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Does the high mileage on my aging Subaru Legacy signal its demise?

Hi Baraza,

I’m a 25-year-old racing enthusiast and I own an old Subaru Legacy. The mileage on the machine is 390,000kms; could this pose any reliability problems? How soon should I start preparing for the car’s demise?

Bindoz Continue reading Does the high mileage on my aging Subaru Legacy signal its demise?

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To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

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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.

 

*             *             *             *

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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Explain how a car engine works to a 6-year-old? They’ll learn nothing

Hi Baraza,

Over the past one year I have been reading your articles and have to say nowadays I find myself making smart car comments thanks to you, even though I am yet to own one. I was asked by my nephew whether cars have stomachs and the questioning deteriorated towards embarrassing as I tried to explain how cars “drink” fuel and use it to move.  Would you be so kind as to explain the working of a car engine in a way that a six-year-old would understand. Alexius M

I have wracked my mind-brain for a clean week-and-a-half concerning this matter and arrived at the following conclusion: a six-year old will never understand the working of a car engine, no matter how oversimplified the explanation gets.

The best one I can come up with is this: petrol goes into the tank, from the tank it goes to the engine, in the engine it gets burnt out of sight and this burning produces the vroom-vroom sound and makes the car move.

Anything beyond this will start involving talk of combustion cycles, crankshafts, chemical reactions, compression and whatnot, and 1. Six-year olds have no idea what these are, and 2.

Six-year olds have notoriously short attention spans and you will probably lose them long before you start explaining the role of a fuel pump

INACCURACIES

As a car enthusiast, I find your responses to queries from your readers factually accurate…most of the time.

However, your take on the debate between the Merc E240 211 and the Bima E39 had glaring inaccuracies, first of which was that the E240 is a 2600cc V6 engine, and not 2400cc as is commonly assumed.

The E39 Bima has a straight six, or inline engine if you like, that is 2500cc. The differential 100cc is in favour of the Merc.

Secondly, the Merc doesn’t have the electronic issues you mentioned. The starter regulates the cranking and automatically disengages once the motor fires, leading to almost no wear and tear.

The central locking/plipper, electrical windows, etc. are all regulated by a system called Canbas, which makes diagnostics practically kids’ play given the right tool set.

I suspect the people who have had issues have never really had their cars worked on by experts.

COMFORTABLE RIDE
Thirdly, the Merc has a more comfortable ride with excellent response. The 211 was a vast improvement on the 210 and can take on the Bima, both in straight runs and cornering.

The details are in the suspension system. I own both cars and overall, the Merc takes our road conditions well and ages very gracefully compared to the Bima.

I suspect it’s the reason you will find them, rather than Bimas, serving as VIP escorts in the presidential motorcade.

Please Countercheck my facts and revise your views accordingly.
L Khafafa

Interesting. From your response, I can tell you are a Mercedes fan (and possibly pundit), a fact that comes to light given that you have chosen to extol the virtues of the wrong car.

You are talking about a W211 while my response was in reference to the W210; the same car that you say the W211 was a vast improvement of.

The E39 BMW 5 Series was a direct rival of the W210, not the W211. The latter Merc’s BMW competitor is the rather awkward-looking E60 model.

That said, I agree with all your views about the W211, more so in comparison to the E39, but why compare fresh apples with overripe oranges? The oranges don’t stand a chance, do they?

While the E39 vs W210 showdown leaves a noticeable gap between the two Teutonic titans — a gap in favour of the blue propeller — a similar standoff between both their successors makes it harder to pick a winner.

Sure, the W211 is far prettier than the E60 (a minger, if you ask me), but the E60 is more of a driver’s car. The E60 is more responsive, the W211 is more comfortable.

GEARBOX IMPROVEMENT

The E60’s automatic gearbox could do with some improvement; the W211’s manual gearbox could do with some improvement.

The E270 CDI and E320 CDI are paragons of efficiency, the 530d can be an alternative M5 through some simple tweaks and increasing the boost pressure in the turbos.

This leaves one in a quandary. Mid-size premium German saloons are as much about status as they are about comfort, and nowhere will you find gravitas and pamper if you can’t find it in a Mercedes.

But German saloons are also about blowing cheaper machinery out of the water, both on an autobahn at 300km/h and in a twisty backroad on a Sunday morning, and the BMW is the Walther PPK you need for this exercise: it handles better and is faster than the equivalent Benz.

For a good ride, get the Merc. For a good drive, get the BMW.

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations on the good work you are doing to enlighten us about cars.

My question is related to tyres. Who or what determines the use of low- or high-profile tyres? Are there any significant benefits or differences between them?
Fred

Hello,
The use of low or high-profile tyres is determined for the most part by two factors: personal preference and application.

Personal preference: The biggest difference in these tyre types is felt most by the driver/owner. Low-profile tyres trade mostly on looks and appearance, while high-profile tyres offer greater comfort.

More often than not, the low-profile tyres you see fitted on cars are put there because they simply look good, while thicker sidewalls are normally used where a plushy ride is the desired effect.

Application: There is the 10 per cent or so of drivers who install tyres according to exactly how they intend to use them. Low-profile tyres are good for handling and road-holding, which is why any vehicle with sporty pretensions has them.

The thinner sidewalls resist flex to a higher degree compared to taller rubbers, thus eliminating understeer and/or oversteer, and also sharpen the handling.

In a vast majority of cases, tyres with thin sidewalls tend to have a wider tread, which in turn means increased grip levels.

OFF-ROADING
High-profile tyres are ideal for off-roading. The chunky doughnuts allow for a more detailed and deeply grooved tread pattern and also give allowance for regulated tyre pressures (different off-road conditions call for different tyre pressures).

The fatter air cushion also filters out the bumps, holes and surface imperfections that define off-road conditions.

