Posted on 1 Comment

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…

Posted on

I insist, the Prius is not what it is made out to be

Hi Baraza,

I have read a number of your articles but not come across any on the Toyota Prius. Would you kindly review it; my apologies if you have already done so because I must have missed it. Regards. Freda

Hi Freda,

I have not done a full review per se, but I have mentioned the Prius several times before, and nothing I wrote was encouraging. The Prius is what we call a smugness generator, a car people buy so that they can look down on others. Someone tried it on me and it did not end well.

The problem is that the Prius is not what it is made out to be. Toyota intended it to be the last word in fuel efficiency but it isn’t.

Some European models offer better economy without resorting to battery assistance, especially the sub 1500cc diesel-powered hatchbacks. Toyota’s own superminis (the likes of the Yaris and the Aygo) also offer better returns on the mpg scale at a lower price.

The world’s leading motor journalist also says research shows that total assembly of this vehicle in the long run does more damage to the environment than a Land Rover Discovery would in its entire fuel-guzzling lifespan, courtesy of the mining, shipping, factory processing and manufacture of its batteries, which, incidentally, are supposed to be its party piece.

He further demonstrated that, driven at full speed, the Prius burns more fuel than an E92 BMW M3 moving at the same speed. The BMW is a sports car, a very fast one, with a 4000cc V8 engine and 414hp.

Meanwhile, the Prius has a 1500cc unit supplemented by an electric motor, making a combined horsepower figure I am unaware of and not interested in knowing.

One last shot: when running on batteries, the lack of engine noise makes it a whisper-mobile, so no one will hear you coming and you should, therefore, expect to slay a substantial number of unwitting, non-motorised street-users as a result.

How many children will you kill in this manner before you convince yourself that the Prius is, in fact, a car made for Hollywood stars to assuage their guilty consciences that they are doing the world some good?

Hi Baraza,

I have had a Starlet EP82 year 92 model for six years now. Mid last year, the temp gauge went close to the half mark and it would require water after covering about 500 kms.; initially, it would go for months. The car has no thermostat and the mechanic suggested a cylinder head gasket overhaul, which I declined, so we ended up changing the radiator cap but it still needs refilling after covering the same kms though the good thing is that the temp gauge never goes beyond the quarter mark.

I recently hinted to my mechanic that for the last two years the engine has lost power; no change even after replacing the clutch and pressure plate.

He suggested we replace the piston rings and crankshaft cone bearings to improve compression. Is he right? What could be the cause? I service it every 7,000 kms with Shell Helix HX5 15W-40, it has no oil leaks so no top-ups, and the car is very economical: 17.5-19kms/litre on the highway.
Regards.

Kamwago

Your mechanic might be on to something. The head gasket might need replacement. This would explain the two symptoms you mention: 1. Power loss: this could be due to compression leakage, hence the (latter) suggestion that you get new rings. But the case of worn out rings is almost always accompanied by oil consumption, which you say is absent. Compression leakage could also occur via the head gasket, so this is a more likely situation.

2. Loss of coolant: coolant could be leaking into the cylinders. Either that, or the cooling system has a leak somewhere.

I think you might need to check your cylinder head gasket after all.

Hi,You promised to tackle small engines that have turbo, especially motorcycles i.e (125cc). I own one but I don’t see much difference between it and other 125s; is it okay?

I do not know of any turbo motorcycles. Which model is this you own? I have a colleague who specialises in two-wheeled transport who might be able to shed some light on your machine, if it is what you say it is (I really doubt if your bike is turbocharged).

I have covered the topic of turbo charging so many times that I rarely delve into it any more.

Hi Baraza,

I own a manual Nissan B15. Recently, it began switching off on its own on the road and also when idling. I took it to a mechanic and he replaced the old plugs and it went off permanently. It also used to discharge its battery when left overninght but retain charge when disconnected.Kindly advise.Joseph Mutua

That sounds like a short circuit somewhere. It explains the stalling (current bypasses the ignition system and is grounded immediately) and also the battery discharge. Have someone look at the wiring and electrical system, the fault should not be hard to find.

Hi Baraza, I’m hoping to change my car this year and am interested in the Nissan Pathfinder or Land Rover Discovery 4, whichever is more affordable. However I would like you to give me insights into the pros and cons of the two vehicles. Secondly, which is your preferred 7-seater SUV ? Anthony Crispus.

Hello,

1. Discovery pros: good-looking, comfortable, smooth, luxurious, handles well, is nice to drive and has some clever tech in it (terrain response, air suspension etc). Also, the diesel engines are economical and all models are fast (this applies to the Disco 4 only. Previous Discos were dodgy in some areas). It is surprisingly capable in the clag.

Cons: Very expensive. It is prone to faults, which are also expensive to fix. Petrol-powered vehicles will get thirsty. The air suspension is unreliable. Also, a man in a Prius will look at you badly for driving a massive, wasteful fuel-guzzler.

2. Pathfinder pros: cheaper than Discovery. It is based on the Navara, so they share plenty of parts. It is also rugged, somewhat.

Cons: being a Navara in a jacket means it suffers some of the Navara’s foibles, such as a rapidly weakening structure under hard use, poor off-road clearance when the high-on-looks side-skirt option is selected and is noisy at high revs. They also don’t sell the 4.0 V6 engine option locally.

My preferred 7-seater SUV is the Landcruiser Prado. I like the Discovery, a lot, but the Prado is Iron Man (unashamedly faultless and immodest with it) to the Discovery’s Batman (good looks and god-like abilities but inherently flawed and thus susceptible to bouts of unpredictability and unreliability).

Hi,

I have a Toyota Allion. The problem is that it pulls to the left. The wheels are the same size and tyres are properly inflated. Wheel alignments, including computerized, don’t correct the problem. My mechanic does not know what the problem could be. Please advise.

Simon

Are you using directional tyres by any chance? Some tyres are meant to be used on a specific side of the vehicle and should not be switched. Also, check your brakes. Unlikely though it is, one of them could be binding.

Hi Baraza,

While I missed Munyonyi’s question on airbags, Sally was right about airbags in suspension. These are retro fitted bags installed (usually) inside the standard spring that function very similar to a tube within a tyre and come with a compressor.When pumped up they raise the ride height and reduce the spring give and body roll. They also increase load capacity. Pretty simple in function and relatively cheap. Favoured by offroaders. Your explanation on was right, just for different systems.

And now tomy question: Why does Toyota torture us with such reliable but sin ugly vehicles? I’m tired of defending these Picasso-looking machines with, “It will reach and come back.” Is there any good looking Toyota (except the 40 and 80 series Landcruisers)? Mwenda

I like the way the Mark X looks. And all the big Landcruisers (80, 100 and 200 Series); Prados look funny. The problem with having 13,000 designers in your employment is that sometimes you have to give some of them incentives not to migrate to Nissan or Honda. That means passing off their designs to production stage. It is hard to say what these designers do in their spare time, but drugs could be a possibility: how else would you explain such aberrations as the Verossa? Will? Platz? Opa?

I received several emails about the air-bag issue, and I apologize to Munyonyi and Sally. They were right. I wasn’t.

Hi JM,

I recently changed the tyres of my Mazda Demio from the manufacturer’s recommended 185/55/R15, which were too small for Kenya’s rough roads, to 195/65/R15 which are bigger. While I appreciate the significant increase in ground clearance, I also noticed a significant dip in engine power. It’s a manual transmission, and some of the steep slopes that I used to comfortably clear in third gear now force me to downshift to second gear two.
How can I get the original power back without having to replace the tyres again? Kelvin.

Fitting bigger tyres has the effect of gearing up your drivetrain, hence the apparent dip in power. If you revert to the original set, you will notice your car is fine.

Posted on

The non-turbo Impreza is easier to maintain and uses less fuel

 Hello Mr Baraza, I’m interested in buying a Subaru Impreza but there are some things I don’t understand, so I need some clarification: 1. What’s the difference between an Impreza plain, Impreza WRX and an Impreza WRX STi? 2. What are the pros and cons of a non-turbo Impreza and one with a turbo with regard to fuel consumption efficiency, speed and general maintenance?Please highlight any other aspect(s) in relation to the models, their effectiveness, efficiency and engine details.Eric Karani

Hi.

1. The difference could be as much as 150bhp. The regular Impreza is good for about 150bhp, the Impreza WRX makes roughly 230bhp while various forms of the WRX STi (JDM, factory-spec) develop anything between 276bhp and 320bhp. The Impreza “plain” is naturally aspirated, while the WRXes have turbos and intercoolers. They also have body kits, alloy rims and various addenda, which get less and less subtle the higher you go up the power scale.

2. The naturally aspirated “non-turbo” Impreza is far better where maintenance and fuel consumption are concerned. The turbo cars, not so much. However, if it is speed you want, you can never go wrong with the STi. De-limited, it will clock 260 km/h.

Effectiveness: The STi is very effective at what it does, which is going fast and cornering quickly, hence it’s rally heritage.

