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In Memory of Amir Mohamed

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I am sure everybody recalls Sunday the 15th of March, 2015. It was the day The Paji died in a grisly road accident in Kiambu County. This is what I know:

  1. THE DRIVERS…

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”

– Bob Marley Continue reading In Memory of Amir Mohamed

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2014: The year of Mobius II, Great Run 6 and the Russian revitalisant

  1. Kenya vs Uganda: Mobius II vs Kiira EV

Our neighbours across the border are a demure, taciturn lot and as such, it is a little difficult to imagine what they are up to all the time.

Never mistake quietness for lack of resolve; and, clearly, meekness is not weakness, because what they did recently was win a game of top trumps against Kenya in a match that nobody knew was even happening.

Mobius Motors has been in Kenya for a while, just simmering below the surface of the motoring grapevine. The name would crop up every now and then in discussions surrounding the local automotive industry and the prospects of developing a homegrown automobile.

A few pictures here and there, an inactive website, a silent (or possibly non-existent) public relations department, a hardworking and single-mindedly determined man, cheers from one corner, jeers from another; hope from a few, proclamations of doom from many more, disregard by the government, the ever-present threat of the used vehicle import grey market and….

…And they did it. Mobius Motors actually built a car intended for sale! What’s more, it even got the C-in-C to attend the car’s launch festivities.

The Mobius II is less of a pukka petrolhead’s tarmac-tearing, corner-carving chariot and more of a motorised donkey, a beast of burden, a tool to get things done. It is basically a wheelbarrow with extra wheels, an engine, lights, windscreen, and bench seats.

The vehicle does not break any boundaries. If anything, part of the R&D does smack a little of corner-cutting. What they call a “tubular steel monocoque” is essentially a heavy roll-cage, not entirely dissimilar to the type used as buggy frames. The bodywork is then wrapped around this roll-cage.

The suspension is… well, you have to see it to believe it. There are exposed leaf springs, lightly fastened to the rear axle via some slim metal brackets and the whole set-up does not look as robust as Mobius’ blurb claims it is. It looks rather flimsy and likely to shear off its moorings if the vehicle goes round a bend at anything apart from crawling speed.

If the coat is threadbare, then the inside is almost nonexistent. The interior is festooned with only one gauge directly ahead of the driver and what looks like a sports steering wheel.

My pre-drive analysis might seem a little acerbic, and it is. But this is a tough world.

There are many ways of developing homegrown automotive output without trying to re-invent the wheel or starting from zero.

Building a car from scratch is an effort 100 years too late, especially if you are not introducing anything new and lack financial backing.

You can build motor vehicles under licence instead of trying to come up with one.

The countries of the Pacific Rim discovered this: where initially they tried making their own vehicles which were frankly odious sacks of potatoes, building old versions of Japanese cars under different badges led to an explosion of their auto industries and now they can afford to make their own cars.

he fastest expanding auto industry at the moment is China’s.

What we need to do is get the licence to reproduce the Toyota Corolla AE100 (one of the best and most appropriate cars ever to hit these shores) and either reprint it as is, or at least copy the hell out of it.

What, pray, is wrong with borrowing ideas? That way, a much better result can be realised at the same or lower cost than making a new vehicle.

This car does remind me of something I wrote about back in 2013, the OX. That vehicle was, incidentally, launched just around the same time as the current Mercedes-Benz S Class, and while one was quite literally a motorised ox-cart, the other was a machine so highly developed as to be in danger of being smarter than its creators.

I recall saying (not in these exact words) that the OX was a racist machine, a stereotyping of the developing world’s requirements, and that we did not really need it. Not surprisingly, I have not heard of it since.

That said, credit where it is due. The efforts of Joel Jackson are laudable, if not necessarily ground-breaking. It should be obvious to anyone that one cannot discuss the Mobius car without at least thinking of the infamous Nyayo Pioneer from three decades back.