There is also reduced risk of damage to the rims and/or the tyres themselves peeling off the rim in extreme conditions.

Hi Baraza,
I have used Xado Revitalizant and trust me, it works! I used the 1 Stage Engine Revitalisant in my 2005 Nissan Wingroad and there is a significant difference, especially with power output. I read that you also want to use Revitalisant for automatic transmissions in your Mazda Demio (Haha!)… It’s strange since you never tell us the things you use in your car. Do you also run on V-Power?

Hello,
Interesting. So the Russian juice works, eh? I’m almost at the end of the research stage with the Xado gearbox oil and my results will be out sooner rather than later.

One question, though: the power jump you refer to, is it an actual increase in power or is it better engine response? I don’t think an oil additive would contribute anything to the power output of an engine unless there was compression leakage originally which has since been cured.

Now, to my Demio. It has a manual transmission (Duh!), not automatic, and it is the guinea pig in use for the experiment mentioned above. I sometimes run on V Power but have no particular formula.

I put about 20 litres of V Power every now and then, the now and then in question being 1: when I can afford it and 2: if I can afford it and the pump attendant asks, “Premium or V Power?”

Hi,
There is no turning back once you go Prado. I bought a 2006 VVT- I and keeping to the speed limits and below 2500rpm, it uses less fuel to Kisumu than my Noah. Now I find excuses to travel upcountry often. You are right.

Of course I’m right: a 5-door Landcruiser Prado is about all the car you will ever need if your driving covers a wide range of conditions and includes an equally wide range of loads, both human and nonhuman; and your situation precludes the ownership/operation of more than one motor vehicle.

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If you have driven the J90 Prado, you have set the bar quite high

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a great job to demystify cars for us, lay people. I’m in a bit of a quandary; I have been driving a superb, go-anywhere-anytime Toyota Prado with an indestructible 1KZ power plant.

In the seven years I have driven “the beast”, it has never let me down! Unfortunately, with 250,000km on the clock, the beast is showing signs of old age and I feel it’s time for an upgrade.

I’m torn between upgrading within the Prado family to a 2007 to 2009 model with the D4D power plant, getting a Land Rover Discovery 3, or a 2009 to 2010 Mitsubishi Pajero.

I’m a simple guy, and here’s what I’m looking for in a car:

  1. It’s got to be able to haul the clan there and back, so the third row of seats is non-negotiable.
  2. It must be capable of, and always be ready to, tackle some serious off-road for those days when the heart fancies that impromptu run to the Mara, or shamba-searching in the back of beyond.
  3. I’m not too sure what kind of economy and/or service the propellant options give but I’ve always been partial to diesel, perhaps because old-faithful gives good testimony to the “dirty” fuel. It’s consumed the sludge we have here masquerading as diesel with nary a complaint all these years.
  4. Being your typical Kenyan, I also have an eye on resale value (the beast, as an example, has actually appreciated in shilling value these many years later!).

I’ve heard diverse things said about the three cars I’m considering, ranging from “unreliable” regarding the D4D, “cancerous” regarding the Disco, to “lazy” regarding the Mitsu! I’d really appreciate your wise counsel as I fumble through this decision-making maze.

PS: I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll miss the beast. Sob, sob!

Robert Macharia

Hello Bwana Macharia,

This might sound like marketing parlance, but it isn’t. Now, if something ain’t broken, don’t fix it. The 1KZ-equipped (I presume J90) Prado is unstoppable, I know, and so is the J120.

The car ticks all the above boxes convincingly, whereas numbers 3 and 4 might prove to be problematic for the other two in one way or another.

Over and above that, as a follower of this column, you must by now know that the Discovery 3 is like a holiday romance: achingly beautiful, impeccable first impression, does everything right and causes a stirring in the soul — the kind of stirring not entirely dissimilar to raw desire.

But, like a holiday romance, it only works in the interim; get into a long-term relationship and the dark side of the moon unveils itself and that achingly beautiful shell becomes nothing but a fancy frock for a fickle filly, the character does not match the looks, or the implications thereof.

They are horrendously expensive to maintain and, in the long run, they might end up causing more pain than satisfying a seven-year itch… just like a holiday romance. Careful who you hook up with this Christmas, bro!

Where the Discovery is unreliable, the Pajero is weak; and not just under the bonnet. The frame, too, is not exactly what you’d call Hercules-class.

Structural rigidity is below par to the point where extended off-road use twists the chassis. A close friend who works in a government ministry says he has been through two or three of these cars and all suffered the same problem: the shell cracked and started splitting along the B-pillar.

***********

Hello Baraza,

My childhood dream was to drive a Land Rover in the muddy, red soil of Murang’a, thanks to the inspiration I got from seeing our local priest roaring through the village in one. As altar boys, we enjoyed the ride, especially during the rainy season.

What is your take on buying a Land Rover Defender for town driving and travel to the rural areas, as well as the occasional adventure? And which alternative is comparable to the Defender?

Hello,
Don’t buy a Defender for town driving. The ride is extremely hard and punishing to the human frame, which might explain why the policemen you encounter at night are always in a bad mood.

The seats, too, are hard. You might need it for adventure, though, such as the upcoming Great Run 6, because the Defender is damn near unbeatable when it comes to extreme off-road driving.

The Defender’s direct rival is the 70 Series Toyota Landcruiser. Both are available in the exact same permutations: 3-door estate, 5-door estate, single-cab pick-up, double cab pick-up and the extended-chassis tourist vans. Both are very uncomfortable, which might explain why those policemen are still in a bad mood even after switching from Land Rovers to Landcruisers.

However, the 70 Series is a little less jarring than the Defender. Both share the same iconic, never-gets-old, designed-using-a-ruler-only breeze-block, aerodynamically unsound square shape, and both have elementary interiors and rudimentary drivetrains.