Engine details: the 2.0 litre cars all have EJ20 modular engines. With a turbo attached, the engine code is EJ20T.

Dear Baraza, Thanks for the great work you are doing. As a young hustler in Kisumu, I am thinking of getting a Mazda Familia (2000-2003) as my first car. I would appreciate your view on this car in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption, spare parts; in short, I’m interested in the economics of owning one. Regards. Andy

The economics of owning one are good. The car was cheap when new, so it will be cheap used. It uses a variety of puny powerplants, so no worries on the fuel economy front. Just make sure the unit you acquire is in a sound mechanical state. The vehicle is low maintenance (it is Japanese, you know, and small) and spare parts should not be a problem to obtain and/or buy.

Hi Baraza,

I am one of those people the government, and in particular the traffic police, are looking for because of using a Probox as matatu.

I use a 1400cc Probox to transport passengers from one town to another in a rural area  and it has been a very profitable business for a long time because on a normal day, I pocket between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500. That is more than a 14- seater makes, given that a Probox doesn’t have very my expenses because it requires only private insurance.

My question is, what makes the Probox a donkey that never gets tired because I overload it all the time and I have never replaced any part of the engine and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking down soon. I carry 10 to 14 passengers per trip and sometimes even 18, not counting kids, plus luggage like potatoes.

Now, what amazed me was the speed, because the traffic police chased me using their 110 Defender for an hour but didn’t catch me; I had 18 passengers and it was on a rough road. What’s more, it is a hilly village, so I became the village star.

How strong and durable is the 1400cc Probox engine, considering that I have had it for three years, I bought it second hand, and it doesn’t have any mechanical problem.

Gabu

Interesting confession, this. Also, one that is difficult to believe. If you earn Sh3,500 per day, which is more than that made by a 14-seater, exactly how much does a 14-seater make daily? I expect it to be more. But I don’t own a 14-seater matatu, so I wouldn’t know.

Cars don’t get “tired”. They are not living organisms, least of all donkeys, which is what you describe your Probox as. Provided they have fuel in them, motor vehicles will run endlessly until certain parts break/explode/shatter/disintegrate/fall off. Cars only suffer wear and tear.

So you carry between 14 and 18 passengers in your illegal PSV, plus luggage? How do they all fit in? Please, send in a picture of the 1.4 litre donkey in action. I have seen videos of similar vehicles used to smuggle would-be terrorists… sorry, illegal immigrants – from our unstable neighbour in the north-east into the country and the best they did was 12 (not counting driver and “conductor”). How to fit in six more people yet the ones already inside don’t even have breathing room?

The least credible part of your story is the point where you say a police Defender 110 pursued your overloaded (18-deep plus luggage) donkey over rough ground and lost. Either your Probox is not really a Probox, or the ground was not rough, or you didn’t have 18 people on board, or maybe even the pursuit didn’t happen.

Whichever of these factors applies, there is one undisputable fact glaring through this seemingly tall tale: you have cast aspersions upon the abilities of police drivers, and I don’t know what the boys in blue have to make of this. You will not outrun a Land Rover Defender 110 over “rough ground” if the helmsman of the said Land Rover is even remotely capable of driving. If this gets published, I guess it is “Goodbye Probox”, not just to yours, but also to all others operating in shadowy ways like yours.

To conclude: much as the veracity and quality of your email is in question, this I can say with confidence: The Probox is not built out of titanium or granite. It will give in eventually if you continue using it like that. There is nothing special about its construction or its engine, it is just a cheap car which is easier to drive flat out compared to something costlier.

Hello JM, Towards the end of last year, the motor vehicle enthusiasts’ fraternity and the fans of the series Fast and Furious suffered a tragic loss following an accident that occurred somewhere in the US.

It cost the life of one Paul Walker (RIP) and a colleague of his. More importantly though, is that he and his colleague were driving a Porsche Carrera GT, V10 engine capable of churning out around 600hp even though it is a 2005 model.

I have read some reviews online and some imply that the vehicle is quite aggressive and would require expert skill and experience. Do you have any idea what it feels like sitting behind the wheel of such a beautiful monster, plus I thought these kinds of vehicles (really powerful vehicles since there were those who believe that the particular Porsche in this case was modified to produce more power) have magnificent braking systems?

Regards.

RM

Hello,

Paul Walker’s demise was a shock to many, yours truly included, and very untimely: it came while filming of the seventh Fast and Furious movie was still under way. It is particularly galling, given that Paul Walker was a real-life motoring and racing enthusiast who owned a selection of potent and interesting motor vehicles, up to and including, but not limited to, a BNR34 Nissan Skyline GTR (the exact same car used in the 2 Fast 2 Furious film opening sequence) and a V8-powered Volvo station wagon.

The car that killed him is aggressive and difficult to drive. It takes a lot of skill to push it, and not many people can get anywhere near its limits. Theories abound as to what actually happened, and they vary from speeding (widely dismissed by on-the-ground witnesses), to street racing (also widely dismissed, though there was a yellow Honda S2000 on the scene immediately after the crash, the occupants of the Honda say they were going about their own business and were there to rescue any survivors), to avoidance of yet another accident, to the most absurd-sounding: that the man was murdered. I am not a CSI agent, so let us leave it at that.

I have sat behind the wheel of similar fare, literally sitting, but when it comes to driving, the farthest up the ladder I have reached is a 2012 R35 Nissan GTR. Its performance parameters compare thus to the Carrera GT’s: Power is 542bhp compared to the Porsche’s 620. Acceleration: the Nissan takes an otherworldly 2.8 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest, while the Porsche takes about 3.5. Top speed of the Nissan is about 318 km/h, the Porsche pushes matters to the scary side of 330 km/h.

Whether or not the red Carrera GT was modified is moot: even in stock, factory-spec condition, that car tries the abilities of anyone who dares drive it. The Nissan’s abilities look quite similar (and superior in some cases) on paper, but the Nissan is harder to crash because it uses many computers to achieve stability and it has a very complicated 4WD system.

The Porsche is RWD and the last of the purpose-built no-frills supercars. The chips in the Nissan will intervene in the event of loss of directional stability, but even before that, they ensure that loss of grip does not occur in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Porsche will show you up for the driver you are, and the outcome is you will see God. Even BBC Top Gear’s anonymous race driver (The Stig), arguably one of the world’s most capable drivers, spun the Carrera GT several times before completing a full lap in it. That is how “dangerous” the Carrera GT can get.

The Porsche can get dangerous, but it is not dangerous. Advanced aerodynamics (including the deployment of the rear wing once a certain speed-110 km/h- is reached), a very low centre of gravity, even weight distribution, top-tier braking ability (100 km/h – 0 in 31m only) and fat tyres make for a stable and very fast car in the right hands.

The question is: was Paul Walker’s friend and business partner that much less of a driver? No. He and Walker both had racing experience, and their joint business interest dealt in vehicles of that calibre. Clearly, they knew how to drive these vehicles, and doing abnormally high speeds in a restricted zone in a flashy car would just be asking for unwanted attention from the authorities. Were they speeding? I don’t know. Does the Carrera GT require advanced driving skills to push hard? Yes. Is the Carrera GT dangerous? No.

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a Japanese import car to buy. I have a question, though. How do I know if the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with? I learnt from a car importer that odometeters are tampered with in Mombasa, then the vehicles are advertised as having low milage. Is there a definitive way to tell what the actual mileage is? Thanks

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

1. Examine the odometer. Cars do an average of 20,000km per year. Use that against the age of the car. If the figure comes up short, get suspicious. Look closely at the numbers in cluster. For some analogue systems, a white space instead of a black space between the digits means the system has been tampered with. For some digital systems, interference with the mileage causes an asterisk to appear next to the readout.

2. Ask for FSH (full service history). Use the number of services against the service intervals to calculate a ballpark figure of the vehicle’s actual mileage.

3. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.

4. Check the pedals and floor mats. If they are shiny and/or worn out, that is a car that has seen many miles.

5. Inspect the vehicle for wear and tear. It should be consistent with the alleged mileage.

6. Check the tyre tread depth. Some people may roll back the od,o but their subterfuge may not be elaborate enough to get rid of such telltale evidence. Or the tyres might be too new for the indicated mileage, while the indicated mileage, might not being high enough to warrant a change of tyres.

Dear Baraza,I have a Nissan Navara  DCI D40 model Ex UK year 2006 and would like your professional opinion on what engine oil I should use. Currently, it is being serviced at D T DOBIE  and they are using normal oil 15w 40 but a friend of mine recently advised me to switch to full synthetic oil 5w 40 if I want a longer engine life for this vehicle. What’s your take on this?Kind Regards, Appi

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

Tell your friend to sod off. Unless the oil s/he is talking about is cheaper than yours, then s/he doesn’t have a valid point to make. The 15W 40 oil means the viscosity index is 40 for normal conditions, and 15 for winter conditions. The 5W 40 means a VI of 40 for normal conditions and 5 for winter.

