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Importing a hybrid car? Ship in the mechanic as well

Hi Baraza,

I once overheard a former Toyota Prius owner lament about how much trouble the car had put him through when its photovoltaic cell broke down. Finding a competent mechanic to fix it was a nightmare.

Toyota EA, the franchise holders, did not stock it too. Please comment on the whole hybrid car phenomenon in terms of purchase price, maintenance, spares, resale value, and future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public.

Secondly, what is the verifiable benefit of Shell V-Power fuel on engine life, engine performance, exhaust emissions, and the general health of a vehicle?


I visited the hybrid car issue some time back and the conclusion I arrived at was that it was expensive and irrelevant. It is also inappropriate for our market at the moment, seeing how we lack the technology and know-how to fix them when they break down. But anyway, here are your answers:

Purchase price: Eye-watering. Maintenance: You will hate hybrids even more than Jeremy Clarkson does when things start going wrong.

Spares: Unavailable here. They cost too much where available (before you even consider shipping costs).

Resale value: After people read this, poor. It will still be poor even if they do not read this because of the following reason: the battery pack for the hybrid system is horrendously expensive.

Also, it has a finite life cycle and has to be replaced after a short span (five years or so). So, buying a second-hand hybrid means its battery pack will be close to the end of its life and, therefore, not only will you buy the car, you will soon need to buy more batteries and the total cost will not differ greatly with buying a new car.

Future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public: Tricky. Hybrids have been trashed for not being as economical as small diesels, for being too costly, for under-performing and for having an effeminate, holier-than-thou, condescending, patronising, goody-two-shoes image.

Also, with the advent of science, extraction, storage, and dispensation of hydrogen will be both accessible and affordable in the not-too-distant future, and hydrogen cars have proved to be far more effective and efficient.

Electric cars have also made huge strides, with companies like Tesla and Fisker churning out impressive purely electric cars (Fisker is now bankrupt, but the reasons behind this are a whole other story).

That said, it was only this week that Toyota announced that it had sold one million Priuses… Priii…. Pria… whatever the plural of Prius is.

On to the other issue of Shell V-Power fuel:

Engine life: It extends it through its “sanitary” characteristics (it cleans the engine).

Engine performance: Read this very carefully. Shell V-Power improves engine performance. However, by this I do not mean that if the manufacturer has built an engine that develops 280hp, then that engine will develop 281hp when you feed it V-Power. No. What I mean is, that if your engine components such as injectors were clogged or almost clogged with deposits, then performance suffers.

V-Power, with its cleansing properties, will restore the hygienic status of your engine (I have a feeling hygiene is not the right word to use here). Also, if you have a high compression engine designed to run on high octane fuel then you put ordinary fuel in it, it will very easily knock.

Either that or the timing will be so retarded as to make the car switch to “safe mode” (limited performance). Putting V Power (which is also a high octane fuel) restores these performance capabilities. But it does NOT cure knocking.

Exhaust emissions: I may hazard a guess that a cleaner, smoother running engine has less emissions than a filthy, rough one.

General health of a vehicle: Ignore this. General health of a vehicle may extend to systems that have nothing to do with fuel or combustion such suspension, body work, electrical system…. I do not need to go on.


Hi Baraza,
I would like to make a “soft upgrade” and switch to a better but affordable car that shares the same qualities as my first car — a Toyota Corolla Fielder 1500cc, manufactured in 2003 and bought in the year 2011 with 60,000km mileage.

I drive at least 250kms a week and it has not developed any major problems, thanks to regular servicing. My driving is an average of 15km/l (am I a good driver?)

Now, please assist me on available choices for a more powerful car with good resale value, on- and off-road friendly, not thirsty beyond 1800cc yet pocket-friendly enough to allow me to invest my limited earnings on potential projects.

Then, from what I have as above, how long can my existing car give me valuable service?

R Nyaga

If your driving averages 15km/l then, Sir, you are a very GOOD driver. Credit where credit is due.

Now, you have heaped praises on the Fielder that you own and drive and you want to upgrade to a vehicle with “almost same qualities” and also a more powerful version with not more than 1800cc.

Well, have you considered a Fielder with 1800cc? It fits the bill to a T and it is a car that you are not only familiar with but you also seem to love and understand. The meaning of “off-road friendly” is heavily dependent on what you mean exactly.

Some people say “off-road” when they mean “unpaved” or “untarmacked”, while people like me say off-road when we mean circumstances where there is no discernible path and the only penetrable points are strewn with obstacles.

If you go by the first definition, then the Fielder will sort you out. If you mean the second one, then “not thirsty, not beyond 1800cc, and pocket friendly” does not apply here: you have to look farther afield.


Hi Baraza,

I have a few burning queries that need expert advice. Since I am green on matters concerning motoring, you will have to excuse me for some of the questions and the length of this email.

I am looking forward to buying my first car with a budget of around Sh800,000. I feel it would be better to import a car directly from Japan as I assume local vehicle dealers are in the business of making maximum profit. That said, I have settled on as they have an office in Mombasa.

I have settled on the following models : Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida — all 2006 models.

I need a vehicle for commuting to town — I live 40km from Nairobi and with monthly or bi-monthly travel to western Kenya and back.

Now, here are the questions:

What is your honest expert advice to a novice importing a vehicle directly from Japan, including cost of buying, shipping, and KRA taxes. Please advise if SBT Japan, which I have settled on, is reliable. If you can give me other references I will be glad.

