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Evos, STis, Q7s, and why a smaller engine is not always economical

Hi Baraza,

I have a number of questions, but before I begin you must agree that Subarus are miles ahead of Mitsubishis.

Look at this tyranny of machines: Subaru WRS STi may be outdone by the Evo, but the Forester will outdo the Outlander and the Airtrek. So, who is the winner in the ‘majority race’?

Now, to my questions:

 The other day I got a chance to be in a Volkswagen Golf GTI ABT. What fascinated me the most was the top speed, which, if my eyes did not deceive me, is a sweet 300km/h.  What does ABT mean, and what makes it better than a Volkwagen which has none?

 Between the BMW X6 and the Audi Q7, which is the best in terms of fuel consumption, stability at high speeds and resale value?

 When does a car consume more? When on high or low speeds? I asked someone who owns a Subaru Legacy B4 and he told me that at high speeds, he can make 10km/l but  in traffic jams, he can end up with a painful 7km/l.

 Finally, anybody who owns a Toyota Sienta as a family car must HATE his or her family. Sitting in the  far-rear seats feels like sitting in a pan.  No window, no nothing.

PS: I salute those guys who have dared bring the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini to Kenya. Kindly send me a contact if you know any of them ‘cos I really need a lift in one of those machines. I wonder why nobody has given us the Nissan GTR.

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

If you want to discuss who wins the ‘majority race’ between Subaru and Mitsubishi, I’d like you to first point out a Subaru lorry, a Subaru bus, a Subaru van, a Subaru pick-up and a Subaru SUV. No, the Tribeca is not an SUV because it won’t go off-road, so try again.

Also, point out a Subaru television — yes, Mitsubishi builds electronics too, such as TVs on which you can watch Subarus losing to Mitsubishis.

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

The actual battle lies between the WRX STi and the Lancer Evolution. Leave the rest out of the argument for the time being. That said, I may bash on the little STi every now and then, but I believe I have mentioned here more than once that I might be a sucker for the Forester STi.

That may be the only Subaru I’d actively seek to buy: if I was to buy any other, it would be for lack of choice and/or desperation; which is the same thing really.

I know the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s speedometer has 300 scrawled on the exciting side of the scale, but it won’t do 300 — at least not without some major modifications to the engine.

This brings us neatly to the ABT you inquire about: ABT is not a spec level for the Golf; it is a tuning house that fettles German cars. What they do is take a boring briefcase, which is what most German saloon cars look like; then convert this briefcase into a fire-breathing chariot capable of moving at speeds normal people should not be moving at.

One of my neighbours has a Passat sedan with an ABT touch-up. It still looks like a briefcase, but one with bigger tyres and a Roman candle under the bonnet.

On the BMW X6 vs Audi Q7, both are rubbish. Depending on which engine you have opted for, both will guzzle. At least with the X6 you have the option of the X6 xDrive30d, which has a detuned 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that can still move the car respectably fast if you so wish and return fair economy figures.

The Q7 comes with a large petrol engine that burns fuel at Arab-pleasing rates, or with a puny diesel engine that needs thrashing to eke out any semblance of motion out of it, so it will still send your money to the Middle East either way.

High speed stability is not bad in either car, but then these are big and heavy vehicles, maybe “high speeds” are not what you should be aiming for in them.

Also, at high speed the fuel evaporates in ways that make the stock price graphs in the Arabian financial index blink green and shoot skywards. Resale value? It will not be so great once the general public reads this.

A car consumes a lot of fuel at speeds below, say, 40-50km/h, consumes the least fuel at speeds between 80km/h and 120km/h, then the consumption goes up again from 120km/h onwards.

At 200km/h, it burns quite a lot of fuel. At 220km/h, it eats fuel in huge lumps. At 250km/h, the Arabs will send you t-shirts and Christmas cards.

There are a lot of caveats involved here though; the biggest ones surrounding engine size, transmission type and traffic conditions. Bigger engines are more economical at slightly higher speeds: for example, the Lamborghini you gush about later in your message is better off at 120 than it is at 80.

Smaller engines thrive at “non-motorised” pace: a 600cc Kei car is better at 70-80km/h than it would be at 120km/h.

Automatic transmissions may not allow short-shifting unless equipped with a manual override or has numerous ratios like the Range Rover’s 9-speed. So at low speed, it will likely be at a very low gear, possibly first or second, which is exactly when Shell and BP start awarding bonuses to employees. You may be better off maintaining 100km/h, give or take 15km/h.

Traffic conditions are fairly obvious: an open road is far better than a clogged one. Stop-start driving triples your fuel consumption as compared to steady-state driving.

These factors may apply in a variety of permutations, along with other variables such as vehicle weight, aerodynamic profile, right-foot flexibility, mechanical condition, and fuel quality, to prove one point I have been saying all along: fuel economy is not an exact science.

This is also why I nowadays refrain from quoting definite consumption figures for readers, because there is no telling what particular Arab-centric circumstances may be at play in a particular driving situation.

I have had people who revert like this: You said you did 25km/l in your stupid Mazda. Why can’t I achieve the same result? That is a difficult question to answer.

Interesting feedback on the Sienta. I will be careful not to get into the back seat of one. If Toyota reads this, then good for them. They will hopefully now install a window at the back of this car.

I may have the contact details of the chap in the green Lamborghini, but sadly for you I will not share them. That is proprietary information to begin with; and anyway, I want to get a lift from him too. The fewer of us lift-begging lowlifes there are banging at his door, the higher the chances of one of us actually getting to sit in that car.

In the course of looking for the man, do look around you in traffic. There are Nissan GTRs around; quite a number, in fact. I’d say there are more GTRs around than there are Lamborghinis. And yes, I have the contact details of some of the GTR owners; and no, I will not be sharing those either.

_______

Greetings Baraza,

I bought a 1993 Toyota Starlet EP82 from my employer after she endured all manner of abuse from five different drivers for seven years.

She has done Mombasa, Loitokitok, Nyahururu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru, and Kisumu countless times.

She was also once hit from behind by a Mercedes in control of a drunken guy, but the little lady flew and perched herself atop a fence, with her rear wheels stuck to the body.

Her engine still holds and is strong. With four full grown men cramped inside her as she purrs uphill, she overtakes boys like Fielders, Airwaves, and Pajeros like a joke. I bought her because of the price, the fuel consumption and her power.

Recently, however, she started smoking in the morning like crazy! Grey and heavy smoke. She does this in front of other ladies who park overnight next to her, like Vitzs, Honda Fits and Duets, and she is the least remorseful.

Our parking lot slants 40 degrees, and yesterday I let her rest with her nostrils facing downhill towards the fence. I think she wasn’t happy; to get out, you have to reverse, look for space to turn and head to the gate at the top of the hill.

She embarrassed me so badly with her smoking that I needed full lights to see. I could even hear the other ladies nearby (Vitzs, Fits and Duets) choking.

At speeds of 80kph on Thika Road, if I sneak a peak on the rear view mirror I can see her smoking behind my back.

One mechanic told me to do an engine overhaul, another one said I change piston rings, another that I should replace the entire engine, and yet another that my lady is drinking oil, even though I religiously service her on due dates.

Please help save this relationship because, since I don’t smoke myself, I can’t live with her like this, not matter how much I love her.

Finally, I recently drove an Allion, 1800cc, dual VVTi to Loitokitok and back to Nairobi. It was amazing because, on average, he did 23km/l. The Starlet returns 16km/l on the same journey with the same shopping and passengers, yet I thought a bigger engine consumes more. Some of us fear big engines (by big I mean anything beyond 1,490cc).

Godfrey

 

Godfrey, I also once had an EP82 that gave me trouble-free operation until some idiot tampered with the wiring harness linking to the ECU and from there it was one problem after the other: stalling, poor consumption, lack of power… all this against the backdrop of an intermittent now-on-now-off ‘Check Engine’ light.

It was eventually sorted though, and shortly afterwards, the car found a new owner.

I’d like you to fit four grown men in that Starlet then challenge me to a hill-climb drive-off we see if what you say is true. I’ll bring a Pajero, possibly one with a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (I believe you listed a Pajero as one of your victims), and I’ll be alone in it.

Any readers out there who want to place bets on who reaches the mountain-top first are free to do so, but we split the winnings 50-50. Care to indulge?

Anyway, the smoke: the heavy grey vapours indicate either a blown head gasket (ruptured or cracked), which is letting water into the cylinder; water which is then burnt off as steam; or the vehicle may be burning ATF (automatic transmission fluid), if the vehicle is automatic.

Another cause could be oil and water mixing: either water is getting into the oil and the oil gets burnt, or oil leaks into the coolant, and the coolant in turn is leaking into the cylinders. Either way, that engine needs to be taken apart.