We don’t have any winter here, do we? No. So we have no interest in the winter rating for the oil. It follows that the two of you are discussing the same bloody oil: one with a viscosity index of 40. If, for the sake of argument, we had winter, then “your” oil would be better than “theirs” due to the higher winter VI. So, again, tell your friend to sod off.

Mr Baraza JM,

I wish to thank you for the good work you are doing, educating us on various issues touching on different types of motor vehicles and motoring in general every Wednesday. I would like you to compare and guide me on which the better vehicle is between a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Rav 4, each of 2400cc or thereabouts in terms of:

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

I wish you had been more specific about the vintage of the vehicles in question. Factors like safety ratings and fuel economy tend to vary quite a lot from generation to generation. For your query, I will assume a 2007 car.

1. Passenger Safety: Interesting result here. The RAV4 scores 4 stars out of 5 for the UCSR (Used Car Safety Rating) while the Outlander scores the full 5 out of 5.

2. Fuel Economy: Again another interesting result. The RAV4 does 9.3 km/l while the Outlander out-teetotals it at 10.5km/l.

3. Spares: these vary widely in availability and cost, depending on where you look and who you ask. But trust Toyota parts to be widespread, though they may not necessarily be “cheap”
Comfort: broadly similar all round.

Posted on

It’s a tight contest between the Hilux, Navara and L200

Hello Baraza,
What are the in-trend features in the new Toyota Hilux D4D, the Nissan Hardbody, the Nissan Navara, and the Mitsubishi L200? Which of these, in your opinion, is likely to out-sell the other, based on consumer satisfaction, pricing and durability?

That is one elaborate question you have there. The Hilux D4D started off well in terms of sales because of the sheer power of its brand reputation, but buyers soon caught on the fact that the Hilux was not what it used to be.

The 2.5 litre is underpowered, making the 3.0 litre a more sensible buy, but then again the 3.0 is much thirstier, and the car costs a lot when new.

The Hardbody (YN25) has been largely ignored, I do not know why. The vehicle is a strong workhorse and will commonly be found around construction sites and road works in use by engineers. In other markets, the Hardbody was called Navara.

The Navara we know is increasing in popularity, and with good reason. It is quite comfortable for a utility vehicle, spacious, and luxurious inside if you spec it up properly. It will outrun the rest of the pack on any road and is now quite cheap, fresh from the UK (about Sh2.5 million to Sh3 million).

It also looks really good (a quite handsome fella, this). These pros have convinced buyers to overlook its two biggest cons: the car does not stop very well and hard use will age it faster than a cup of fresh milk in warm weather. Also, ECUs may or may not get emotional once a month (wink wink…). It also works well off-road, if you avoid the optional side-steps.

The Mitsubishi L200 is a paragon of controversy. It was styled after the Hilux, but whereas the Hilux’s swoopy lines make it quite a looker, the L200 “splits opinions”.

That is diplo-speak, for not many people like its styling and the few who do cannot explain convincingly just what exactly they like about it. It is a strong vehicle, though. Pity they had to pair the torquey engine with a gearbox whose ratios are a bit mismatched and the interior is a bit bland.

In the path set by the previous model L200 Warrior, the L200 Sportivo is best used as a hardcore off-road vehicle. None of the others can match its skill and grunt in the clag.

That is why you will not see many around: how often do we need to sacrifice comfort and “swag” for the sake of military-grade diff-locks and a billion Nm of torque in our daily driving?

Hello Baraza,

I’m torn between a non-turbo Subaru Forester and a Nissan X-Trail. I prefer a good off-road vehicle since I drive upcountry regularly. However, my mechanic says that X-Trail is plagued with problems — hence dies faster — and recommends a Forester. Please advise me on the following:

1. Which is the classiest of these two?2. Compare their fuel economy and maintenance.

3. Of the three X-Trail engines (T30 diesel, T30 petrol, T31 petrol), which would you recommend?

4. Give me any other information on these two as the word out is there is that buying an X-Trail might push one into the poverty line if it decides to misbehave.

Fred.

1. Class boils down to personal taste. Some would prefer an X-Trail because it sits taller, I would prefer a Forester. STi. SG9 model spec. With a stonking huge turbo…. But this is not your area of interest, so let me stop there.

2. The fuel economy will depend on your driving style, the environment and vehicle load, though after answering close to 7,000 e-mails over the past two years, I would say the Forester returns a slightly poorer mileage. But not by much.

3. Depends. What do you want it for? For economy and torque, get the diesel. For smoothness and Forester-chasing pace, get the petrol.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 2001 Subaru Impreza GG2. At 128,000km mileage, my timing belt broke and, as a result, ruined six valves in the engine. I replaced the timing system components (the timing belt, bearings, and tensioner) and replaced the six valves.

I was doing 60KPH when the belt broke. Now I always hear a small ticking (like a clock) noise from the engine when accelerating. The ticking increases in pace and loudness the more I accelerate. What could this be?

Please advise people to change timing system components according to manufacturers’ recommendations regardless of how good the condition of those components looks like to the naked eye.

Secondly, the car always drags to the left when my hands are not on the steering wheel. It works well after wheel alignment, but the problem returns after two days max. How can this be fixed? Alignment does not seem to solve it.

Does the ticking noise come from the top of the engine? I agree with your surmise: the timing kit was not re-installed properly and the valves could be bouncing in their seats, the lifters are malfunctioning, or the belt tensioner is loose. One more theory could be a badly fitted exhaust gasket.

If wheel alignment is not solving your car’s wayward steering, then the cause could be something else, something as unusual as different size tyres left and right of the vehicle or unequal tyre pressure on the two sides.

However, you allege that after alignment, things work fine briefly before the pull to the left is experienced again, so you could be the victim of binding brakes.

After the brakes, check for toe-in and toe-out on the offending side, and suspension integrity: ride height should be equal both sides of the car WITH THE DRIVER IN IT, and camber should not be too negative.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a 124-chassis, 102-engine Mercedes 200, manufactured in 1989. Since you started this column, you have dwelt on Toyotas and done little on the Mercedes side of things, especially on the older models.

My research on the Net shows that the car was the best researched and ever designed Benz, but mine seems to have developed a fuel and oil consumption problem.

I am its second owner and acquired it in 2009 at 77,000 kilometres on the odometer. It has now done 140,000 kilometres. I have done four trips to Mombasa at between 140KPH and 150KPH comfortably, and many others to Garissa.

I am not bragging about it, but the fuel efficiency on these runs has been 12 kilometres per litre at constant speed.

Over the past two years, I have noticed that the car smokes from the dashboard and consumes a lot of oil. I usually do 5,000 kilometres before the next service, and personally supervise the mechanic, who is from a reputable Kenyan car dealer.

The car is currently doing eight kilometres per litre and sometimes I have to top up the oil three times before the next service. That regular top-up may consume up to 15 litres cumulatively.

The differential is making some noise at 80KPH and above and the suspension is wearing down at an alarming level. I have to buy at least two suspension brackets for either the left or right sides in a month because the car has developed the habit of breaking them regularly.

The car’s body is as good as new, the interior better than a five-year-old ex-Dubai import. I love it, and although selling it is not an option, it is becoming hard to maintain. What is your take on this? Or are there charity companies that sponsor the rebuilding of these cars?

N.E.K.I.

Forget about charity for now and start saving. The smoke from the dashboard sounds like a short-circuit in the dashboard electronics, where a wire is burning its insulation or singeing a nearby equally flammable component.

Another theory is overheating, although I would not expect this from any Benz, let alone the mighty 124. The engine might be due for an overhaul (common symptom is increased oil and fuel consumption). Has the car lost power also?

If and when you buy new suspension parts, it is advisable to replace the entire setup — from mount to shock to spring (especially the mount).

This is because sometimes the new (springs, especially) units have a bedding-in period; that is, they start off rock-hard before settling into their particular characteristic after a certain mileage.

During this time, if your mounts are brittle with age, they are susceptible to breakage because the new spring does not store enough energy (very low spring rate), so impacts from the road surface are channelled directly to the mounts and brackets.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car and I am torn between my college-day dream car, the Subaru Legacy B4 RSK 2000 Edition, and the Toyota Mark II Grande (35th Anniversary Edition).

With me being a typical Kenyan buyer, kindly advise on the following parameters: performance, speed, fuel consumption, durability, and spare parts availability. Solomon.

Performance and speed: The RSK is better than the Grande. Fuel consumption: You are looking in the wrong car segment. Try two rungs lower in the hierarchy because both these cars will not see 10kpl without involving a lot of maths in your driving technique.

Durability: Maybe the Grande. The RSK is built for hard driving, so the cost of brakes and clutch kits will be included in your budget more often than not.

Spare parts availability: I wish people would stop asking about spares. If they cannot be found along Kirinyaga Road or in Industrial Area, they can be found on the Internet. And they might be cheaper on the Net because that price does not include dealer mark-ups (Kenyans can be shockingly greedy sometimes).

Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy my first car and my budget is Sh450,000. I have the option of going for a Toyota 110 and a 2005 Mitsubishi Cedia. The Cedia is relatively new, but I am being discouraged that its gearbox breaks down easily and that the car does not have consistency in fuel consumption.

The Toyota, on the other hand, looks a bit bland in its interior and I am more inclined towards the Cedia, which looks better and more lady-like. Please advise.

You really have to decide what matters more to you: do you want to look lady-like and pretty but run the risk of a broken gearbox, or do you want a boringly reliable car with a boringly grey or beige interior and run the risk of being stopped at every road-block simply because all traffic policemen assume that all 110s are taxis (and unlicensed, at that)?

If you can handle a manual transmission (stick shift), you could get a Cedia manual. The gearbox will be cheaper to replace (if it ever breaks), and you will still look ladylike. You will also achieve good economy if you know how to use a manual gearbox properly.

Hi Baraza,

I have just imported a 2005 Nissan X-Trail. Although everything else is fairly simple to figure out, I have failed to work out how the reverse camera works.

I am told that it should show up automatically when the car is put in reverse gear, but this does not work. I have searched the Internet for a solution in vain. Any helpful suggestion? Could this also be the reason the boot lights are not lighting up when the door is lifted? (I admit I have not checked the bulbs yet).

Are you sure you do not have a broken connection somewhere between the front of the car and the boot-lid? Think about it: what are the odds that the reversing camera (which is mounted on the boot-lid) and the boot lights (which are inside the boot) both do not work?

There might be a loose connection in the wiring harness that powers the rear end of the car. Drive the X-Trail to an electrician and see what s/he comes up with.

Hi Mr Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. I have a Noah Liteace SR40, 1990cc, 2001 petrol model. Now, on the gear handle:

1. When do you put the ‘O/D’ switch on and off, and how does it affect fuel consumption in either case?

2. What’s the standard fuel consumption for such a car in km/l.

Ibrahim.

1. Keep the O/D on. Only turn it off when towing another vehicle or when taking off on a steep hill and the vehicle is fully loaded. When ON, economy is good, when off, the economy is affected negatively.

2. The manufacturer alleges up to 15kpl, but I would say 11-12 is more realistic.

Hi Baraza,

I love your work and always look forward to reading something new every Wednesday. Today (September 18, 2012), one of your readers, Sarah, caught my attention.

She upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and is confused with the new gear arrangement. The Belta’s gear selector arrangement is labelled P-R-D-B-S, and the meaning of B and S and how they function is as stated below:

B (Brake): This is a mode selectable on Beltas and some Toyota models in non-hybrid cars. It allows the engine to do compression braking, also known as engine braking, typically down a steep hill.

Instead of engaging the brakes, the engine in a non-hybrid car switches to a lower gear and slows down the spinning tyres, hence holding the car back instead of the brakes slowing it down.

S (Sport): Commonly referred to as sport mode, it operates in an identical manner as D mode, except that the up-shifts change much higher up the engine’s rev range.

This has the effect of maximising all the available engine output and, therefore, enhances the performance of the vehicle, particularly during acceleration. Predictably, it has a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

I hope this will sort out Sarah’s confusion, otherwise thanks for your good work. Keep it up. Fred.

Posted on

An electric vehicle in Kenya? Not a good idea

Hi Baraza,
1. Do electric vehicles stand a chance in Kenya?
2. Is it possible to convert a car to use electricity? If so, what are the pros and cons of implementing such an idea in Kenya?
Nick

1. At the moment, not a chance in hell.

2. Yes, but the costs and labour involved are prohibitive, especially given that the end product will not be worth the sweat or the money.

Pros: Your running costs will go down tremendously. Electricity is cheaper than petrol per kilometre driven.

Cons: Travel any distance greater than 50 km and you will be very, very late for whatever you were going for.

Also, self-servicing when things go on the fritz, and of course acquiring the vehicle in the first place (whether bought or assembled in your backyard), calls for a massive financial outlay. Not worth it at all.

———————–

Baraza,

I drive a pre-owned FWD automatic transmission Subaru Impreza GC1, 1998 model with an EJ15 engine. The car has 140,000km on the odometer and I service it regularly. It serves me diligently.

I have been driving it for the past one year. I have taken it for OBD diagnosis and no faults were found, apart from a problem with the ABS and the thermosensor, which I sorted out.

I also feel that the thirst that is associated with Subarus does not apply to this one; I am able to do 10 km/litre, except when I floor the accelerator. Here is what I would like to know:

1. In your opinion and knowledge, how much mileage should one clock on a car before declaring that it has served its purpose?

2. Would you recommend to anyone driving such a car to do an engine swap with a bigger engine like an EJ20, tune the car, sell it, or do a trade-in? Is it sensible to change the engine or is it better to just buy another car altogether?

3. For the past one week, my car occasionally sputters in the morning when starting, especially during cold weather. But if I start it with the gas pedal partially depressed, it starts just fine, though I notice that the fuel consumption is not good. What could be the problem? The problem is much worse when I put it in reverse gear. But once the engine warms up, all this disappears. On the highway it does just fine.

4. Is it true that all EJ engines, both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged, including WRX EJ engine variants, can fit in a stock GC1 1998 Impreza? If so, what other modification should I do if I instal such an engine?

5. Can someone fit a used engine from a manual transmission model into an automatic transmission model, or one has to change the tranny completely? And how realistic is it to change from FWD to AWD on such a car?

Robert

1. It depends on the state of the car. Some world record holders have done more than two million kilometres in their cars. The general rule of thumb is roughly 500,000km for passenger cars before an engine swap or grounding of the car.

2. Do an engine swap if repairs on the current unit prove to be too expensive to justify. Tune the car if you want to liven things up (or even resort to settings close to new) without having to buy another car. Sell it if you are sick of it.

Trade it in if the finances for a replacement vehicle lie just outside your reach. Changing the engine or buying another car: that is up to you, to be honest, but here is a guideline. Replacement engines are a lot cheaper than replacement vehicles, but if the swap is done poorly, you will regret it.

3. The issue could be a clogged fuel filter, requiring a wider opening of the throttle plate to create negative pressure high enough to suck fuel through the filter.

Another problem could be the idle air control valve (IAC), which allows air to come into the engine whenever you do not have your foot on the throttle.

It automatically varies idle speed by load, temperature, etc. If it fails, you will not have sufficient air flow into the engine to make it run when the throttle is closed.

That is why the car runs normally when it goes down the road. Some people talk of cleaning the IAC but replacement is usually the best option.

4. Yes. The GC chassis can accommodate any of those engines. Most of those engines are similar anyway, the difference being the presence of turbos/intercoolers and capacity.

However, the peripherals may necessitate some modifying, especially of the front air dams, to accommodate intakes/front-mount intercoolers.

5. Changing from auto to manual tranny is a common practice in the car world, and is quite easily done. However, changing from 2WD to 4WD is a lot more complex and may not be worth it. Changing from 4WD to 2WD is easy: you just disconnect the offending drive shaft.

———————————–

Hi JM,

What is your take on 2005 Nissan Tiida Latio in terms of performance, availability of spare parts, and fuel consumption? How does it compare with the 2005 Toyota Corolla (NZE)? In your opinion which is a better buy?

Henry

Performance is poor but economy is good and spares are available at DT Dobie. The NZE may be a better car, especially on the performance front, but the Tiida is prettier.

———————————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a BMW E34 (520i), with a 2000cc, six-cylinder M20 engine. Now, can a 6-cylinder engine be 2000cc? If it is true, how is the consumption compared to a four-cylinder 2000cc engine and a 2500cc, 6-cylinder one?

Otieno

Yes, a 2000cc engine can have six cylinders. Yours does, doesn’t it? Alfa Romeo race cars of yore had 12-cylinder engines of only 1500cc. Consumption may be slightly higher than a 4-cylinder of similar capacity, but this is tied to so many factors that the question cannot be answered in black and white. It will be less thirsty than a 2500cc six-cylinder, though.

———————————-

JM,

I have a 1997 Nissan B14 that I took for an overhaul. Afterwards, it did only 100km before it heated up badly. It has now stalled. What could be the problem here and what should I do?

The problem is exactly as you have described it: the car over-heated. What to do: Since the heat problem came about after the overhaul, the prime suspect is the cylinder head gasket.

Either the product itself was low quality or the work done was low quality, but in each case, the gasket may be leaking.

Other things to do: Check the obvious. Was there enough water in the radiator? Is the radiator leaking? The overflow pipe/jar? Are the fans working? What about the water pump?

Is the radiator clean (outside)? What of internal blockages?

———————————-

Hello JM,

I own a Nissan Hardbody double-cab. Whenever I make a sharp turn, there is a sharp creaking noise from the front right tyre area. I have no idea about what could be causing this problem. Any ideas?
Fide

The fan belt is either old and worn out or is sitting badly within the pulley of the power steering pump. A quick cure of the symptom is to splash some brake fluid on it, but check the two above parameters for a longer lasting solution.

