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If you’re looking for a car simply to ferry your bikes, Avensis is fine

Hi Baraza,
Great work in your column. I am an avid cyclist and have been looking for a car that will help me get my bike(s) from point A to point B without having to completely dismantle them.

This would probably mean a roof-mounted bike carrier or an estate car with lots of boot space, with the rear seat up or folded.

I have been considering the Avensis estate but after your review of 30 July, I am growing cold feet. Given that I need the car mostly just to car pool with fellow cyclists while heading for rides, what would you advise?
IKG

How bad was the review of 30 July? I believe my opening statement was “Get the Avensis…”, though I admit I later changed my mind and told my inquisitor to just get a Mark X for reasons completely unrelated to ferrying bicycles.

All you want is to ferry bicycles, right? Looking good at the local eatery or making your neighbours envious is not the priority here, is it?

Nor are RWD dynamics, wheelspin capability, tiptronic-style controlled lock-up automatic transmissions, and V6 power, correct?

I believe I recommended the Mark X for the following reasons: fun to drive, it is bigger, faster, prettier, better specced, and more imposing.

None of these things matter when you are heading to a cycle track for some furious pedalling action, so I would say there is not any black mark against the Avensis here. Get the Avensis.

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Baraza,
I recently bought a Subaru Legacy 2007 wagon. It is a super lovely car, except for the few occasions when I have to use a rough road — which is not often — and experience ground clearance problems.

I have had lots of suggestions, including one that I should have bought an Outback (true, but not really useful advice at this point).

Anyway, between spacers (I have been told they affect stability and could create potential insurance issues), larger wheels (been told this spoils the AWD), and putting up with the occasional knock, what would be the best thing to do?
MN

This is a situation where the ball is more in your court than mine. Of those three options, choose the one that suits you best, though I would opt for spacers as the path that leads to fewest complications.

Provided the increase in loftiness does not border on the ridiculous, you should be safe both from the gremlins of instability and the scrutinising gaze of the insurance agent.

Larger wheels do not necessarily affect the AWD system, unless the wheels are all of different sizes, which, while absurd and unbelievable, some people do.

Those people had hell to pay when the AWD went bonkers on them at the very moment it should have come in handy (this was during the recce of last month’s Murang’a time trial event where one of the hopefuls spun out not once, but twice, during some cornering manoeuvres).

The larger wheels will, however, gear up your transmission, watering down the torque and dialling back the acceleration somewhat. To these options you could add this: avoid rough roads altogether.

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Hello Baraza,
Thanks for your article of 23 July regarding the Evo X and Subaru STI. You did justice by whipping the ignorance out of the Subie fanatics.

I do not know what gets into their heads when they are behind the wheel. Save for noisy exhausts, which Subie drivers mistake for power and speed, the less noisy Evo X beats them hands down, period.

I even gave one such Subie owner a run for his money with my lesser-known Lexus LS460 without turbo, which easily tops 200km/h in less than seven seconds.

Away from that, kindly review the 2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate and advise whether I can go for it or still go for the 2014 LS460-L.
Regards
JM

Your Lexus might be fast, but I think you are taking liberties with statistics. Zero to 200 km/h in seven seconds? That is Bugatti Veyron territory. Maybe you meant 0-100?

I cannot properly review the Hyundai Equus for two reasons, the obvious one being I have never driven one. The second reason is I do not think it is relevant to this market.

That said, the Lexus LS460-L is the better car overall, seeing how Lexus effectively invented this segment (a pocket-friendly alternative to the German threesome of the Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8).

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Hello Baraza,
God bless you for your informative, educative, and occasionally entertaining articles.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Surf with a 1KZ-TE engine. Due to its age and frequent failures of the turbo system, my mechanic has proposed removing the turbo system, essentially reducing it to a 1KZ-T engine.

Obviously, there will be loss of torque (343 to 295 Nm) and power (96 to 85 kW), but probably a gain in fuel consumption. My question is, what other effect will the removal of the turbo system have on the engine in terms of life, maintenance, etc.

Will the effort be worthwhile or should I continue struggling with a failure-prone turbo system?

Besides the obvious drop in torque and power figures, I do not think there will be any other drastic effect with the removal of the turbo.

The only other downside is directly associated with the reduced strength: the vehicle will be slow, very slow.