The Land Rover carries the advantage slightly, in that the latest version contains contemporary electro-trickery such as ABS, EBD, traction control and such. The Toyota is still the same car that was on sale 20 years ago. The Defender is also available with a wider range of engines, starting with an ultra-modern, super-smooth and economical 2.2 litre turbodiesel all the way to a huge, stonking 4.4 litre petrol V8. The Toyota, for this market, can only be had with straight-6 engines: a 4.2 litre diesel (no turbo) or a 4.5 litre petrol.

One other option is the Russian UAZ jeep, but no, you wouldn’t want that. It is crude to the point of being absurd: interior lighting is by the kind of onion bulb people had in their houses back when the 70 Series was new (30 years ago). It is an unfathomably hostile environment to sit in for longer than two minutes and the massive panel gaps mean one can almost enter the vehicle without opening the doors. It is that bad. I don’t know if they are still on sale locally.

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

Dear Baraza

In one of you previous articles you mentioned why it would not be advisable to buy a VW Touareg diesel since Kenyan fuel has its challenges.

I am a Kenyan living in the UK and in a year or two I will ship a car home. Does this diesel challenge apply to all VW models like the Tiguan, Passat, and Jetta?

I am asking this because of the European love for diesel cars. You will notice most of the larger VWs are currently diesel and the proportion using petrol is relatively small. Does this mean I change the brand, or is the diesel problem unique to the Touareg? I await your feedback with bated breath.
ML

Hello ML,

Play it safe and stick to petrol engines whenever you come around.

***********

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your great work. You won’t believe how many Wednesday Daily Nations I have bought since I “discovered” you. Here are my questions:
Suppose I want to get an automatic Subaru Forester, years 2000 to 2002:

  1. What are some of the red flags to look out for?
  2. Do you think I can find a reliable one from those years?
  3. On average (I know these things fluctuate a lot), how much do you think I need to service the car every year?
  4. How significant a factor is mileage when buying a used car?
  5. Anything else you think I should know?

Andy

Hello Andy,

  1. Watch out for a Check Engine light; this could be a symptom of failed oxygen sensors and was a problem endemic to the first-generation Foresters. Also, make sure that the automatic transmission works right: no jerking, hill-holding, quick, decisive gear changes and such. If you get a turbocharged version, look out for signs of abuse, especially with the tyres, brakes, suspension and transmission. Also, make sure the turbo is boosting properly.
  2. Yes you can, but you will need to search really hard. There are a few good examples circulating, but not for long.
  3. It’s hard to tell, what with the various consumables covering a wide range of prices (and quality). For a minor service, Sh10,000 should see you through per session.
  4. A big one. A very big one. The more miles covered, the more likely the car is nearer its deathbed and the higher the odds of making major (read costly) systems replacements.
  5. Not really. Look for an article I wrote back in 2010 about how to buy a used car. It is very informative.**************

Hello Baraza,

Great stuff you do, and quite informative. I’m about to purchase an executive saloon car and I am debating between a 2005, 2,400cc Mercedes Benz W211, and a 2005, 2,500cc BMW E39. Which would you go for, objectively, were you the one buying?

Is it true the BMW has more issues than the Benzo and costs an arm and a leg to sort out? What are the drawbacks of a panoromic roof? Please touch on electronic issues, handling, safety, performance and, mostly, reliability.

JM Bob.

Hello “JM Bob”

Of the two, I’d go for the E39. It is quite a looker; I think it is one of the most handsome of all BMW cars to date. It handles superbly, far better than the Merc, and of course there is the matter of having 100 extra cc.

It is not cast in stone that the BMW has more issues than the Benz; get a well-maintained example and regrets will be few and far between. Of course, it will cost an arm and a leg to sort out “more issues” (where they exist); after all, this is a premium German marque and the car in question is not only one of their best sellers, but also the most scrutinised.

It has to be built with the best engineering and materials in mind. Putting this engineering and the materials right when it all goes south will cost you, naturally.

I doubt if a panoramic roof has any drawbacks apart from inflating the asking price as a selectable option.

Electronic issues: a few isolated cases with interior lighting is about as far as these go with the BMW. The Merc’s electronic issues are a bit more extensive, stretching to ignition, central locking/plipper, electric windows and the starter.

Handling: both will handle nicely, but the BMW is just that much sharper, responds better and will get slidey around the rear on demand. It also gives better driver feel and feedback compared to the Mercedes.

Performance: With its superior handling, better response, lighter body and 100 extra cc, the BMW, of course, rules.
Reliability: I think I answered that earlier.

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

Hello Baraza,

I read your article on a revitalising gel and could not help wondering how you bring Jesus into this. Anyway, I am eagerly waiting for the outcome of your research. Now, I have a car that I mostly drive around the city on weekends.

During the week, I park it in the sun. So my question is, can this practice have a negative effect, given that I consider it a way of preserving the car and prolonging its life. It’s a 98 Impreza hatchback.

Roben

Hello Roben,

The story on the revitalising gel was an analogy and had nothing to do with religion or faith. It was used to stress a point. No offence was intended and I hope none was taken. Speaking of research, I have dipped my foot into the water and acquired the XADO paste… comes in a small tube with, of all things, a SYRINGE! It makes me look like some mad scientist about to inject something organic in a movie. Anyway, once it goes into my gearbox, there will be reports at 500km and 1,000km.

There is nothing really wrong with parking your car through the week then driving it on weekends, a lot of people do that (including yours truly).

However, parking it under direct sunlight could raise some issues: there is the risk of the paint fading, especially if the lacquer is thin or scraped off (that is why it is always a good idea to polish/wax your car every now and then); some components might deteriorate, depending on their quality: glass gets stained, dashboards cracking under the extreme heat, rubber seals peeling or crumbling away, etc.

