

I’m comfortable with its performance especially on the highways, but I believe it is not economical on shorter distances and in the Nairobi jams.

Kindly advice on the following:

1. Does this model of Toyota rank as a hybrid,

2. How would you compare its performance and features to the Fielder, Caldina and Premio within the same cc range in terms of maintenance?

3. It has a GPS mechanism with a display unit programmed in Japanese. Is there a place in Kenya (preferably in Nairobi) where this can be re-programmed to the local co-ordinates?

Eric

The subject field in your e-mail says Toyota Avensis, so I am guessing this is the car in question, and not a Toyota Prius. So:1. No, it is not a hybrid. Hybrid cars have more than one type of propulsion system/power source in them, hence the term hybrid.

In most cases it is fossil fuel and electricity — for example an electric motor that is either charged or supplemented by a small petrol/diesel engine.2. Performance and features are very similar to the others, especially the Premio.

The Fielder may be just a little bit more basic than the Avensis. Maintenance is also broadly similar.3. I am still looking for someone competent enough to do the installation.

Posted on

Diesel is the new petrol, thanks to science and technology

Hello Baraza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,

Ndung’u.

I see the old argument is back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

Eric.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Loss of ground/earth at the sending unit

3. Break in the wire going to the dash

4. Bad Sending Unit

5. Fuel gauge itself is defective

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Mark.

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

Where can I get one for 200k?

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thumbi.

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

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Dear JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Hallo,

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

Joseph.

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Frankly speaking, I do not see us using electric cars any time soon

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your entertaining and informative column. After seeing your low opinion of electric cars and their potential in Kenya (Daily Nation, June 27, 2012), I want to offer an alternative view. It is clear that electric cars are the future, with oil supplies peaking and air pollution reaching critical levels in most cities. Only two things are holding back the sector: the limited capacity of batteries and their expense.

However, every year the weight and cost of batteries are going down as their density and range increase. Prices for new Toyotas start at around Sh1.6 million; new high-quality electric vehicles start at around Sh2.5 million, though government incentives can significantly reduce that price.

There is a UK company that produces electric Range Rovers that have a range of 200 kilometres per charge, and an Indian company that produces a small electric vehicle that is quite popular in London.

My question is this: if electric cars were available in Kenya, why would a discerning urban commuter with electricity at home (for slow overnight charging) decide, like you, that an internal combustion engine is a better choice? Electric cars are better for everyone’s lungs and in the long run much better for the owner’s pocket.

But they’re not on sale, new or used. Let’s bring them in! Or build our own (Ethiopia is developing one, and there is a huge do-it-yourself electric car sub-culture in the USA).

Edward Miller.

Yes, the prospects for electric vehicles look brighter as oil levels drop, but the general belief in the industry is that they are really not the answer.

A lot more investment is being made in biofuels, diesel-electric hybrids and how best to use the little remaining oil than in developing a fully electric vehicle. Hydrogen has been adopted, dropped and adopted again as a power source for an electric car, and that means the wall socket will have to continue powering TV sets and microwave ovens and forget about powering the motoring industry.

I know about the Range Rovers in the UK. How much does one go for, eh? I also know about the Indian “G-Wiz” (REVO), but this is the worst ambassador you could choose to make the case for electric cars. And in the long run, it may not be cheaper to run an electric car over an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine): what happens when the electric car breaks down?

Cars powered by moving electrons may make sense in the developed world, but around here, we first need a stable support infrastructure, otherwise prospective owners will find themselves the inhabitants of a lonely, cash-intensive planet where lovers of crude oil roam unchecked and will never, ever offer a helping hand when an electric car inevitably runs out of volts and comes to a quite stop… and there isn’t a wall socket within sight.

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Hi JM,

Thank you for your continued service. I have a 1999, 1,300cc Toyota Cami that I love because it has the features I like — it is manual and 4WD. I am, however, considering making it more powerful, and I’m thinking of giving it a bigger engine (a 1,500cc or 1,600cc, preferably VVT-i, although EFI would do in case I don’t find a suitable VVT-i). My questions are:

1. Which engine should I go for (one that will be compatible without much modification)?

2. Will it require a new gear box or not?

3. What might be the power increase and how will it affect efficiency of the vehicle, including fuel consumption?4. Will it adversely affect its handling?

Thank you,

Jediel

You must be one hell of a Cami fan because yours is the first Cami I have heard of being considered for mods. Anyhow:

1. Go for the one that fits in the engine bay easiest. When it comes to the point where you start fabricating new engine mounts or modifying bulk heads/front chassis cross-members, you are entering into expensive and experimental territory, so just get an engine that will fit. Just so you know: both EFI and VVT-i can be found on the same engine: One concerns fuel delivery while the other concerns valve operation, so you can have your cake and fuel it too… I mean, eat it.