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Hello Mr Baraza,
I must start by appreciating the great job you are doing in your column. I read the column religiously and have found it quite helpful. I have two questions:

1. I recently imported a second-hand Toyota Premio 1500cc Petrol Autodrive, which I use to travel from Nairobi to Nyeri and back every week.

Somewhere on the speedometer there is an indication of what I believe is the distance covered per litre of fuel (km/ltr).

There are times when the figure is as high as 21km/l; the highest it has ever been is 21.6km/l. My question is, do these figures really indicate the consumption rate and if so, does it mean my Premio is that fuel-efficient?

2. I come from a remote part of Laikipia County where roads look like the surface of the moon and my Toyota Premio cannot manage such terrain.

I have been planning to get an affordable car which can comfortably manage the off-road terrain. The car I have in mind is the Daihatsu Terios (similar to the ones used by Kenya Power). My questions in this regard are:

1. Is it really a good off-road car?
2. Can one get one with a capacity of around 1500cc?
3. Is it a reliable car and are spares readily available?
Kindly advise me on anything else I need to know about it.
Kariuki S.W.

Greetings,
Yes, the Premio is that efficient. However, there is something you should be careful about: does that readout give the instantaneous economy figure or an average over a certain distance?

Do not be fooled into thinking that 21 km/l is the average consumption unless you have some special skill you use (which is both possible and probable).

In realistic driving conditions (factoring in town driving, acceleration from bumps, and the moonscape terrain close to your destination), anything between 11 km/l and 15 km/l on average is the norm for a Premio, but you could still achieve 21 km/l overall if you are something else.

So, yes, the Premio is that efficient (for a while, depending on what you are doing).

1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

The car is small and cramped inside, is a bit uncomfortable, especially on rough terrain where the ride is very bouncy and jars a little, does not corner properly due to its tall and narrow dimensions, and on the open road, it is badly affected by crosswinds, especially at speeds of 100km/h or more.

The gearing is short, so at those highway speeds, you could add noisiness (boom) from the engine to the battle with the wind on the list of crosses to bear.

The car is small inside because it is small outside, so this makes it nippy and easy to tool around town, squeezing into small spaces, and parking.

The small exterior measurements and well-nigh non-existent overhangs means it will tackle a surprising array of obstacles without grounding itself or even damaging the bodywork. Just steer clear of the versions with a body kit, though, because it completely undoes the benefits I just mentioned.

The short gearing allows it to ascend slopes of extreme severity without having to redline the engine, which is small and could potentially be a handful in the clag unless you mercilessly stomp the accelerator constantly.

This small engine, coupled with the small body, combine to create good fuel economy for what is essentially a pint-sized SUV. Just try not to go beyond 100km/h; you will not like it.

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Hi Barasa,
I am a 30-year-old newly married man with an expectant wife. I am looking for a family car that my wife and I would both be comfortable driving.

My options are the Mazda Demio, Mazda Verisa, Toyota Runx, Toyota Allex, and VW Golf. I have a budget of Sh500,000. Please also advise me whether to import or buy one locally.
Richard

Hi Richard,
Congratulations on your recent nuptials and all the best in married life.

I would normally have recommended a Demio, simply because I drive one, but the Verisa is a more practical car for a family man. The Demio is smaller and, therefore, less practical. So the Demio bows out of the list.

The Runx and the Allex are the same car, the difference is that one model comes with chrome side mirrors and door handles while the other comes with body-colour accoutrements.

That is it. This difference is so trivial that I am not even sure which car is lashed with chrome and which one is not, but the two are just the same car.

When these model was trending not too long ago, they cost quite a tidy sum for a vehicle so puny, so they might not represent the best value for money.

People paid a lot for them. Given Kenyans and their attitudes towards Toyota, depreciation (or the lack thereof) will not make things any better, so for Sh500,000 you will not get a vehicle in as good a condition as a Verisa costing Sh500,000.

The Golf will also not cost Sh500,000. A Golf going for that amount is more likely than not either really old (a mid-90s car) or knackered and in the throes of death. Putting it right is something you and the (new) missus might regret, as parts are costly and the labour prohibitive.

Dealer mark-ups are a manifestation of the personal greed that has afflicted modern society. Some cars are commanding as much as 80 per cent dealer mark-ups, depending on demand and vehicle model. This is the sole reason you should import the vehicle yourself instead of visiting a sales yard.

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Hi Baraza,
I will skip the compliments because I am sure many have already told you that you are doing a good job.

I plan to buy a Mazda Axela (Mazda 3). I have checked online reviews and they are encouraging. The driving experience is said to be excellent.

