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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, to your questions:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Now to my questions:

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

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

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

Seriously?!

 

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

 

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

Evans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Nick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

*             *             *             *

The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

*             *             *             *

It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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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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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.