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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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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

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Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

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The Tiggo will have criminals ‘shivering’ with laughter

Hi Baraza,
What is your take on the Kenyan government supplying police officers and provincial administration with the Cherry Tiggo cars? Are the cars the best they can use, considering that countries like the US use patrol cars that cannot be sold to the public, such as the Ford Victoria Crown and Dodge?

Is there any feature of the cars that can make criminals shiver at their sight? Are the cars meant for countries like Kenya, where most roads are not tarmacked? I think this was the reason behind the use of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover.

Finally, are the Tiggos stable enough for high speed chases (like the Peugeot 504) or will they roll over, just like the military lorries do even at very low speed? I also fear that they may become old (lose shape) like the ones being used by the Chinese engineers constructing Thika road.

Walkins

You would be surprised that ex-police cruisers can be and are sold to the public in the US (after disarming them of the dash-stored shotguns and computers connected to security databases), especially the Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice.

The only reason criminals would shiver would be with laughter at the sight of the government’s cheapness in supplying Tiggos to the boys in blue. Not that they care, anyway.

The Chinese car would not be bad for the untarmacked roads, but their longevity is questionable. And gone are the days of the high speed police chase; nowadays they will just push a stinger into the path of the escaping felon and his goose would be well and truly cooked.

If and when the cops chase down the criminal, he could at least hope that the pursuit vehicle will age and break down some time during the chase (the reputation of China-sourced products).

Hi Baraza,

How does the Toyota Opa compare to the Toyota Fielder in terms of performance, handling, cost of maintenance, resale value, comfort, stability and power? I also want to know why you say the Opa is ugly and yet there are uglier cars, or is it just because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

Performance should be better than the Fielder, as is handling, but maintenance costs will depend on how well you take care of it. One on one, the D4 engine and the optional CVT transmission are harder to fix (and will thus cost more) than the equivalent VVT-i and auto/manual gearbox in the Fielder.

Resale value will be next to nothing, but if you can find a fellow Opa-lover, then all the best. Comfort: Very good, for the price and class. Stability: Better than the Fielder, but it is still not an F1 car. Power: 1.8 litre D4 performance, which means about 150 hp.

About its ugliness, just because there are other ugly cars, does that mean I should call the Opa pretty? If four students do an IQ test and one student gets a score of 1, and three others get 0, does that make that one student a genius? No, it is just that three other students happen to be less intellectually endowed. Same thing here; the Opa is still quite unsightly, whether or not Verossas and Wills exist.

Dear Baraza,

I want to move from a five- to seven-seater car to accommodate my family. Looking around, the following appealed to me because of looks, fuel economy, and parking space: Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Touran, Toyota Sienta, Honda Mobilio, and Nissan Cubecubic. I also visited CMC and saw the Maruti 800cc van.

What are your comments on these cars and which one would you recommend?

Muteti

From your list, I would say the Touran is the best seven-seater car. It is the most comfortable, has good power delivery, a six-speed gearbox, is highly versatile, and has Volkswagen’s bullet-proof build quality. Too bad it took an army friend of mine several attempts to get the gearbox fixed at CMC Motors before he was satisfied.

The 307 is also a good car, but with the French known to be unreliable, it may not be the best buy if you have resale value in mind. The Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans are generic Japanese products that I am yet to assess (but I strongly suspect there is not much difference between them).

That 800cc Maruti is another thing altogether. It will seat seven people, yes, much in the same way back in the day my three sisters and I could fit in one red KP&TC telephone booth when making a phone call to daddy at work.

It is not an experience you will particularly enjoy or want to repeat daily. The Maruti is a small-capacity delivery van (mostly for pizzas or inter-office documents), not a Swiss family mobility solution.
Of the lot, I pick the Touran.

Hi,

What is the difference between the 2004/5 Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Harrier 240G/300G besides engine displacement? These cars are identical! Which would you go, considering spare parts availability and running costs?

Tony

Besides displacement, the only other difference is the logo in the grille up front. Such vehicles as the Toyota Harrier, Aristo, Altezza, Crown, and Land Cruiser Cygnus (the top-rung 100 VX model) existed because at the time the Lexus brand was not available on sale in Japan, so they were rebranded as Toyota.

Their respective Lexus equivalents were the RX 300, GS 300, IS 200 (and IS 250 in the US), LS 400, and LX 470. There was even a “Lexusized” J120 Prado called the GX 450.