One thing that keeps popping up, though, is road noise. Mazdas are said to be noisy and even for the Axela, they had to firm up the suspension to reduce the noise.

I know you have driven the Demio and possibly other Mazdas on Kenyan roads. How is the noise? Is it tolerable? Please also comment on the Bose Audio system.

Hello,
Feel free to dish out the compliments; they will be accepted both graciously and gleefully.

This issue about road noise could be specific to some markets. Methinks the road noise people lament about could be tyre roar, which can be reduced by simply pumping up the tyres some more or changing brands.

The road noise could also be wind noise, especially around the A and B pillars, but this is more common in cars with steeply raked windscreens such as SUVs.

I drive a Mazda and nope, I do not experience any untoward noises (unless I am gunning for the red line, in which case the only noise is the induction rasp and sub-tenor howl from the engine bay).

I cannot picture exactly how firming up the suspension reduces road noise, but if they claim it helped, then bully for them. The Mazda 6 I tested two years ago did have a Bose sound system, and it was thumping.

It also had USB capability, Bluetooth, mp3, CD, and… well, it worked. I liked it.

I am not as good at reviewing car radios as I am at reviewing cars themselves, but the setup was easy to fathom, the sound was clean (and loud enough for my taste), and the diversity of playable media means you might have to go back 30 years in time and get an 8-track cartridge before you come across something it will not play.

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Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

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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.

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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.

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How cheap is cheap? Should I invest in a 1997 Mazda Midge?

Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a Mazda Midge 323 of 1997 or thereabouts. It will cost me about Sh125,000 to acquire and about Sh20,000 to repair.

am confused. Should I sign the deal or keep off completely. I have never owned a car before and this car is cheap, with low fuel consumption. I need a means of mobility for my small family. What is your advice on this car?

Arap Kulet Kibs

That sounds like a fair deal to me. A 1997 vehicle that will cost you less than Sh150,000 to get on the road? If you are very sure this is what it will take, then by all means go for it. I have been looking for a Sh200,000 car (part of an elaborate experiment) and you will not believe how hard it is to get one. I even got offered a 1988 Honda Accord for Sh220,000.

1988! That car is older than some of the women I have dated, and the man wanted Sh220,000 for it. The closest I got to a deal like yours was a 1992 Fiat Uno for Sh85,000.

Yes, less than Sh100,000 but for that I was to get rotten tyres, split rims, the brake pads had fused with the discs (and drums), two seats (the front passenger seat and the back bench) no lights whatsoever… but the party piece was…. no engine.

Be glad of the deal you have landed, but I insist: ONLY IF YOU ARE SURE.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent fan of your column and I must say it is very informative.

Now, my question is about engine capacity vis à vis fuel consumption. Many readers have the perception that the bigger the engine the higher the fuel consumption. I remember an article you wrote about a Range Rover covering 17 kpl. With the same engine, not many Toyotas or Nissans can cover that distance.

1. How will a non-turbo car perform when fuelled with V-Power petrol and synthetic engine oil compared to premium/regular fuel and normal engine oil?

2. And by the way, why don’t you come up with your own monthly magazine for motoring fans?

Thanks and thumbs up for this weekly feature.

Ken Migiro.

Ahem, sir, I think you may have taken liberties with some of those figures. I never said a Range Rover does 17kpl. No, sir, I did not. I said, at 140km/h on an eight-lane superhighway, the engine is spooling below 2,000rpm and the “monster” engine is doing an incredible 14 kpl.

There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that the prevailing traffic conditions at the time could best be described as “light”.

Secondly, the vehicle in question was powered by a new-age turbocharged diesel engine which develops massive torque, allowing the car to be propelled effortlessly at very low rpm. Third, that Range Rover had just received a transmission update, so it was packing an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. With so many ratios, there is a perfect gear for everything.

Also, given that the car costs Sh18 million or so, the amount of research and development that went into the power train is stupendous, to say the least. None of these factors apply to eight-year-old pre-owned Toyotas and Nissans. Yer gets what yer pays fer.

1. Superior engine oil and fuel grade does not make a car faster or more powerful. It only makes the engine run smoother and last longer.

However, the converse is not true: Sub-standard oil will kill your engine and adulterated fuel (or fuel with a very low octane rating) might push your car into “safe-mode”, where either the timing will be retarded to the lowest possible level or the engine speed will be capped at a certain rpm which is very far from the red line.