From the choice of Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida, kindly give me your expert opinion on which vehicle is suitable for Kenya in terms of availability of spare parts and experienced mechanics, resale value, reliability, durability, and endurance. Which of the four has economical fuel consumption?

Why are Toyota Caldinas cheaper than Premios? What are the factors that determine the higher prices of a Premio of the same year of manufacture as a Caldina, yet the Premio ends up higher priced despite higher mileage. Why are Toyotas generally higher priced compared to Nissans (I may have to make a choice between the two)?

In some of your articles, I remember you saying that Honda’s VTEC engine is touted as the best. I have also heard people saying Toyota’s VVT-i engine is good. I have no idea what type of engine Nissan uses, but how does it compare to VTEC and VVT-i?

How does a vehicle’s mileage affect the performance of a car? I seem to have a general phobia of vehicles whose mileage is above 100,000km.

Finally, when does an engine start having issues in terms of mileage?


You are right, this is one lengthy email. My honest, not-so-expert advice (I am also green in the field of motor vehicle importation) would be to elicit the assistance of someone knowledgeable in the import business and known well to you, say a friend or relative.

I was once asked the exact same question by another reader and I assumed his position and did a ghost importation up to to the point of payment but did not actually buy the car. And interestingly enough, the company I chose to do my ghost import from was SBT Japan.

However, I cannot vouch for their (or anybody else’s) trustworthiness because as far as I am concerned, importation is a pig-in-a-poke setup. Buying what you cannot actually see is always a huge risk, and I do not see why I should recommend them over others. I have not had cause to think they are better in any way. My exercise was strictly as a tutorial for that reader on what might happen should he head down that path.

Two years ago, I started the year on a belligerent note, speaking against imported vehicles and their lack of suitability in markets for which they were not designed.

After the series of two articles based on tropicalisation, I was berated for being elitist, narrow-minded, and possibly in the pay of brand-new vehicle dealers (I may be elitist and/or narrow-minded, but my one and only paycheque comes from the Nation Media Group, nowhere else).

Later that year, the Car Clinic received thousands of emails containing this (or variations thereof) statement: “I bought this car from Japan/Dubai/UK/Singapore some time ago and now it is not working properly. The mechanics make wild guesses and charge me exorbitantly for every wrong guess they make. Help!”

To cut a long story short, the vehicles you are referring to were built in and for Japan, so they may not be suitable for Kenyan conditions. In cases like the Nissan Tiida and Sylphy (which were also sold locally as the Tiida and Sunny N16), you might get away with the intersection of different markets, hence availability of (trustworthy) parts and experienced mechanics.

For the rest, you may just have to search until you find one. Of the four, the Tiida is available with the smallest engine and so may give the best economy.

Caldinas are cheaper than Premios because of demand.

Toyotas cost more than Nissans also because of demand.

Nissan uses something called NTEC, which in essence is more or less the same as VVT-i and VTEC — some form of variable valve timing which may or may not have “intelligence”(VVT-i and i-VTEC). Kenyan drivers will sing about Toyota’s VVT-i because it offers a good Jekyll-and-Hyde personality between economy and performance but most of them will be lying.

Not that VVT-i is bad. No. In fact VVT-i is very good, but most of these drivers have never experienced the effect of VVT-i. The switching of cam profiles (and thus valve timing) occurs at engine speeds most of us rarely reach (6,000rpm- plus) where the “economy” camshaft profile is swapped for a more aggressive profile and the vehicle gets a surge in performance.

Most of the time we drive in “economy” mode, optimised for torque and gently breezing along.

Honda’s VTEC has the praise of pioneering this whole variable timing and lift control thing (as far back as 1983 compared to Toyota’s 1991 VVT) and in Type R vehicles (Civic, Integra, Accord, and NSX), the switch-over is so marked as to almost feel like a turbo is kicking in. This is an effect driving enthusiasts love.

It also occurs lower in the rev range, increasing the overall sportiness of the vehicle. And also, Honda’s VTEC engines have been nicknamed “Terminator” by European motor journalists because they never fail. They are almost unbreakable.

The higher the mileage, the more likely the engines (and other parts) will have problems because of wear and tear. Why do you think a 1983 Corolla does not look and sound like a 2006 Corolla? Technology aside, the 1983 car has endured a longer beating so it is no longer as solid, or as together, as it was when new.

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Frankly speaking, I do not see us using electric cars any time soon

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your entertaining and informative column. After seeing your low opinion of electric cars and their potential in Kenya (Daily Nation, June 27, 2012), I want to offer an alternative view. It is clear that electric cars are the future, with oil supplies peaking and air pollution reaching critical levels in most cities. Only two things are holding back the sector: the limited capacity of batteries and their expense.

However, every year the weight and cost of batteries are going down as their density and range increase. Prices for new Toyotas start at around Sh1.6 million; new high-quality electric vehicles start at around Sh2.5 million, though government incentives can significantly reduce that price.

There is a UK company that produces electric Range Rovers that have a range of 200 kilometres per charge, and an Indian company that produces a small electric vehicle that is quite popular in London.

My question is this: if electric cars were available in Kenya, why would a discerning urban commuter with electricity at home (for slow overnight charging) decide, like you, that an internal combustion engine is a better choice? Electric cars are better for everyone’s lungs and in the long run much better for the owner’s pocket.