In my world, availability of spares and running costs mean diddly squat, so I would go for the one with the biggest engine and the most horsepower and with the most apportionment (options like leather, climate control, and sun-roof).

For the cash-sensitive types, the diametric opposite of my desire is what they should settle for; the smallest engine with the bare minimum of optional extras.

Hi Baraza,

1. Between a 6-litre V8 engine and a 6-litre V12 engine, which one consumes more fuel? Is it engine displacement or the number of cylinders in the engine?

2. I have been seeing exotic modern cars (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentleys, Rolls Royce, etc) in Nairobi streets. Where are these cars serviced? It is not that I am aspiring to buy these cars in the near future, a turbo-charged Subaru is good enough for me.

1. Given the extent of automotive engineering thus far, it is neither of the options you list there. Genius and boffinry will determine the consumption capabilities.

Engine management (injection maps, variable valve timing), supplementary innovations (variable intake plena, active exhausts, use of forced induction, injector and plug placement/relationship, cylinder deactivation, charged gasoline injection, etc), the shape and design of combustion chambers, intake manifolds and exhaust manifolds, along with a whole lot of other things will determine the fuel consumption of an engine.

That is why the CL 65 AMG Mercedes-Benz coupe is a 600 hp monster that can still manage 11 kpl.

2. These vehicles belong to individuals who prefer to stay outside the scope of the public eye. I have seen them too. My presumption is that given what it costs to buy one (and the kind of brain power that goes into building one), it is only natural for the owners to send the vehicle back to the makers for servicing.

Either that or factory engineers are flown in with a complete tool kit to service the vehicle from the privacy of the owner’s home.

Hi,

I want to know about the work of the cylinders in a car and why they vary from vehicle to vehicle, for example, some have four while others have eight cylinders. Aside from that, you are always sceptical about the Cadillac Escalade and yet it is still one of the most prestigious vehicles today.

So how do you rate the Cadillac CTS-V in terms of performance, power (which I assume is quite a lot with the over 400 hp), comfort, stability, and fuel economy?

Three cylinders or less are typically used in less than 1.0-litre capacity engines (except the noisy tractor road-building equipment that uses just one but displaces more than 1.0 litre).

Four cylinders (in line) are good for fuel economy. V4 engines are noisy, and prone to vibrations, which requires the use of heavy crankshaft journals and flywheels to dampen the vibrations.

As a result, they make the car nose heavy, that is why they found limited use in cars. They are used for bikes, though. Horizontally opposed or “flat” four engines (H4) provide even weight distribution, and no, they do not wear the cylinders out on one side, as some people assume.

Five-cylinder engines are not much different from 4-cylinder ones.Most provide extra capacity without resorting to enlargement of cylinders. This applies to both V5 and in-line 5 engines. Six cylinder engines have legendary smoothness and good top-end (high rev) power characteristics.

That is why Lexus used them to great effect in their smaller saloons. The top-end power applies to both in-line 6 (Nissan Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra Mk IV, BMW M3) and V6 engines (Nissan GTR R35, Lotus Evora).

V6 engines have the added benefit of being compact, allowing for a more stubby bonnet or installation in a mid-ship platform, what we call mid-engined cars, or rear engine chassis.

Eight-cylinder engines develop huge torque. Straight 8s saw action a long time ago but these died a natural death. It was only sensible to make V8s. W8 engines were recently “discovered”, but since they involve the juxtaposition of two V4s, they do not get much airtime.

Twelve-cylinder engines have very good power and can rev to “abnormal” levels (the V12 in the Ferrari F50 road car could soar to about 10,000 rpm).

That is why they are used in top-end sports and performance cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, top-flight Mercedes-Benz AMG and BRABUS cars). Sadly, the engine in the recently released Lamborghini Aventador will have the last automotive V12 to be used as manufacturers are now favouring turbo-charged V8s, which are simpler to build, more robust, and meet ever-tightening emissions standards.

Weirdly, some army tanks also use V12 engines, diesel powered. V10 engines share tendencies with V12s.

Beyond this point, most engines take a W configuration rather than V for the sake of length. The W12 engine (a creation of the VW Group and commonly found in Bentley and Audi) is just the mating of two V6s, side by side. The W16 (Bugatti Veyron) is the joining of two V8s.

The CTS-V is America finally waking up to the realities of life. The original 400 hp car was good (which is saying a lot for a Yank Tank), but the 556 hp supercharged version was great (this has never been said of any American car).