These problems were more pronounced in older cars, but modern cars are a lot more tolerant. Park in the shade, or get a car cover if you can.

Posted on

A Prado you can easily tip over but a BMW? I don’t see how

Hello Sir,
I need some clarification on two issues. A friend of mine says that Toyota Prado is one of the easiest cars to flip over.

I have seen a couple of overturned Toyota Landcruisers, although they were older models. How stable is the Toyota Prado V6 4000cc?

I have driven a not-so-recent model BMW 523i series in which I skidded, but miraculously didn’t flip. I guess it would have been a different story with a Prado.
Please advise.

Your friend is right. A Landcruiser Prado is notoriously easy to roll over. This is because the vehicle is tall and narrow.

The great height and small base area give it a high centre of gravity, so when that centre of gravity starts swinging about, the amount of effort required to overcome the stability offered by the base area is very small.

Small effort = easily done. Therefore, the Prado is easy to tip over. All you need to do is take a corner at high speed. The 4000cc V6 Prado is a Prado, is it not?

Not flipping a BMW is the rule, not the exception. Flipping a 5 Series is the miracle here.

Obviously, it has a very low centre of gravity, so it won’t be easy getting the centre of gravity to start swinging about, and if you get it to, it will still take considerable effort before getting the car to topple.

The actual explanation of this phenomenon can be found in classical mechanics, under the topic covering moments, inertia and centres of mass and gravity. Mechanics in this case has nothing to do with cars.

Calculating the likelihood of this event requires a series of equations that will send you running for the hills. However, I will simplify it using an analogy.

Let’s start with the Prado. Compare its overall shape to that of a book. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book balancing on its spine, is it not? Getting that book to fall over is not hard; all it takes is a simple tap on the side.

Now consider the BMW. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book lying flat on the table. Try getting that book on its spine using the same single-finger tap that you used above.

Nothing happens, right? The book is infinitely stable, it will not turn over. If anything, it will start sliding along the table the more you push it, but it will not flip, unless other forces are introduced. This explains why you were skidding but not rolling or flipping over.

—————————————————–

First, thank you for not imitating other car reviewers (i.e. Autocar, Top Gear, Fifth…, etc) with your style of journalism.

I really appreciate that and if you can, please intervene in Autovault by bringing in a “natural” character for a presenter (they do a good job but they appear to try too hard)…that would be swell.

On to your critic, the Mike Mouth: If anyone has to explain Top Gear to him, then he really needs to stop drinking.

As for the Demios, I believe you are talking about small practical cars that don’t need super charging or turbo charging to spike the driver’s adrenaline. I totally get your point. But do this: try the Swift Sport 1600cc… You will trade in the Demio. I can guarantee you that.

Now, on to a personal query, could you compare the Lexus IS250 with the GS 300 and how can one get a brand new one, given that there are no specialised dealerships. I have gathered that second-hand luxury cars are time bombs and I am trying to avoid that.Kim

Hello,
Thank you for the compliment. And you are most welcome: I prefer to be original. I discovered that one tends to achieve more that way.

Unfortunately, I cannot intervene on Autovault. To start with, my contributions are in the editorial department, while Autovault is on TV.

Secondly, I cannot intervene without invitation. That is someone else’s project; Car Clinic is mine. And you say they do a good job, so where exactly is the problem?

I have not watched the show, and I am not exactly clear on what a “natural” character is, so I might get on board and appear even less natural than the current presenters do.

I have seen and heard about the Swift Sport, but I haven’t driven it. What I have driven is the standard Swift, and first impressions were excellent, to be honest. I might believe you: the Swift Sport could just knock my socks off.

Where do I get one and how much will it cost me? I will also consider how it stacks up against a MazdaSpeed, which is what I have been thinking of lately when the time comes for me to graduate from the Demio “Sport”.

Now, the Lexuses… Lexi… Lexus cars. The GS is bigger than the IS, but the IS handles better and in my view, looks sharper. It should be more responsive on the road, making it more fun to drive.

If you are into creature comforts rather than outright driving experience, then the GS is more up your alley. Getting a brand new one will not be easy or cheap.

Off the cuff, I’d say these are your options: contact Toyota Kenya and see if they can bring one in for you. The whole idea is they import the car and you buy it from them, though in effect you mported the car. You have to promise to pay them once the car gets here.

If you change your mind when the vehicle is already on the ship, they won’t be very happy with you. Also, I cannot guarantee that they would agree to such a proposal.

The second option is to buy it yourself. You will buy it expensively brand new to start with, then get it to the port (Mombasa) — or Nairobi if by air — and discover that the taxman assumes a DIY import of a brand new car means the importer has more money than he knows what to do with, and will thus be glad to assist him reduce that money to manageable levels, and no sir, don’t worry, it is all very legal, they are not stealing from you, it is right here on paper.

Look, it is called Customs Duty and what in the name of… isn’t that a little high, yes it is, but rules are rules. If you want lower taxes, then buy older cars that have already been used and the whole process is frustrating and confusing.

In the end you will discover that maybe, just maybe, importing brand new cars is a bit of a no-no for those who do not enjoy tax exemptions or government subsidies.

There is a third option, which focuses on exploiting loopholes and operating in legal grey areas. It also involves dishonesty, and that is what might land you in trouble.

Take this path at your own risk. The overall picture is this: buy the car from wherever you are buying it. While still there, drive around in it a little. Put a few miles on the odometer. Then import it as a used car.

—————————————————

Hi,
I followed club the TT Murang’a circuit very keenly from route practice in June until the actual race on August 3.

However, I noted the following issues and would like you to clarify:

1. Some Evolutions and Subarus produced a unique “Shhhh” sound like gas coming from a jet, (like a perfume spray can) when slowing down. What is the cause and purpose of that sound?