But they’re not on sale, new or used. Let’s bring them in! Or build our own (Ethiopia is developing one, and there is a huge do-it-yourself electric car sub-culture in the USA).

Edward Miller.

Yes, the prospects for electric vehicles look brighter as oil levels drop, but the general belief in the industry is that they are really not the answer.

A lot more investment is being made in biofuels, diesel-electric hybrids and how best to use the little remaining oil than in developing a fully electric vehicle. Hydrogen has been adopted, dropped and adopted again as a power source for an electric car, and that means the wall socket will have to continue powering TV sets and microwave ovens and forget about powering the motoring industry.

I know about the Range Rovers in the UK. How much does one go for, eh? I also know about the Indian “G-Wiz” (REVO), but this is the worst ambassador you could choose to make the case for electric cars. And in the long run, it may not be cheaper to run an electric car over an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine): what happens when the electric car breaks down?

Cars powered by moving electrons may make sense in the developed world, but around here, we first need a stable support infrastructure, otherwise prospective owners will find themselves the inhabitants of a lonely, cash-intensive planet where lovers of crude oil roam unchecked and will never, ever offer a helping hand when an electric car inevitably runs out of volts and comes to a quite stop… and there isn’t a wall socket within sight.


Hi JM,

Thank you for your continued service. I have a 1999, 1,300cc Toyota Cami that I love because it has the features I like — it is manual and 4WD. I am, however, considering making it more powerful, and I’m thinking of giving it a bigger engine (a 1,500cc or 1,600cc, preferably VVT-i, although EFI would do in case I don’t find a suitable VVT-i). My questions are:

1. Which engine should I go for (one that will be compatible without much modification)?

2. Will it require a new gear box or not?

3. What might be the power increase and how will it affect efficiency of the vehicle, including fuel consumption?4. Will it adversely affect its handling?

Thank you,


You must be one hell of a Cami fan because yours is the first Cami I have heard of being considered for mods. Anyhow:

1. Go for the one that fits in the engine bay easiest. When it comes to the point where you start fabricating new engine mounts or modifying bulk heads/front chassis cross-members, you are entering into expensive and experimental territory, so just get an engine that will fit. Just so you know: both EFI and VVT-i can be found on the same engine: One concerns fuel delivery while the other concerns valve operation, so you can have your cake and fuel it too… I mean, eat it.

2. It may need some new ratios, but this calls for a shakedown first to determine whether or not this is necessary.

3. The new power will be the power output of the new engine. If it is more powerful than the old 1,300, then your car will definitely be faster. And a little bit thirstier, though this might not happen. You see, I have driven the Cami, and I hated it, part of the reason being that, on the highway, it requires thrashing to keep up with the rest of humanity. Maybe a bigger engine will give it a more laid back approach so that you need not cane it to go fast. Then the fuel economy gets better in that regard.

4. Depends on the weight of the new engine. The more the weight difference between the two engines, the more the effect on handling.


Hi Baraza,

I have been arguing with my friends on a number of issues that I believe you can settle for us once and for all:

1. Which are the best cars for skidding (front-wheel- or rear-wheel-drive), and why are they the best option?

2. Between Mercedes Benz, Renault and Scania trucks, which are the best for long-distance hauliage while heavily loaded?

3. Between the Toyota Hilux D4D pick-up and the Isuzu D-MAX, which has a higher loading capacity? Also, can you compare the FSR with the FH?

1. All cars will skid, except those with advanced 4WD/AWD systems. But I assume you are asking about drifting, and it is rear-drive cars that are best suited for the purpose. You may have discovered from one of my previous articles that drifting is intentional oversteer, so what you need is to break traction at the back axle.

One way is to use the hand brake while turning, because the friction circle (sharing of tyre grip between lateral grip and forward traction) cannot accommodate both the braking effort of the locked tyres and the turning effort, so the tyres lose grip and start sliding.

Another way is to use the power of the car, similar to using the hand brake, but this time instead of the traction being lost to braking, it is lost to the surge of torque from the engine. Same result: the rear of the car starts sliding and you end up drifting.

2. Depends. Nowadays these vehicles are so well developed that it is hard to put them apart, but the technological advancement of Scania may put them ahead of the pack.

3. The two pickups are not very far apart. The D-MAX has a turbo, though, so go figure. The FSR has a shorter payload area than the FH, so it may accommodate a smaller volume of luggage: but on the other hand it may lug a heavier load owing to its huge tyres and superior capacity (9,800cc vs the 6,557cc of the FH). A better comparison for the FH is the FRR (8,200cc).


Dear Baraza,

Cars either have full-time 4WD, 2WD, AWD, 4WD with select option and others that I may not know of. Now:

1. Do front 2WD cars have better fuel economy than the others (all other factors held constant)?

2. Is it possible to disengage the rear drive shaft of a 4WD automatic transmission so that the car drives with the front wheels only (it becomes a front 2WD)?

3. How complicated is this process of disengaging the rear shaft? What would be the risk to the car?4. Would it improve fuel economy and torque/power to the front wheels?5. What is the difference between AWD and full-time 4WD?


L Murithi.

1. Generally, yes, but it does not necessarily have to be FWD. It could also be RWD.

2. Yes. This was actually a mechanical infidelity in the Freelander Mark I because the rear prop shaft would shear, rendering the car permanently FWD. Owners would rarely notice because they rarely took their cars into situations that would warrant the need for 4WD.