Jackson has managed what an entire government could not, and that is to put a fully functional, locally developed motor vehicle into production and on sale — however simplistic the vehicle may be — and it is this kind of thing that inspires others.

The car might be rendered irrelevant in a few years, necessitating a whole new project, but clearly, the intentions behind the current Mobius II were honorable. You might not reinvent the wheel, but that should not stop you from making your own. Jackson is the name behind Mobius Motors, just to be clear.

Then there are our Ugandan neighbours. Theirs was something else altogether, and at face value, they seem to have their motoring fingers solidly inside the automotive pot. Their car is the definition of how to grasp current affairs and keep up with the times. Where the Mobius harks back to the uncomplicated wheels of yore, Uganda’s Kiira EV Smack is a trendy concept, if a little overstyled. The builders chose to go the hybrid way, which seems like an intelligent option in these days of uncertainty about the longevity of the world’s oil fields.

I don’t honestly expect the Smack to enjoy unprecedented sales success either, but one thing is for sure: it will grab the attention of the motoring world’s big shots.

Developing a hybrid car is terribly expensive, and hybrid cars are the present and foreseeable future, so investment is most likely going to be channelled in that direction. The internal combustion engine in the Mobius is a relic by comparison and is about to see the end of its usefulness.

Will I get to test these cars? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is not the last you will hear of them. The battle lines have been drawn.

 

  1. Pretty Great Run through Aberdares

December 6 marked the end of our third successful year of motoring campaigns with a charitable bent as we staged a pretty remarkable Great Run.

The Great Run is always a challenge, or rather, is supposed to be. This time round we thought we had a real doozy of a run, one that would test skill rather than endurance. You had to be at one with your fully-fledged 4WD car to make it, and a 4WD it had to be. End-of-year runs are off-road specials.

The path we chose was a little unusual, Nairobi-Nyeri, but not the way you know it.

We went through Naivasha, and then up the escarpment through a little-explored back route that feeds its users directly to one of the gates of the Aberdare National Park.

It is from this gate  that things get thick, and by things I mean the muck we had to crawl through.

A stone’s throw from the gate and into the park lurks a mud-hole of the type and consistency that could hide fully grown crocodiles. You need a proper 4WD transmission to plough your way through. You also need horsepower, but most important, you need ground clearance.

Up ahead lay some pools of variable depths, some of which hid large stones that could rip apart even the most solidly put-together undercarriage.

There is a rocky slope that demands the use of a low-range gearbox if one is to go up at all without risking a burnt clutch or slipping tyres.

There are more mud holes, the roads are narrow, twisty and have no run-off areas, what with the thick undergrowth creeping almost over the road itself. It is very easy to lose each other if the vehicles do not stick to tight formation, and it is very easy to lose one’s footing if one does not pay proper attention to one’s driving.

So it was with confidence that we announced that participants this time really do need to bring proper SUVs for the exercise — and then a lady showed up in a Toyota RAV4.

Long story short: not many people had high hopes for her on arrival at the mud hole, or at the end of the line in Nyeri, to which she made it without incident (or pulling shortcuts).

Fellow participants reached one of two conclusions: maybe the course was not tough enough (it actually was), or maybe we tend to seriously underestimate the off-road abilities of Toyota RAV4s (this part is subject to a lot of argument). Inarguably, everybody was impressed with the lady’s spunk.

Having held six discrete drives so far over the course of three years, it is indisputable that the Great Run is growing bigger, with each event, and is here to stay. Expect more interesting things come 2015.

 

  1. From Russia with some XADO

 

From the deep mines of Siberia and into your vehicle’s internal organs comes the weird product boasting the seemingly alchemical (and scarcely believable) ability to cure metal: the engine revitalisant.

Once dismissed as yet another brand of snake oil, it has had to be reconsidered and the prognosis looks promising.

Research with no funding is both risky and expensive. Paying for experiments out of one’s own pocket doesn’t always yield results that are thorough and/or impressive (look at the Mobius), more so if that research is done on oneself.