Ask anyone who runs high-boost in a turbocharged engine what “safe mode” is and watch their eyes water as they remember the time they told their friends “My car is fast!” Then proceeded to drive at 40 km/h. I know your question concerned naturally aspirated engines, but some suffer from this too.

2. I happen to be the features and road tests editor at a certain magazine run by The Jaw. Sometimes it is a monthly, sometimes it is not.

Dear Sir,

I came across your article on transmission which I found quite interesting as I am looking to sell automatic transmission discs.

The gearbox has transmission discs and at one end is the high nitrile high temp seal rarely available in Kenya. Basically, it comes as an overhaul gasket kit for the transmission gear box, much like an engine overhaul gasket kit.

Nobody stocks these in Kenya, not even Toyota Kenya. When the oil leaks because of a faulty seal, it burns the discs in the gearbox.

So what most mechanics do is look for good secondhand seals and fit secondhand discs. Currently, I have a about 20 types of new discs in stock and have sold a few. I am looking for a market for these products. Please advise.

Interested Seller.

I am not very sure how I can be of help here because it sounds as if you are asking me to assist you in running your business. Since there are no further explanations, these are my guesses:

1. You want to use my column as a platform to palm off your transmission parts to the general public. I cannot be of any assistance here because the Nation Media Group will require the two of us to pay for advertising and, take it from me, those two pages can be quite expensive. Also, I will receive an uncomfortable interrogation from other sellers of transmission parts as to why I endorsed you and not them.

2. You want my advice on how you can sell many transmission parts and make a profit while at it. In this case, too, I cannot really help because I am not a business consultant. Much as the objects involved fall under motoring, the matter at hand is not really about motoring.

Dear Baraza,

Kenya-trained road and railway engineers are the most useless in the world. In a highly populated urban area trains run in tunnels underground or in overhead viaducts. Never ever on the ground.

Jesus Christ! Can you imagine a slow moving 500 metre train trying to manoeuvre in Nairobi traffic. Are some people totally mad? Moreover, underground trains run underground on electric tracks, NOT diesel locomotives. Woi! We are in trouble.

Have you ever wondered why the passenger ride from Nairobi to Mombasa is so rocky and uncomfortable? It is because the track slippers are unevenly laid.

While the distance of the slippers should be evenly spaced, you find the contrary. One slipper may be 100cm apart, the next 200cm apart and the other 120cm apart.

This makes the train rock from one side to the other because it is unbalanced. Not only is the train unbalanced, it also cannot travel at high speed because it will eventually derail due to unbalanced rocking.

That is why a journey from Nairobi to Mombasa takes at least 12 hours to complete because of slow speed. Diesel locomotives can travel at a speed of 60km to 80km per hour.

This means that on a properly constructed railway track, a Mombasa-Nairobi train should take a maximum of four to five hours.

It is also not rocket science to find out why roads designed and built by Kenyan-trained engineers have a maximum defect-free design life of between five to 10 years.

It is because these engineers construct these roads with permeable soft as a base material instead of impermeable concrete. The problem with permeable rock is that rainwater seeps through the road surface easily. Once the water reaches the earth layer of the road, it becomes mud and essentially liquid.

Thus, this part of the road sinks due to the mechanical pressure of passing vehicles. The road surface eventually cracks, exacerbating water seepage. Finally, a pothole is formed.

You may have noticed that the Chinese religiously use concrete as a base material. This is how modern roads should be built. The result is an even road surface that has a defect-free design life of approximately 99 to 100 years.

Naturally, the initial cost of a concrete base road is higher than a permeable base road. But over 99 years, it is actually cheaper because a permeable base road needs to be maintained and rebuilt every 10-15 years.

Njoroge Gitonga.

Wow! I agree on all points. While an inner city train would be a good idea, it is not really workable in ANY of our cities. It will call for an extensive redesign and rebuild of the town centre. In other words, tear the city down and put it up again.

From scratch. I wonder where the three million or so people who infest the town daily are supposed to go in the meantime. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

We do not necessarily have to have a train half a kilometre long snaking through city blocks. Several trams could do the trick. Question is: Where to lay the tram tracks? How to control jaywalking.

How to control the maniacal wayward drivers who believe that the secret to success in life is making sure you are ahead of everyone else on the road (including trams).

I do not think we are ready for this. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.
Trains are not necessarily a bad idea. What we could do is have four or five train stations around the city. We already have one which has a bias on the Mombasa Road side of town. How about another on the Westlands side? And another on the Thika Road side?