2. It may need some new ratios, but this calls for a shakedown first to determine whether or not this is necessary.

3. The new power will be the power output of the new engine. If it is more powerful than the old 1,300, then your car will definitely be faster. And a little bit thirstier, though this might not happen. You see, I have driven the Cami, and I hated it, part of the reason being that, on the highway, it requires thrashing to keep up with the rest of humanity. Maybe a bigger engine will give it a more laid back approach so that you need not cane it to go fast. Then the fuel economy gets better in that regard.

4. Depends on the weight of the new engine. The more the weight difference between the two engines, the more the effect on handling.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been arguing with my friends on a number of issues that I believe you can settle for us once and for all:

1. Which are the best cars for skidding (front-wheel- or rear-wheel-drive), and why are they the best option?

2. Between Mercedes Benz, Renault and Scania trucks, which are the best for long-distance hauliage while heavily loaded?

3. Between the Toyota Hilux D4D pick-up and the Isuzu D-MAX, which has a higher loading capacity? Also, can you compare the FSR with the FH?

1. All cars will skid, except those with advanced 4WD/AWD systems. But I assume you are asking about drifting, and it is rear-drive cars that are best suited for the purpose. You may have discovered from one of my previous articles that drifting is intentional oversteer, so what you need is to break traction at the back axle.

One way is to use the hand brake while turning, because the friction circle (sharing of tyre grip between lateral grip and forward traction) cannot accommodate both the braking effort of the locked tyres and the turning effort, so the tyres lose grip and start sliding.

Another way is to use the power of the car, similar to using the hand brake, but this time instead of the traction being lost to braking, it is lost to the surge of torque from the engine. Same result: the rear of the car starts sliding and you end up drifting.

2. Depends. Nowadays these vehicles are so well developed that it is hard to put them apart, but the technological advancement of Scania may put them ahead of the pack.

3. The two pickups are not very far apart. The D-MAX has a turbo, though, so go figure. The FSR has a shorter payload area than the FH, so it may accommodate a smaller volume of luggage: but on the other hand it may lug a heavier load owing to its huge tyres and superior capacity (9,800cc vs the 6,557cc of the FH). A better comparison for the FH is the FRR (8,200cc).

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Dear Baraza,

Cars either have full-time 4WD, 2WD, AWD, 4WD with select option and others that I may not know of. Now:

1. Do front 2WD cars have better fuel economy than the others (all other factors held constant)?

2. Is it possible to disengage the rear drive shaft of a 4WD automatic transmission so that the car drives with the front wheels only (it becomes a front 2WD)?

3. How complicated is this process of disengaging the rear shaft? What would be the risk to the car?4. Would it improve fuel economy and torque/power to the front wheels?5. What is the difference between AWD and full-time 4WD?

Regards,

L Murithi.

1. Generally, yes, but it does not necessarily have to be FWD. It could also be RWD.

2. Yes. This was actually a mechanical infidelity in the Freelander Mark I because the rear prop shaft would shear, rendering the car permanently FWD. Owners would rarely notice because they rarely took their cars into situations that would warrant the need for 4WD.

3. It is as complicated as applying a spanner to some bolts until the offending prop shaft falls off the car. However, if the diffs are electronically controlled, you might need to remap the control units (engine, transmission, differentials), otherwise your poor car will be confused, wondering why it has lost the feeling in two of its legs.

4. Not really, because to improve economy to 2WD levels you need to lose the entire 4WD setup. Disengaging the prop shaft is OK, but you will still have transfer cases and two or three differentials in the car, which still weigh a lot. Discarding some of these pieces of kit may leave holes and gaps, making your car look like a competitor in a demolition derby. It will not “improve” torque/power, but all of the available power/torque will be going to the front wheels, so you could say that.

5. AWD distributes torque to tyres depending on available grip levels, so in extreme circumstances, the car could be one-wheel drive, since the diffs distribute torque between axles (front and back) and across sides (right and left). Full-time 4WD means all wheels receive torque at all times irrespective of whether or not they are slipping. Torque may be shunted in the same way as the AWD, but the difference is, while in AWD a car can be one-wheel or 2WD, for full time 4WD no singe tyre/axle is completely starved of torque

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Hi Baraza,

I wish to upgrade from a Toyota Corolla AE110 to a Subaru Forester 2.0XS 4WD AT 2.0 (2005). Have you test-driven this car? If so, how would you rate it? Would the upgrade be worthwhile?

Regards,

Alex.

I have driven both the XS and XT versions of the Forester, and I rate them both highly, especially the XT (because it has a turbo, albeit a small one). Depending on your desires, the upgrade may or may not be worthwhile, but the general feeling would be it is a worthwhile venture.