3. It is as complicated as applying a spanner to some bolts until the offending prop shaft falls off the car. However, if the diffs are electronically controlled, you might need to remap the control units (engine, transmission, differentials), otherwise your poor car will be confused, wondering why it has lost the feeling in two of its legs.

4. Not really, because to improve economy to 2WD levels you need to lose the entire 4WD setup. Disengaging the prop shaft is OK, but you will still have transfer cases and two or three differentials in the car, which still weigh a lot. Discarding some of these pieces of kit may leave holes and gaps, making your car look like a competitor in a demolition derby. It will not “improve” torque/power, but all of the available power/torque will be going to the front wheels, so you could say that.

5. AWD distributes torque to tyres depending on available grip levels, so in extreme circumstances, the car could be one-wheel drive, since the diffs distribute torque between axles (front and back) and across sides (right and left). Full-time 4WD means all wheels receive torque at all times irrespective of whether or not they are slipping. Torque may be shunted in the same way as the AWD, but the difference is, while in AWD a car can be one-wheel or 2WD, for full time 4WD no singe tyre/axle is completely starved of torque


Hi Baraza,

I wish to upgrade from a Toyota Corolla AE110 to a Subaru Forester 2.0XS 4WD AT 2.0 (2005). Have you test-driven this car? If so, how would you rate it? Would the upgrade be worthwhile?



I have driven both the XS and XT versions of the Forester, and I rate them both highly, especially the XT (because it has a turbo, albeit a small one). Depending on your desires, the upgrade may or may not be worthwhile, but the general feeling would be it is a worthwhile venture.


Hi Baraza,

I appreciate what you do for us and, after following your articles, I have become very enlightened on various vehicle problems that I even find myself transferring your valuable advice to my mechanic.

I drive a Subaru Legacy, twin-turbo, station wagon. Brilliant car! However, it has one major shortcoming when driving at high speeds, especially in gears three and four. At times it lags as if I’m off the throttle, which is very dangerous, especially when overtaking.

My mechanic has never figured out why, but when you drive it and time the gear change appropriately, it flows smoothly. But that only comes with experience and at times you can get it wrong.

I suspect there is a turbo lag as it changes to the second turbo, but my mechanic doubts that since both turbos are okay. Kindly let me know what to do about it.


Is your car manual or auto? What you describe there sounds like turbo lag, but then again you have mentioned something about changing gears.

Anyway, if it is manual, try keeping the revs high for the turbos to work properly (they only spool in at high rpm, say, 3,000 rpm or more) and avoid short-shifting (changing up too early). If not, get a mechanic who will look at the turbos physically. There could be boost leakage either from a burst pipe or worn out impeller blades inside one or both turbos.


Hi Baraza,

My Nissan N16 showed the ‘check engine’ light when it was almost due for service.

I took it for service but the light did not go off, so I took it for diagnosis. My mechanic had checked the air flow sensor and said it was okay, but the diagnosis showed two faults — air flow sensor and knock sensor.

After being reset, only the knock sensor fault remained. The ‘check engine’ light has not appeared again since that day, though I’m advised to change the knock sensor.

Should I still go ahead and replace it? Should I buy it new or second-hand?

What is the work of a knock sensor in an engine?

Kind regards,


I don’t know how your mechanic came to know the air flow sensor was okay, but if the knock sensor is kaput, replace it too.

The purpose of the knock sensor is to detect “knock” (caused by pre-detonation of the air-fuel mixture), or pinging, after which the ECU advances or retards the ignition timing to optimise power and economy.

Knock is caused by wrong fuel grade (low octane rating), overheating or when the timing is too advanced; or even by hot carbon deposits within the cylinder.

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Toyota beats them all when it comes to reliability in the 4X4 category


I work and live in the rural area, so I deal with a lot of rough roads, especially during the wet season.

Please recommend a good 4WD with a VVTi engine (diesel or petrol) and has good clearance. Other than Prados, what other makes would you recommend?



The moment you say VVTi, you limit yourself to Toyotas. But, anyway, any fully-fledged 4WD SUV will do the job.

I’m guessing you do not want a full-size SUV (Landcruiser 100 or 200, the “VX” or a Nissan Patrol), so you can have a Nissan Terrano, a Mitsubishi Pajero (a good choice, actually, in terms of comfort and ability), maybe a Land Rover Defender if you do not mind the hedonism of an Eastern European prison cell, a Land Rover Discovery if your pockets go deeper than mine, Isuzu Trooper… the list is endless.

I would, however, advise you to stick to Toyotas, especially if you can get your hands on one made in the mid to late 1990s.

I assume now that you operate from the backwoods, reliability and ease of repair should be top on your list after the very obvious off-road capability.

If you have, say, a Discovery, what would you do when the air-suspension goes phut and you are a million miles from anywhere?
Try the J70 Toyota.

It might be a bit too geometrical in shape, and carrying milk in it might see you change your business to sales of cheese and ghee, but, as cars go, it is unbreakable and will go anywhere.

The J90 Prado is also an option, with a bit more comfort added to the equation, but anything newer than that and you will be gambling with expensive repair jobs.

Choose wisely.


Hello Baraza,

My car smells of petrol after going six kilometres. What could be the problem? I service the car regularly.



Hi Lorine,

Maybe you have a petrol can inside the car with you? What happens beyond six kilometers?

Anyway, it could be one of many problems: leaking fuel lines, a loose air cleaner connection, a loose fuel filter, plugs that are not firing properly…. I need more symptoms for a more definite answer.