However, that did not stop me from going in head-first: I bought the snake oil and put it in a car fitted with a manual transmission.

There was one clear problem from the start: the fluid is meant to improve and refurbish worn out or fatigued metal surfaces, so how exactly does one determine the effectiveness of a miracle cure using an otherwise perfectly healthy guinea pig?

The car used for the experiment did not seem to need any revitalising — not in the engine, not in the transmission, not in the suspension. I wasn’t going to deliberately ruin a car just to make it eligible as a test subject. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try.

There were results, albeit a little indefinite. But they were there all the same.

After less than 150km of driving with the revitalisant in the transmission, the gear change did become a little bit slicker, less notchy and fell that much more easily to hand. The stuff actually does work, contrary to my admittedly cynical expectations.

Would I buy it? Yes, and I actually did, if only initially for experimental purposes.

The transmission revitalisant seems especially ideal for a used car, say in the 10-12 year-old age bracket that has seen some use and might start showing early signs of wear.

Rather than face the quandary of replacing apparently unbroken parts or waiting for them to fail expensively, one could revitalise them, and revitalise does seem like the most apt description for what happens when it works.

Let us be clear on one thing though: what I tried was a mineral oil-based transmission fluid specifically for use in a manual gearbox, with an SAE rating of 80W 90. The instructions on the bottle say it can also be used in transfer cases and differentials, basically anywhere with a mechanical transmission. I guess this means if you have a Lamborghini, Ferrari or BMW M5, you cannot use it because these cars have electronic diffs.

I guess, also, most new-age SUVs wouldn’t be appropriate candidates for its use because a number of them use viscous couplings for the centre diff, meaning they do not have transfer cases per se.

Was I impressed? A little, considering the alleged modus operandi of the revitalising fluid. Was I surprised? Yes. I really didn’t expect to feel any difference, especially in a car with no underlying problems, but I did.

Roll on the engine oil, this experiment is not over.

 

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Macharia

Hello Bwana Macharia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza

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

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

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

Hello ML,

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

Andy

Hello Andy,

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

JM Bob.

Hello “JM Bob”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

Roben

Hello Roben,

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

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

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

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

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Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

Posted on

Our dirty diesel will kill your Touareg, Audi, Range Rover and Discovery

Hello,

First off let me start by saying I am not to sure my question is going to the intended recipient. Still, I seem to have stumbled upon a quagmire of a situation in picking the right luxury SUV for myself, and I’m split between a BMW X5, a Volkswagen Touareg and an Audi Q7, all having 3.0-litre diesel engines and manufactured in 2008.

1. Which of the above three is the best to buy?

2. About the BMW X5, how frequently does it get the electronic bugs that people keep reporting? Is there a way to avoid the said electronic problems, and are there any other problems/bugs known in this beast?

3. About the Touareg, how frequently does it get the dreaded transmission mishaps? How often does this occur? Is it possible to avoid the said problem, and are there any other known problems/bugs regarding the same vehicle?

4. Other than the SUVs mentioned above, is there any other out there that you would advise one to consider? I have singled out the BMW and VW because those are the ones I am very keen on.

Thank you in advance,

Jude Musebe

Worry not, Sir, this has landed on J M Baraza’s desk, and this is he. On to your questions:

1. The X5 is the best of the three as it suffers from the least amount of complaints both as a vehicle and as a long-term investment. The other two cars have problems, the biggest one being how to run them here.

Our diesel fuel, I have said time and again, is not to standard, least of all prevailing European standards (Euro 4, Euro 5 etc). Bring those cars here and see how long they last swilling the muck that passes for derv in our forecourts. Watch your DPF (and subsequently the engine) fail as surely as the sun rises. Feel free to write me another email. I will express my sympathy… before signing off with a big I TOLD YOU SO!

The situation is so sticky that VW does not offer diesel engines for the Touareg via the local franchise. Should you insist on importing a diesel car through them, they will not offer a warranty; at least that is according to word from a fellow motor hack. The Q7, buddy, is essentially a Touareg in a different frock.