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Hi Baraza,

I appreciate what you do for us and, after following your articles, I have become very enlightened on various vehicle problems that I even find myself transferring your valuable advice to my mechanic.

I drive a Subaru Legacy, twin-turbo, station wagon. Brilliant car! However, it has one major shortcoming when driving at high speeds, especially in gears three and four. At times it lags as if I’m off the throttle, which is very dangerous, especially when overtaking.

My mechanic has never figured out why, but when you drive it and time the gear change appropriately, it flows smoothly. But that only comes with experience and at times you can get it wrong.

I suspect there is a turbo lag as it changes to the second turbo, but my mechanic doubts that since both turbos are okay. Kindly let me know what to do about it.

Elly.

Is your car manual or auto? What you describe there sounds like turbo lag, but then again you have mentioned something about changing gears.

Anyway, if it is manual, try keeping the revs high for the turbos to work properly (they only spool in at high rpm, say, 3,000 rpm or more) and avoid short-shifting (changing up too early). If not, get a mechanic who will look at the turbos physically. There could be boost leakage either from a burst pipe or worn out impeller blades inside one or both turbos.

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Hi Baraza,

My Nissan N16 showed the ‘check engine’ light when it was almost due for service.

I took it for service but the light did not go off, so I took it for diagnosis. My mechanic had checked the air flow sensor and said it was okay, but the diagnosis showed two faults — air flow sensor and knock sensor.

After being reset, only the knock sensor fault remained. The ‘check engine’ light has not appeared again since that day, though I’m advised to change the knock sensor.

Should I still go ahead and replace it? Should I buy it new or second-hand?

What is the work of a knock sensor in an engine?

Kind regards,

CB.

I don’t know how your mechanic came to know the air flow sensor was okay, but if the knock sensor is kaput, replace it too.

The purpose of the knock sensor is to detect “knock” (caused by pre-detonation of the air-fuel mixture), or pinging, after which the ECU advances or retards the ignition timing to optimise power and economy.

Knock is caused by wrong fuel grade (low octane rating), overheating or when the timing is too advanced; or even by hot carbon deposits within the cylinder.

Posted on

The Leone: A flower bed car

Hi Baraza,
I am currently in the process of acquiring a saloon Subaru Leone, 1500 cc. It’s an old model as far as I can see, with a carburettor boxer engine, (the one that fits a spare tyre in the hood) and is a 4-speed manual.

Please give me details of the car’s history and performance as well as consumption issues. Also, what do you know of the Daewoo Matiz, 1000cc? Can it be driven over long distances without issues?
Hanningtone

You are right, the Leone is an old car, 30 years old to be exact. History? It was made at a time when Subaru’s unashamed sales quarry focused mainly on agriculture and how to achieve terminal velocity inside a flower bed, hence the boxer engine, ground clearance and 4WD.

And turbo. Only Subaru could think with that kind of foresight: the three technologies helped it win several world rally championships in later years and made the Impreza a common sight for rally enthusiasts. The Leone was also the predecessor to the Legacy.

Performance: Nothing to speak of by today’s standards, but back in its day, the Leone Turbo made as much noise as it did forward movement. Given how loud they were, that means they were also fast, and the 4WD enabled them to outhandle almost anything else… especially if it was in a flower bed.

Consumption: 4WD, plus carburettor, plus an optional turbocharger, done by engineers from 30 years ago — do not expect magic. The economy is terrible.

The Daewoo Matiz is not much. On long distances, it will be an interesting bet to see which loses its cool first: the driver or the car. It is punitive to drive far in the Matiz: tiny engine, short gears, incessant top gear drone on the highway. But then again, small engines tend to have simple cooling systems that cannot contain the engine heat for too long, especially since you will be hitting the red line just to keep up with everybody else.

So between you and the car, you could place a bet to see who will be the first to blow a gasket before the trip is over.

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Hi JM,
1. I’m just hitting 30, with a small salary and almost starting a family. I am torn between a Premio 1500cc, a Fielder or a 1500cc Subaru Impreza, 2005. Kindly advise regarding consumption, availability of spares, durability and performance. Oh, and I love speed.

2. Are you a mechanic?
Kimenyi

1. Consumption: The Premio should be the sippiest of the three, but for even better economy, get one with a D4 engine. The Impreza is least impressive in this regard, but it is not far off the mark from the other two.

Spares availability: This has now become a moot point for car models as common as the three you mention. Durability: Treat them well and all three should give you at least six years of service before problems threaten to break up your new family. Abuse them and the Premio will be the first to go.

Performance: Again the Premio, especially if you opt for a 1.8- or a 2-litre. The Fielder is also fast, but is likely to throw you off the road on loose surfaces.