Now, that Allion. First off, it has VVT-i, which the Starlet lacks. That’s a plus.

Then there is the small matter of highway driving. You see, at highway speeds, bigger engines return better economy. It doesn’t apply across the board, I mean, a Bugatti Veyron is not the most economical car at highway speeds, but for motor vehicle engines between, say, 800cc and 2,000cc, at 120km/h the 2.0 litre will be most economical.

Why? Because it requires little effort to attain and maintain that speed. It will definitely have taller gearing, so 120km/h will correspond to roughly 3,000rpm in top gear.

Smaller cars will be revving higher and longer, therefore burning more fuel. The Allion is also more aerodynamic than the little hatch, it has a very pointy nose: so it encounters less resistance at those highway speeds. Less resistance means less engine effort to cut through the air.

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Better choice: Toyota Wish or Nissan X trail?

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column on DN2 every Wednesday.

I intend to get my first car — a used car — and your expert advise will help inform my decision.

I’m considering either a Toyota Wish, 1800cc, Year 2004 or Nissan X-trail. 2000cc, Year 2003.

The reason am looking at Toyota Wish is it’s sitting capacity for seven passengers and therefore ideal for family outings while the X-Trail offers me off-road capabilities whenever needed.

The car will be 80 per cent town drives and 20 per cent off-road adventures. Other than differences in off-road handling capabilities, please advise on differences in:

(a) Fuel efficiency and consumption Km/l.

(b) Maintenance costs  — I have very lean maintenance budget especially on parts.

(c) Reliability

(d) Ease in handling, stability, comfort and speed.

Looking forward to your kind response.

Mukaria.

a) The Wish is generally more economical than the X-Trail but the absolute figures will depend on how and where you drive, and how often you carry seven people in the car. Expect anything between 7km/l and 15km/l for both.

b) A “lean maintenance budget” is not going to do you any favours in light of the fact that you are buying a used car that has already seen thousands of kilometers of service in another person’s hands. Breakdowns WILL happen, and a lean maintenance budget might not be sufficient to keep the car in good working condition.

A particular sore point is the X-Trail’s automatic transmission that fails with alarming certainty; replacing it will be an exercise in six-figure expenditure.

c) Reliability: see b) above. You are buying a used car. Its reliability will depend on how well the previous owners maintained it. Again, that being said, the X-Trail is more of a garage queen compared to the Wish.

d) Handling, stability, comfort and speed: don’t expect anything like an Evo in terms of handling, stability and speed. Both cars will reach 180km/h before the electronic nanny interferes, and both cars will crash spectacularly if you try cornering in them at that speed.

Comfort: the X-Trail has more room inside and a bigger glass-house, so it is generally a better place to be in. A Wish seven-deep with humanity is like a school bus.

Hi Baraza,
There is something you didn’t address comprehensively on January 3.

It had to do with fuel gauge (level) light going on before and after refuelling. I noted the same anomaly recently where the light came on and I refilled with 4.55 litres of fuel two kilometres on.

However, I noted the light came on again after driving for about 15km.

Could the vehicle have spent the 4.55 litres to do 17 kilometres whereas it does 10km/l-11km/l?

The road gradient was not significantly different so as to affect the fuel ‘positioning’ inside the tank.      

L. Magambo.

There is one thing you need to understand here, and that is the internal design of a fuel tank. It is not just an empty can with a hole at one end for filling it and another at the other end for emptying it.

There are baffles inside it.

These baffles are like small walls; ramparts if you will, and their main function is to still the fluid and prevent it from splashing about in the tank.

The splashing about may cause bubbles which, when fed into the fuel lines, will cause vapour lock which in turn cause stalling and sometimes may lead to injector damage.

The splashing about may also cause fuel starvation: this is a common problem in sports cars with high performance capabilities, such as an Impreza STi or a Nissan GTR: the lateral G when cornering, or longitudinal G when accelerating hard/braking forces the fuel to one side/wall of the tank and if it so happens that the fuel is forced away from the outlet/fuel pump, then fuel starvation occurs and the car goes off.

Much as they are prevalent in performance cars, you do not need a high-strung race car to experience these problems. They can also be faced in lesser vehicles, hence the baffled tank design being universal. These baffles have another effect, though:
They form little “pockets” of fuel when running low and this is where gauge accuracy is slightly lost.

The sensor is a rheostat attached to float device which is in turn attached to the tank wall.

When refilling, small amounts of fuel such as four and a half litres may not be spread out evenly through those “pockets”. Depending on the splash patter when refilling, shape of the fuel tank and size/severity of the tank baffles, the fuel gauge may lose accuracy by quite a margin.
It may show a considerable jump in fuel level, or it may show none at all. It is not 100 per cent accurate, and this is why you will never come across a highly calibrated fuel gauge indicating exactly how many litres of fuel there are in the tank.
Some cars may have the fancy gadgetry telling you how many kilometers of driving you have left with the fuel at hand but none of them is ever dead right, it is always pessimistic so that when it finally reads zero, you are still in motion and your hopes get lifted.
So, no, your car does not do 4km/l. To get an accurate reading, fill the tank up to the brim (automatic cut-off point for the fuel hose), take note of your odometer reading then drive around a little. It doesn’t matter how far you go, but the further you drive, the more accurate the outcome.
Preferably, keep going until when almost empty, then fuel up; again brimming the tank. Take note of the number of litres that will go into the tank before cut-off.

Take note of the new odometer reading. Your very accurate fuel economy figure will be (Odo’ reading 2 – odo’ reading 1) divide by the number of litres taken it at the second fuel stop.

Hi Baraza,
I was happy to bump into you at Kiamburing TT. Do tell, where and when is the next one? I drive a 2.0  D4 ZT Caldina, full time  4 wheel drive.

It has excellent leg room and a spacious boot and it’s  performance on slippery/muddy areas is quite good.

However, I am a speed maniac and the car regularly disappoints me in this area. When driving against the VW Passat, ‘government model’ (for lack of better term) and the sleek Mark X, I noticed they pick up much faster than my car.

Now, I am thinking of trading my Caldina later in the year with either of the above but please compare and contrast the two (Mark X and VW Passat) in terms of comfort and performance both on highway and off-road. Reliability and durability as well as ability to drive in a  semi-muddy area.
Do they have front wheel drive version or even 4-wheel version and if so, which models? What of the ability to pick up/accelerate to speeds of 180km/h?
And finally, Does any of them have a semi-automatic (tiptronic) gearbox.
Simon.

I’m glad I made your day. The next Kiamburing is still in the pipeline and dates are tentative but we are looking at end of April. This is owing to a busy motorsports calendar this year and seeing how a large number of the people involved have overlapping duties across discrete events, we thought it best if each race had its own date.

This also allows for fans to maximise on their indulgence and not have to be forced to choose between one event and another should they happen to fall on the same date.
Onto your question, The Mark X is a beast. I have been running around in one in the recent past and the way it pulls on a wide open throttle beggars belief for a car that heavy and that laid back.

Perhaps it should have been born as some form of semi-F Sport Lexus than a run-of-the-mill Toyota.
You may have to specify which particular model of VW Passat you had in mind, because there are quite a number of iterations with drivetrain variations and engine variations.

I’m guessing you got monstered by a 2.0 litre turbo.
The two cars are broadly similar in comfort and performance (though performance will be heavily dependent on what engine the Passat has) but the bias is towards the Mark X.

That car really goes like a bat out of hell, relatively. Comfort may favour the Passat a little: I found the Mark X’s driver area feeling cramped — it’s not actually cramped, it just feels like it, and the electric seat adjustment takes a while to shuttle back and forth on its rails.
Reliability: Toyota. ‘Nuff said
Spec Levels: Passat. It can be had in a myriad of flavours with choices of engines, transmissions, drivetrains, colors, body styles (Passat CC, anyone? Estate, maybe?) and sub-models.

For more details on these, please visit the internet.
Tiptronic transmission: both are available with Tiptronic-style manual overrides on automatic transmissions. In the Passat, it is an option, in the Mark X it is standard.

Dear Baraza,
I imported a Range Rover Sport 2007, with a diesel engine from the UK some six months ago and it experienced total engine failure within four months.

I have since heard of a few other cases with the same make of car.
I was informed that it has something to do with the diesel fuel available in Kenya. How true is this? 
Robert Omwando

At the risk of drawing the ire of the British/Indians, I will say this is more of a Range Rover problem than a Kenyan problem.
That being said, whenever you buy a second hand car, especially one as expensive as a Range Rover Sport, details like FSH are very important. FSH is Full Service History.