No, I do not keep containers in the car. Three days ago, it stalled. I thought the battery was down so we ‘jacked’ the car.

It went for about two metres then stopped, showing the battery, engine and ABS signs on the dashboard.

The mechanic seems not to know what the problem is. The petrol fumes are now so strong that you can smell them from outside.

The car is a Toyota Vista with a D4 engine, which people have been telling me is problematic.

Please elaborate on the engine and its maintenance.



You jacked the car? Do you realise that you have just told me that you stole the car? Did you mean you jacked it up, or jump-started it?

Displaying all those notifications on the dashborad is normal. When starting a car, the moment the key reaches the “ON” position, all the dashboard graphics come on.

They then go off when the key reaches “START” and stay off when the engine is running (unless the car really has all those problems).

When a car stalls, all those lights come on (because the key is in the “ON” position but the engine is off).

I think I can now presume what your problem is. One of your fuel connections is leaking badly, as I had approximated earlier.

The only marriage between a strong petrol smell and a stalling car is a compromised/breached fuel system: you are fuelling the car, but the fossil fuels seem to go back to the ground rather than finding their way into your cylinders.

I cannot say for sure that this problem is connected to the D4 characteristic, but I do know D4s have problems.

Tell your mechanics to check the connections between the fuel lines feeding the fuel filter, the ones from the filter to the throttle body and at the throttle body itself.

If they don’t know what a throttle body is, it is the chunk of metal at the top of the engine into which air is fed from the air cleaner, and the origin of the injectors.

All the best.


Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota FunCargo, 2003 model and thus relatively new. Every time I drive on a highway and do above 100km/h, it starts vibrating, literally affecting the entire car.

I have not sought advice from a mechanic because I wanted to consult a specialist first.

Please advise.


Edwin M Kihara.


Hello Edwin,

Your FunCargo could be suffering from one of these: the wheels need balancing or one of them is loose and needs tightening. Check the alignment also, but I doubt if this is it.


Hi Baraza,

I have recently imported a Toyota Wish, manufactured in 2004, and just want to know if there is anything in particular to look out for with this model.

Also, mine does not come with a CD-DVD player/TV (as is usual with the more recent models), and would like to know if you can suggest a good and honest person who can install these for me at a pocket-friendly price.

I am also on the quest for a good and honest mechanic based in Nairobi. Female car owners out there know what I’m talking about.

We are charged double or triple the price for some of the services provided to us by unscrupulous and unprofessional mechanics.



Hello Pamela,

About your Wish lacking CD/DVD, maybe the very first owner (the one who bought it in 2004) did not specify these on his/her vehicle.

But in case they did, these things get stolen at the port in Mombasa. A while back, it was almost impossible to get a second-hand import with the stereo/TV intact.

Most aftermarket tuners/modifiers install these entertainment kits. The most experienced are of course the ones who do matatus, but they might charge you matatu prices and you might have to join a queue.

One way of ensuring honesty might be a bit tiresome: buy the kit yourself and then ask what the installation labour cost is. Theft and dishonesty typically occur at the point of purchase of the kits you seek.

As for the mechanics, there are no guarantees unless you enter yourself into a crash course in motor vehicle basics.

For now, find a trustworthy male friend who knows one or two things about cars and have him accompany you to the garage, or better yet, let him take the car to the mechanics. Several of my lady friends do this with me, and I think it works.

All the best.



I drive a Toyota Mark II Regalia, old model (KAY XXX). I took it for an engine wash and it appears some sensitive sensors got in contact with water because it is now too slow to accelerate.

My question is: are there known dangers associated with engine washes? If yes, how can they be avoided? Thanks a lot for the informative column.



To be honest, Sir, I think this is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, because similar complaints are coming thick and fast from other readers.

Yes, water might have got into the electronics. And yes, it is rectifiable either lizard-style or hairdresser-style.

The lizard style involves parking your car in the sun with the bonnet open for some hours (not 100 per cent effective, bad for your paint job and the car will be uncomfortable inside when you finally pick it up).

The hairdresser style involves getting a blow drier and applying it to the areas you suspect the water might have got into (logistically tricky: most blow dries have short cords, and it is also embarrassing for a man to be seen using a typically female electronic device on his car).

Do this: Perform the engine wash yourself, because it seems like most car wash outfits out there are putting drivers into difficulties.

Engine wash is not the same as body wash where copious volumes of water and detergent are needed to acquire a gleam.

A wet rag, meticulously used, should clean your engine and spare your car future hiccups.


Dear Baraza,

I drive a Nissan Sunny B15, 2001 model, that I imported three years ago. My agony started when the original front shocks got worn out.

All other shocks I have fitted hardly last three months. We even replaced the front coil springs with “tougher” ones but this has made little difference in prolonging the lifespan. The bushes are alright.

The car is only driven by me, covers a distance of six kilometres daily (Ngara to Parklands) and occasional trips upcountry.

It covers on average 600 kilometres a month and is carefully driven. The rest of the systems are okay (engine, electrical, steering, braking, transmission etc).

Is this a common problem with this model? What would you recommend?



One common mistake people make is replacing the springs and shocks but forgetting to change the mounts too.

This tends to be counterproductive: it is like washing one sleeve of a dirty shirt, or replacing one worn out shoe in a pair.

The suspension problem could be typical of B15, but I do not see how a drive from Ngara to Parklands and back would warrant a suspension change. Maybe the mechanics are short-changing you; I don’t know.

