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When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

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Driver madness is the problem, not the cars

JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello JM,

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

Roy

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

William

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

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

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Baraza,

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

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

1. Fuel consumption with sane driving.

2. Safety record.

3. Price.

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MK

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

Kindly tell me:

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

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

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

4. Do all direct injection lorries have engine brakes?

Mwangi

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza

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

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

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

Beverly

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

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

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Mr Baraza,

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

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

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

Nderitu

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

Kahara

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

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

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

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

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