Range Rovers are not the most reliable cars out there, but their unreliability can be partially circumvented.

One can delay the inevitable through good care and proper maintenance.
Diesel-powered Range Rovers are not any worse than their petrol-swilling stable-mates, if anything; a diesel Range Rover is the thinking man’s option.

The right engine will still run with the petrol version and return economy and environmental friendliness.
There are many diesel-powered Range Rovers still running on our roads. The word here is “maintenance”.

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If you have driven the J90 Prado, you have set the bar quite high

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a great job to demystify cars for us, lay people. I’m in a bit of a quandary; I have been driving a superb, go-anywhere-anytime Toyota Prado with an indestructible 1KZ power plant.

In the seven years I have driven “the beast”, it has never let me down! Unfortunately, with 250,000km on the clock, the beast is showing signs of old age and I feel it’s time for an upgrade.

I’m torn between upgrading within the Prado family to a 2007 to 2009 model with the D4D power plant, getting a Land Rover Discovery 3, or a 2009 to 2010 Mitsubishi Pajero.

I’m a simple guy, and here’s what I’m looking for in a car:

  1. It’s got to be able to haul the clan there and back, so the third row of seats is non-negotiable.
  2. It must be capable of, and always be ready to, tackle some serious off-road for those days when the heart fancies that impromptu run to the Mara, or shamba-searching in the back of beyond.
  3. I’m not too sure what kind of economy and/or service the propellant options give but I’ve always been partial to diesel, perhaps because old-faithful gives good testimony to the “dirty” fuel. It’s consumed the sludge we have here masquerading as diesel with nary a complaint all these years.
  4. Being your typical Kenyan, I also have an eye on resale value (the beast, as an example, has actually appreciated in shilling value these many years later!).

I’ve heard diverse things said about the three cars I’m considering, ranging from “unreliable” regarding the D4D, “cancerous” regarding the Disco, to “lazy” regarding the Mitsu! I’d really appreciate your wise counsel as I fumble through this decision-making maze.

PS: I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll miss the beast. Sob, sob!

Robert Macharia

Hello Bwana Macharia,

This might sound like marketing parlance, but it isn’t. Now, if something ain’t broken, don’t fix it. The 1KZ-equipped (I presume J90) Prado is unstoppable, I know, and so is the J120.

The car ticks all the above boxes convincingly, whereas numbers 3 and 4 might prove to be problematic for the other two in one way or another.

Over and above that, as a follower of this column, you must by now know that the Discovery 3 is like a holiday romance: achingly beautiful, impeccable first impression, does everything right and causes a stirring in the soul — the kind of stirring not entirely dissimilar to raw desire.

But, like a holiday romance, it only works in the interim; get into a long-term relationship and the dark side of the moon unveils itself and that achingly beautiful shell becomes nothing but a fancy frock for a fickle filly, the character does not match the looks, or the implications thereof.

They are horrendously expensive to maintain and, in the long run, they might end up causing more pain than satisfying a seven-year itch… just like a holiday romance. Careful who you hook up with this Christmas, bro!

Where the Discovery is unreliable, the Pajero is weak; and not just under the bonnet. The frame, too, is not exactly what you’d call Hercules-class.

Structural rigidity is below par to the point where extended off-road use twists the chassis. A close friend who works in a government ministry says he has been through two or three of these cars and all suffered the same problem: the shell cracked and started splitting along the B-pillar.

***********

Hello Baraza,

My childhood dream was to drive a Land Rover in the muddy, red soil of Murang’a, thanks to the inspiration I got from seeing our local priest roaring through the village in one. As altar boys, we enjoyed the ride, especially during the rainy season.

What is your take on buying a Land Rover Defender for town driving and travel to the rural areas, as well as the occasional adventure? And which alternative is comparable to the Defender?

Hello,
Don’t buy a Defender for town driving. The ride is extremely hard and punishing to the human frame, which might explain why the policemen you encounter at night are always in a bad mood.

The seats, too, are hard. You might need it for adventure, though, such as the upcoming Great Run 6, because the Defender is damn near unbeatable when it comes to extreme off-road driving.

The Defender’s direct rival is the 70 Series Toyota Landcruiser. Both are available in the exact same permutations: 3-door estate, 5-door estate, single-cab pick-up, double cab pick-up and the extended-chassis tourist vans. Both are very uncomfortable, which might explain why those policemen are still in a bad mood even after switching from Land Rovers to Landcruisers.

However, the 70 Series is a little less jarring than the Defender. Both share the same iconic, never-gets-old, designed-using-a-ruler-only breeze-block, aerodynamically unsound square shape, and both have elementary interiors and rudimentary drivetrains.

The Land Rover carries the advantage slightly, in that the latest version contains contemporary electro-trickery such as ABS, EBD, traction control and such. The Toyota is still the same car that was on sale 20 years ago. The Defender is also available with a wider range of engines, starting with an ultra-modern, super-smooth and economical 2.2 litre turbodiesel all the way to a huge, stonking 4.4 litre petrol V8. The Toyota, for this market, can only be had with straight-6 engines: a 4.2 litre diesel (no turbo) or a 4.5 litre petrol.

One other option is the Russian UAZ jeep, but no, you wouldn’t want that. It is crude to the point of being absurd: interior lighting is by the kind of onion bulb people had in their houses back when the 70 Series was new (30 years ago). It is an unfathomably hostile environment to sit in for longer than two minutes and the massive panel gaps mean one can almost enter the vehicle without opening the doors. It is that bad. I don’t know if they are still on sale locally.

*************

Dear Baraza

In one of you previous articles you mentioned why it would not be advisable to buy a VW Touareg diesel since Kenyan fuel has its challenges.

I am a Kenyan living in the UK and in a year or two I will ship a car home. Does this diesel challenge apply to all VW models like the Tiguan, Passat, and Jetta?

I am asking this because of the European love for diesel cars. You will notice most of the larger VWs are currently diesel and the proportion using petrol is relatively small. Does this mean I change the brand, or is the diesel problem unique to the Touareg? I await your feedback with bated breath.
ML

Hello ML,

Play it safe and stick to petrol engines whenever you come around.

***********

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your great work. You won’t believe how many Wednesday Daily Nations I have bought since I “discovered” you. Here are my questions:
Suppose I want to get an automatic Subaru Forester, years 2000 to 2002:

  1. What are some of the red flags to look out for?
  2. Do you think I can find a reliable one from those years?
  3. On average (I know these things fluctuate a lot), how much do you think I need to service the car every year?
  4. How significant a factor is mileage when buying a used car?
  5. Anything else you think I should know?

Andy

Hello Andy,

  1. Watch out for a Check Engine light; this could be a symptom of failed oxygen sensors and was a problem endemic to the first-generation Foresters. Also, make sure that the automatic transmission works right: no jerking, hill-holding, quick, decisive gear changes and such. If you get a turbocharged version, look out for signs of abuse, especially with the tyres, brakes, suspension and transmission. Also, make sure the turbo is boosting properly.
  2. Yes you can, but you will need to search really hard. There are a few good examples circulating, but not for long.
  3. It’s hard to tell, what with the various consumables covering a wide range of prices (and quality). For a minor service, Sh10,000 should see you through per session.
  4. A big one. A very big one. The more miles covered, the more likely the car is nearer its deathbed and the higher the odds of making major (read costly) systems replacements.
  5. Not really. Look for an article I wrote back in 2010 about how to buy a used car. It is very informative.**************

Hello Baraza,

Great stuff you do, and quite informative. I’m about to purchase an executive saloon car and I am debating between a 2005, 2,400cc Mercedes Benz W211, and a 2005, 2,500cc BMW E39. Which would you go for, objectively, were you the one buying?

Is it true the BMW has more issues than the Benzo and costs an arm and a leg to sort out? What are the drawbacks of a panoromic roof? Please touch on electronic issues, handling, safety, performance and, mostly, reliability.

JM Bob.

Hello “JM Bob”

Of the two, I’d go for the E39. It is quite a looker; I think it is one of the most handsome of all BMW cars to date. It handles superbly, far better than the Merc, and of course there is the matter of having 100 extra cc.

It is not cast in stone that the BMW has more issues than the Benz; get a well-maintained example and regrets will be few and far between. Of course, it will cost an arm and a leg to sort out “more issues” (where they exist); after all, this is a premium German marque and the car in question is not only one of their best sellers, but also the most scrutinised.

It has to be built with the best engineering and materials in mind. Putting this engineering and the materials right when it all goes south will cost you, naturally.

I doubt if a panoramic roof has any drawbacks apart from inflating the asking price as a selectable option.