And maybe one more on the Ngong Road side? The trick is to reduce motor vehicle traffic, right? Charge people who drive into town in order to encourage them to take the train (like they do in the UK).

From those train stations we could have shuttle services running across the CBD instead of actual trains (which you and I agree will not work inside the town).

Anyway, the logistical hell that is the Nairobi traffic situation is not my headache. At least not now. Even with the new “digital” traffic lights, it still takes a traffic policeman to restore order at junctions and roundabouts, the same officer who will tell you to go when the light is red and pull you over when you drive past a green light “because he said to stop and you didn’t”. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

As for road construction, I also agree with you in that the workmanship is sloppy. Some acquaintances believe that it is intentional: Not only does the contractor make an abnormal profit, but he also guarantees himself another tender.

When the road falls apart a few months after completion, he will be called back to do repairs, hence make even more money. Sweet Lord, this country needs help.

Just a question: Those rail things. Are they “slippers” or “sleepers”? Just asking.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla 110. It recently had a minor accident and after the mechanic repaired the gearbox, I noticed that the light on the dash board keeps indicating that the overdrive is off (O/D off).

My mechanic says it does not affect fuel consumption because I do not travel long distances. Please advise.

Lucy.

How did this mechanic repair the gearbox? With the light indicating “O/D OFF”, one of three things could be happening:

1. The overdrive is actually on, but since the mechanic fiddled with the transmission and its many electronics, the light says OFF in error. Or…

2. In the course of fiddling with the transmission and its many electronics, the mechanic ruined the overdrive switch, rendering it permanently off. In which case he should pay for the extra fuel you would have saved by driving with the overdrive on. Or…

3. Maybe there is nothing wrong and you should try and put the overdrive on. There is a small button labelled O/D on the right side of the gear knob. Sometimes the only solution to a problem is the most obvious one.

Hi Baraza,

I love the advice you give in this column. I asked this question before and did not get an answer. What is a guzzler? If I drive a Toyota with an engine capacity of 2,000cc and a Subaru or Mercedes of the same engine size, how do they compare in terms of fuel consumption?

What of a saloon car and a sports utility vehicle (SUV) of the same engine capacity, for example the Toyota Mark X versus the RAV4/Harrier?

Cleo

There are very many things that determine the fuel consumption of an engine, most of them being external factors that fall under the general term “load”.

Intrinsic qualities that determine the rate of consumption include material science (low friction, lightweight and heat resistant materials lead to better economy as compared to their diametric opposites), degree of technology that goes into the R&D stage of making the engine (Electrical Fuel Injection (EFI) engines offer better economy than carburettor engines, direct injection also leads to better economy compared to port injection, Electronic Control Unit-controlled and other electronic engine systems are more efficient than purely mechanical ones) and the basic design: Number of cylinders, layout of those cylinders, and so on.

As for Toyota, Subaru, and Mercedes engines, these are too many and too varied to say which is which and the consumption factor is determined greatly by load, seeing as all three companies develop really high-tech engines for different applications.

One may be naturally aspirated, another one turbocharged, and another one supercharged. One may be used in a small compact saloon, another in a rally-ready performance hatchback, and yet another in a relatively heavy premium saloon… you get my drift, don’t you?

The same engine used in a saloon car will generally burn more fuel per kilometre when used in an SUV because the SUV is much heavier and has a higher coefficient of drag than the saloon, which means that it has to work more/spend more energy to move the body to which it is attached.

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Is the Toyota Avensis a fuel guzzler?

Hi Baraza,

I am regular reader of your column and appreciate the work you are doing. Kudos. Well, I am importing Toyota Avensis for my wife. It is a 2006 model with 2400cc. However a friend tells me it is a fuel guzzler. What is its consumption? Can Toyota Kenya service it and are spares readily available?

Best regards,

Roberto

The next time somebody tells you a car is thirsty, more so a small saloon from Toyota, ask them not to stop talking, to please go on and explain credibly how they arrived at that conclusion.

The Avensis is not thirsty. If they claim it is, I do not know what they will say about things like Mark X’s or Lexus LS430, which are also saloons from Toyota.

Expect up to 15 kpl on the highway, depending on the engine size, whether or not there is direct injection, and type of fuel. City use would hover in the 8-10 kpl range; again depending on where in the city you are driving.