———————————-

Hi Baraza,

1. I have a differential problem with my 2004 Nissan Navara 2.5D double-cab, turbocharged, D22 chassis, diesel. In December last year, it started producing a funny noise and my mechanic suggested replacing the bearings.

The whole job ended up being messy due to the inexperience of the mechanic and resulted in differential lock, damaging the crown wheel and the pinion.

I looked for another mechanic who initially suggested repairing the differential, but even after replacing the pinion and the crown wheel, the noise still remained.

Later, he suggested replacement of the entire differential assembly, including the casing and the axle. We did this but since it was not the right fit, the vehicle lost power.

I therefore had to go back to my repaired differential. I now rarely use the vehicle.

(a) Can you advise on a mechanic who can be of assistance?

(b) Where can one obtain such a differential, locally or elsewhere?

(c) Do you think the continued use of the vehicle in its current state could create other complications?

2. I also have an auto 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia with a 4G15 engine, 1460cc, CS2A model. Sometime back, I noticed that the car had a problem with gaining speed and its fuel consumption had gone up significantly.

My mechanic checked the plugs and the fuel filter but these were okay. I then carried out a computer diagnosis that pointed to a faulty exhaust system. The mechanic recommended replacement of the catalytic converter and the car improved, slightly. What could be the problem?

The advice I have received, so far, including replacement of the gear system, is just scary.
JMM

1. Why did you not go to the franchise holder, DT Dobie? And did you just put any diff or did you buy a Navara diff? You have to be careful about specifying the vehicle make and model (and YOM) when buying spares.

What we know as the Hardbody NP300 double-cab is actually called Navara in other markets, but it is mechanically different from the current Navara car. So, here are your answers:

(a) DT Dobie. They sell Navara vehicles under franchise, so they must be able to service/repair it and provide spares.

(b) DT Dobie. For the same reasons as above.

(c) Yes. The entire 4WD transmission may be ruined, more so given that the Navara is a delicate vehicle and uses electronic 4WD engagement.
2. The diagnosis said the exhaust system is faulty and changing the converter improved things slightly, so that is where the problem is: the exhaust system. After changing the converter, have a look at the lambda sensors also. And check for a leak too.

———————————-

Hello Baraza,
I recently bought a 2005 VW Jetta 1.6-litre engine. The check engine light is always coming on and when I raise this with my mechanic, the answer I get is that I over-rev the engine.

Is this true? Also, whenever I park the car on a gentle slope, I get the check oil light even though I changed the oil a couple of weeks ago. Is this a common feature with VWs?
Mshengah

Do a diagnosis. That is the only way you will know what that check engine light is all about. Your mechanic is very dodgy, judging by his response; over-revving will not necessarily cause the light to come on.

Parking the car on a slope means that the oil level in the sump goes up on one side and down on the other. The oil level sensor is on one side, so that change of level causes a false reading:
either too much or too little, depending on which side the sensor is mounted.

Park your car on level ground, wait for the engine to cool, and use the dipstick to establish whether or not, in fact, your oil level is outside the accepted range. I do not think it is a common feature with all VWs.

———————————-

Baraza,

I will skip the details about how much of an old school enthusiast I am but and ask: What are the odds of being able to put a new engine into an old car? For instance, I would like to fit a 1977 Toyota Celica with a Subaru WRX or Impreza engine. What should I consider when taking such a step? Will it be as efficient as it should be, and what are the constraints?

Do not be afraid of trying that out; it is actually a common method of tuning cars. Just make sure the engine fits, and if it does not, you can always make modifications to the mounts and firewall (front bulkhead). Also, remember to strengthen the mounts and front cross-member.

———————————-

Hi Baraza,
1. Does engine capacity significantly influence the car’s road speed? Case in point: A Toyota Prado with a 3.4-litre V6 petrol engine doing 100 km/h versus a Mercedes Benz E240 with a V6 petrol engine and around 200hp also doing 100 km/h, all other factors held constant.

My understanding of physics is that speed is not relative but absolute, meaning 100km/h is the same in all cars irrespective of the engine capacity and all other relevant factors, such as forced induction or lack of, and transmission mode. However, I feel like I have this entirely wrong. What is your opinion?

2. In terms of safety, what is the effect of installing big wheels and wider tyres (ridiculously wide) on an SUV, bearing in mind that they are not low profile tyres?

3. Sometime ago you wrote an in-depth article about tropicalisation of cars. Would you mind doing a quick overview of the important points for those of us with a short-term memory?

Bryan

1. Engine capacity does affect road speed, but not in the way you describe here. Case in point: I was in South Africa last month to drive a variety of cars from General Motors. One of them was the Chevrolet Spark, which had a tiny 1.2-litre engine. Despite my best efforts, I only managed 175 km/h in it. It could not be pushed any further.

Enter the dragon, the Chevrolet Lumina SS, sporting a 6.0-litre V8 engine from the Corvette supercar. Five minutes after I took the wheel, I had hit a heady 240 km/h without even trying, which the little Spark could not do if its life depended on it.

However, power output aside (that SS was something else I tell you), when the convoy was cruising along at 120 km/h, ALL cars were doing 120 km/h and ALL speedometers showed 120 km/h. 120 is 120, whether you do it in a small aircraft or in a motorised wheelbarrow.

2. I am guessing that you mean the huge rubber lumps that are bigger than asteroids used by hardcore off-road enthusiasts, right? They make the car wobbly and are totally useless on smooth roads. Do not use them if you do not need their abilities. They are meant for wading through swamps.

3. Here are the pointers:

  • Modify the engine (compression ratios especially) for the sake of our low octane fuel.
  • Increase the capacity of the cooling system (bigger ducts, pipes, radiators, high capacity water pumps)
  • Toughen up the suspension.
  • In some cases, another coat of paint (or UV resistant lacquer) may also come in handy.
Posted on

If you drive an open double-cab, stay under 80kph or face the law

Dear Baraza,
In your column last week, you mentioned that the Nissan Pathfinder is a dressed-up Navara. I could not agree more, and this remark reminded me of an experience I had with traffic police officers out to nab motorists exceeding the speed limit just before Naivasha on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway a while back.

I was flagged down for doing 100 km/h in an Isuzu D-Max Turbo double-cab pickup. My argument that a double-cab with all the LS trimmings is really a passenger vehicle and well within the 100 km/h limit fell on deaf ears.

The officer, credit to him, was civil and countered my argument by leading me to the back of my vehicle to show me a round sticker with ‘80KPH’ printed on it. This, according to the law, classified the double-cab as a commercial vehicle.

In the end other offenders and I were hauled to a police station, locked up in a wire mesh cell, and taken to court five hours later, where we were fined Sh2,000.

But this was after a passionate lecture by the base commander on the ills of driving over the limit. Incidentally, as we waited by the roadside, double-cab pickups fitted with those sleek canopies cruised by. According to an officer, those were SUVs!

In this era of common platforms (Navara/Pathfinder, Hilux/Fortuna, Ranger/Explorer, Tougher/Frontier, etc), where SUVs are built on pickup chassis, should the KMI not lobby for the reclassification of double-cab pickups to the passenger vehicle category?

The double-cab pickup is undoubtedly one of the fastest selling group of vehicles in the country today. Indeed, the trim and comfort levels of the top-end models put most saloon cars to shame. What is your take on this?

Tom

The policeman who busted you is either the new Sang (traffic police hero) or he was really idle. I am going with the first presumption.

Motor vehicle manufacturing is a wide field. Actually, the Pathfinder is not built on the Navara chassis, it is the other way round; the Navara is built on a Pathfinder plinth. That is why it is so good and feels very car-like, unlike the other double-cabs, which are dedicated commercial vehicles.

Some time in 2010, I wrote an article in which I argued that our speed limits were outdated and needed refreshing. My argument did not register with anyone.

Although I will admit it was unfair for the canopied pickups to drive by while your open-backed unit got flagged down, I must tell you that the police were unwittingly right: the covered vehicles were actually more aerodynamically stable than the open ones.

That payload area at the back acts as an air scoop at speed, and given the lack of weight over the rear axle, oversteer and extreme yawing will finally get the better of your steering input, and you will crash.

KMI, KEBS, the Transport Ministry, and anybody else concerned should compile a comprehensive list of what qualifies as a car, a light commercial vehicle, and a heavy commercial vehicle.

Anything from a 14-seater matatu to a tiny Maruti van requires reflectors, chevrons, and the “80KPH” sticker, but none of the Noahs/Voxys I see on the road has them. Why? Just because they do not serve as public transport?

Same to the pickups, more so the double-cabs; a good number of Navara and Vigo pickups do not have chevrons, and nobody seems to bother with them.

But try driving an ordinary NP300 or Hilux without them. Some of the SUVs we drive are actually heavier than the buses we (or our maidservants) use home, but the ordinary class E licence is good enough.