Electronic issues: a few isolated cases with interior lighting is about as far as these go with the BMW. The Merc’s electronic issues are a bit more extensive, stretching to ignition, central locking/plipper, electric windows and the starter.

Handling: both will handle nicely, but the BMW is just that much sharper, responds better and will get slidey around the rear on demand. It also gives better driver feel and feedback compared to the Mercedes.

Performance: With its superior handling, better response, lighter body and 100 extra cc, the BMW, of course, rules.
Reliability: I think I answered that earlier.

************

Hello Baraza,

I read your article on a revitalising gel and could not help wondering how you bring Jesus into this. Anyway, I am eagerly waiting for the outcome of your research. Now, I have a car that I mostly drive around the city on weekends.

During the week, I park it in the sun. So my question is, can this practice have a negative effect, given that I consider it a way of preserving the car and prolonging its life. It’s a 98 Impreza hatchback.

Roben

Hello Roben,

The story on the revitalising gel was an analogy and had nothing to do with religion or faith. It was used to stress a point. No offence was intended and I hope none was taken. Speaking of research, I have dipped my foot into the water and acquired the XADO paste… comes in a small tube with, of all things, a SYRINGE! It makes me look like some mad scientist about to inject something organic in a movie. Anyway, once it goes into my gearbox, there will be reports at 500km and 1,000km.

There is nothing really wrong with parking your car through the week then driving it on weekends, a lot of people do that (including yours truly).

However, parking it under direct sunlight could raise some issues: there is the risk of the paint fading, especially if the lacquer is thin or scraped off (that is why it is always a good idea to polish/wax your car every now and then); some components might deteriorate, depending on their quality: glass gets stained, dashboards cracking under the extreme heat, rubber seals peeling or crumbling away, etc.

These problems were more pronounced in older cars, but modern cars are a lot more tolerant. Park in the shade, or get a car cover if you can.

Posted on

Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).

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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Hello,
Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.

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Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).

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Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?

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Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

Posted on

The Merc 180’s main problem is the battery and wiper motor

I recently bought a ’99 Mercedes Benz C180 (? 202). Having driven other cars, namely, Toyota, Daihatsu Rocky and Honda, I must say this car is a different thing all together.

The engine delivers real power effortlessly, the handling is very smooth and the fear of excessive consumption, I discovered, is unfounded because its consumption is comparable to most Toyotas with engine capacities above 1500.

I think the Germans build their cars well. I would be glad if you could point out the troublesome areas with this car. So far, I can’t complain about this machine.

Christopher

Hello Chris,

The W202 (which I guess is what you meant by ?202), like other cars, does have a few problem areas, the first being electrical: wiper motors and indicators intermittently packing up, power seats sometimes malfunctioning and ECU failures. Other known issues include: faulty MAF sensors (this causes erratic acceleration) and automatic transmission problems (rough shifting of gears).

There was an issue with exploding batteries – instigated by gas emissions building up in the boot area and ignited when the owner opens the trunk lid while smoking/using his cell-phone, which causes the hydrogen gas to explode. Some vehicles were recalled while others were fixed under warranty.

A solution to this was for the owner/driver to check electrolyte levels regularly to prevent the gas buildup. To confirm whether your car was part of the recall, check your owner’s manual. There should be big stickers placed over the original battery maintenance information section.

Most of these issues (except for the battery and wiper motor problems) stem from isolated cases and will not necessarily happen to your car. They are just things to watch out for.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I read your column every Wednesday and cannot honestly imagine not having my copy of the Daily Nation on this particular day of the week. It is both informative and well researched.

I currently own  2004 and 2006 Toyota Vitz. Both cars have served me very well for the past year. They are mainly used for town running and are both very efficient. However, my concern is with the 2006 model (I will address the concerns of the 2004 model separately). It has a 1000cc engine, with 3 cylinders. I have noted that there is no dip stick for the gear box. Subsequent research informs me that these cars use long-life oil, capable of running for 100,000 km.

If this is the case, which is the correct oil to use? Over the years I have noted that Volkswagen Golf and Passat gearboxes have failed due to the use of wrong lubricants. Will I run into the same problem?

PS. I agree with you on fuel consumption of Subarus compared with other models. They are less efficient and more expensive to run as non-original parts do not work on these cars. I have experienced it and will share more on that later.Best regards.

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

Has your car covered the 100,000km yet? If yes, how far is it from the next 100,000km transmission service interval? Does it have FSH (full service history)? It should. Under that FSH, they should specify what transmission fluid was used, if flushing and replacement were done. If it has not been done yet, then it is about to be done, under your care.

Your car does have a service/maintenance handbook, doesn’t it? It should specify what transmission fluid should be used.

Whether or not your car will experience Volkswagen-type problems depends on how badly off the grade of transmission fluid is. For some cars, there is a huge tolerance built into the components, such as the gearbox, to allow for some errors of judgment such as in replacement or maintenance of transmission fluid levels.

For other cars, such as the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, the smallest mistake will lead to the acquisition of a whole new gearbox.

**********

Dear car doctor,

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed every article of yours that I have read, but since the upgrade to the new site, it been hard to get your articles http://www.nation.co.ke/ , unless you look at the site on a Thursday. Well, enough of the whining.

I recently bought a Subaru Forester 2006 cross sports, auto transmission, which I have come to love, but there is this button with a selection of three levels next to the gear shift marked   ECO, A/T and Hold, I don’t know what it does, so I would appreciate some help regarding when to use it, but when it’s on A/T the picking is excellent. Warm regards,

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

The ECO button initiates a gearbox setting that improves the fuel economy but at the expense of performance. The “Hold” button, I guess, makes the transmission shift up sooner and holds the higher gear while preventing downshifting unless absolutely necessary, but it still skips first gear.

It is ideal for snow and slippery conditions where the high torque of lower gears would just lead to wheel-spin and little or no forward movement. When used in D, the car takes off in second gear instead of first.

When position 3 is selected using the gear lever, the cars shuffles between gears 2 and 3 (takes off in second and quickly shifts into third). When 2 is selected, the vehicle uses only second gear, skipping first. It is claimed that HOLD also makes the transfer clutch in the centre differential lock up sooner and harder.

By inference, A/T would mean “All Terrain”, which would make the transmission automatically react to the grip conditions, depending on which wheel is spinning. It uses input from the traction control system.

You are right; the format of the new website makes it extremely difficult to locate my write-ups, unless you delve deep into the pages searching piece by piece. It is a bit frustrating to my online readers and you are not the first to complain about this.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I find your column informative and was amazed by what I read in the January 1, 2014 issue. One gentleman thanked God that he had not landed in a ditch despite doing 180 in his Nissan Wingroad.

Andrew claimed that the Prado is very stable even at 170 kph. Please advise the two gentlemen to stop doing these speeds on public roads. They pose great danger to other road users and themselves. Such risky manoeuvres are simply against the law.

Vincent

Gentlemen, you heard Nick. Maxing out your cars is not safe, and it is illegal… (I don’t know about Andrew’s case, though, since he says he is in Afghanistan, and the traffic laws there are unknown to me).

**********

Hi,

First things first. Your column inspires me a lot. My dream towards the end of this year is to own a Range Rover, manual transmission, from around year 1990 to around 2000, with 3.9 V8 engine or slightly above. The reason is that I am a —rrain is quite a challenge. Besides, I am a Rhino Charge enthusiast and like tough machines.

Second, I would like to look a bit formal walking in high offices pursuing tenders and the like without switching Machines.

Kindly enlighten me on this since I am an automobile novice if I am willing to spend between 1m

and 1.6m.I have googled one on OLX website: year 1990, mileage 139,000 kms, 4wd with a 3.9 V8 engine going for Sh1.250m but I thought it was a bit old and maybe I will have to make some costly replacements. Hope I can read your article online. Get me into class, please.

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

A bit ambitious, aren’t we? Your demands are quite specific, and not all of them can be met.

You cannot get a 3.9 litre V8 Range Rover any newer than 1992-spec. The 3.9 engine went out with the Classic in 1992, and was substituted by a bored-out 4.2 V8 until 1996 before being replaced as the range-topper (so to speak) by the 4.6-litre V8 in the P38.The P38 is also available with a 4.0 V8, which should be closest to what you are looking for, but again herein lies another impediment:

The P38 had a manual transmission available on only one spec level: the BMW-powered 2.5 litre DSE diesel. The V8s only have automatic transmissions.

This means the particular car you want cannot be any older than a 1990 model or any newer than 1996. That really narrows down the scope of availability, as these were the final years of manufacture for the Classic model. This means these are the units in best condition. Seeing how they are fast becoming collectors’ items, getting one in good condition for sale is a search for a Land Rover Holy Grail. The people who have them will not likely be selling them, cheaply or at all.