The blown CTS-V killed the BMW M5’s lap record for fastest four-door saloon at the Nurburgring, what with the M5 having two more cylinders (V10 vs the Caddy’s V8) and 50 less hp.

This war is not over. BMW have brought out a new M5 (the F10). They have gone back to V8 engines, they have lowered the engine capacity but (the trump card) to compensate for that, the M car now has two turbochargers slotted under the bonnet.

Initial reports indicate the car goes like stink and is so good it could end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and bring peace in the Middle East — this is of course an exaggeration. The car will actually bring more war as each country fights to be the one supplying the unleaded that goes into the M5’s fuel tank.

Posted on

The Forester is okay off-road, just don’t follow a Defender

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a Toyota Allion A18 and would like to upgrade to a Forester X20, the non-turbo version. I would like you to compare the two in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption.

2. Cost of maintenance.

3. Resale value.

Lastly, how hardy is the Forester for off-road use in respect to ground clearance and performance?

Omondi

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1. The Allion is more economical. No contest.

2. Again, the Allion may be cheaper to maintain.

3. The Forester costs more when new and is a cross-over utility, so it has a higher resale value.

The Allion tends to depreciate badly if used hard.

Off-road, the Forester is good in those respects. Just don’t follow a Land Rover Defender everywhere, you might end up in the clag and unable to come out.

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Baraza,

Please tell me more about Suzukis, especially the Samurai and Jimny models, in terms of fuel efficiency, stability and off-road nature.

I am planning to buy one for use both at the office and managing businesses in the village.

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Samurai and Jimny are a pair of hard-to-love cars that are, frankly, pretty outdated.

Fuel efficiency is good, but could be better with improved aerodynamics. Stability is very poor in both; falling over is very easy.

They are mean off-roaders: back when the Porsche Cayenne was new, it got its face pushed in by a Jimny in a tough off-road challenge.

Bear in mind that one Cayenne, particularly the Turbo, will cost you almost 15 Jimnys.

Where in God’s name are your office and village businesses located to warrant the use of a Jimny?

It is like saying “I bought a Defender to take my kids to school”.

The natural reaction would be; “Do your kids go to school in the Grand Canyon or the middle of the Sahara?”

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Hi,

I have a question that I hope you will address so as to bring some sanity in my home because, as it is now, my wife and I cannot agree on an issue that I consider light but which carries a lot of weight for her.

We have lived in Cyprus for close to 15 years and have decided to come back home.

For this reason, we are taking all our belongings with us apart from one, which is the bone of contention — my wife’s “Smart ForTwo” Cabrio road car.

Now, we happen to visit Nairobi once every year and, for close to ten years now, I have never seen this car on Kenyan roads.

The problem is that my wife seems to have bonded more with this car than she did with me.

She has driven both the first and second (newest) versions of the Smart car, and I must admit that it is a great car to drive.

It has a very light but compact chassis and it grips the road like a spider. It is very firm, spacious (in spite of it’s miniature size), comfortable, fast and very fuel efficient.

I do not know much about cars, but at least I know that the car is manufactured by Mercedes Benz and all parts and servicing is done by Mercedes Benz centres here in Lemesol and worldwide.

But the car is purely made for smooth-road driving and my fear is that it might not be able to handle the rough terrain that is characteristic of Kenyan roads.

I am also wary about the availability of spares and servicing at Mercedes centres in Nairobi. It is because of this that I am trying to convince my wife to sell it and get another car in Nairobi.

But she is adamant that she must have her two-seater toy in Nairobi. I am afraid that we will be looking for a scrap metal dealer soon after we arrive.

Please help, I need to know whether we should ship this car or whether we should just forget about it.

Joe

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Joe, you are right. It is unlikely that the Smart will survive the vagaries of driving on Kenyan roads.

And I seriously doubt if DT Dobie can handle its service and maintenance; it is built by Mercedes yes, but it is made by Swatch, the Swiss watch company.

I believe it uses a turbocharged 600cc three-cylinder engine, right? Where will the spares come from?

If you ding it in a parking lot, you will have to import the replacement panel, possibly from Smart themselves (the GRP bodywork cannot be panel-beaten).

And I doubt if Nairobians are as decent as Cypriots when it comes to driving, so believe me, dents are in the offing once you land here.

I have seen two Smart cars so far in Nairobi, though, but both were Smart ForFours.

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Jambo Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the usability or legal aspects of driving a left-hand vehicle in Kenya.

Mike

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It turns out that importation of LHDs has been kiboshed by our dear government, which throws a spanner into my plans for importing a used Bugatti Veyron.