The Impreza is bogged down by its elaborate AWD system. With a family on the way, are you sure performance is a priority? There is something more important than that which you are not asking about and that is…

Practicality: The Impreza and Fielder offer estate versatility, but the Fielder’s boot is bigger than the Impreza’s. Also its interior is roomier but harder to clean than the Impreza’s due to the use of brightly coloured felt on some surfaces (kids will smear dust, jam and chocolate on any clean surface they come across).

2. No, I am not.

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Hi JM,
I recently noticed some black smoke coming out of my Nissan B15’s exhaust. The mechanic I consulted told me that maybe the fuel had a problem and advised me to use fuel treatment (motor honey).

Is this right? Please give me your expert advise on this.

Motor honey, to me, is a myth and has nothing to do with fuel. Use V-Power to clean your fuel system, replace your filter if it is clogged or full of water, and next time try to buy your fuel from a reputable dealer.

Another theory could be a weak spark, but that is accompanied by loss of power and misfiring. So if you don’t have these symptoms, then the issue is with your fuel system (dirt).

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Hi,
I have two pickups: a 2006 Toyota Vigo double-cab and an Isuzu D-Max single-cab. I want to increase the number of leaf springs at the rear of both pickups so that I can increase the load they both carry.

1. How will this affect stability when they are not loaded?

2. If I add the leaf springs, how many should I add and will I have to strengthen the chassis? What other changes will I have to make?

3. If one wants to import a used German car, which is the best market to source?

1. With a stiffer back end, the pickups will be more prone to oversteer because there is less give in the suspension. To understand what I mean by an oversteering D-Max, go to YouTube and search for a video shot by a local cameraman showing the vehicle spilling its human cargo onto the hot tarmac of Waiyaki Way. It started with oversteer.

2. Add as many as you want, but if you overload your pickup and get arrested, I was not privy to your escapade. It might also do you well to strengthen the front suspension as well and the mounting points for the shock absorbers. And the brackets holding the leaf springs.

3. Buy one from a local dealership if you really want a trouble-free experience.

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Baraza,
I have the intention of buying a 1987 Mercedes Benz 230 and replacing its engine with that of a Toyota Shark so that I can enjoy stability and fuel saving benefits. Is this workable? Is it an offence by law?

It is not illegal and it may be workable if the Shark engine will fit into the Benz’s engine bay. But what does not fit or should be made illegal is your train of thought.

How does a Shark engine make a Benz saloon more stable than it already is? And how is it more economical? The Shark can get pretty thirsty if you cane it, that is why it outruns the Nissan Caravan QD easily.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
I own a Rav 4 (automatic ) and on my dashboard there are two buttons: Manual and Power. Please let me know the functions of these buttons and the “side effects” of using them in terms of consumption, wear and tear, etc.
Thomas

I have no idea what the “Manual” button does, but I know the “Power” one lets the ECT transmission programming shift to performance mode, which allows faster shift times, and downshifts and upshifts at higher revs.

It usually hurts fuel economy but the wear and tear appear by proxy (you will be revving harder and going faster, so the engine will be working harder).

Posted on

Driver madness is the problem, not the cars

JM,

Let me state from the get go that I’m an irredeemable petrolhead through and through. Having said that, I’ve made some observations that I suspect are not unique to Kenyan roads, such as the fact that most accidents are the handiwork of drivers with “unschooled” blood, you know, the kind that think they are WRC or Formula One drivers with bog standard, used Japanese clunkers.

In light of this observation, I have formulated what I think is a way of purging our roads of this problem, and it is in the form of a law that goes something like this: It should be illegal for all individuals below the age of 25 to drive a vehicle with any form of forced induction, a displacement of more than and including 1800 CC or any vehicle that has 135 bhp, 150 Nm of torque, a cylinder count of more than four and an engine speed of more than 7,500 rpm, unless it’s in a sanctioned motorsports event. What do you think ?

That is a bit harsh. What kills people on the road is stupidity, and not motor vehicle preference. A couple of days ago, I watched an driver in a Suzuki Vitara squeeze into a space that his car would clearly not fit into.

The defining limits of the space? On the left was a flower bed, on the right was a Mercedes-Benz Actros juggernaut. Both the truck driver and I watched speechless as the obviously intelligence challenged Vitara driver knowingly and wilfully drove into the truck’s plastic front left fender, squeeze through like a rat squeezing through a hole in the wall when escaping from a hungry cat — all the while scraping a good deal of paint off his own car — before speeding away without looking back even once.

The Suzuki Vitara has four cylinders, 1600cc, less than 135 hp, is naturally aspirated and has the redline at 6000 rpm, so it clearly falls into your category of “sane” or “safe”. What I saw that day was more shocking than watching a man jump off a building.