Strangely, BMW, whom you would expect to build a more “choosy” engine, say that their engines are a lot more accommodating to a range of fuel quality.

Want a diesel? Sure, have one. We will fix it for you when it goes on the fritz, not that you should expect that to happen. It gets even trickier now that you want a 2008 car, which means a second-hand import.

Again, allegations are that the local VW outlet won’t touch anything that they didn’t sell themselves, though I highly doubt this. I have had readers who say they took their imported cars to VW and one thing or the other happened there, but dismissal was not one of them.

Bavaria Motors, on the other hand, welcomes any vehicle that has any affiliation to BMW in any way. They have a direct link to BMW HQ in Germany where the engines can be fixed by proxy or phone or via the Internet or through whatever this link is made of, again not that you would expect this to happen on a regular basis.

As cars, both the Q7 and the Touareg have hard rides. The X5 is more comfortable. The Touareg has poor rear visibility, so you may one day reverse into your own child because you didn’t see him or her run behind the car as you tried to leave for work in the morning.

The gearbox for the automatic in the first generation Touareg was designed for trees, not humans. Its perception of time and urgency runs into “moments”, not milliseconds. And the Touareg is not exactly the prettiest SUV ever made, is it?

Even less pretty is the Q7. To the hard ride add hard seats and wallowy suspension to complete the poor ride quality trifecta. The car is huge; a stretched Touareg with extra weight. This poses problems: the handling is not ideal, a foible further exacerbated by the boat-like suspension action and the great weight. Understeer and body roll will be your new vocabulary words in conversations.

Also, the large mass of the vehicle puts the 3.0 diesel to task, which leads to further problems: the 3.0 diesel Q7 is slow and, to add to this, the engine struggles with the weight on its back. This in turn hurts fuel economy.

2. The X5’s bugs are few and far between. Not much has been reported on this car; neither here nor out there where I roam and forage for vehicles to drive/learn about. If the car has problems, then the owners are very cagey about letting them known.

The best way to avoid electronic issues starts with cleanliness. Keep the car clean, especially in areas of high electronic device concentration: sensors, harnesses, terminals etc.

3. The gremlins afflicting the Touareg are almost guaranteed to surface at one point or the other. Besides the DPF, turbo actuator failures are also fairly common with diesel Touaregs. Not a lot of good is said about this car, sadly.

Most of its issues lie around reliability with the diesel engine when run on low quality fuel and the build characteristics that went into it, which I have listed in 1 above and which you cannot change.

4. This answer depends on what you want an SUV for. Your list seems to imply a taste for status, in which case you could turn your eye towards a Mercedes Benz ML320 CDI.

Other options include a diesel Range Rover (L322 or first-generation Sport) or a Discovery 3, but these tend to present more problems than usual. If you want a proper, reliable, capable and painless-to-own sports utility that has no pretentiousness about it, Japan would like to see you now in its office.

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

Hello Baraza,

A few weeks ago I hired a Toyota Corolla NZE for a safari to my home. I returned the car to the owner in good condition, but a few hours later he called to say the reverse gear was not working.

My question is, can an automatic gearbox just stop working suddenly or is this an ignored service problem that recurs and the owner is being cagey about it?

Thank you,

Mayday! SOS! Help!

Hello Mr/Mrs/Miss Mayday! SOS! Help!

For me to give a comprehensive answer, I will need a better description of the situation. Does the gear lever refuse to slide into reverse position? Does it slide into position but the car fails to move even with the throttle opened? Does it make any untowardly noises? Is there any kind of warning light on the dashboard?

The most important question here is: was the reverse gear working when you submitted the vehicle back to its providence?

Reverse gears don’t “just stop working suddenly”, at least that is not a common occurrence. The most likely causes would be: lack of lockup in the torque converter, or if the car uses an electronic clutch, then the clutch control mechanism gets befuddled once reverse is engaged. Also, the TCM (transmission control module) could be having a bad day and taking it out on the driver.