Hi,

I own a Toyota Corolla E98 with a 3E, 1469cc carburettor engine that has been leaking oil through one of the valves, but the mechanic insists that there is no problem.

The big blow came when it started mixing oil, fuel, and water. What is the main problem? I am thinking of changing the engine to EFI, so which will be the best for my car?

That aside, I have driven a Honda CRV Mugen and it is an amazing car in terms of comfort and fuel consumption. Which is the best Honda model in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, and maintenance costs?

Philip

That mechanic is a fraudster and knows not his trade. The problem is the valve seal of that particular valve — even an apprentice could tell you that.

The water could be from either a leaking gasket (replace) or one of the water jackets has cracked around the top, in which case a new engine block may be needed. The leaking water then mixes with the leaking oil, which in turn mixes with the intake charge to create the soup you describe there.

That Honda Mugen sounds like a real charmer, where can I find one for review?

Hello Baraza,
I have a question for you about Scania buses, since I use them to travel upcountry.

1. What makes them climb hills so fast (I am usually thrilled and fascinated when a bus shoots up with so much power that makes my whole body suddenly feel heavy and numb).

2. With this power, does it mean it can tackle any hill with varying angles/gradients easily?

3. If it is uses turbo, why does it change its sound when it begins to tackle a slope? The sound is like a continuous hiss and its engine generally does not sound like it is turbocharged.

4. Why do you never talk about nations that are leaders in auto engineering because Scania, which I heard is from Sweden, does not get highlighted and yet they have a good product?

1. Huge turbos and intercoolers boost the engine power and torque, the close-ratio short-geared transmission gives it good pulling power even on mountains, and variable valve timing and EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) improve combustion efficiency, give you lower fuel consumption, and reduce emissions.

Of course the engineers behind the engines are also the world’s best.

2. Err, not just any hill. But most of them, yes. It takes one roughly 15 minutes to go up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley (Salgaa-Mau Summit) in seventh and eighth gears (for the F330).

The Mitsubishis I see belonging to some bus company I will not mention take more than half an hour to cover the same distance, usually in third gear and making a lot of noise in the process.

3. The hissing (and for the old F94 HB, whistling or whining) sound you hear is the turbo spooling up and increasing boost pressure.

4. Sometimes I talk about these nations. Have you not heard me sing the praises of Germany more than once? Sweden is good in trucks — Volvo and Scania. Incidentally, the former bought out the latter from its parent company, Saab-Scania.

Their latest acquisition is Nissan Diesel UD commercial vehicles, so yes, even the UD buses are now relatives of their Scania competitors, by adoption.

Baraza,

Recently, you said that NZEs are a bit treacherous. Does the 1.8cc Toyota Luxel 16-valve VVT-i fall in that group too? If not, why? In terms of stability and reliability at speeds of around 120 km/h, how would you rank Toyota Allion A20, the new shape Premio, the new shape Caldina ZT, the Allex XS180, and the Luxel?

And what are the pros and cons of the 4WD types of the above mentioned cars?

Lastly, what are the pros and cons of having an auto or manual gear box in Toyota models, especially the saloons/sedans?

Fanon

Yes, the Luxel you describe is as treacherous — it is, after all, an NZE 120 (what we call NZE).

The Allion and Premio do not feel much different, but the Premio is smoother and quieter. The Caldina feels most planted (if it has a rear wing). The Luxel feels most dodgy, unsettled, and nervous (this is by comparison, it is not actually as bad as it sounds here), the Allex a little less so.

The pros of having 4WD models: good traction in the wet. The cons: increased weight and complexity of the transmission, hurts economy, and costs more to repair when damaged
Manual or auto?

Boils down to personal preference and proficiency with a clutch pedal. Some like manual transmissions (more control, fewer energy losses) while others prefer automatic (relaxing, any idiot can drive one).

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Cherry Tiggo vs the Land Rover vs the infamous Mahindra? There are plans by the Kenya Police to buy almost 800 of these vehicles (the Tiggo), can it withstand a beating like the Land Rover? I think the government is making yet another mistake on this procurement and someone needs to raise the alarm.

Ken

I would rather not delve into the procurement procedures of certain entities, least of all the police.

I know we do not live in the Nyayo era anymore, but I have a certain phobia for a white Land Rover parked outside my house at 2.30am with men in trench coats in my sitting room convincing me that a change in my career path would be most welcome for both the government and myself, or else…

Anyway, the Land Rover is the best of the three. The original police Mahindra is not even worth mentioning. The current Mahindra range’s performance and abilities are yet to be seen in hard use, but they are a damn sight better than the pioneers.

The Scorpio even looks like a Defender (if it is 2.30 in the morning and you have lost your spectacles, maybe to an angry man in a trench coat, and there are tears in your eyes…)

The Tiggo is a blatant RAV4 knock-off, but if other Chinese products are anything to go by, well, do not expect too much from it in terms of long service.

PS: The police thing is a joke, do not take it seriously. Nowadays, they visit people at 5 in the morning, not 2.30am.

Posted on

The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.

Posted on

Other than looks, the X6 doesn’t have much to offer

Hi JM,

I recently rolled over at a corner in a Nissan X-Trail but survived… with great lessons. Now I know that speed that thrills can kill. Also, I have developed a great fear for this car because I have comfortably done the same corner at a higher speed in a BMW 318.

Speaking of BMWs brings me to my question: I have driven an X6 from Thika to Gertrude’s Hospital in Muthaiga and back (the child’s father was too anxious to drive) and did not see any major issues with this car.

In fact, I outdid most cars with ease. I relish motoring, although I am not an expert, so I think you should have this car for a day, try it out, and write a review.

And, by the way, why is it that nowadays you do not have proper reviews anymore and have instead resorted to answering questions only. I used to find the articles comprehensive, and thus more educative.

Do not blame the car for the accident. How fast were you going when you took the bend? And a 3-Series is very different from an X-Trail in terms of handling. I am sorry about your accident, but you need to be more careful and sensible on the road.

About the X6, I know it is good in its own way, but a man running alone thinks he runs fastest. Pit the X6 against rivals (including its own brother, the X5) and it is shown up for the pretender that it is.

Pointless, heavy, ponderous, not as good on road as its looks would suggest, totally useless off-road due to the absence of ride height control, locking diffs and low range transmission, poor rear head room compared to the others… and just what in God’s name is a “Sports Activity Coupe” or whatever BMW calls it?

What they did was graft Beyonce Knowles’ beautiful upper body to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heavily muscled running gear in the hope that the resultant chimaera would appeal to a wider demographic. Instead, they made those of us with a sense of taste throw up at the sight of it.

The reviews? Editorial policy is driven by consumer demand, or so I guess. Somehow, people prefer the heavily summarised responses I give to their questions rather than the more elaborate reviews, so we had to abide by the adage “the customer is always right” (this also explains the X6: some customers actually wanted such a thing). I still write long articles, though.

Hi Baraza.

I would to like to have your opinion about speed cameras. I believe that the police want to install some more to add to the lone camera along Thika Road. Every year — or rather, week — we hear the traffic police blame speeding as the major cause of accidents on our roads. Please answer these questions for me:

1. Is putting up speed cameras a waste of money, considering they are expensive to install and run? I read somewhere that they require around Sh5 million to operate.

2. Does it mean that if you pass the limit they have been set, you have a 99 per cent chance to cause an accident?

3. What criteria is used to determine the maximum speed that one should drive on our roads?

4. Are there any cheaper methods to prevent accidents since, according to me, these cameras are expensive for nothing?

5. Why do your readers not ask you about car safety levels and features despite the high number of road accidents on our roads? I ask this because many of the accidents that occur are not necessarily due to speeding.

Lastly, I would like to go to a driving school, and I am torn between going to a school and learning at “home” because I do not think the schools offer anything more than a driving licence. What do you think?

Walkins
1. Yes, it will be a waste of money. Motor vehicle registration in Kenya is sketchy compared to other countries with speed camera technology — offenders are normally traced and subsequently arrested or given citations using their car number plates.

Most of us drive hired (or even stolen) vehicles, meaning a photo of your car committing a traffic infraction is all the police will end up with, rather than the offender himself.

Still, even with the vehicle owner’s information, tracing them will be difficult owing to lack of manpower and the frequency with which people change rental houses. It will not work.

2. That is nonsense. If that were true, the only people still alive would be the chaps in rural areas who have never boarded a motor vehicle all their lives (our population figure would be hovering around the 1.5 to 2 million mark, rather than nudging 40 million, as the government alleges). The police blame speeding for fatalities in road accidents because they have nothing clever to say about the whole road safety issue.

3. On our roads, no idea. On roads in other countries, factors like long range visibility, size, type and condition of the road (and the road surface), the presence of junctions, acceleration lanes, climbing lanes, hard shoulders, runoff areas, social amenities such as schools and churches, traffic density (average), and the layout of the road (whether it is dead straight like in America or has twisty and curvy switchbacks like in the French Alps) are some of the things considered.

4. Yes. Give a bonus to traffic policemen for every offender they rope in. The police are our last hope in forcing people to behave well on the road.