2 There is that Toyota 110 GT. How is it different from a normal 110? Apart from being fast and, of course, having orange rims and a big exhaust pipe. Any other difference?

3. I noted that most drivers had their front windows open; why? Yet we are told that open windows increase drag/wind resistance, thereby reducing speed.

4 Are you sure you were there? I never saw a clean shaven face with a goatee. I actually looked around for you.

Murage

1. The source of that sound is the BOV (blow-off valve), also called the dump valve, in the turbocharger. The purpose of the dump valve is to “dump” or “blow off” air from the turbo once the throttle is closed to prevent something called compressor surge.

This is what happens: when a turbocharged petrol engine is running, the turbo is forcing more air than usual into the engine by compressing the air first then sending it into the inlet manifold. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the throttle valve closes.

This means that the compressed air that was coming in from the turbo now has nowhere to go; the way into the engine is closed. The only way is to decompress backwards, and given that the turbo spools in one direction, when the air moves in reverse, there is a sort of “clash”.

It is called compressor surge, and is the one that causes the turbo to slow down suddenly, and in a potentially fatal manner; given that it was spinning at speeds that can go up to 60,000rpm, spooling down to or near 0rpm in an instant does stretch its physical abilities to the limit. You could very easily kill your turbo like that.

To prevent compressor surge, the BOV gives the compressed air a way out. When the throttle is closed, the dump valve opens, dumping all the compressed air, usually into the atmosphere, though some dump valves send the air around and back into the turbo. This dumping of compressed air is what makes the “pfff!” noise on lifting off the accelerator.

2. The difference between a Corolla 110 GT and a regular Corolla 110 is that it’s code is E111, not E110. The E110 is the “regular” Corolla. The GT uses the high-performance 1600cc DOHC 165hp 4A-GE engine with 5 valves per cylinder, while the rest use lower output engines (perkiest being the 100hp 4A-FE 16 valve DOHC).

It also came with a 6-speed gearbox versus 5-speed. Optional extras include a subtle body kit, red and black interior, silver or white dash dials, 15” alloy rims and fog lights.

However, orange rims and fat exhausts were not part of the manufacturer’s offerings, so this particular Corolla GT you refer to may be a lot different from regular Corollas… and regular Corolla GTs for that matter. The owner might have done any number of modifications to it.

3. That is purely a matter of choice for them. I, however, recall telling them explicitly to wind their windows up at the starting line just before being flagged off, because, as you say, the buffeting that comes with a lowered window is an aerodynamic fiend.

4. I am sure I was there, otherwise point 3 above would not make any logical sense, would it? (not the part about aerodynamics, but the part about me telling them to put up their windows).

I was at the starting line, wearing a high-visibility jacket and doing my scrutineer’s duties of ensuring everything was tip-top and stamping inspection forms (at which point the drivers then wound up their windows) before sending them on their way.

There is an issue here, though: if you came to look for me at the TT, then that was not very wise use of your entry fee. Watch the cars. That is where the fun is.

I am not much to look at, and I certainly wouldn’t charge anyone to look at, or look for me. See you in Kiambu on October 19. Just watch the cars. I will be the one stamping inspection forms and asking drivers to roll up their windows…

Posted on

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Please help. Dave

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

Dear Baraza,

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

Hi Judy,

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

I insist, the Prius is not what it is made out to be

Hi Baraza,

I have read a number of your articles but not come across any on the Toyota Prius. Would you kindly review it; my apologies if you have already done so because I must have missed it. Regards. Freda

Hi Freda,

I have not done a full review per se, but I have mentioned the Prius several times before, and nothing I wrote was encouraging. The Prius is what we call a smugness generator, a car people buy so that they can look down on others. Someone tried it on me and it did not end well.

The problem is that the Prius is not what it is made out to be. Toyota intended it to be the last word in fuel efficiency but it isn’t.

Some European models offer better economy without resorting to battery assistance, especially the sub 1500cc diesel-powered hatchbacks. Toyota’s own superminis (the likes of the Yaris and the Aygo) also offer better returns on the mpg scale at a lower price.

The world’s leading motor journalist also says research shows that total assembly of this vehicle in the long run does more damage to the environment than a Land Rover Discovery would in its entire fuel-guzzling lifespan, courtesy of the mining, shipping, factory processing and manufacture of its batteries, which, incidentally, are supposed to be its party piece.

He further demonstrated that, driven at full speed, the Prius burns more fuel than an E92 BMW M3 moving at the same speed. The BMW is a sports car, a very fast one, with a 4000cc V8 engine and 414hp.

Meanwhile, the Prius has a 1500cc unit supplemented by an electric motor, making a combined horsepower figure I am unaware of and not interested in knowing.

One last shot: when running on batteries, the lack of engine noise makes it a whisper-mobile, so no one will hear you coming and you should, therefore, expect to slay a substantial number of unwitting, non-motorised street-users as a result.

How many children will you kill in this manner before you convince yourself that the Prius is, in fact, a car made for Hollywood stars to assuage their guilty consciences that they are doing the world some good?

Hi Baraza,

I have had a Starlet EP82 year 92 model for six years now. Mid last year, the temp gauge went close to the half mark and it would require water after covering about 500 kms.; initially, it would go for months. The car has no thermostat and the mechanic suggested a cylinder head gasket overhaul, which I declined, so we ended up changing the radiator cap but it still needs refilling after covering the same kms though the good thing is that the temp gauge never goes beyond the quarter mark.

I recently hinted to my mechanic that for the last two years the engine has lost power; no change even after replacing the clutch and pressure plate.