Should you come by one, expect the following: a stiff asking price, rust problems, poor handling and unavailability and/or costliness of parts. Owning a Range Rover is not for the weak of pocket.

**********

Dear Jim Baraza,

Hallo sir. I am recently married and I want to replace my ageing 2001 model Toyota Corona with a bigger, affordable 4x 4. I am a Toyota person due to the availability of spare parts so I was thinking of getting either a 2007 Toyota Harrier 2.4 litre or a 2007 year Toyota Kluger. I have little knowledge of the performance of either and I would greatly appreciate your input on the performance, problems and reliability of the 2007 Harrier and the 2007 Kluger.

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

Congratulations on your recent nuptials. My name is not Jim.

Performance: Depends on what engine the Kluger is packing. The 2.4 Harrier is a bit underwhelming, but should do slightly better than the 2.4 Kluger. However, if the Kluger has a 3.0 engine, or even the 3.5…. then the Harrier fails.

Problems: none in particular stands out as “recurrent” or “notable”. Most of these seem to stem from poor maintenance. Toyotas are highly reliable. Whichever car you choose, just stay on top of the maintenance schedule and you will be fine.

Reliability: see “Problems” above. The Kluger is more rugged, or at least was intended to be more rugged than the Harrier, so it should suffer less use-related glitches in the course of its lifetime.

Posted on

Getting a VW is fine, but forget about the TDI engine for now

Hi Baraza,

I am a loyal reader of your articles and appreciate the work you are doing, giving advice on vehicles.

I am looking to purchase a vehicle. I would like a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. I was considering a VW Golf or Jetta with a 1.9 litre TDI engine. How are they in terms of service and repair costs and reliability?

Regards,

Joel.

Hello Joel,

You are, in fact right, when you refer to a Volkswagen as a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. However, while the former is fairly obvious, the latter is not so straightforward.

Many will tell you that Volkswagen parts are not the cheapest out there, not by a long shot; nor are servicing and repair work.

Fortunately, reliability comes into play here and it will be a while before you get to shell out your hard-earned cash for the upkeep of the vehicle. This is as long as it is not a Golf Mk. V automatic or DSG…. Those things have issues with the gearbox.

About that TDI engine: steer clear for now. It will very quickly sink you into poverty because, being a relatively small, highly developed and tech-laden turbocharged diesel engine, it will not run well— or far— on the muddy oil we call Kenyan diesel. Diesel engines are expensive to repair and/or replace. Very expensive.

Go for a petrol engine, whatever little extra cost it might have at the fuel pump compared to the TDI, just remember that the money would have gone into fixing the derv-drinker, and then some.

*********

Hallo Baraza,

I want to know, if someone wanted to learn about safari rally driving, which is the appropriate place to get such knowledge And secondly, my father has a Morris Marina car which is now rare and would like to change the engine. Which engine will fit well and be able to perform?

Dennis

Greetings, Dennis!

You are in luck, because there is such a thing as a rally school here in Kenya. It goes by the name ASRA, which is the Abdul Sidi Rally Academy in full. ASRA can be contacted by a variety of means, the best (and cheapest) being by searching for it on Facebook. You will find plenty of information there (up to and including lesson scheduling — event— and group). You can’t miss it.

Guess what? My daddy had a Morris too, but at the time I was not even self-aware, so I didn’t get too acquainted with it. To be honest, I am not very familiar with Morris motor vehicles at all; except for witnessing the unapologetic and ruthless brutality they endure at the hands of BBC Top Gear TV presenters.

However, I found an obscure forum on the Internet (research tends to lead me down strange paths)and after brief consultation with three of the denizens, someone from the UK told me that the Datsun 1200 engine fits into the Marina engine bay.

He was a bit too specific: he said the Morris Marina 1275… maybe he meant 1275cc, because someone else mentioned the 1300… Anyway, I left before they asked me for pictures of my own Morris Marina to prove I was a genuine questioner and not an Internet troll.

So there you have it. Get a Datsun 1200 and take out its engine. How you will do that is entirely up to you.

**********

Baraza

You stand corrected regarding your response to the last question asked by Munyonyi. You can, in fact, fit airbags within the rear springs — mostly done in Australia where they use 4wds properly — to tow caravans.

The airbags help the driver set different ride heights for the vehicle. An interesting use for them is also to give increased rear clearance when rock climbing.. I believe that locally, Robs Magic has a similar product for the 90 series.

Happy new year btw!

Sally

Hi Sally,

Ahem! Happy New Year to you, too. Now, you and I are going to disagree over jargon and reference terms. Just to be clear, are you referring to gas shock absorbers by any chance? Those are quite different from “air bags” as used to describe suspension systems.

When the term “air bags” is used to describe motor vehicle suspension, this is taken to mean air suspension, which is a very complicated and expensive piece of kit. The rubber bellows are used in place of conventional metal springs and shock absorbers, and the air in them is controlled by a compressor, which gives the adjustable ride height characteristic.

Gas-filled shock absorbers, on the other hand, are normal shocks, but instead of being filled with oil, they are filled with air (gas). Some of them are adjustable for stiffness and height.

Now, air suspension is complicated and expensive, when factory-fit into a vehicle (think Range Rover or Land Rover Discovery). For the sake of example, we will stick with the Disco.

To keep the vehicle smooth and level, the four bellows are interconnected, á la Citröen’s Hydropneumatic and/or British Leyland’s Hyrdamatic water-filled systems. Pumping the air from one corner to the other in real time calls for some fancy boffinry, hence the costs involved.

Back when the Land Rover brand was under CMC Motors, someone once told me it costs Sh300,000 per wheel to fix the system once it springs a leak. If replacement is recommended (which is more likely than not), you are looking at a bill of Sh 1.2 million…. just to fix the suspension. So how much do you think it will cost to install one where there wasn’t any to begin with? How long will the calibration take?

Gas-filled shocks, on the other hand, are just shock absorbers. Raise the car off the ground, take off the wheels, dismount the factory-installed springs and shocks, throw away the old shocks, put in the new air-filled units (which fit exactly the same way as their oily kin) and you are all set.

Now that you mentioned it, I think that is what Munyonyi’s mechanic was referring to, because there are adjustable versions of these. You can now see what I mean whenever I tell my readers to be clear about what they are trying to say.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I appreciate the good job you are doing with regard to motoring. I just want to know the ideal fuel consumption rate for a Peugeot 504 four-speed vehicle. I find the vehicle very “thirsty” as it is doing less than six kilometres per litre. Lastly, between gas and oil shocks, which would you advise to be fitted on a vehicle; the front shocks, that is.

Thanks

John

John,

Yes, Peugeots have a reputation for thirst, more so if they use carburetors. Six kpl or less is not ideal, though, but this figure depends on many things: driving style, driving environment and state of tune of the car. The engine capacity matters too. It should be doing at least eight kpl though, if it is properly maintained.

Gas vs oil… This is a decision for you to make. I’d buy oil-filled shocks, because they are cheaper and less likely to leak. But that’s just me.

**********

Hi.

I read the column every so often and I like it. Good work you are doing.

Now, I drive a VW Passat year 2000 turbo APU engine. I bought it about four months ago.

It had an oil leak which I had fixed, but that’s when my problems began. I climbed the Naivasha to Nairobi hills one day at good speed and the car gave an oil pressure error. Since then, it comes on every so often with a frequency I cannot explain; sometimes under hard driving and high revving and other times when doing a Sunday drive.

I had the sump removed and the silicone on the oil strainer was put in such a way that none was left inside but the error has not gone. It is really frustrating. I have a really good mechanic and we are working on fixing it. But will I have to use a gasket to seal the sump to do away with the silicone business, or buy a new oil filter? I hope not. Basically, what do I do?

Please advise on what the problem could be. Thanks.

Gichuhi Waweru

Hello Waweru,

When your car says there is an “oil pressure error”, there is a problem with oil pressure. It could be too little, hence the need to check the oil levels (is there a leak? Is the car burning oil?) or condition of the oil pump (not pumping oil hard enough).

Then again, too much pressure is also a problem and will generate warnings. Maybe you were a little too generous with the plastic bottle at your last service. Maybe the oil filter is clogged, leading to a back-log in the flow of oil. Maybe some oil passages are blocked.

I didn’t get the silicone-strainer part. Was there silicone in the strainer, or was silicone used to seal the area around the strainer?

And the oil pressure error: are you sure it is not in reference to the oil for the turbo? You did say the error appears under high-load, high-rev conditions, didn’t you?

Get an OBD readout, complete with error code, to be sure of what it is, because you and your really good mechanic could quite easily be chasing clouds.