Toyota Kenya can service the vehicle. Whether or not they actually will is entirely up to them: apparently some local franchises eschew vehicles bought off-shore or that were not previously from them. Toyota Kenya, hopefully, is not one of them.

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The Camry is not sexy, but it is still a Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I always enjoy reading your insightful reviews on various brands of vehicles. I am just wondering whether you have ever tried out the Toyota Camry.

It seems to me a very well-built car and good shape and gives me the impression that it is a very stable car. But I do not see many of these cars on the road compared to, say, the Toyota Mark X, which has a 2500cc while the Camry is 2400cc. What could be the issue with them? Are they thirsty cars?

Secondly, the Nissan Murano: How would you compare it with the 2007 Rav4 or the Honda CRV RD 5? I do not see so many of them on the road too.

Thanks,

Albert.

I have actually tried several Camry models and you are right: They are well-built… at least the later models are. They are well-shaped… again at least the 2012 one is, and it is stable on the road courtesy of its front-drive chassis.

The reason Kenyans opt for the Mark X is that it is prettier than the Camry. Kenyans are very image-conscious. While the Camry is “well shaped”, you would not really call it striking to look at or even sexy. It is a bit bland. The Mark X, on the other hand, attracts instant attention anywhere it goes. They certainly are not thirsty cars, especially when compared to the Mark X.

The Murano is not in the CR-V/RAV4 class of vehicles. It is more of a premium type of thing, closer to stuff like the Toyota Harrier/Subaru Tribeca. Therefore, in comparison to the RAV and the CRV, the Murano is bigger, better-specced, and more powerful. It is also a lot more comfortable and handles better. There are not many Muranos on the road, but give them time: They will come.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I would like your opinion on which is the better between a Toyota Landcruiser VX (4.7-litre petrol and 4.2-litre diesel engines) and Nissan Patrol (4.2-litre turbo-diesel and 4.7-litre petrol).

I would like a car I can use for work, travelling, and off-roading. Which one is suited to Africa’s rugged terrain? How do these cars compare on the following grounds: power, speed, comfort, stability, off-road use, and ease of maintenance (not prices but accessibility of spare parts).

Thank you.

Regards,

Aryan

Apparently there is a new Nissan Patrol out, but I have only seen one on the road. One. And that was on the road. I do not even know if DT Dobie has them in stock. As such, I will base my arguments on the outgoing model.

Power: The best is the petrol-powered Landcruiser VX 4.7-litre at 314hp, mostly because it has clever VVT-i and is turbocharged. The 4.5-litre turbo-diesel is not half bad either. The Nissan Patrol’s best is the 4.8-litre GRX with 281hp (no match for the VX, though the current model uses 5.6-litre engines which I doubt we will get until smaller engines are available).

Speed: See above. The VX petrol rules. The Nissan Patrol does struggle a bit with its weight, low power, lack of forced induction, and breeze-block aerodynamics.

Comfort: Ahem… VX, again. It is stable, smooth, and well optimised. The Patrol is floaty and wobbly and bouncy, like a ship in a less-than-calm sea
Stability: See comfort above. That roly-poly chassis of the Patrol can be treacherous if you try to keep up with a VX when the going gets gnarly.

Off-road use: You may not believe it, but these vehicles are evenly matched. Some say the Patrol is more capable, and for older versions this was somewhat true (the underpowered engines were the weak link in an otherwise perfect setup) but take it from me: these two vehicles will keep going long after any competition has fallen by the wayside. If the going gets extreme enough to split these two on ability, I am yet to meet the driver skilled enough to get to that point. This one is a tie.

Ease of maintenance: There is a reason why the car in front is always a Toyota, and that is because spares are everywhere. Drive a Toyota and you should NEVER ever worry about spares availability.

I expect to hear from you about how life with your new VX is; because the VX is what you will buy… I think.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a locally assembled 2005 MT Chevrolet Aveo. Six months ago I replaced the clutch plate and pressure plate and all has been well until recently when I started to hear a strange grinding noise from the gearbox area whenever I start the car in the morning. It goes away after the engine has run for about two or three minutes.

If I depress the clutch pedal, the noise disappears but comes back immediately I release it. My mechanic insists that the culprit is the release bearing (I did not replace it when I did the clutch job) but the information I gather from the Internet is that a faulty release bearing will produce some noise when you depress the clutch pedal and not the other way round. What is your take on this?

Secondly, the car has been producing a whistling sound since I replaced its alternator bearings. My guess is that the alternator bearings are responsible but more importantly, do I need to get worried? Thanks a lot.