He suggested we replace the piston rings and crankshaft cone bearings to improve compression. Is he right? What could be the cause? I service it every 7,000 kms with Shell Helix HX5 15W-40, it has no oil leaks so no top-ups, and the car is very economical: 17.5-19kms/litre on the highway.
Regards.

Kamwago

Your mechanic might be on to something. The head gasket might need replacement. This would explain the two symptoms you mention: 1. Power loss: this could be due to compression leakage, hence the (latter) suggestion that you get new rings. But the case of worn out rings is almost always accompanied by oil consumption, which you say is absent. Compression leakage could also occur via the head gasket, so this is a more likely situation.

2. Loss of coolant: coolant could be leaking into the cylinders. Either that, or the cooling system has a leak somewhere.

I think you might need to check your cylinder head gasket after all.

Hi,You promised to tackle small engines that have turbo, especially motorcycles i.e (125cc). I own one but I don’t see much difference between it and other 125s; is it okay?

I do not know of any turbo motorcycles. Which model is this you own? I have a colleague who specialises in two-wheeled transport who might be able to shed some light on your machine, if it is what you say it is (I really doubt if your bike is turbocharged).

I have covered the topic of turbo charging so many times that I rarely delve into it any more.

Hi Baraza,

I own a manual Nissan B15. Recently, it began switching off on its own on the road and also when idling. I took it to a mechanic and he replaced the old plugs and it went off permanently. It also used to discharge its battery when left overninght but retain charge when disconnected.Kindly advise.Joseph Mutua

That sounds like a short circuit somewhere. It explains the stalling (current bypasses the ignition system and is grounded immediately) and also the battery discharge. Have someone look at the wiring and electrical system, the fault should not be hard to find.

Hi Baraza, I’m hoping to change my car this year and am interested in the Nissan Pathfinder or Land Rover Discovery 4, whichever is more affordable. However I would like you to give me insights into the pros and cons of the two vehicles. Secondly, which is your preferred 7-seater SUV ? Anthony Crispus.

Hello,

1. Discovery pros: good-looking, comfortable, smooth, luxurious, handles well, is nice to drive and has some clever tech in it (terrain response, air suspension etc). Also, the diesel engines are economical and all models are fast (this applies to the Disco 4 only. Previous Discos were dodgy in some areas). It is surprisingly capable in the clag.

Cons: Very expensive. It is prone to faults, which are also expensive to fix. Petrol-powered vehicles will get thirsty. The air suspension is unreliable. Also, a man in a Prius will look at you badly for driving a massive, wasteful fuel-guzzler.

2. Pathfinder pros: cheaper than Discovery. It is based on the Navara, so they share plenty of parts. It is also rugged, somewhat.

Cons: being a Navara in a jacket means it suffers some of the Navara’s foibles, such as a rapidly weakening structure under hard use, poor off-road clearance when the high-on-looks side-skirt option is selected and is noisy at high revs. They also don’t sell the 4.0 V6 engine option locally.

My preferred 7-seater SUV is the Landcruiser Prado. I like the Discovery, a lot, but the Prado is Iron Man (unashamedly faultless and immodest with it) to the Discovery’s Batman (good looks and god-like abilities but inherently flawed and thus susceptible to bouts of unpredictability and unreliability).

Hi,

I have a Toyota Allion. The problem is that it pulls to the left. The wheels are the same size and tyres are properly inflated. Wheel alignments, including computerized, don’t correct the problem. My mechanic does not know what the problem could be. Please advise.

Simon

Are you using directional tyres by any chance? Some tyres are meant to be used on a specific side of the vehicle and should not be switched. Also, check your brakes. Unlikely though it is, one of them could be binding.

Hi Baraza,

While I missed Munyonyi’s question on airbags, Sally was right about airbags in suspension. These are retro fitted bags installed (usually) inside the standard spring that function very similar to a tube within a tyre and come with a compressor.When pumped up they raise the ride height and reduce the spring give and body roll. They also increase load capacity. Pretty simple in function and relatively cheap. Favoured by offroaders. Your explanation on was right, just for different systems.

And now tomy question: Why does Toyota torture us with such reliable but sin ugly vehicles? I’m tired of defending these Picasso-looking machines with, “It will reach and come back.” Is there any good looking Toyota (except the 40 and 80 series Landcruisers)? Mwenda

I like the way the Mark X looks. And all the big Landcruisers (80, 100 and 200 Series); Prados look funny. The problem with having 13,000 designers in your employment is that sometimes you have to give some of them incentives not to migrate to Nissan or Honda. That means passing off their designs to production stage. It is hard to say what these designers do in their spare time, but drugs could be a possibility: how else would you explain such aberrations as the Verossa? Will? Platz? Opa?

I received several emails about the air-bag issue, and I apologize to Munyonyi and Sally. They were right. I wasn’t.

Hi JM,

I recently changed the tyres of my Mazda Demio from the manufacturer’s recommended 185/55/R15, which were too small for Kenya’s rough roads, to 195/65/R15 which are bigger. While I appreciate the significant increase in ground clearance, I also noticed a significant dip in engine power. It’s a manual transmission, and some of the steep slopes that I used to comfortably clear in third gear now force me to downshift to second gear two.
How can I get the original power back without having to replace the tyres again? Kelvin.

Fitting bigger tyres has the effect of gearing up your drivetrain, hence the apparent dip in power. If you revert to the original set, you will notice your car is fine.

Posted on

Why cars made in the ’80s and ’90s will outlive the ’00s by far

Hi Baraza,

In the past two weeks, I have driven down to Nakuru three times, every time using a different car, namely a 2003 Toyota Kluger, a 2007 Toyota Premio, and a 1991 Mercedes Benz 190E.

By quite a distance, the 190E was the most comfortable and most stable. Older Volvos and Mercedes’ seem way more reliable than modern-day equivalents and also better cars than, say, a 2007 Premio. Do you agree with the saying that the golden age of motoring was the ’80s and early ’90s?