That is unless the vehicle in question is an “emergency vehicle” (police, fire engine or ambulance).

Maybe I should stick a blue light on the roof of that Veyron.

Legal aspects? None that I know of. I still see LHDs on the road and no one seems to be going after them with lawsuits or charges.

Overtaking on the highway could be a real exercise though, and joining an oblique junction that was made specifically for RHDs will test your skills to the limit.

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JM,

I would like your opinion on something that has been disturbing me for a while now.

I imported a 2003 Toyota Voxy 2.0 two years ago and the car seems to be very thirsty.

1. I went to Mombasa once and used a full tank one way. Coming back, I used another full tank.

In Nairobi, I use Sh700 daily over a 24-kilometre distance, which translates to about 5kpl, yet I avoid traffic.

2. The engine and oil lights usually come on when I’m driving but later disappear.

3. The car is very uncomfortable; you can feel bumps and very small potholes.

I have driven a friend’s Fielder over the same road and it rides smoothly. Again, what could be the problem?

I installed heavy duty Monroe springs but not the shocks since I was told they were in good condition, but nothing changed.

4. The car is on 17 inch, low profile Pirelli tyres (it came with these); might these be affecting comfort?

And what’s the recommended tyre pressure? I use 30psi.

NB: The car does not carry heavy luggage.

Ian

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I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the consumption would be that high, given that you don’t encounter traffic.

Have you topped up the oil? Or replaced it? That should take care of the oil warning light.

If you did so recently, then the oil pressure may be too high.

The ‘check engine’ light might suggest weakening plugs (unlikely) or a faulty MAF sensor that is causing the abnormal consumption, but this would normally show in a diagnosis.

Maybe the ECU cable is loose (I’ve been there before, and somehow this also increased the consumption on my little Starlet to a highly abnormal 6kpl on the highway.

The low profile running gear and heavy duty shocks are responsible for the uncomfortable ride. Live with it or revert to default settings.

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Hi Baraza,

I overhauled my Toyota Surf 3L engine, replacing everything including the pistons, but the vehicle is still over heating.

My mechanic seems to have given up and now suspects that the cylinder head might have a crack or something.

The money I have spent so far is enough to buy a new engine, so I will greatly appreciate your help.

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What kind of overhaul was that in which the mechanic did not notice the cylinder head was cracked?

I am not a mechanic, but I have once overhauled an engine (believe it).

To check for hairline fractures, cracks or fissures, wash or douse the affected part in fine oil (like the type used in old typewriters or sewing machines), wipe it clean with a rag then dust it with French chalk.

The cracks and fissures will stain the chalk owing to the oil still in the cracks. Simple.

Was the head gasket replaced? Are the radiator hoses intact? Does the water pump work? The fans?

Check all these out and therein you will find your answer.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your excellent motoring articles. Always a good read. Now, I drive a diesel 2002 Isuzu TFR54 pickup (local).

It was previously company branded, and most likely the limited slip differential label at the back has been painted over.

1. So, how do I tell if it has limited slip differential, and what are its benefits over an open diff?

2. I had the engine rebuilt and my conservative calculations indicate 13 kpl.

Is this possible with a 2.5-litre diesel engine? I live 30 km out of town and use it as my daily commute.

3. Is it true that after an engine rebuild it will take time (for lack of a better term) to “open up” and increase in speed and efficiency, could this also be described as a breaking-in period?

Vic

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1. The best way to tell if it has an LSD (not to be confused with the drug) is to try and drift it, but don’t do this, you will roll over and hurt yourself if you have not mastered the art.

And pickups don’t drift easily. Just ask the former owner for the handbook of that particular car. Benefits of an LSD over an open diff include better traction on treacherous surfaces with minimum waste of torque through one tyre spinning.

2. A consumption of 13 kpl is just fine, if anything, you should be proud of it.

3. Yes. The phrase you are looking for is not “open up” but “bedding in”, and yes, this is the breaking in period. It is usually 1,000 km for most Isuzu KB pickups ever since the days of Chev-Luv.

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Baraza,

There is something that has bothered me for a while but the mechanics I have spoken to haven’t been of much help.

The question is: Doesn’t the size of the tyres affect the accuracy of the odometer reading?

Allow me to explain. How does a car measure distance travelled?

I assume that it does this by “counting” the number of tyre revolutions (presumably somewhere around the differential or gearbox).

