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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, to your questions:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Now to my questions:

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

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

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

Seriously?!

 

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

 

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

Evans

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Nick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beauty and the beast

Two news items caught my eye last week, both on Wednesday evening. One was a world-class event of grand proportions; an affair magnificent as it was expensive — making liberal use of a massive aircraft, a lot of fireworks, an R&B singer, a Formula 1 race driver, and talk of “massage” and “scents”.

It was not an orgy, though: safety regulations ban the use of fireworks in those, and anyway, I do not know much about orgies, I am just guessing. To cut a long story short, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class made its earthly debut and it comes as no surprise: the vehicle is just epic. There is no other word for it.

The other news event to hit my desk was about a car called an OX. It is meant to be built for Africa mostly, but the makers think other continents could be convinced to purchase the vehicle in small numbers. Very small numbers. The news item barely managed to avoid the words “if any”. I have been known to compare unlikely cars before, and today you be the judge of whether I am doing it again.

The 2014 S Class at a Glance

It looks elegant, as an S Class should, and it is packed full of impossible-to-believe technology, again as an S Class should. There are cameras that look at the road and decide what chassis settings are best suited for the prevailing driving conditions. In other words, this car can actually see you.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the gift of sight became standard in a road-going car, after speech. Coming soon to a Mercedes-Benz outlet near you: a car that can raise your children for you. “This sounds a little bit like Frankenstein, but it’s much more attractive,” Zetsche said. Zetsche is the guy behind the 2014 Sonderklasse. We live in a scary world.

The climate control system can waft “scents” into the car, so you do not really have to inhale regular smells like poorer people do in their cheaper cars with weaker air-conditioning systems. These scents are varied: there is Freeside, Nightlife, Downtown, and Sports, and these are deployed by an adjustable “active perfuming system” that sprays molecules from replaceable glass canisters.

The front seats offer a “hot stone” massage by means of 14 air chambers and six programmes. This is controlled via a smart phone, which also controls radio, TV, Internet, navigation, DVD, and USB devices. In movies I always see how relaxed women are (it is almost always women) when they get a stone massage. I am not sure I want to be that relaxed when behind the wheel of a car costing Sh8.3 million (starting price in the US), I could easily fall asleep or daydream.

I cannot dwell too much on the detailing because it will take forever, but I can gloss over some of the features. The car boasts 500 LED lamps, making it the first car ever not to sport a single incandescent light bulb. There is a heat-seeking, sorry, heat-sensing infra-red camera (called Night Assist) that identifies warm bodies and automatically switches the speedometer to a hi-res thermal view when triggered, more so if those warm bodies are likely to put a dent on your Sh8.3 million car. Active Lane Keeping Assist constantly monitors vehicles in the adjacent lane and prevents the driver from going into a head-on smash by applying the brakes on one side to centre the car.

This car watches other people too, not just you (stalker alert). Distronic Plus radar-based adaptive cruise control automatically maintains the car’s speed and position, even in gridlock. The Benz will steer itself through curves, allowing the driver to remove his/her hands from the wheel for up to 30 seconds at a time. Yikes!

The PRE SAFE system brakes the car automatically to avoid hitting people at town-bound speeds as well as using the front seat belts to pull driver and passenger away from impact in the opening moments of an accident. It will also quickly pulse the hazard lights to warn following traffic of looming rear-end “coming-togethers” and apply brakes and fire seat belt tensioners on rear impact to reduce whiplash. There is a Spotlight function, which directs a tracking beam on warm bodies beyond headlamp reach, but only after the cameras and algorithms determine the warm body is about to walk onto the road and get slammed.

The OX

This is no 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class. Not even a 2013. Or a 1970. Anything whose selling point is “built for Africa” cannot be. For one, it is a commercial vehicle. It looks like one of those miniature Bedford street sweeper lorries used by the Nairobi City Council.

The driver sits in the middle, “like a McLaren F1”, a petrolhead would say, but also “like a tuk-tuk”, as anyone who has seen pictures of this car would easily identify. This eliminates the need to “adapt” the vehicle to a particular market as, more than a century after the invention of the automobile, the world still does not agree on who is getting it wrong during the steering wheel placement stage at the assembly line (it cannot be the Germans getting it wrong: these people came up with the 2014 Mercedes S Class, for crying out loud).

Other than the motorbike-based driver location, the vehicle has interchangeable panels. There are no right wings or left wings or fenders. There are panels and there are doors. These go on either side of the vehicle provided the panels create a convincing passenger safety cell (the words “safety” and “cell” are being used loosely here, I must add) and the doors cover an aperture between the panels through which one can enter or exit the OX. The doors are to keep the weather out. The weather and/or marauding wildlife. Unlike the S Class, this car was not built for the autobahn (German expressway). It is more at home in rugged terrain, where encountering wildlife is a bit more likely than on the autobahn.