Honda cars rev up to 9,000 rpm and they are perfectly safe to drive. One can also drive a Toyota Camry V6, which you will agree with me is a perfectly safe vehicle to drive, even for beginners.

The Mahindra pickup is turbocharged, surely a 24-year old can handle one if he is employed as a delivery driver for some company that buys these pickup. That same company can choose to buy a Nissan NP300, which comes in 2400cc, 2700cc or even 3200cc.

In contrast, one can drive a 660cc Daihatsu Mira TR-XX or Suzuki Capuccino, which is bloody fast and has minimal safety features.

It has a 3-cylinder engine (less than four), 660 cc (less than 1800), does 100 hp and about 140 Nm of torque (both are sub-135 and sub-150 respectively) and has the red line set at 6,500 rpm (less than 7,500).

But if my son found his way into one of those, I would still give him a sound thrashing, irrespective of his age, and tell him to get himself a Camry instead. Luckily, I do not have a son to cane. Yet.

The best way to optimise road safety would be to confiscate the driving licences of intelligence challenged drivers like the one I have described and send them to jail indefinitely.

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Hello JM,

My mother has been searching for a vehicle with a fuel consumption of 32 kilometres per litre. I tell her that the only car you can get such consumption out of is an Indian one, but she still insists. She hates the Toyota Vitz, Probox, Ist, Cami, NZE, Corolla, Premio and Allion, so she is thinking of the new model Mazda Demio. Please help her find the right car.

Roy

The only vehicle that can clock 32 kpl under normal driving conditions and techniques is a motorcycle, and one that has an engine capacity of 250cc or below.

I have heard of things called Bajaj, TVS and Focin. I have also heard of Hongda and Keweseki, all of which have two wheels and no bodywork.

They also have sub-250cc single-cylinder 4-stroke engines, so economy is good. I wouldn’t recommend a tuk-tuk though: I have watched a few do cartwheels, backflips and somersaults, and the acceleration is terrible and top speed is very poor.

However, if your mummy has the skills and know-how on how to extract the maximum number of kilometres from the minimum number of quarts of fuel in something with four wheels, then she could look at a Maruti: its 800cc, 3-cylinder engine is the easiest available engine with which to attempt 32 kpl (and still fail dismally).

Otherwise, the best one can hope for, in ordinary circumstances, is 18-20 kpl.

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Dear Baraza,

What is the difference between a ZZE engine and an NZE engine in a Toyota Corolla vehicle? How suitable are these engines on the Kenyan roads and weather conditions, and do they require different treatment once somebody purchases them?

The first one or two letters specify the engine family (NZ or ZZ), while the E represents fuel injection. The NZ family uses straight-four aluminium engine blocks with 16 valves, double camshafts (overhead) and VVT-i. SFI fuel injection is present, hence NZE.

The ZZ family also uses an aluminium straight-four block with aluminium cylinder heads. Double camshafts (DOHC) with chain drive are also used, with bore and stroke varying within the range depending on how sporty the engine is.

The basic layout does not need anything special to be able to run in Kenyan conditions. However, the sporty ZZ family engines (2ZZ, especially) having been developed for power at high revs, might need a cylinder head replacement to lower the compression ratio to enable it run on low octane fuel. This is not too much of a problem though, both engine families will run okay.

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Hi Baraza,

What’s your take on tiptronic cars, and in case of emergency braking, how do you shift the gears down to avoid stalling? (In a manual car, you depress the clutch and shift to neutral).

William

Actually, for a sportier, smoother and more effective braking effect, a technique called heel and toe is used. It synchronizes engine speed and gearbox speed by using all the three pedals at the same time (the brake slows you down, the clutch allows you to shift down — you have to declutch after each downshift — and the accelerator raises the engine revs to match the gearbox speed) and complements wheel braking with engine braking. It does not involve braking with the transmission in neutral.

Anyway, tiptronic cars are driven just like automatic cars, no clutch work is needed (because there is no clutch pedal) and the car will prevent itself from stalling. Nothing to panic about.

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Baraza,

What do you think of the BMW owned MINI (whichever make starting from 2001)?

I rarely see them on the streets but I think they look great, especially for a young guy (size of a Vitz but definitely more manly), plus there is an option for a 5-speed, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that I’m guessing has quite a kick. Let me know more about the car in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption with sane driving.

2. Safety record.

3. Price.

4. Ability to handle Kenyan roads and a little bit of offroading.

1. Which of the models? For sure, the supercharged car will not burn fuel at the same rate as the NA versions. And anyway, why would you be concerned about fuel economy for a car that size, it is bound to be impressive no matter what.