My advice towards addressing this problem will sound harsh and generate heat among some circles: maybe it’s time we started paying more attention to locally franchised cars, even when buying second-hand.

They have the advantage of having dealer support and in some cases you might even get a car with an outstanding warranty, which will be a relief to you, your bank manager and your dependants.

When I discussed tropicalisation, I was disparaged as a minion for the local outlets, but now it seems a good number of readers are facing complications from “new” imports.

Maybe the chicken have come home to roost?


Hello Mr Baraza,

My Nissan Sylphy N16 does not engage the reverse gear after travelling for a distance.

It however has no problem in the morning or after parking for more than two hours. What could be the problem?

Thanks, Isaac.


Hello Sir,

Is it manual or auto? Either way, it looks like you will have to face the music and have the gearbox dropped to the ground for further investigation. Take it from me, it is not an experience you will enjoy.

Have them check the linkage (on either transmission type) first before disassembling the gearbox.

If the linkage is intact, for the automatic have the electrical systems also checked (with the manual just go straight to disassembly). If the electricals are fine, well, take the bull by the horns.

Just so you know, you might have to buy a new gearbox… or learn how to make three right turns in order to go backwards.


Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet (YOM 2000) which was a perfect car until some time last year when it stalled on the road.

When the car was fixed by the mechanic, it started vibrating. He told me the mountings needed to be changed, which I authorised and the work was carried out.

Several months later, despite numerous visits to the mechanic, the vibrations have not stopped.

This problem is more pronounced when in traffic jams and the car is in gear. I have now changed all the mountings and I’m wondering what is next.

I love the car and its fuel efficiency. It normally does not give me any other problems as I take it for service regularly when it is due (every 5,000 km).

Alfred Njau.


I strongly suspect you changed the mounts for nothing. I think the first mechanic messed up the idling settings on your car, so have the idle checked (at the throttle body), before you commit yourself to more expensive measures.

Let me know how this goes and we will take it up from there.

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Simple things that will bring back the vroom to our lives

Last week I may have waxed lyrical about my sad but enjoyable adventures behind the wheel of a pint-sized open-wheel racer, and this got me thinking:

I have never discussed motorsport on these two pages. In Kenya, car-based sporting events are few and far between, and our once-strong rallying culture is slowly dying out.

Let us talk a little about motorsport in general, and the Kenyan/East African scene in particular. Consider this an open letter to KMSF, the overseeing body in charge of all motorsport events in the country.


This is what led to my ill-placed prejudice against this sport: go-kart racing is mostly the preserve of pre-teens, more so if they are of Arabic or Indian descent.

(Yes, that is a bit racist and politically incorrect, but look at the driver register of any karting event and you will see my point).

While largely ignored by the majority of us, karting has the biggest potential for gaining and maintaining a veritable fan base, especially among petrolheads. After all, it is the closest thing we have to F1.

Teams could face off, drivers could face off and team managers could get on TV talking rubbish about each other, and this will not only liven things up and increase exposure (leading to sponsorship deals and increased interest), but it will introduce the je ne sais quoi, the X-factor that draws interest, viewership and television deals, much like NASCAR has in the US, or WWE Wrestling worldwide.

If it can be done, a few more tracks and a bit more advertising could improve the rather thin fan base that the sport enjoys. Mombasa, Nairobi and Nakuru should not be the only towns to boast about having a go-kart track.


This is another field infested with children as competitors, but, admittedly, it is the most fun to watch.

The wild antics of the young riders that are aired briefly on prime time news are quite a sight, the tracks they use (with all the jumps and turns and, of course, the dust) are alluring for all, both spectators and aspiring riders, and I can proudly declare that some of these young ones are of world-class standard.

In my opinion, it is one of the most underrated sports, and another event that needs more aggressive promotion. This is coming from yours truly, who has little respect for (and much fear of) two-wheeled transport. Go figure.


The beauty of rallying is that it is not a racing event; it is a time trial, so, as a spectator sport, it can be a little boring for those who are less than fanatic about it. However, this has not prevented it from being the most popular form of motorsport in the country.

It was once a national event, watched by many, but, over time, it has degenerated into a fiesta of drink and gaudy garb for the spectators and a medley of dangerous driving as fans leave the war theater in an attempt to show their peers that, were it not for their tight 9-to-5 work schedules, men like Lee Rose and Ian Duncan would experience first-hand the competitive wrath of a “true” driver.

This begs the question: What the hell happened? Where did charismatic drivers like Patrick Njiru (so loved was he that he was used to promote a certain brand of cooking oil. A rally driver appealing to housewives?

It is hard to beat that kind of charisma) disappear to? Why are the rally stages now so far removed that the common man (people without their own cars) finds it hard to track the action all season round? And why has the driving become less spectacular?

To return to the good old days, the sport needs a little sexing up. KMSF (the chaps who oversee the whole thing) also do not seem to have a clear rulebook, as far as the unknowing layman is concerned.

I am not against any driver in particular, but when was it a fair competition where a man in a puny N16 Impreza had to do battle with another man in a Landcruiser pick-up for the same shot at glory?

If any among you readers remember the late Colin McRae, you will also recall that he was the man who single-handedly brought the Subaru Impreza WRX to fame and cult status.

He was also famous for spending more time air-borne than on terra firma in the early days of his career, and on very few occasions did he return the car to the paddock in one piece.