**********

Hallo,

I have a Toyota Corolla NZE 2005 model, X grade, 1390cc I’ve owned for one year now, first local owner. The fuel consumption has increased. I have not done the maths of late, but I have realised that when driving home from Mombasa (to Meru), this thing consumes a full tank way before the Machakos junction.

A tank used to take me to Thika road through the Cabanas bypass. I have also noticed that the engine oil level drops significantly way before it is time for service.

I change the oil every 5,000kms, sometimes having to add oil to keep the level high to the next oil change. Having ruled out any leakage, my mechanic says that some “rings” may be worn out.

I have used several oil brands, including Total’s Quartz 20W50, Shell’s Helix, and Mirr Alma, which are synthetic. What could be the cause of such high oil consumption? How repairable is it, at how much? Am I even using the right oil?

Nick Mwenda.

Your mechanic is referring to the piston rings (compressor and oil scraper rings), and he might be right. It would explain the increased fuel consumption and rapidly dipping oil levels.

Replacing the rings is not a very complicated matter if the mechanic is competent, but costs vary from one garage to another. Use recognised oil brands of the manufacturer’s recommendation and you will be fine.

Posted on

Do Subarus really wear faster than Toyotas? I don’t think so

Hallo Baraza,

I want to purchase my first car and I’m in love with the Subaru Impreza (LA-GG3, 1500cc). Some of my friends are advising me to instead opt for a Toyota 100, 110, G-Touring or Allion, based on the following arguments;

1. The Subaru Impreza 1500cc consumes more fuel than a Toyota of the same engine capacity. The reason being that a Toyota Allion, for example, has a VVT-i engine while Subaru doesn’t. Is this true? If so, does Subaru have a similar offer to Toyota’s VVT-i engine technology?

2. Subaru spare parts are quite expensive compared to Toyota’s. How expensive are they on average? Ten per cent more, for instance? But again I hear Subaru parts wear out less often than Toyotas, thus the maintenance cost balances out. How true is this?

3. Subarus depreciate in value quite fast as compared to Toyotas, thus have a poor resale value. What is the average depreciation rate of a Subaru per year? What makes it lose value that fast compared to a Toyota?

Please advise as I intended to use my car mostly within Nairobi. Over to you.

Sande Stephen.

1. Let those friends of yours conduct a scientific test that specifically proves the Impreza will burn more fuel than a Corolla 100/G-Touring/Allion under the same conditions.

In the course of doing that, let them also say exactly how much more fuel is burnt, and let them also prove that the disparity (if any) in consumption cannot be compensated for by a simple adjustment in driving style and circumstances. While at it, ask them what AVCS means in reference to a Subaru engine, what its function is, what VVT-i means in reference to a Toyota engine and what its function is.

Make sure the answers to these last four questions are not similar in any way. If they are, then they owe you an apology for leading you down the garden path. Some friends, those are.

2. The same technique applies. I cannot quote the prices of these cars’ parts off-the-cuff, and my status as columnist has reached the point where any inquiries will be followed by cries of “Put me in the paper first, then I’ll get you a good deal!”

And anyway, my work is to review cars and offer advise where I can, not provide cataloging services for manufacturers and parts shops. So ask your friends to come up with two similar price lists: one for Toyota and one for Subaru, and compare the listings. And yes, Subaru cars are generally more robust than Toyotas, so they are less likely to break in similar conditions.

3. The question is: which Subaru? From (b) above the opposite would be true: since Subaru cars are less likely to go bang, then it follows they would hold their value longer. That is, unless we are talking turbocharged cars, in which case engine failures are not uncommon. Of particular notoriety is the twin-turbo Legacy GT.

Poor care and/or lack of sufficient knowledge on how to properly operate a turbo engine on the owner/driver’s part is the chief contributor to these failures.

Also, when one buys a turbocharged Subaru, one finds it extremely difficult to drive “sensibly” (for lack of a better word). Hard launches, manic acceleration and extreme cornering manoeuvres tend to be the order of the day, and these tend to wear the car out really fast. So maybe you are right: Subarus may depreciate faster than Toyotas, but this depends on the previous owner’s tendencies.

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Bwana Baraza,

1. I have had an ex-Japan Nissan X-Trail for the last three years. It must be about 11 years old now. As it grows older, something pleasantly surprising is happening; it is using less fuel per kilometre than it used to when it was ‘new’. In the past, I would fill the tank, drive to Naro Moru (about 190 kilometres, five of them off tarmac) and by the time I got back in Nairobi I would have just about a quarter tank to go. The empty tank light would come on at around the 470-kilometre mark.

Of late, I am coming back with slightly above half. I have hit the 560-kilometre mark with the fuel light still off. Might it be because these days I use only V-Power fuel for long journeys?

2. I want to purchase a used Isuzu D-Max or Hilux. Which would you advise me to go for, considering petrol or diesel as well as maintenance costs? It will be used for farming purposes in Naro Moru and regular trips to Nairobi. I hear (these may be rumours) that diesel engines demand prompt service, and that the service parts are more expensive compared to petrols.

I also hate the ‘morning sickness’ they exhibit when cranked in the wee hours. Given that Naro Moru is quite cold at night, the sluggishness might be regular. But I could be wrong.

B Chege.

1. Must be the V-Power. It has better quality additives and a high octane rating which not only cleans various engine parts, but also reduces the risk of knocking. Another cause of “improved” engine operation with time would be “bedding in”; where the various engine components tend to “settle” and assume tight-fitting mating surfaces.

I find this unlikely because the car has been in use for 11 years…  the engine must have bedded in by now, and anyway, with new technology, bedding is becoming less of a factor in engine performance. A third, and very unlikely cause, would be a malfunctioning fuel gauge.

2. You must be referring to the KB300 (that’s the name in South Africa, around here we just call it the DMAX 3.0). In maintenance terms, the petrol engine is cheaper overall, but diesel engines offer better performance — in terms of torque — and economy (both the Hilux and the DMAX have 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines).

The “rumours” are true, diesel engines require careful service, especially now that these two are turbocharged. And they are more expensive — in case of repairs or replacement. That “morning sickness” you describe is because either the driver is not using the glow-plug (it warms the engine block prior to starting), or the glow plug itself is not working properly (or at all).

With these new diesel engines, the glow plug operation is automated, it is not necessary to operate it separately like earlier engines.

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Hi Baraza,

I would like to hear your opinion about the Toyota Mark II Blit; its power, comfort, stability, off-road capabilities, maintenance costs, fuel consumption and spare parts.

SM.

Mark II Blit, eh?

Power: Good, especially the one with the 2.5-litre turbocharged 1JZ-GTE engine.

Comfort: Good. Not excellent, and not shabby either. Just “good”.

Stability: Good also. A bit prone to oversteering, especially due to its propensity for spinning the inside wheel when a corner is taken hard under power.

Off-road: Don’t even go there.

Consumption: Depends. If you keep in mind that you are driving a large vehicle with a 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre 6-cylinder engine, then it is understandable that asking for 12-15kpl might be a bit ambitious. If you expect Premio or Corolla-like economy figures, you will be bitterly disappointed.

Spare Parts: What about the spares?

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Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a small family car and I’m thinking of the Suzuki Alto, 2007 model, 800cc with a manual gearbox and the Toyota Duet, 1,000cc with an automatic box. Both are going for Sh250,000. Advise me accordingly because I’m after :

1. Fuel efficiency

2. Reliability

3. Travelling up-country twice a year

4. Minimal maintenance cost.

God bless you.

David.

A small correction, Sir. These are NOT family cars, unless you are looking for a divorce and for your children to hate you. Or your family consists of three people only, but even then….

1. Fuel efficiency: The 800cc car wins in city driving, but by a small margin (by small I mean really small, given how tiny these cars are to begin with, and how minute their engines are). The 1.0 litre car will fare better on the highway.

2. Reliability: Could go either way. I’d vote for the Suzuki, because the Duet is a re-badged Daihatsu and may not have Toyota’s trademark reliability as part of its DNA.

3. For your own sake, you are better off in any other car except these two (and their ilk of similar size and engine capacity). But since you asked, the Duet is better, because of its “bigger” (more substantial) engine.

4. I seriously doubt if there are any actual differences in maintenance costs in cars this small.

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Hello Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a Mitsubishi Outlander. The car has a number of accessories, though I can only figure out two of them (the ABS and PS (which I presume is Power Steering). Kindly assist in interpreting the following: ABS, AC, AW, FOG, NV, PS, PW and WAB.

Samuel.