Pete.

It depends on one’s perspective. But in a way, yes, the ’80s and early ’90s were some of the best years in motoring.

This was the era when Formula 1 cars were turbocharged and did close to 1,500hp with few yawn-inducing rules and regulations to try and “balance the field” and ensure “close racing”.

This was the era of Group B in rallying, undeniably the most spectacular aspect of the sport.

Unfortunately, it is also the one with the highest rate of fatalities for both drivers and spectators.

The innovations of this time led to the current turbo 4WD cars on our roads.

This was the same era when the 200mph (322 km/h) mark was crossed by a production car — the Porsche 959 — also the shortest-lived fastest production car record ever.

The Porsche was unseated by the Ferrari F40 within a few short months by a mere 1mph (1.6 km/h). You do not get excitement like this nowadays.

The marvel was not limited to the rarefied atmosphere of race cars and limited-production, horribly expensive supercars.

This was also the era of the over-engineered Mercedes: Cars like the Addams Family dragster (the extra-long and extra-menacing W126), the Berlin Taxi (the ubiquitous W124) and what Top Gear and/or racer Martin Brundle called “the slowest sports sedan ever made”, the 190E.

These are cars that cannot and will not break, so they will last forever.

Their popularity and desirability are about to peak, so getting one now would be paramount for a collector before clean examples run out of stock.

The ’80s also saw the swan song of many small rear-drive Japanese saloon cars (Toyota Corolla, Nissan Bluebird, etc) with many of these going for an FF format, and thus becoming boring white goods for faceless, entry-level employees.

This was also the last time engineers had “free reign” to create a car exactly the way they wanted it.

From the ’90s onwards, things like emissions control and safety standards have steadfastly turned cars into heavy, ugly, self-driving, aluminium-and-plastic, lawsuit-perpetrating, smugness-generating cocoons in which people hide from the outside world while tapping away at heavy, ugly, think-for-you, plastic-and-glass, smugness-generating electronic devices while their cars’ electronic brains do their damnedest to overcome the nearly-fatal incompetence of the idiot behind the wheel through a variety of driver aids and a veritable battery of sensors and chips.

Gosh! The ’80s and early ’90s saw the last of the real driver’s cars!

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a 2013 Audi Q5 which I use here in the UK and plan to ship to Kenya next year when I relocate.

I have read an article regarding the DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) and have come to the conclusion that I will need to remove this and reprogramme the ECU before I send the vehicle to Kenya.

There are a lot of companies here in the UK that offer DPF removal (physically remove the DPF, add in a stainless steel pipe to connect the exhaust and reprogramme the ECU properly).

My question is, once I arrive in Kenya with the car and I need the ECU reprogrammed or anything else, is there anyone able to repair or update the ECU?

How much do they charge, approximately? Also, the car has something called Adblue. Is this available in Kenya? Any help would be great.

Pinal.

Hello Pinal,

ECU reprogramming is available now from a variety of individuals here in Kenya.

What they charge is entirely up to them; their rates vary so it is not easy to get a ballpark figure.

Adblue may not be readily available in Kenya, but that does not mean you cannot get it. A lot of people nowadays do to-order imports of spares and consummables rather than bulk importation and praying for a ready market.

What they do is take orders from different people until they have enough to fill a container, after which they go in search of the materials to import.

This would make more sense rather than importing a whole container of Adblue and discovering that only one person back here is interested.

These are the folks you need to get in touch with. They are all over the internet.

Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your column and love the advice you give on various issues.

I have a 2005 Toyota Harrier 240G and have the following questions regarding the car:

1. Does it come with a traction control function? If so, where is the button located?

2. I recently saw a VSC light on the speed gauge and was wondering what it was and what it does.

3. Could you also compare the Harrier with a Mark X 250G in terms of speed and performance?

3. It has a Japanese-language radio (Eclipse AVN 7705HD) and I was wondering if you have a list of translators who could help me since it seems the previous owners (the Japanese) already set it up to their preferences.

Thanks,

Kefahngwei

1. Yes, the car comes with a form of traction control programmed into it.

Do you want to turn it off? I strongly advise you not to because the car will become unpredictable and difficult to drive in slippery conditions.

I am not sure where the button to disengage the traction control is, but in most Toyota cars, it is found to the left of and slightly below the steering column.

However, in some models, especially those that are the same as Lexus, the VSC cannot be turned off.

The Harrier just happens to be such a model (it is also the Lexus RX), as are the Altezza (Lexus IS), Aristo (Lexus GS), and Crown (Lexus LS/ES). Therefore, there is no button to turn it off.

2. VSC is Vehicle Stability Control and it is what you were asking about in Question 1 above. The stability and traction controls are controlled together in some cars, of which this is one. In other cars, especially German ones, the stability and traction controls are (dis)engaged separately.

3. The Mark X is superior in both terms.

4. Unfortunately, I do not have such a list right now.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your wonderful insight and advice through this column.

I would like to purchase a four-wheel-drive car that will enable me to see Kenya when I retire soon.

Touring the country has been my dream for a long time and I need a strong vehicle that will take me into the deep interiors of our lovely nation any time of the year.

I am attracted to the Land Rover Defender 110, but would like to know more about it and other equally good 4WDs.

Does the Toyota Hilux Surf fit in this category? What about cost of maintenance due to the wear and tear that will arise?

Which tops the list among the Toyota Landcruiser Prado, the ordinary Landcruiser station wagon, and the Defender 110 in terms of 4WD capability?

Thanks,

Joshua.

Hello Joshua,

The Defender you mention perfectly fits the bill of the requirements you demand from your next car: It is a strong vehicle that will take you into deep interiors at any time of the year.

However, something in your question begs the warning; Not so fast!