Gear linkages may be lacking in structural integrity; maybe the gears themselves are broken (this would be accompanied by tremendous amounts of unpleasant noises)…. The reasons are as many as they are diverse.

Tread carefully. There is a third, unsavory element to your unfortunate circumstance here. Not everybody can be trusted nowadays. This looks like a situation where someone broke the gearbox and is looking for a scapegoat; in this case, you.

Car hire vehicles are usually inspected BEFORE and AFTER the lease, just to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be. Calling you a few hours later means a lot could have happened in those few hours, including the marring of a transmission by persons unknown.

**********

Dear Baraza,

This is a passionate appeal to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the law (the police) are unable to do so, do not want to do so or are condoning the breaking of the law, hence the reason the appeal is not directed to them.

Government of Kenya-registered vehicles, parastatal cars and now county government 4X4s are breaking nearly every traffic law that exists; from reckless driving, over-lapping in traffic jams, bullying their way on roads, driving in the wrong lanes, going against traffic and even behaving as if they are emergency vehicles.

The police are top on the list. How do law enforcers expect the rest to obey the law when they disregard it in the first place?

Buses carrying prisoners or suspects are also known to overlap as if they have right of way, and those with chase cars that in no way appear as police vehicles also join this clique.

My reading of the law is that it is only emergency vehicles (police, fire engines and ambulances) and the president’s escort that have a right of way. A common feature on these vehicles is sirens and strobe lights, so the issue of hazard lights or indicators acting as strobe lights should never arise. And why do hearses have strobe lights?

Going forward, I urge all motorists to stop condoning the breaking of the law as they are guilty as abettors, just as the actual perpetrators. Do not give way to vehicles that are not listed as having a right of way, whether or not they have strobe lights and a siren.

Police vehicles operating as emergency vehicles can be easily and clearly identified, hence ignore all those non-police chase cars. This is the only way to discipline these rogue drivers. And, trust me, they will not dare charge you for breaking a non-existent law while they are breaking the law.

To the Inspector General of police, we have a right to receive quality service from you and that is why you occupy that office. Let your officers enforce the law to the letter.

I end with a quote from a honourable judge:

“On a balance of probabilities and based on the above evidence, I would find that both drivers were to blame. Although the road had been cleared for the presidential motorcade and the appellant was a driver of the presidential escort vehicle, he ought to have looked out for other vehicles and I would thus apportion the blame equally between the two drivers. The driver of the lorry that belonged to the respondent similarly ought to have been on the look out of other road users and not to enter the road suddenly without due regard to other motorists”.

— Rose Koome, Judge in Civil Appeal No 51 of 2003, delivering a High Court verdict in Kericho against Felican Maina (appellant) vs Ajiwa Shamji (respondent).

Yours motorist,

Maina Roy.

Over to you, Cabinet Secretary of Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

Posted on

Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).

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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Hello,
Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.

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Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).

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Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?

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Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

Posted on

Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

Posted on

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Please help. Dave

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

Dear Baraza,

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

Hi Judy,

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

The Merc 180’s main problem is the battery and wiper motor

I recently bought a ’99 Mercedes Benz C180 (? 202). Having driven other cars, namely, Toyota, Daihatsu Rocky and Honda, I must say this car is a different thing all together.

The engine delivers real power effortlessly, the handling is very smooth and the fear of excessive consumption, I discovered, is unfounded because its consumption is comparable to most Toyotas with engine capacities above 1500.

I think the Germans build their cars well. I would be glad if you could point out the troublesome areas with this car. So far, I can’t complain about this machine.

Christopher

Hello Chris,

The W202 (which I guess is what you meant by ?202), like other cars, does have a few problem areas, the first being electrical: wiper motors and indicators intermittently packing up, power seats sometimes malfunctioning and ECU failures. Other known issues include: faulty MAF sensors (this causes erratic acceleration) and automatic transmission problems (rough shifting of gears).