2. It has a good safety record. No recalls, no reports of nasty cornering surprises or infidelity at speed.

3. You will need to shop around for prices because they vary.

4. Some Kenyan roads, yes. Offroading: you must be out of your mind. Unless you are referring to the MINI Countryman, in which case, yes.

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Hi Baraza,

I must say I really miss the days when a full column was dedicated to a particular subject as opposed to the Q&A.

However, it’s still encouraging to see people appreciate good advice from qualified persons (the days of “Grogan engineers” are numbered).

I currently own a year 2000 1500cc Toyota EE103 and it has served me very well. The pros of this car: large boot space, rear leaf suspension, good fuel consumption, available spares, hardiness (you should see what we call roads here), etc. The cons: none that I can’t cope with.

But I now want to upgrade to another station wagon that can endure some donkey work and still be a comfortable family car.

A Probox is not an option: I am torn between a Toyota Caldina (new and old shape) and Avensis, both 1800cc. I would like to get your opinion on these, and feel free to add any other make or model that can fall in the same class.

Another thing, some mitumba cars that we usually run to buy were not originally meant for a market in the tropics.

Some are rumoured to break down on the first long trip on Kenyan roads, which could be somewhere along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway immediately after importation.

What is your take on this issue, and if its true, how can one tell whether a particular car is fit for a given climatic condition?

MK

Let me answer the second part first. That was a topic I covered in a two-piece special called “Tropicalisation” that ran during the first two weeks of 2011.

The result was vitriol from a good number of people who accused me of capitalist thinking and being elitist and/or receiving brown envelopes under a table. So I decided to let them suffer with inappropriate cars for a while. I will get on their case again very soon.

Anyway, the old-shape Caldina is the best. It also has leaf spring rear suspension (which, for some reason, you seem to like) and a massive boot, and it will ferry your family in relative comfort.

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Hi Baraza,

Kindly tell me:

1. What produces the distinctive sounds of the different vehicles; is it the engine or the exhaust?

2. The engine brake (freno), according to the little power mechanics I know, should be used when the momentum of the vehicle is driving the engine, especially on descent, so why do the small bus (like Nissan Diesel MK210) drivers use it every time they are braking? I suspect they are thrilled by the sound, like I am.

3. Eicher looks like an Isuzu; where is it from and who assembles it?

4. Do all direct injection lorries have engine brakes?

Mwangi

1. When it comes to the sound, it’s a little of both, but more of the exhaust than the engine.

2. Actually, the exhaust brake (engine brake, or retarder, or exhaust retarder) is used as the primary speed-shedding device before the foot (wheel) brakes are applied. This is to save the wheel brakes (brake pads) from rapid wear because they are easily prone to failure owing to the great mass of the vehicle. In some vehicle models, such as Scania trucks and buses, it has been incorporated into the foot brake just in case the driver thinks using the column mounted stalk/lever is too much work.

The procedure is: apply the retarder, lose speed, maybe dab the foot brakes a bit to shed more speed, double-declutch down one gear, apply the retarder again, when slow enough, downshift again, and repeat until such a point when the foot brake is needed for a complete stop.

3. Actually the Eicher started off as a defunct Mitsubishi manufactured under license. The parent company is based in New Delhi, India, but they are assembled and sold locally by CMC Motors.
4. Most lorries do have the exhaust retarder.

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Dear Baraza

I drive a Subaru Cross Sport, which requires that refill the coolant every week, if I go for more than a week, I find it empty but the car does not overheat and everything else is fine.

I have asked several mechanics about this; one told me that it could be that the radiator lead was worn out (I changed it but nothing changed), while another told me it was because I am always using the AC .

I have had the car checked and no leakages have been found. What could be the problem?

Beverly

There is clearly a leak somewhere. If your car does not wet the floor every time it is parked, then the leak could be by evaporation through some unwanted aperture. A third theory is a worn out head gasket, through which coolant seeps and gets into the engine.

The way to confirm this is to check for smoke pouring out of your exhaust pipe: if you see white smoke, there you have it. Also check the overflow bottle in case it is the one leaking. But there is definitely a leak.

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Mr Baraza,

I drive a turbocharged year 2005 Subaru Forester and I have two concerns regarding it:

1. If the makers of the Forester understand the delicateness of the turbo, why not fit it with a turbo timer?

2. I have noticed that in the morning the car produces blue smoke after idling in the traffic jam, then the smoke disappears once I hit the highway . The performance and service of the car is okay.

Nderitu

Much as I said turbo engines need care and are delicate, I did not mean THAT delicate. Nowadays they can do without turbo timers given the amount of R&D that has gone into improving forced induction systems.

The most susceptible vehicles to turbo failures, by the way, are the ones with turbo diesel engines because they run higher boost pressures, generate more heat and the turbos spool at higher speeds compared to turbocharged petrol engines. Don’t worry, your Forester is fine without the timer.