A small campaign could run in print and electronic media telling people how to avoid the traffic policeman’s lasso around the neck: respect the rule of law and drive like you were taught at the driving school, not as you think you should.

Punitive measures against offenders should include confiscation of both driving licence and motor vehicle, and hefty fines, with a possibility of a total driving ban for repeat offenders.

5. The nature of Kenyans is such that they would rather die and save money than stay in one piece and have less money than the Joneses.

That explains why halves of vehicles written off in accidents get welded onto halves of other cars and put back on the road. And the furore when the late John Michuki made us strap on safety belts in PSVs.

And why some of us would flog a car to such a point that it is held together by bits of paint and rust rather than conceding that our trusty vehicle has reached the end of its usefulness and is due for euthanasia.

I agree with you, and thank you for raising the issue. I did discuss safety at the end of 2010, but my writing went largely ignored. The best way out is to follow in the late Michuki’s footsteps and come down hard on those who think rules were made for wimps and sissies.

Hi Baraza,
I drive a 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser. Lately I have been feeling like upgrading into something more classy but still reliable, that is, a Range Rover Sport or an Audi Q7 since I travel to my rural home at least twice a year and the roads there are non-existent. In your opinion, which among the two is more reliable?

Reliability issues among these huge SUVs tend not to be publicised too much, and anyway, repairs should not worry you who can afford them. The inconvenience of the car breaking down, though, can be frustrating.

The Range Rover Sport is what I would vouch for, and for a very strange reason. You see, the Q7 was not built as well as it could have been; I am not saying that it is bad, it is actually quite good, but it could have been better.

It was built to a price and targeted at Americans for whom size means everything, so Audi avoided the typical aluminium diet and went for crude steel. The interior is still world class, though, and the Germans have a reputation for building solid, bullet proof (not literally, but meaning free of holes or weaknesses) machines.

The Range Rover Sport, on the other hand, has enthusiasm behind it. It was built with passion by engineers who only wanted the very best, and this shows in the execution.

It is ultimately better to drive and will go further off-road owing to its shorter wheelbase and overhangs and its Discovery-derived double chassis. The Q7 is based on a Touareg/Cayenne, which is not very off-roadish.

Hello Baraza,

I thought Nissans were inferior to the Toyotas (please correct me if I am wrong), and during the weekend I had a chance to drive a 1500cc Wingroad — its comfort as well as pick up speed was nowhere close to the Toyota Allion 1500cc.

You have praised the Nissan X-Trail (280hp) GT and rated it above the Toyota Kluger and the RAV4. Is the pick up speed of the X-Trail GT faster than that of the two Toyotas? What about the ‘comfortability’ and off-road performance?

Please do not create words (comfortability) — only I am allowed to do so. Moving on. The X-Trail GT is bloody fast, 280hp is not a joke.

It will blow your Klugers and RAV4 out of the water any day. However, that turbocharged engine requires handling with kid gloves, the fuel economy will not befriend environmentalists, and one of my mechanics claims it eats ignition coils for breakfast and lunch.

Naturally, hard springing and competition shocks make for a hard ride, and I am not sure you want to take a car with this kind of performance off-road…

Nissan vehicles are not always inferior to Toyotas; it depends on which model you are talking about. For further reference, drive a Navara back-to-back against a Hilux double-cab, then document your findings.

Hi Baraza,
I was wondering which car, between a Forester XT 2003 model and the Mercedes C180 Kompressor (supercharged), would win in a five-kilometre drag, a sharp-cornered circuit, and a sprint from Nairobi to Nakuru, and why?

The outcome of such a trio of races would boil down to the skills of the drivers of the two cars, though in a five-kilometre drag with simple pedal-to-the-metal action, the Benz would take it (260 km/h).

The circuit might favour the Forester (smaller mass and 4WD torque distribution) but a Nairobi-Nakuru blitzkrieg would favour the Benz (this, again, goes down to whichever driver has the biggest cojones).

Hi,
I am planning to get my first car soon. Kindly advise on which of these cars, the old-shape Premio and the Carina, is better in terms of performance, spares, engine output, and durability. Also, is there much difference in terms of fuel consumption between 1800cc and 1500cc models of these cars? Lastly, what is the difference between EFI and VVT-i, and does it influence engine reliability?
Mutuku

For the same engine size, the two cars are essentially the same in almost all aspects, with the Carina being a touch sportier (and thus fathered the Allion). The difference in fuel economy between 1.5- and 1.8-litre engines is not big, especially with careful driving. The kpl achieved will depend on how you drive. Expect 10–15 kpl.

EFI is electronic fuel injection, and it is a precise and computerised method of delivering fuel from the fuel lines into the engine. VVT-i is variable valve timing with intelligence, and it is a system by which valve lag and valve lead (delaying of the opening and closing of valves) are computer-controlled to optimise performance and reduce emissions.

Yes, it influences engine reliability. The more complex an engine, the bigger the likelihood that things will fail, and the harder it is to fix the problems when they arise.

Baraza,

I am thinking of buying a car soon and I am in a dilemma about the car to invest in. I have these saloon options: a BMW 318i, a Subaru WRX Impreza, and a Toyota Avensis.

According to you, which of the three cars is ideal for a young man who is struggling in this Kenyan economy, especially bearing in mind high fuel prices, maintenance, and repairs?

Which of the three cars performs well on Kenyan roads and can handle rough terrain as well?

Which of the three is cheap to maintain and service?

Davy

For fuel economy, get a D4 Avensis. The 3-Series is also a sipper when driven soberly. The WRX will bite your wallet.

Maintenance and repairs: The BMW will take longest before it breaks, but when it does it will cost the rest of your life savings to get it running again. The Toyota is also reliable, but the D4, like BMW, will cost you if it goes bang.

The WRX should not cost much to maintain, that is until you overload the turbo and it goes boom, then you will really know hardship.

Normal, sane driving and regular checks and servicing should give you satisfactory ownership from all three cars. The 3-Series will cost the most to service and the Toyota the least.

The WRX is the handler and performer of the three, but stiff suspension and low profile tyres are not for rough terrain. The BMW’s minimal ground clearance also rules it out of any rough stuff, but it also handles, and performs. The Avensis is the easiest to take on unpaved roads.

Posted on

On the STi, Evo and ‘Godzilla’ battle, the jury is still out

Hi Baraza,
I have been arguing with my friends over which would be the winner in a battle involving the Subaru ST-i, the Mistubishi Evo VIII and ‘Godzilla’ (the Nissan GT-R R34).

I believe in the Evo due to its superior handling capabilities while the others go with the ST-i due to its superior acceleration.

Now, I’m not that well versed with the GTR, but from what I’ve read in this column, it seems that Nissan is a miracle of Asian engineering. So would you kindly set the record straight; when Jeremy Clarkson featured the cars, there was no straightforward answer.

And, on another note, was the M-class series of Mercedes a failure?

There has been no clear winner between the Evo and the ST-i. Personally, I swing the Evo way. The two cars are fundamentally the same, but there are differences.

The Impreza, through its numerous iterations, used mechanical differentials whereas the Evo applied a variety of electronic gizmos (AWC, AYC, etc) to switch torque back, forth, left and right.

The result is that the ST-i was harder to turn and had a tendency to understeer. and unprofessional suspension tuning usually made the understeer worse.

The Evo, on the other hand, handled sharply, turned better and carried more speed into and through corners, besides having a slightly higher corner exit velocity. It lost out (ever so slightly) to the ST-i in straight line speed.

ST-i pundits will yak about the near-perfect balance (owing to the boxer engine forming a straight line with the transmission and final drives through the centre of the car), against the Evo’s transversely laid in-line engine. Ignore them.

The R34 allegedly made 280 hp in factory spec, but since it developed more torque and carried that torque to higher revs than the R33, car reviewers suspected that the output was more like 320 hp, which was in direct contravention of a now-defunct gentleman’s agreement in Japan that all Japanese domestic market manufacturers will not build cars with a power output greater than 280hp.

I wonder why none of those reviewers never put Godzilla on a dyno to find out.

The GT-R’s magic comes from the ATTESA 4WD system that makes it turn at unbelievable speed. The vehicle enjoyed spectacular success in many racing series, particularly the JGTC, prompting race organisers to repeatedly make rules disfavouring the R34, if only to create a bit of competition and variety on the podium.

Its biggest disadvantage is weight, tipping the scales at close to 1,800 kg against the 1.5 tons of the two four-door saloons.

About the M-Class, the first generation was not exactly a sales failure, but it was a low point in Daimler’s history. They learnt never to design and build a car in America again, because it would come out American, which has never been a good thing.

Hi,

I’m really interested in cars and currently drive a Nissan B15 to school. I would like to know why you, in a way, hate on it because so far its okay for me.

It is not so much hate as disregard. Reliability issues, especially concerning suspension components and the fact that it ages disgracefully, has put the car off in my books. But take good care of it and it should return the love. Treat it the way some Nyeri women treat their hubbies and it will be just as unkind to you.