While this kind of behaviour is risky for the driver, it is also the kind of thing spectators want to see: the most hardcore anoraks, especially in Europe (Finland, Portugal, Italy and England have the most dedicated fanatics) will tell you that the three things they came to see when spectating are; one, a car airborne; two, a car sideways (drifting through corners) or; three, a car crashing. The rest is stuff that you can see anywhere, on or off-season.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking anyone to intentionally wreck their car just to make a name as an entertainer. But please remember the heady days of Group B rallying (back in the ’80s).

It was a thrill watching drivers struggling to handle 600hp in a 2WD hatchback that may or may not have had ABS or power steering.

Nowadays they have to make do with a piffling 300hp and plenty of electronic driver aids, plus 4WD is almost a mandatory requirement.

A little more ambitious driving wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Rhino Charge

Now these are the people who know how to spend a good weekend — having fun, providing entertainment and flair, oozing charisma and, to top it all off, do good in the process: save the wild animals and plants of the Aberdare.

The Rhino Charge is always held on the Madaraka Day weekend (first weekend in June) every year, and the organisational skills behind it are a hard act to follow.

The venue of the competition is kept a mystery until the last possible moment, mostly to prevent the contenders from scouting the place and clearing the whole thing in one smooth move come Judgment Day, but the side effect this has had is to pique curiosity within the fan base, and nothing maintains the interest of the hoi polloi as much as suspense. Agatha Christie realised this and made a killing penning mysteries and whodunits, so there.

The main event, though staged in some obscure backwoods somewhere, never fails to attract a sizeable crowd.

This is because that crowd knows that they will get their effort’s worth as they watch teams pit their sense of teamwork and off-road driving skills against each other as drivers rush in where goats fear to tread in the best and most entertaining wheeled competition since Ben Hur drove a chariot in a suicidal way in the Roman arenas.

To spice things up is the presence of lady teams, such as the Pinks In Charge (catchy moniker) who always try to show their mettle against the “boys”. The Rhino Charge is now a world-class event, and this brings some noticeable questions to the fore.

For starters, the Rhino Charge is now where the Safari Rally once was, and should still be: hugely popular and recognised the world over as a competition not to be trifled with. Incidentally (or coincidentally) it is not run by the KMSF — the Rhino Charge, that is.

Are the two connected? I don’t know, but all I can say is that maybe, just maybe KMSF has a lesson to learn from the Rhino Ark Foundation, the fellows who run the Rhino Charge.

It beggars belief that an NGO (if that is what the Rhino Ark is) can put on a better show than a dedicated motorsports body.

Once upon a time the Safari Rally was an event in the WRC calendar that so inspired the fear of God in manufacturer teams that when Ford were marketing the MK I Focus hatchback in Europe, they simply put a picture of the blue and white Focus WRC with the tagline “Winner of The 1999 Safari Rally” in magazines in an attempt to sell it.

And sell it they did, in huge numbers: in the UK alone they were selling as many as 270 cars per day. How about this? KMSF could rethink their branding and marketing strategies.

How about seeking more corporate sponsors, besides KCB (who are not backward about coming forward to let everybody know that they are the big fish when it comes to sponsoring rally competitions), not only for themselves but also for drivers.

Distinct teams could be established, complete with livery, and the introduction of constructors’ championships be done, so there would be two titles, not one, at stake.

How about increase media exposure for the drivers so that we, the fans, could get to know them better as people, and not just filler material in the back pages of the local dailies?

And, for God’s sake, how about a steady calendar, where we know in January, the rally will be in Eldoret, in February it will be in Thika, and so forth.

How about the rallies are held less on private farms and more on public roads (but closed off to ordinary traffic for safety reasons)?

It feels a bit odd creeping into somebody else’s farm just to watch a few minutes of lethargic mud-plugging in liveried saloon cars, and then calling it a day.

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How to buy a second-hand car

Investment! Investment! Investment! Our parents drummed the importance of this monster into our heads so much that we almost ran out of brain. I, for one, was weaned on the line: “A fool and his money are soon parted (or audited)”.

Well, the more aspirational among us sometimes dream of playing the fool and parting with our money in exchange for a chunk of metal, suspended on four rubber doughnuts, that we then christen “our pride and joy”, then rush off to brag to people who care little… or are murderously envious.

The fool and his money are soon mobile. But when the money in question lies in the higher six figures, or creeps into the seven figures, it is important to keep the foolishness at a minimum. How does one avoid being taken for a ride by a wily salesman, or a dishonest middleman, or a desperate con-man when acquiring ownership of the next white elephant in one’s life?

Follow these tips when shopping for your ka-mtumba, lest you find yourself the proud owner of stolen property, or an overworked chariot which is two gear changes away from the scrap heap.

1. Open your mind: My little sister once said “never keep an open mind, your brains might fall out”, but clearly she had never gone second-hand-car-shopping before. A fixation on a particular type of car, or a particular colour, or a particular registration number series will be the beginning of your downfall, especially if the salesman is on to you. Such details matter only to those spending telephone numbers on brand new hardware, where optioning your car according to your taste is an exercisable right.

At the other end of the scale, where “pre-owned” or “previously cherished” ramshackle rust buckets are changing hands for the price of a large plasma TV set, choosiness is not on the menu. Optioning is a privilege. You buy a car according to the money you have, not spend money according to the car you desire. Fixations lower your negotiating tenacity, and with a hard-headed salesman, desperation will begin to show. If he detects you are head-over-heels about a particular car in his collection, he will not budge, even when you walk off. He knows you will be coming back.