However, it is not fine if it continues producing blue smoke. The car is burning oil, so there could be blow-by, the rings might be worn out or the valve seals need replacement. Get it checked ASAP.

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Hi Baraza,

Is it possible to modify an old model car by fitting it with extras like airbags, ABS, automatic gearbox, sensors and so on? Secondly, is it true that Volvos are the safest cars in the world, and if so why are they not common?

Kahara

About the modification, yes you can, but by the time you are through, you will feel like you have built a whole new car, which in a way, you will have, given the degree of modification you have to do to almost all major systems. It is easier and more sensible to just buy another car that has all those features.

Volvos: At one time, they were. This does not mean that they no longer are, just that almost everybody else has caught up now, so the top slot is shared among many (except the Chinese, and maybe Russian).

The reason they are not common is because Kenyans have this unique mindset that they’d rather die than spend more than the bare minimum on buying price, spares and fuel costs.

The bare minimum is what it costs to own a used car from a faraway land, buying parts poached from a vehicle whose owner did not invest in an alarm system, and the fuel charges of a 3-cylinder sub-1100cc Japanese engine driving downhill on an extra-wide highway.

The erroneous perception extends to the belief that Volvos are thirsty, which they are not.

Posted on

If you drive an open double-cab, stay under 80kph or face the law

Dear Baraza,
In your column last week, you mentioned that the Nissan Pathfinder is a dressed-up Navara. I could not agree more, and this remark reminded me of an experience I had with traffic police officers out to nab motorists exceeding the speed limit just before Naivasha on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway a while back.

I was flagged down for doing 100 km/h in an Isuzu D-Max Turbo double-cab pickup. My argument that a double-cab with all the LS trimmings is really a passenger vehicle and well within the 100 km/h limit fell on deaf ears.

The officer, credit to him, was civil and countered my argument by leading me to the back of my vehicle to show me a round sticker with ‘80KPH’ printed on it. This, according to the law, classified the double-cab as a commercial vehicle.

In the end other offenders and I were hauled to a police station, locked up in a wire mesh cell, and taken to court five hours later, where we were fined Sh2,000.

But this was after a passionate lecture by the base commander on the ills of driving over the limit. Incidentally, as we waited by the roadside, double-cab pickups fitted with those sleek canopies cruised by. According to an officer, those were SUVs!

In this era of common platforms (Navara/Pathfinder, Hilux/Fortuna, Ranger/Explorer, Tougher/Frontier, etc), where SUVs are built on pickup chassis, should the KMI not lobby for the reclassification of double-cab pickups to the passenger vehicle category?

The double-cab pickup is undoubtedly one of the fastest selling group of vehicles in the country today. Indeed, the trim and comfort levels of the top-end models put most saloon cars to shame. What is your take on this?

Tom

The policeman who busted you is either the new Sang (traffic police hero) or he was really idle. I am going with the first presumption.

Motor vehicle manufacturing is a wide field. Actually, the Pathfinder is not built on the Navara chassis, it is the other way round; the Navara is built on a Pathfinder plinth. That is why it is so good and feels very car-like, unlike the other double-cabs, which are dedicated commercial vehicles.

Some time in 2010, I wrote an article in which I argued that our speed limits were outdated and needed refreshing. My argument did not register with anyone.

Although I will admit it was unfair for the canopied pickups to drive by while your open-backed unit got flagged down, I must tell you that the police were unwittingly right: the covered vehicles were actually more aerodynamically stable than the open ones.

That payload area at the back acts as an air scoop at speed, and given the lack of weight over the rear axle, oversteer and extreme yawing will finally get the better of your steering input, and you will crash.

KMI, KEBS, the Transport Ministry, and anybody else concerned should compile a comprehensive list of what qualifies as a car, a light commercial vehicle, and a heavy commercial vehicle.

Anything from a 14-seater matatu to a tiny Maruti van requires reflectors, chevrons, and the “80KPH” sticker, but none of the Noahs/Voxys I see on the road has them. Why? Just because they do not serve as public transport?

Same to the pickups, more so the double-cabs; a good number of Navara and Vigo pickups do not have chevrons, and nobody seems to bother with them.

But try driving an ordinary NP300 or Hilux without them. Some of the SUVs we drive are actually heavier than the buses we (or our maidservants) use home, but the ordinary class E licence is good enough.

Hi,

I own a Toyota Corolla E98 with a 3E, 1469cc carburettor engine that has been leaking oil through one of the valves, but the mechanic insists that there is no problem.

The big blow came when it started mixing oil, fuel, and water. What is the main problem? I am thinking of changing the engine to EFI, so which will be the best for my car?