There was an issue with exploding batteries – instigated by gas emissions building up in the boot area and ignited when the owner opens the trunk lid while smoking/using his cell-phone, which causes the hydrogen gas to explode. Some vehicles were recalled while others were fixed under warranty.

A solution to this was for the owner/driver to check electrolyte levels regularly to prevent the gas buildup. To confirm whether your car was part of the recall, check your owner’s manual. There should be big stickers placed over the original battery maintenance information section.

Most of these issues (except for the battery and wiper motor problems) stem from isolated cases and will not necessarily happen to your car. They are just things to watch out for.

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Dear Baraza,

I read your column every Wednesday and cannot honestly imagine not having my copy of the Daily Nation on this particular day of the week. It is both informative and well researched.

I currently own  2004 and 2006 Toyota Vitz. Both cars have served me very well for the past year. They are mainly used for town running and are both very efficient. However, my concern is with the 2006 model (I will address the concerns of the 2004 model separately). It has a 1000cc engine, with 3 cylinders. I have noted that there is no dip stick for the gear box. Subsequent research informs me that these cars use long-life oil, capable of running for 100,000 km.

If this is the case, which is the correct oil to use? Over the years I have noted that Volkswagen Golf and Passat gearboxes have failed due to the use of wrong lubricants. Will I run into the same problem?

PS. I agree with you on fuel consumption of Subarus compared with other models. They are less efficient and more expensive to run as non-original parts do not work on these cars. I have experienced it and will share more on that later.Best regards.

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

Has your car covered the 100,000km yet? If yes, how far is it from the next 100,000km transmission service interval? Does it have FSH (full service history)? It should. Under that FSH, they should specify what transmission fluid was used, if flushing and replacement were done. If it has not been done yet, then it is about to be done, under your care.

Your car does have a service/maintenance handbook, doesn’t it? It should specify what transmission fluid should be used.

Whether or not your car will experience Volkswagen-type problems depends on how badly off the grade of transmission fluid is. For some cars, there is a huge tolerance built into the components, such as the gearbox, to allow for some errors of judgment such as in replacement or maintenance of transmission fluid levels.

For other cars, such as the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, the smallest mistake will lead to the acquisition of a whole new gearbox.

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Dear car doctor,

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed every article of yours that I have read, but since the upgrade to the new site, it been hard to get your articles http://www.nation.co.ke/ , unless you look at the site on a Thursday. Well, enough of the whining.

I recently bought a Subaru Forester 2006 cross sports, auto transmission, which I have come to love, but there is this button with a selection of three levels next to the gear shift marked   ECO, A/T and Hold, I don’t know what it does, so I would appreciate some help regarding when to use it, but when it’s on A/T the picking is excellent. Warm regards,

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

The ECO button initiates a gearbox setting that improves the fuel economy but at the expense of performance. The “Hold” button, I guess, makes the transmission shift up sooner and holds the higher gear while preventing downshifting unless absolutely necessary, but it still skips first gear.

It is ideal for snow and slippery conditions where the high torque of lower gears would just lead to wheel-spin and little or no forward movement. When used in D, the car takes off in second gear instead of first.

When position 3 is selected using the gear lever, the cars shuffles between gears 2 and 3 (takes off in second and quickly shifts into third). When 2 is selected, the vehicle uses only second gear, skipping first. It is claimed that HOLD also makes the transfer clutch in the centre differential lock up sooner and harder.

By inference, A/T would mean “All Terrain”, which would make the transmission automatically react to the grip conditions, depending on which wheel is spinning. It uses input from the traction control system.

You are right; the format of the new website makes it extremely difficult to locate my write-ups, unless you delve deep into the pages searching piece by piece. It is a bit frustrating to my online readers and you are not the first to complain about this.

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Dear Baraza,

I find your column informative and was amazed by what I read in the January 1, 2014 issue. One gentleman thanked God that he had not landed in a ditch despite doing 180 in his Nissan Wingroad.