You say you will be retiring soon. So you are approaching senior citizen status.

Well, Sir, the Defender will be quite a cross to bear owing to its suspension.

It is the hardest, stiffest assembly I have come across in any car bar none (except maybe a go-kart, which has no suspension at all).

Now that you want to go into “deep interiors” — by which I take it you mean to rush in where goats fear to tread — then you may need another car that will take it easier on your senior citizen spine.

Either that or change the settings and components of the 110 to something more forgiving.

The Land Rover Defender is not comfortable on tarmac and off-road, it will try you physically and emotionally as you bounce repeatedly off the pain barrier.

I think that is why policemen are always in a bad mood. They are forced to ride in Land Rover Defenders all day.

The Hilux Surf (nowadays it is just called a Surf, they dropped the Hilux prenom. Other markets call it the 4Runner) also fits in this category.

It has the full off-road running gear, ample clearance, low-range gearbox, 4WD transfer case, and diff-locks, but in extreme conditions, the Defender will keep going long after the Surf has given up.

This is due to the longer wheelbase length, longer rear overhang, and sometimes-there-sometimes-not subtle body kit present on the Surf.

They are all impediments to progress once you are off the beaten path.

The Defender also has more clearance.

Take heart though; by the time you notice the difference in abilities between the two SUVs, it will be less of driving and more of trying to survive. I doubt you will end up in such a situation.

Cost of repairs and maintenance are not horrendous for the Land Rover. It was designed to be rugged and simplistic intentionally.

Bush remedies are supposed to work and body damage is easily fixed because the aluminium panels are easy to remove/panel-beat/replace, even in the jungle.

However, the current Defender comes with a lot of electronic systems in it which has raised eyebrows among pundits as to whether or not its “simplistic” nature still applies.

The difference between the Landcruiser Prado, the regular Landcruiser station wagon (the J70, right?) and the Defender 110 in off-road conditions is not that big. The J70 and the Defender are especially hard to distinguish: One will follow the other without white-flagging to a point where the respective drivers will begin to wonder how they will get back to civilisation.

Both are unstoppable off-road in the right hands. The Land Rover’s only letdown will be reliability.

Hello Baraza,

I need a car to use in Nairobi, preferably an off-roader. We have an ex-Posta, 2.8-litre, diesel Daihatsu Rocky.

Is it an economical car for my needs?

Clifton.

Clifton,

An ex-Posta car, you say? Most likely my Daddy drove it at one point or the other. Anyway, that is besides the point.

I was exposed to the 2.8 diesel Daihatsu Rocky for very many years and its economy is, well, impressive.

But then again, it has a high-torque, low-revving diesel engine, so the economy is to be expected. Achieving 10kpl is easy, even more if you are something special behind the wheel.

I, however, do no’t see its point as a city car. A good number of these ex-KPTC/Telkom/Posta Rocky vehicles can be found in Uasin Gishu, where farmers need that diesel torque, high clearance, and 4WD ability due to the intractability of roads not attached to the A104.

A smaller car would be more ideal for city use.

The advantage is that with the tractor of a car that the Rocky is, you are unlikely to get bullied by matatus. So maybe it is ideal for city use, after all.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a VW Golf Touran but on checking fuel consumption for different engines, I realised that the 2.0 FSI offers better consumption than 1.6 FSI.

All same year. a) How is that possible? b) What is your take on FSI versus TSI engines in terms of performance, fuel consumption, general reliability and, most importantly, availability and cost of local support?

Both seem to cost nearly the same for same-year models.

Thanks sana,

Mwangi Kiguru.

Greetings Mwangi,

a) Yes, that is very possible. If anything, it is the norm, particularly at highway speeds.

The bigger 2.0-litre unit can effortlessly attain triple-digit velocities while the smaller 1.6 needs to be given a few more beans to keep up.

However, this difference is not big and is only more noticeable when there is a bigger percentage disparity in engine capacity and in smaller engines such as when comparing a 1.0 litre against a 1.5 or a 1.6.

b) The engines are very similar, though the technologies are slightly different.

Performance and general reliability are almost the same, as are the economy (which is good) and availability and cost of local support (which is shaky, I should point out).

The reason for the TSI and FSI techs are an attempt to meet and beat emissions regulations by optimising efficiency efficiently… if you get what I mean.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks to your column I can now almost beat my husband on motoring issues.

I even store your works in a special cabinet for future reviews! Straight to the point; I drive a Toyota Vanguard which has worked fantastically for me so far.

My husband suggests that it is time I let it go and chose something else (which he has already picked).

His view is that I should get an Isuzu Bighorn or a Mitsubishi Pajero, and that I may go for turbocharged or supercharged versions of these.

Now, Baraza, my wish is to change to a Toyota Prado. My questions, ignoring my ignorance, are:

a) How do these cars compare, considering I am always on rough roads?

b) What does “supercharged” mean? At least I know what “turbocharge” is all about.

Thanks,

Mercy.

I am glad I have a dedicated follower in you. Thank you for the compliment. Now, down to work.

a) The three cars are all capable off-road machines, though the Pajero, especially if not locally franchised (think Simba Colt) or tropicalised, may get a touch delicate when things get military.

Your choice of a Prado, therefore, is not bad.

The Bighorn, on the other hand, went out of production quite a while ago and so it is only a matter of time before parts, like hen’s teeth, become hard to come by. They are also few and far between, unlike the Prado and Pajero, which are all over.

b) If you know what turbocharging is, then supercharging should be easy to understand.

It is similar to turbocharging in that it is a means of forced induction. The difference is that a turbocharger’s turbine is driven by the momentum of exhaust gases and this turbine in turn drives the impeller/compressor.

A supercharger’s compressor/impeller is driven by a belt connected to the engine itself.