ABS: Anti-Blockier System, better known as Anti-Lock Brakes. It is a vehicle safety system that allows the maximum braking effort without locking the wheels and/or skidding. It applies the principles of cadence braking (on-and-off braking technique, such as you might see drivers of heavy commercial vehicles applying) and threshold braking (applying braking effort until the point just when the tyres begin to lock up).

AC: Air-Conditioning. Keeps you cool when the world outside your car is sweating.

AW: Given the make and type of car, I think AW in this case means All-Wheel Drive. Other possible meanings could be “Auxiliary Winding (voltage regulation)”, “Anti-Wear (hydraulic oil, additives)”, “Anchor Winch (for off road vehicles especially)”, or even “All Weather”

FOG: Fog lamps present. I think.

NV: No idea. I know NVH stands for Noise, Vibrations and Harshness. However, these are not car accessories but characteristics directly linked to a car’s construction

PS: Power steering. A more common acronym would be PAS: Power-Assisted Steering

PW: Power Windows. Electrically controlled.

WAB: No idea either. The best I can come up with is “Wheelchair Accessible Bus (?)”

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Hi Baraza,

I have a question about my recently imported 2006 ex-Japan VW Passat fitted with V5 engine:

1. The car has a 2324cc, five-cylinder petrol straight engine and is a station wagon. Is it common on our roads?

2. I do 40 kilometres daily to and from work and, gauging from the amount of fuel I use, I do about 7.8kpl and spend Sh3,000 from Monday to Friday (on Sh117/litre). I am a very careful driver, is this fuel consumption normal?

3. At some point the Check Engine light came on and upon taking it for diagnostics, the errors were cleared and the light went off. The mechanic said it was due to a previous engine service interval. After two weeks, the same light came on again, this time the mechanic blamed it on Unleaded Super petrol and recommended I use V-Power. Do I really need to be using the more expensive V-Power?

4. The engine used to whine a bit, especially in the morning and evening. The same mechanic told me the power steering pump was damaged and needed replacement. He, however, refilled the power steering fluid and the whining sound is now gone. Do I still need to replace the pump?. A second-hand unit will cost me around Sh23,000 while a new one is going for Sh52,000.

5. Is this car a good buy, considering the expenses? I imported it in April this year and it has clocked 81,000 kilometres on the odometre.

I will appreciate you feedback.

Mwangi.

1. I agree with you: I don’t think this car is very common. I think I have seen no more than three B6 Passat estate cars here in Nairobi. Then the V5 engine is also not a popular import option, and it was not sold by CMC.

2. How bad is the traffic on your road? The figure seems realistic to me, especially given the car has a 2.3 litre engine… with five cylinders (sporty).

3. What error codes did you get when the diagnosis was done? And if the octane rating of the fuel you were using was not ideal, then V-Power should have cured it. One other thing. Some petrol stations would “claim” to be selling Unleaded Premium but instead they peddle some swill that would only be fit for motorbikes and chain saws.

If you understand octane ratings, check out the results of the test done on some “super” petrol that was anonymously acquired from a local fuel forecourt (the company’s identity has been retained until further investigations). Tell me what that octane rating is worth. Clearly not Premium as recommended by manufacturers.

There are reports of other dealers selling water and subsequently ruining people’s engines in the process. You may be a victim of this. More to come soon.

4. If the power steering pump was actually damaged, then yes, you need to replace it. If it was not damaged — the whining was just a result of the whirring of a hydraulic fluid pump spooling with no hydraulic fluid to pump — then a replacement is not necessary… especially given the figures you are quoting.

5. I would say the car is not a bad one. Volkswagen make good cars, the B6 is a looker, wonderful to drive (I am sure that 2.3 litre V5 engine is a hoot) and the estate version must surely be more versatile than the sedan. the trick is to find someone (a garage) who will maintain it well for you.

Posted on

What is the problem with modern diesel engines?

Hi Baraza,I recently bought a second-hand VW Touareg with a five-cylinder TDI engine from the UK. While I love the car (after replacing the shocks), I fear I may have not done my pre-purchase selection well enough as I have been informed that local agents refused to stock diesel Touaregs due to a potential mismatch between our local diesel quality and the VW common-rail engine.

I have also been informed that similar issues have been identified with the new Land Rover diesels, which are also common-rail. Is there an identified problem with this type of engine? If so, what is it and what can be done to avoid problems?

Many thanks in advance, Moose

Moose, I find this interesting because I know CMC sold diesel as well as petrol Touaregs, MK I version (or did they?) What I know for sure is that they sell diesel Land Rovers (and Range Rovers); in fact, last year they were proud to show me the new 2.2 turbodiesel in the Defender, bringing smoothness and economy to a car that knew none of these things.

The diesel engines that I am fully aware of failing courtesy of our diesel are Hyundais: a recent visit to the premises revealed that tests done resulted in engine failures after a mere 50,000km —  an unacceptable premise. As such, the Hyundai agent here will NOT sell diesel engines.

According to the Internet, our diesel contains 50ppm (parts per million) sulphur content, same as South Africa and Morocco. Sulphur is a naturally occurring component of the crude oil from which diesel is derived.

Fuel-bound sulphur is also the enemy of the environment. During combustion, this sulphur creates soot and particles, among other things, and this is where a device called the DPF comes into the picture.

DPF in full is diesel particulate filter. When the soot and particles (particulate matter) are formed after combustion, in the interests of emissions control, the DPF traps them as they try to leave with the exhaust gases. Accumulation of these particles in the DPF results in a slow clogging process that increases the exhaust back pressure.

There is a sensor for this back pressure that informs the ECU to increase fuel delivery via the injectors so as to create a heat build-up just ahead of the DPF and thus burn off these particles. It is a circle of life, so to speak, and it happens so fast you will not notice it in a process called “regeneration”.

All new age diesel engines (of late CRD — common rail diesel — has been the fad, rather than DI — direct injection) are required to have this device to control emissions.

The push for low-sulphur diesel also caters for those old engines that have no DPF and are yet to be grounded. The Euro IV standard is 50ppm diesel. Euro V calls for 10ppm or less, enforced in 2009.

Naturally, every quick-thinking manufacturer would have started building Euro V-standard engines ahead of time so that by the time it comes into force, they will not be caught on the wrong side of the fence.

So what happens when you feed Euro IV-compliant fuel into a Euro V-specified engine? Soot build-up is going to exceed regeneration ability. The DPF will get clogged. A warning light will come on the dashboard. Fuel consumption will shoot up. Power will drop.

At the critical level of 75 per cent, the vehicle will stall (same point at which many more dashboard lights will come on). So you will have to bring the car in for regeneration or a DPF replacement. These things are not cheap: one costs Sh130,000 or more, depending on manufacturer.

With this happening on a regular basis, you can see why my Car Clinic and the income statuses of several garages will flourish. Replacing a DPF every three months will ring alarm bells with your bank manager and your spouse, who will both refuse to believe that the expenditure falls under “running costs” of a vehicle (are you driving a Veyron, for goodness sake?)

A trick that I have seen some people use is to remove the DPF altogether, but if you opt for this, you had also better have knowledge on how to map a vehicle’s ECU because the car will not fire up when the DPF is absent. Reprogramming allows the ECU to “overlook” the missing DPF, or the new programme simply omits the DPF code, so as far as the ECU is concerned, the engine was built without a DPF.

One way to avoid problems is to avoid town-based stop-start driving. This does not create enough heat for passive regeneration (where the heat of the exhaust is used to heat up the DPF to burn off the soot), so instead active regeneration is applied, which is what I described (the DPF sensor tells the ECU to burn more fuel).

It is self-defeating in a way that burning more fuel to de-clog the DPF results in more clogging. Also, regeneration as soon as the warning light comes on will save you replacement bills (but this will still happen often).

The third option is to remove the DPF. If you go for this, I know of one Amit Pandya, from AMS Chip Tuning & Performance Centre, who knows how to sucker ECUs into doing his will. (Note: This is illegal in countries where emissions are taken very seriously).

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Baraza, I like your informative columns. I bought a Toyota Fielder six months ago. Whenever I start the car it behaves alright but upon accelerating, the engine light flickers on and I always notice gear(s) above Number Three do not engage. This makes the rev counter stretch towards the right and by the time I hit 120kph the rev counter is beyond four.

When I drive for long distances the Check Engine light goes off, then the gears engage smoothly and the revs fall to between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, depending on the speed.

I have changed the engine oil and the ATF and also ensured that the right quantities are maintained, but the problem persists.

Diagnosis on two occasions has indicated revolution sensor failure. In the first instance, the mechanic said the entire gear box needed to be be changed but since I did not have the money I went to the second one, who suggested that I change the reported sensors, but the problem persists. I would like to know the following:

1: Must I change the entire gear box, as suggested by the first mechanic, or can the failing gear(s) be repaired?