For instance, if you jack up the car and engage the gear, one of the drive wheels starts spinning and the odometer continues reading mileage “travelled”.

If this is so, then when you change the tyres (for example moving from say 13” to 14” tyres, or from normal to thin-profile tyres of the same radius) then the odometer reading can no longer be accurate since the car does “not know” that you have changed the tyre size.

Since I changed the tyres on my Starlet to bigger ones, I have found that the mileage seems to be understated. For example, a 100km distance now shows, say, 95 km. Am I making any sense?

Karani

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You are making sense, apart from the part where you say different profile tyres of the same radius will give different odometer readings.

Same radius equals same circumference, therefore one tyre revolution will cover the same distance, whether on low profile or high profile tyres, provided the wheel diameter is the same.

And, believe it or not, cars nowadays are so clever they can tell when you are being dodgy.

A tale has it that someone imported an E60 BMW M5 and tried to swap the low profiles (stock on the M5) with “ordinary” high profile tyres suitable for Kenyan roads, and the car simply would not start.

Changing them back put the car back in a good mood and away he went. Interesting.

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Your advice is succinct, your wit unmatched, and you’re quite entertaining. Thank you.

Now, there is something that has baffled me for a while now: Why is it so expensive to import cars into Kenya?

I know that the Government has set the import and excise duties and associated fees… but why so expensive?

It costs twice as much its value to import a car into Kenya. Even second hand cars are double the cost!

Cars in the US and UK are shipped (from Japan, Germany etc) just as cars are shipped to Kenya, yet cars in Kenya cost twice as much the cars in the two countries and many others.

I have tried in vain to contact KRA with this inquiry.

Paul

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Paul, If it is only now that you realise governments tend to rob their people, some more than others, then you have been asleep.

The tax I pay for educating my readers every week was doubled during the last budget; I almost packed up and left for Uganda where I am sure they have no Car Clinic (of this magnitude at least).

I, too, have no idea why we have to pay through our noses for things that have already been used by other people.

I am sure if you asked the economic czars (as cliche-spewing journalism dropouts are wont to call them) like the Finance Minister and Commissioner General of KRA for answers, they will reply with a maze of figures and a verbal soup of phrases that come straight out of a first-year economics lecture.

The end result will be that you will still give unto Caesar what belongs to the Revenue Authority.

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Hi Baraza,

You recently did a great piece on the Peugeot, thank you for that.

I am in love with the Peugeot 407 coupe and I am planning to buy one from the UK. This could be a 2700cc diesel or a 3000cc petrol 2007 automatic.

Can you please give me your take on the pros and cons. I have not seen many on the roads in Nairobi. Are spares readily available?

Philip

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The 406 was a pretty car, and the 406 coupe took the prettiness a step further in a refinement of Pinifarina’s design.

But I am sorry to say the 407 coupe failed to follow this script: while the saloon is a looker, the coupe turned out to be somewhat humdrum.

The reason we buy coupes is that they look good and they make us look good, right?

Performance has also flagged owing to the increased weight from the 406. So buying the diesel is making worse an already bad situation.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy a used 1999 Volvo S80 sedan. What is its fuel consumption and what do you think of its performance based on the fact that it has covered more that 200,000 km so far?

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If you are buying an S80, then fuel consumption should not be one of your worries, otherwise you don’t belong in the premium compact saloon clique.

But it is not bad, if that is what you are asking. Performance will depend on how well taken care of it has been.

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Dear Baraza,

I would like some advice on the Toyota Starlet. I am planning to buy one because of my constrained budget — I only have 250K.

I understand there are two types with different engine types, so which is the best and is it a car with low maintenance costs?

Antony

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What do you mean by different engine types? Diesel vs petrol? Otto cycle vs Miller’s cycle? Reciprocating vs rotary? Two-stroke vs four-stroke?

If it is the internal codes used by Toyota (2ZZ against 4GE and 1JZ or 1KZ and what not) then that depends: Which model of Starlet are you seeking?

I once had a red EP82 with a 4EF engine, which was carried over to the swansong 90 series. Unless you want a 1N diesel (don’t).

Maintenance costs are similar to those of a wheel barrow… it is dirt cheap to run.

Posted on

Turbo operation depends on engine speed, not road speed

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

Now, If I may ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Here are the power figures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi JM,

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

Mulwa

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

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

Okay, thanks for the heads up, Cheruiyot!

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

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

Isaac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline.

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

Please enlighten me on the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and my name is not Jim.

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Lawrence

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

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

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

Again, congratulations!