Rugged terrain, eh? Says who? There is no 4WD option, only 2WD, and that drive goes to the front, which is also where the engine is. The back is an open bed — bed being a loose term here: let us just say the back is “available for carrying a variety of loads”.

The open back and the mechanically packed front end means that unladen, 73 per cent of the vehicle’s weight is over the front axle. With a full load, the vehicle is still nose-heavy with 53 per cent of the weight pressing down the front. Did somebody say “weight distribution”? I thought not. Brake hard at your own risk when thrashing one of these on the autobahn…

This car, however, has a selling point that the S Class cannot touch. It can be assembled by only three people using “normal tools and skills” (whatever these are) and in fewer hours than it takes to sleep off a bad hangover. Also, for those of you who love importing cars, a regular 40-ft container can bear six OXes (it is not OXEN, as I originally thought), mostly because it will be exported as a CKD. Our local revenue authority would have a field day with this if it ever came here.

The Launch of the 2014 S Class

There was an Airbus A380. This is the massive aircraft that bore the 2014 S Class aloft to the scene of the launch. There was R&B artiste: Alicia Keys, who (probably) sang about the hot stone massage in the back seats. Or sang about the 450hp 4.7 litre V8 engine in the Benz (but obviously did not ask why the car is called S550 instead of S470, as tradition over the past many years has been that the naming is based on the engine capacity).

There was Niki Lauda, a not-very-famous F1 driver, who discussed the upcoming S65 AMG super-saloon with 621hp. There were some fireworks… so spectacular was the show that the 2014 S Class had to be escorted off the plane by a Formula 1 safety car (Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG) and a phalanx of other white Mercs, none of which were the 2014 S Class. The accompanying press release is 120 pages long. I dare anyone to read the entire manuscript.

What about The OX?

The OX underwent no such frippery. It packs a 2.2 litre non-AMG (non-Mercedes actually) diesel engine and it has the capability to wade through 30 inches of water. Clearly these characteristics are not as exciting as quoting “621hp from a twin-turbo V12”. There was no wading at its launch because there simply was no launch. The owner/ manufacturer says he still needs Sh3.8 billion for production to kick off. This is after spending exactly one third of that amount to develop the vehicle. I am not sure we want it here. For one, we have enough cheap commercial vehicles that can carry 13 people.

Significance

The Sonderklasse Benz has always been the car to look at whenever one wants to know the technology poor people will get in their cars 50 years into the future. The car almost drives itself, remember? Also, future cars will all be hybrid: Mercedes made quite some noise about their diesel hybrid for this model. Maybe that is what Alicia Keys was singing about.

Another thing: has the world of automotive engineering peaked? Are chassis engineers out of ideas? Impressive as the 2014 car is, there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not this is a whole new car. The two use the same platform: it is just that the current car lost the silly fender flares of the outgoing one, has a bigger grille, and now offers ambient “scents”… among other things.

The OX? It looks a bit like a too-late-to-the-party pipe dream. We already have Bajaj, TATA, and Mahindra. It is just too basic. It is no secret that Africa is the dumping ground for used/reconditioned vehicles from the developed world. Given the variety out there, this is the one time I will confess: I would rather go for a used import with AC and airbags instead of shelling out my hard-earned for a metal box with interchangeable panels. It might sell in Eastern Europe though… they seem to have a thing for this kind of contraption. And there is the likelihood that it might not see production beyond the prototype phase.

Judgment Day

So, of the two, which is best? Depends. The S Class cannot carry 13 people or lug around eight 44-gallon drums or four pallets (whatever “pallets” are). It will cost as much as an entire office building in downtown Nairobi, and the fact that this car can actually see my feet is unnerving.

Also, as a car buff, the thought of gathering two very idle friends and spending 11.5 hours putting together a motorised OX-cart (pun intended) sounds like a good weekend plan. Nobody will ever ask you to assemble an S Class by yourself, not even with two very clever friends. Also, the OX is cheaper. It might cost the same as a real ox or two.

But what would you rather be in? You will not assemble an S Class, but you will be assembling your dreams and ambitions around owning one, even though the likelihood of ownership ranks close to that of meeting wildlife on the autobahn. Or even seeing the autobahn in the first place. The S Klasse, as the Teutons call it, was, is, and (with the current model) will continue to be the benchmark for all cars, and I do mean all. The car is simply epic. I can confidently say it will outsell the OX by a wide margin, if the OX ever sees production. Watch this space.