JM,

I have noticed that almost all Japanese cars, even fairly new ones, are permanently topped with engine coolant — you pop into a petrol station (especially ladies) and the attendants quickly notice how low your coolant is and offer it for a fee. But is engine coolant a necessity?

A normal operating engine with a working cooling system is designed to automatically keep your engine cool at all times. If your engine is overheating, you don’t need the cooling stuff, you need to have your engine checked. Correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, you are partly wrong. Sometimes coolant leaks and needs topping up. Remember heat capacities in physics? A greater mass of liquid will absorb more heat (that is, require more energy to warm up) than a smaller mass? The more coolant you have, the longer the engine will stay without getting unduly warm.

The reddish (coloured) coolant is actually anti-freeze, stuff we do not really need here, unless you live in Nyahururu where it sometimes “snows”. Anti-freeze is made to have an extremely low melting point so that it will take temperatures far below zero to freeze over.

Coolant is water based, and, again, from physics, we know about the anomalous expansion of water, where between 0 and -4 degrees, ice actually expands rather than contracts with a drop in temperature, and this expansion can do a great deal of damage to the cooling system and engine block.

Anti-freeze added once in a while (after several top ups of water, how many is not important) is a good idea even here around the equator because it also contains cleaning and anti-corrosion agents, which will keep your cooling ducts/pipes and radiator clear of build-up and rust. Okay now?

Baraza,

You have mentioned on about two occasions the engine of a Honda car — can’t remember the specific make — and you heaped a lot of praise on it, especially in comparison to the Nissan X-trail and that class of engines. Please enlighten me on this.

Secondly, my understanding of turbo engines was about more power and same fuel consumption as a non-turbo car, but from your articles I gather that this is not the case and that turbo engines are “fragile”. True?

Actually, what I like about Honda engines is the V-TEC boffinry (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control).

It gives the engine a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: below 5,000 rpm, it is docile, quiet and “teetotal”, get beyond 5,000 rpm and it turns into a wild, manic, racer-like dipsomaniac and will keep revving all the way to 9,000 rpm for most Type R cars and 10,000 rpm for the Honda S2000 sports car. Heady stuff, this.

I also mentioned the two-stage CVCC cylinder heads pioneered by Soichiro’s engineers way back in 1975. These revolutionised emissions control and fuel economy so that Honda did not have to fit power-sapping catalytic converters to its cars (the tiny cartoon-like Civic at the time).

These heads were tried even in the huge, thirsty American V8 engines and the results were spectacular.

Lambda sensor technology has since rendered the CVCC heads unnecessary.

Turbo engines will burn a little more fuel because a lot more air is going into the engine, and to avoid burning a leaner mixture than 14.7-to-1, a bit more fuel has to be fed in.

But the power jump is astonishing and worth the effort, especially compared to tuning an NA engine to produce the same power without forced induction. The result is actually improved consumption, for the output.

These engines are not exactly fragile, but they don’t take abuse very well. Damaging the turbo (very easy with a little carelessness) is an expensive mistake. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions keenly and you will be fine.

Hi Baraza,
I would like to know what ‘cruise control’ is all about. Is it good to have a car with this feature?

Christopher

Cruise control is an electronic feature that allows a car to maintain a steady speed without the driver using the accelerator or the brake. If you want to cruise at 100 km/h, accelerate to 100, set the cruise control and let go of the throttle.

You can either disengage it manually, deactivate it by braking or accelerating, or adjust it upwards or downwards using buttons around the driver (mostly on the steering wheel). This is how it worked in the Jaguar XJ saloon I drove last year.

The problem is that the car will try to do 100 km/h EVERYWHERE, including uphill, so fuel consumption might not be to your liking. There are chances that it may also have a soporific effect on the driver, leading to reduced alertness and consequently, sleep-swerve-hoot-screech-crash-bang-wallop-blood-tears-hospital bills-funeral expenses.

Hi,

I would like some general advice regarding the small Maruti Omni. I want a small car to use in my small business and also as a family car, occasionally travelling upcountry without struggling with matatus. I don’t mind the image associated with the car.

Mulwa

So far, you seem to have it down pat, apart from two things:

1. Use as a family car: I’m sure you love your family, but toting them from A to B in a Maruti is a sure-fire way of ensuring you will not get any gifts from them come Father’s Day.

2. How occasionally is “occasionally”? Your upcountry base had better be no further than Machakos because, again, this is not a vehicle to spend too much time in. Ukambani in general is hot, and the lack of interior space or an air-con will be a heavy cross to bear in this pre-April rains heat. Especially with your family on board.

Hi JM,

Kindly offer me your advice on these two cars: a black Subaru Impreza (hatchback) and a silver Subaru Impreza (sedan), which one is a better buy when considering efficiency, spare parts and so on?

Both cars have 1.5-litre engines but the hatchback is a 2005 car while the sedan is a 2006 car. The last car I had was a Mitsubishi Cedia, which was just hell.

The gearbox collapsed after just two months and getting a replacement was like going to the moon!

Allan

I would go for the sedan, repaint it blue, add a stonking huge rear spoiler, body kit and gold rims and fit a noisy exhaust; then I would drive like I was about to die and only three-figure speeds could save my life. ST-i owners/drivers, do you read me?

The car to go for is entirely up to you, Allan. Do you want a sedan or a hatchback? A hatchback may offer more practicality in carrying luggage, but the sedan looks better. Mechanically, the two are the same.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a businessman based in Nairobi. I also double up as a farmer, so I’m a complete “off-roadholic”.

I am looking to buy a double cabin 4WD pick-up truck that will comfortably do my kids’ school runs, carry bags of fertiliser to my farm every now and then and on school holidays, comfortably handle the terrain in Maasai Mara during the long rains… if you get my drift.

I’m torn between the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara, the Isuzu D-MAX and the Ford Ranger. Please rate these cars for me in terms of consumption, build quality, durability, off-road handling, and cost and availability of spare parts.

Kevin

If you followed my articles last year, you may have noticed that, were it not for the outright weirdness of the act, I would buy a Navara as a Valentine’s gift. Luckily or unluckily, I don’t own a Navara. Yet.

Consumption: That same Navara is a bit worrisome; I suspect it either runs a higher boost pressure in the turbo or it has a small tank, either way, when pitted against a Ford Ranger, it emptied its tank quite fast.

I have driven the latest Hilux, two weeks ago in fact, but I did not get to empty its tank, nor did I empty the Ranger’s tank last year, so it is hard to say which of the two will give you a better range. Absolute consumption depends on the degree of madness within your right foot.

Build quality: The Navara. Its build quality is an exercise of near-Germanic obsession in terms of panel gap consistencies, solid feel and material science. Better than the other three.

Durability: I’d have to say it is a close call between Toyota and Ford, with my observations leaning towards the Ranger. Strange, yes, but the Ford seems like it is built out of rock — I have yet to see a weather-beaten example.

On the other hand, the Hilux pick-ups in use by large corporations and municipal councils don’t look too good after some time. The Navara also faces some complaints by users, some of whom complain that somebody somewhere cannot do a proper diagnosis. I don’t know how true this is.

Off-road handling: They should all do well, because more often than not, if the going gets military, the weakest link is usually found behind the wheel.

Cost: The Hilux is dearest and the D-MAX is cheapest. With the Ford, it depends on which spec you go for, but it varies within these two extremes. The Navara is second to Hilux in expensiveness.

Spares: These cars are all franchised, so DT Dobie for the Navara, GM for the D-MAX, Toyota Kenya for the Hilux and CMC for the Ranger. Costs of spares will depend on what these people tell you.

JM,

I would like to bring you back to your article in which you said that the Toyota Verossa is an ugly car. In my opinion, I think the principle applicable here is the same one used when judging the beauty of woman — beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

I agree with you that the car is ugly, but of late, it has been growing beautiful by the day, like a woman you might not find so beautiful on the first day but as you get to know her better, you start to notice her beauty.

To support my point, I will remind you of the Mercedes W210. When the car was first introduced to the market, there was an uproar from die-hard Mercedes fans (including me) who found the round lights peculiar.

However, with time, the car has grown on us and become more and more beautiful, I am sure you agree with that.

A woman will add weight if too thin, shed weight if too weighty, she will lose her pre-pubescent clumsiness as she matures, and life experiences will instill confidence in her and her eyes will acquire a worldliness that we find attractive whenever we gaze into them.

A car, on the other hand, embarks on a relentless downward free-fall the moment it leaves the showroom, shedding 30 per cent of its value at the door. It can only lose shape from that point onwards. Starting off ugly does not do it any favours; it won’t “mature”, or lose baby fat, or tone its muscles with a session at the gym.

This explains why the Verossa had the shortest life span of all Toyota cars ever, except, maybe, their Formula 1 car.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

—————–

Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

—————

Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

————–

Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

——————

Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

————–

Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

————–

Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

—————-

Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

————–

Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?