2: How many gears does my car — a 1500cc Fielder, 2004 model — have. Are they four or five so that I can know how many after the third are failing?

3: Why does the engine light sometimes disappear and gear(s) engage normally? Could it be a wiring problem?

Thanks,

Very Disturbed.

Hello Mr Very Disturbed,

Here are the answers I could come up with for your quandary:

1: I do not think replacing the entire gearbox is necessary. Sensor failures are best cured by sensor replacements. Also, I find it unlikely that individual gears within the gearbox may be ruined. Yours sounds strictly like a sensor problem. Sensor replacement SHOULD cure the problem, although in your case I strongly suspect the sensor replacement may not have been done properly.

Then again, the problem could be in the wiring: there might be a loose connection somewhere, or a circuit board has been jarred free of its connections, hence the new sensor not making a difference. Electronic problems can be a real headache sometimes. If this is the case, then believe me; a new gearbox will not help either.

2. The OEM automatic gearbox in a 2004 Toyota Corolla Fielder 1.5 has four speeds.

3. Yes, as I mentioned in Point 1 above. Now, what you have to do is get a more enterprising mechanic who is not afraid to think outside the box. He will go through the entire electrical path until the problem is found: and more likely than not this will solve the problem.

Hopefully you will stop being Mr Very Disturbed and become Mr Very Relieved.

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Dear Baraza,I am very curious about the Toyota Vanguard. I have seen a few around and I would like to know the difference between it and the RAV4 because they look so similar. Thanks,Muya

Actually, you are right: it is the same car, it is just that one is slightly longer than the other.

Since the Generation 3 RAV4 came out in 2006, Toyota has been building the vehicle in two wheelbase configurations. The smaller cars went to Europe and Japan. The US and Australia got the lengthy version. Japan also got the longer vehicle, but to keep it apart (and away) from the RAV4, they called it the Vanguard.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. I drive a VW Passat 2003 model (1800cc) imported from the UK. It has been a smooth ride since I imported it two years ago. However, lately, I have had issues with the transmission system. When the engine is cold, I have no problem engaging Drive. However, when in traffic and change from Neutral to Drive, I experience a severe jerk which started out slowly but is now quite noticeable.

Computerised diagnosis turned negative results, while my mechanic recommended that we top up on the ATF, which we did with the recommended type from CMC. Sadly the problem persists.
My mechanic now says we should replace the current ATF, but I am wary of this, considering the exorbitant cost.

Another mechanic reckons that my engine’s revs are rather high and that this is what causes the jerking when the engine is fully warmed up. Any idea how to sort out this nagging problem? I love the car but I am worried that soon it might just stall in the middle of the road… at night!

Regards, Jeff.

When the mechanics say the revs are high at idle, how high are we talking about? What rpm? Quite a number of engines have a high idling engine speed when cold-started in a bid to warm up the engine quickly, though this high idle usually drops immediately the gear lever is slid into Drive.

However, that fast idle may be connected to the violent drive engagement. The first steps of diagnosis are usually:

1: Verify that the transmission fluid level is correct, which you say you did, but it could be too high and I suggest you also flush the system and put in all-new ATF, just to see if it works. It is not as expensive as having your car coming to a stop in a dangerous neighbourhood at night.

2: Verify that the valve body, throttle valve, and transmission shift linkage are adjusted properly. A slightly open throttle valve will cause the engine to rev up, and the drive engagement will create a shock, which you experience as that thump.

However, a more technical approach (when the above has failed) involves the replacement of the transmission valve body’s upper housing separator plate and a valve body check ball. It also involves erasing and reprogramming the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) with new software.

These are the steps:

1. Refer to the appropriate year information on Transmission and Transfer Case removal and installation instructions of the transmission valve body, check ball, upper housing separator plate, and pan gasket.

2. Replace the original rear servo check ball with a new plastic check ball.

3. Clean the new separator plate to remove any dirt or rust inhibitor prior to installation.

4. Instal the new transmission valve body upper housing separator plate.

5. Reassemble the transmission.

6. Instal a new transmission pan gasket.

7. Lower vehicle and instal transmission fluid.

8. Verify fluid level after warming up the transmission and cycling the shift lever several times.

9. Verify, and if required, adjust the transmission shift linkage and the transmission throttle valve cable per the appropriate service manual procedures.

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Hi Baraza,I am an avid reader of your column and must commend you for the good work. I own a Subaru Forester, year 2000 turbocharged model. She has been awesome, to say the least, but time has come for me to move on. I have been eyeing one of the following: Basic Outback, 2.5-litre engine (year 2006-7), Outback 3.0R (year 2006-7) and BMW 3-series (328i) saloon or estate (year 2006).

Given my relationship with the Forester, I am a sucker for power and stability. The upgrade should match this and also offer added comfort (Foresters have had the reputation of squeezed rear leg room). Slight off-roading (village terrain but not Rhino Charge) is also one of the requirements.

What would you advise me to go with, taking into consideration fuel consumption and maintenance? One more thing, any issues to look out for from UK imports?

Many thanks,

Mugambi.

The BMW will tick almost all the boxes until it comes to the village off-road part. Then it bows out. The 3.0R Outback will offer everything, but you will pay at the fuel dealer forecourt. The 2.5 Outback’s performance may not be at the same level as the 328 and the 3.0R, but then again, how fast do you want to go in a bus designed to ferry the children of the well-off to grade school in the morning, music classes in the afternoon, and out-of-town horse stables on the weekends? It will also not burn as much Premium Unleaded as the 3.0R.

I do not know how much power and stability the turbo Forester gave you (for all I know, it could have been an STi), but you have to make the choice here. The 328 is not even closely related to what you were experiencing. The decision lies between the Outback 2.5 (better economy than the 3.0R) and the 3.0R (runs like hell, but also burns fuel like hell).

Choose.

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Dear Baraza,

I currently drive a Kenyan muscle car, the Toyota DX 103. It has been a good car and has been to all the corners of this country, but lately it has developed the habit of leaking engine oil. My engine gurus are yet to crack the problem, despite advising me to start using Shell oil and checking the cooling fans.

What do you think could be the problem?

S N Mwangi.

What type of engine does that DX 103 have? Because I suspect you are using the term “muscle car”  very loosely here. Either loosely or with sarcasm, in which case I salute your literary skills.

What I do not salute is the problem-solving approach you and your “engine gurus” have. Either there is something you are not telling me or your “engine gurus” must deal with some other engines, not the internal combustion versions.

I do not see why, when your car has an oil leak appearing on the engine block, you check the cooling fans and replace the oil. What gives? You have not even said that you tried to find the leak; from your description it sounds like you were trying to solve a cooling problem and upgrading your brand of oil.

Check for a leak (obviously). These are the common causes on how one could find oil on an engine block as a result of a leak:

Bad or worn out gaskets (valve cover gaskets, oil pan gasket).

Oil plug (drain plug) not secured properly.

Oil plug worn or damaged.

Oil filter not attached correctly or missing gasket.

High oil pressure (a problem in itself).

Oil coolant line corroded or leaking

Rear seal.  This one is difficult and expensive. There is an oil seal at the rear of your engine near the transmission.  Typically it is difficult to see this one but you will know if you have a leak due to lots of blue smoke coming from the underside of the car at the rear of the engine. If you have this problem, bring it to a mechanic as the engine will have to be removed to replace the seal.

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Hi Baraza,

I am currently in Australia and will soon come back home after studies.
I really love Land Rover vehicles, and a friend in the UK has agreed to help buy one and ship it to Kenya for me. The Freelanders are a cheaper, but another friend tells me these cars are very problematic but does not give me the specific issue with the engines. TheFreelander V6i ES model has an engine capacity of 2,497cc, the Freelander Kalahari S/W 1,796cc, and the Freelander XEI S-Wagon 1,796cc.

I need a car that is fuel-efficient and can last for many years. Does a lower engine capacity mean better fuel efficiency? What is the difference between the Freelander diesel engine and the petrol one?

Thanks,

Alex.

Generally, yes, smaller engines burn less fuel… disregarding issues like forced induction and heavy bodies. The difference between the Freelander petrol and diesel engines is that, well, one uses petrol and the other diesel. Also, some diesel engines are limited to 2.0-litre capacities only while petrols have varying capacities and cylinder counts (from 1.8 to 3.2 and 4-6 cylinders).

However, as of January this year, the Freelander 2 now has TWO diesel engine options: 2.0 and 2.2, and the V6 petrol 3.2 has been done away with. Instead, you can get a turbo 2.0 petrol with only four cylinders.

Posted on

I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

Posted on

The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

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Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

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Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

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Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

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Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.