Kefa Marendi.

Hi,

For that grinding noise, check the input shaft bearing if you can confirm that it is not the release bearing — I agree, though: If it was the release bearing, then the noise would come when the clutch pedal is depressed (disengaged). It may need replacement (or in some cases you may need a new gearbox).

About the alternator: The belt may be loose or the bearings misaligned.

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Hi Baraza,

First, let me thank you for the good work you are doing on the Car Clinic. I own an automatic-transmission Nissan B14 manufactured in 1998 . I have owed this car for the past three years and this is my fourth year.

The problem with the car is that its fuel consumption has increased while its engine power has decreased tremendously. It also produces white smoke when I start it in the morning but this fades as I go to work.

For instance, last week I went to my rural area, Nyahururu, via the Nyeri route, which is around 230km from Nairobi one way. When I had already done around 120km just near Karatina town (at a place called Kagocho, known for a steep uphill slope), my car totally lost power and started overheating.

I decided to stop for one hour, topped water in the radiator, and resumed my journey. It started the same problem at a place called Nairutia past Mweiga after about 80km. I topped the water again, then reached my destination. All this time I was going at an average speed of 100-120kms/hr.

After consulting with my mechanic over the phone, I travelled back the following day but with an average speed of 80km/hr and my car did not overheat at any interval.

The following day the mechanic inspected the vehicle and found the radiator and the fans to be fine. He told me that my engine had worn out the piston rings and valves and that they needed replacement, which I was hesitant to do.

I have not replaced these rings and valves until now because the cost of replacing them plus the labour is almost equal to the cost of buying a new ex-Japan engine, so I would prefer buying a new one and getting it fitted.

With this regard, I wanted to consult you on the best recommended auto-garage shops to buy an engine from and if this is a good move.

I plan to buy the engine from General Japanese Auto Garage at Industrial Area where I had asked the quotation of the price and they said it costs Sh65,000 together with its auxiliaries (alternator, computer, aircon), but they can sell it to me at Sh55,000 without these auxiliaries.

Is this the recommended price? Please advise.

Gilbert

Did your mechanic say anything about a blown head gasket? These symptoms are also similar to those one gets when one blows a gasket: the overheating (the combustion heat escapes into the coolant) and the power loss (compression leakage). Have another word with him (or get a second opinion) just to be sure because replacing a cylinder head gasket is not as expensive as buying a new engine/replacing the rings and valves.

However, if your mechanic was right, then just buy a new engine. It will save you plenty of time, the risk of a shoddy repair, and some money. I do not normally endorse shops in my column so just look around for whichever one looks the most credible and offers the most sensible arrangement.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I am planning on buying a diesel SUV since I travel extensively across East Africa on what are often terrible roads.

I would, therefore, appreciate your opinion on which one to buy based on the following criteria: Off-road capability, availability of spare parts, build quality, comfort, luxury, and resale value. Initial purchase cost is not an issue.

Eric S

Since your question is very vague, my answers will also be vague.

Off-road capability: Most SUVs are of similar ability, but the Range Rover is the easiest to drive in extreme conditions. Not many people buy a Range Rover to do Rhino Charge-style green-laning, though. So, anything with good ground clearance, 4WD, low-range, and diff locks will do.
Availability of spare parts: Japanese. Anything Japanese will never lack spares.

Build Quality: German. Anything German will be assembled to a degree of perfection that is hard to emulate. And hard to believe.

Comfort: Get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport, or a Freelander, or a Defender… especially a Defender, and discover what motoring journalists mean when they start using sentences like “wafting on a feathered pillow” or “floating on a cloud”.

Luxury: The 2013 Range Rover Vogue, aka the L405. No contest.

Resale Value: Most SUVs hold their value well, but I have noticed that the Landcruiser VX especially does not lose value, more so the earlier versions (80 Series).

Posted on 1 Comment

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

Hi Barasa,

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

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

Mark X owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

1. How could this leakage have started?

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

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

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

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

Ben

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i) Made of better material and,

ii) possibly of larger diameter.

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

Your column is a must read for me.

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

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

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

John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Douglas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Kindly advice on the following:

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

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

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

Eric

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

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

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

Posted on

The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.

Posted on

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

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

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

Regards,

Okumu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

JM.

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Sospeter.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

Thanks,

Robert.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

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

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

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

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

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

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

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

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

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

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

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