Andrew claimed that the Prado is very stable even at 170 kph. Please advise the two gentlemen to stop doing these speeds on public roads. They pose great danger to other road users and themselves. Such risky manoeuvres are simply against the law.

Vincent

Gentlemen, you heard Nick. Maxing out your cars is not safe, and it is illegal… (I don’t know about Andrew’s case, though, since he says he is in Afghanistan, and the traffic laws there are unknown to me).

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Hi,

First things first. Your column inspires me a lot. My dream towards the end of this year is to own a Range Rover, manual transmission, from around year 1990 to around 2000, with 3.9 V8 engine or slightly above. The reason is that I am a —rrain is quite a challenge. Besides, I am a Rhino Charge enthusiast and like tough machines.

Second, I would like to look a bit formal walking in high offices pursuing tenders and the like without switching Machines.

Kindly enlighten me on this since I am an automobile novice if I am willing to spend between 1m

and 1.6m.I have googled one on OLX website: year 1990, mileage 139,000 kms, 4wd with a 3.9 V8 engine going for Sh1.250m but I thought it was a bit old and maybe I will have to make some costly replacements. Hope I can read your article online. Get me into class, please.

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

A bit ambitious, aren’t we? Your demands are quite specific, and not all of them can be met.

You cannot get a 3.9 litre V8 Range Rover any newer than 1992-spec. The 3.9 engine went out with the Classic in 1992, and was substituted by a bored-out 4.2 V8 until 1996 before being replaced as the range-topper (so to speak) by the 4.6-litre V8 in the P38.The P38 is also available with a 4.0 V8, which should be closest to what you are looking for, but again herein lies another impediment:

The P38 had a manual transmission available on only one spec level: the BMW-powered 2.5 litre DSE diesel. The V8s only have automatic transmissions.

This means the particular car you want cannot be any older than a 1990 model or any newer than 1996. That really narrows down the scope of availability, as these were the final years of manufacture for the Classic model. This means these are the units in best condition. Seeing how they are fast becoming collectors’ items, getting one in good condition for sale is a search for a Land Rover Holy Grail. The people who have them will not likely be selling them, cheaply or at all.

Should you come by one, expect the following: a stiff asking price, rust problems, poor handling and unavailability and/or costliness of parts. Owning a Range Rover is not for the weak of pocket.

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Dear Jim Baraza,

Hallo sir. I am recently married and I want to replace my ageing 2001 model Toyota Corona with a bigger, affordable 4x 4. I am a Toyota person due to the availability of spare parts so I was thinking of getting either a 2007 Toyota Harrier 2.4 litre or a 2007 year Toyota Kluger. I have little knowledge of the performance of either and I would greatly appreciate your input on the performance, problems and reliability of the 2007 Harrier and the 2007 Kluger.

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

Congratulations on your recent nuptials. My name is not Jim.

Performance: Depends on what engine the Kluger is packing. The 2.4 Harrier is a bit underwhelming, but should do slightly better than the 2.4 Kluger. However, if the Kluger has a 3.0 engine, or even the 3.5…. then the Harrier fails.

Problems: none in particular stands out as “recurrent” or “notable”. Most of these seem to stem from poor maintenance. Toyotas are highly reliable. Whichever car you choose, just stay on top of the maintenance schedule and you will be fine.

Reliability: see “Problems” above. The Kluger is more rugged, or at least was intended to be more rugged than the Harrier, so it should suffer less use-related glitches in the course of its lifetime.

Posted on

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Pinal.

Hello Pinal,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Kefahngwei

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Mark X is superior in both terms.

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

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your wonderful insight and advice through this column.

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Joshua.

Hello Joshua,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Defender also has more clearance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

Is it an economical car for my needs?

Clifton.

Clifton,

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

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

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

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

A smaller car would be more ideal for city use.

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thanks sana,

Mwangi Kiguru.

Greetings Mwangi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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