That aside, I have driven a Honda CRV Mugen and it is an amazing car in terms of comfort and fuel consumption. Which is the best Honda model in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, and maintenance costs?

Philip

That mechanic is a fraudster and knows not his trade. The problem is the valve seal of that particular valve — even an apprentice could tell you that.

The water could be from either a leaking gasket (replace) or one of the water jackets has cracked around the top, in which case a new engine block may be needed. The leaking water then mixes with the leaking oil, which in turn mixes with the intake charge to create the soup you describe there.

That Honda Mugen sounds like a real charmer, where can I find one for review?

Hello Baraza,
I have a question for you about Scania buses, since I use them to travel upcountry.

1. What makes them climb hills so fast (I am usually thrilled and fascinated when a bus shoots up with so much power that makes my whole body suddenly feel heavy and numb).

2. With this power, does it mean it can tackle any hill with varying angles/gradients easily?

3. If it is uses turbo, why does it change its sound when it begins to tackle a slope? The sound is like a continuous hiss and its engine generally does not sound like it is turbocharged.

4. Why do you never talk about nations that are leaders in auto engineering because Scania, which I heard is from Sweden, does not get highlighted and yet they have a good product?

1. Huge turbos and intercoolers boost the engine power and torque, the close-ratio short-geared transmission gives it good pulling power even on mountains, and variable valve timing and EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) improve combustion efficiency, give you lower fuel consumption, and reduce emissions.

Of course the engineers behind the engines are also the world’s best.

2. Err, not just any hill. But most of them, yes. It takes one roughly 15 minutes to go up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley (Salgaa-Mau Summit) in seventh and eighth gears (for the F330).

The Mitsubishis I see belonging to some bus company I will not mention take more than half an hour to cover the same distance, usually in third gear and making a lot of noise in the process.

3. The hissing (and for the old F94 HB, whistling or whining) sound you hear is the turbo spooling up and increasing boost pressure.

4. Sometimes I talk about these nations. Have you not heard me sing the praises of Germany more than once? Sweden is good in trucks — Volvo and Scania. Incidentally, the former bought out the latter from its parent company, Saab-Scania.

Their latest acquisition is Nissan Diesel UD commercial vehicles, so yes, even the UD buses are now relatives of their Scania competitors, by adoption.

Baraza,

Recently, you said that NZEs are a bit treacherous. Does the 1.8cc Toyota Luxel 16-valve VVT-i fall in that group too? If not, why? In terms of stability and reliability at speeds of around 120 km/h, how would you rank Toyota Allion A20, the new shape Premio, the new shape Caldina ZT, the Allex XS180, and the Luxel?

And what are the pros and cons of the 4WD types of the above mentioned cars?

Lastly, what are the pros and cons of having an auto or manual gear box in Toyota models, especially the saloons/sedans?

Fanon

Yes, the Luxel you describe is as treacherous — it is, after all, an NZE 120 (what we call NZE).

The Allion and Premio do not feel much different, but the Premio is smoother and quieter. The Caldina feels most planted (if it has a rear wing). The Luxel feels most dodgy, unsettled, and nervous (this is by comparison, it is not actually as bad as it sounds here), the Allex a little less so.

The pros of having 4WD models: good traction in the wet. The cons: increased weight and complexity of the transmission, hurts economy, and costs more to repair when damaged
Manual or auto?

Boils down to personal preference and proficiency with a clutch pedal. Some like manual transmissions (more control, fewer energy losses) while others prefer automatic (relaxing, any idiot can drive one).

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Cherry Tiggo vs the Land Rover vs the infamous Mahindra? There are plans by the Kenya Police to buy almost 800 of these vehicles (the Tiggo), can it withstand a beating like the Land Rover? I think the government is making yet another mistake on this procurement and someone needs to raise the alarm.

Ken

I would rather not delve into the procurement procedures of certain entities, least of all the police.

I know we do not live in the Nyayo era anymore, but I have a certain phobia for a white Land Rover parked outside my house at 2.30am with men in trench coats in my sitting room convincing me that a change in my career path would be most welcome for both the government and myself, or else…

Anyway, the Land Rover is the best of the three. The original police Mahindra is not even worth mentioning. The current Mahindra range’s performance and abilities are yet to be seen in hard use, but they are a damn sight better than the pioneers.

The Scorpio even looks like a Defender (if it is 2.30 in the morning and you have lost your spectacles, maybe to an angry man in a trench coat, and there are tears in your eyes…)

The Tiggo is a blatant RAV4 knock-off, but if other Chinese products are anything to go by, well, do not expect too much from it in terms of long service.

PS: The police thing is a joke, do not take it seriously. Nowadays, they visit people at 5 in the morning, not 2.30am.