DO: Tell the salesman you are interested in something in a particular niche, say, a small sedan; then ask him for quotes against several models he might be having, e.g Corolla NZE vs. Lancer Cedia vs. Nissan N16. Or X-Trail vs. iO vs. RAV4. Also ask him (or me) which is best, and in what ways.

DON’T: Ask for “a black Toyota Mark II, new shape, KBG or KBH with alloy rims and tinted windows”. If he does get you such a car, it will either be knackered, falsely registered or stolen. In case he has such a vehicle in stock, he will not lower his price.

2. Open your eyes: For goodness’ sake, don’t be blind. Some people are charmed by the glare of the recent registration (wow! KBM!), or the dazzle of the badge on the bonnet (oooh, a Bimmer!) and fail to see the collapsing trim, the pustules under the paint, the absence of luster on chrome bits, or, worse yet, the tell-tale pool of oil just below the car. Yes, this might sound unlikely, but I have seen it happen. And I don’t tell fibs.

3. Know your budget: A very silly game I used to play with a friend involved the two of us walking into a dealership and “shopping around”. There is nothing wrong with that, except at the time we hadn’t a single red cent to toss between us. We’d sit in Land Cruisers and BMWs, asking this and that before feigning disinterest and walking off. If you are shopping for a used car, do not repeat this, it will only annoy the salesman, and you are unlikely to land a good deal or get useful help. It is pointless to discuss the new E-Class Mercedes for a clean hour before disclosing that your budget does not stretch far beyond Sh200,000. You might be kicked out of the lot. You don’t have to necessarily announce the money you have up-front, but it only makes sense if you inquire about cars you can afford.

DO: Ask the prices of various cars to establish your area of interest before zeroing in on one or two models.
DON’T: Ask “Where can I get the new Premio for less than 200k?”

4. Shop around: We do it for shoes. We do it for clothes. We do it for lunch. We even do it for liquor. So why not for cars? Comparing prices, that is. It has taken you this long without a car; two more days will not kill you. It might seem difficult to believe, but buying a Toyota Premio from that showroom next to the Village Market is not the same as buying the same Premio from an Embakasi outlet. There is bound to be a price difference. Consider the area from which you are buying, and use that consideration to guess the trader’s client base (Lavington vs Kawangware, for instance). In the same vein, look for places where the seller will not steal his car back from you before you drive out of the neighbourhood.

Shopping around also gives you a ball-park figure for the costs of different cars, making you a wiser negotiator by the time you start some serious haggling. It also gives you leverage, where you could bring a greedy seller back to earth with a price comparison with one of his (cheaper) rivals.

DON’T: Buy a car from the first lot you walk into, unless under very special circumstances, none of which comes to mind yet.

5. Vetting: In light of recent events, once you have singled a car you want to buy, run a background check on it. One wily dealer taught us some days ago that it is very easy to make a fool out of a buyer: sell him a stolen, doubly registered car, then set the police on him and recover the loot. Next? Keep both the money and the car, and look for the next victim.

So vet the car. Make sure it has no outstanding police warrants on it (getaway car?), nor is it pegged somewhere as loan security. Ensure it is registered, and that the Registrar’s records and the VIN/engine/chassis numbers all tally. If it isn’t registered, ask why.

While this might all seem fine and dandy at the end of the day, you might need to know how to tell which car is better than the other. You don’t necessarily have to do it like I do by thrashing it on some early morning road tests, risking crashing and traffic fines. Number 6 is a simple guide to areas that will distinguish your next car from the one that almost was.

6. Road Test: If you have been granted a test drive, lucky you. Before turning the key, assess the comfort of the car. Do you enjoy sitting in it? How is the headroom and knee-room — both front and rear? Is the passenger cabin easily accessible, or do you have to be acrobatic to make a dignified ingress or egress? Sit at the driver’s seat and look at the primary controls (steering wheel, gear lever, pedals) and the instruments. Are the controls easy to reach? Are the instruments legible and comprehensible? Do you like the ambience in the cabin?

Now go for the test drive. Listen to the engine. Is it gruff or is it a Lexus? How is the pulling power? Does it strain up hills? Does it idle with confidence or does it stutter like it is unsure of itself? Try a small handling test. Nothing complicated, just cornering a little harder and faster than usual. Does the car lean excessively? Does it head towards the bushes, ignoring your instructions? Brake hard from about 70 km/h. The car should track straight and true within little skidding (if any) and not pull to one side or spin.

Also, use your judgment to compare braking effort and the results. Are the two congruent? I once drove a Carina Ti that wouldn’t stop even when the pedal was pushed almost through the bulkhead. Pay attention to sights and sounds. Any creaks from the suspension, whine from the engine or unexplained thumps from “somewhere below”? Is the bonnet flapping as you drive? How are the mirrors? How big are the blind spots? How easy is it to park?

After the test drive, now you can nit-pick. Look at the fit and finish. Are there huge, ugly gaps between body panels (both inside and outside)?

How are the interior plastics? Are they well finished or scratchy and unsightly? Do you have leather? Look carefully at the gear lever, the steering wheel rim and the pedals. If they are very shiny (not lustrous, but shiny), beware: this car could be having more miles under its belt than the owner is letting on.

Once satisfied, you can now play the fool and part with your money. Good luck!