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Why is it so hard to find a good and fair deal at the mechanic’s?

Greetings Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column, and I find your articles very educative. Now, my problem: I find it very difficult to get an honest mechanic who isn’t out to ensure you make repeat visits to their garage. This is especially so for women. Continue reading Why is it so hard to find a good and fair deal at the mechanic’s?

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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.

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Take care of your Passat and it won’t disappoint

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the opportunity once more. Some time back I asked you about the 1999 VW Polo, 1600cc, and what you said is what I got. I loved the performance of the car, even though it was old.

Now I have a year 2000 VW Passat, 1800cc. Kindly educate me on the following features:

I’m told its turbo-supercharged, what does this mean?

It has a 2,3,4,D,N,R,P arrangement on the gear console. When do I use 2,3, and 4?

What is the best oil to use on the engine?

I use organic coolant from Total instead of plain water, is it right, and is there any other coolant that is better than the two?

Finally, kindly tell me in general, from your experience and knowledge, the advantages and disadvantages of this car, engine performance (on- and off-road, short and long distance).

Henry Opondo

Hello Mr Opondo. Here are your answers:

“Turbo-supercharged” is the full name for what we call “turbocharging”. This is where the engine is fitted with a device called a turbocharger (sometimes called “turbo”, “blower”, “turbine” or by its brand name: you might hear pundits claiming “I have a TD04 bolted onto my engine…”).

This turbocharger is made up of two fans: one, called the turbine, is turned by the exhaust gases exiting the engine. This turbine is connected via a shaft to another fan, called the impeller.

The rotation of the turbine is transferred through the shaft to the impeller, whose resultant rotation creates a principle similar to a vacuum cleaner: it sucks air into the engine at a pressure higher than 1 atmosphere. This means a greater mass of air goes into the engine than usual, and consequently, the engine develops more power/torque.

2,3 and 4 are used to “lock” the automatic transmission to prevent it from shifting up. “2” will not let it go beyond 2nd gear, “3” limits it to 3rd gear and “4” to 4th.

Though you can live your entire driving life without using these lever positions (D is enough for 98 per cent of all driving circumstances), there are two situations in which to use them: a) When in need of an extra burst of power, such as when overtaking: If you are driving along in D, then you feel you need some good acceleration, stomp on the accelerator.

If the revs are too low (thus low pulling power), slide the lever into “4”. If the car was in 5th gear, it will downshift into 4th and the revs will rise and the engine will pull harder. If the transmission was in 4th gear and you select “4”, nothing happens.

In that case, slide the lever further back into 3. Same applies all the way down to 2. I’m surprised there isn’t a “1”, but you won’t need it anyway. A way in which we road testers and some brain-donor street racer-types abuse such a gearbox is to drive it like a “manual”, i.e take off with the lever in “2” instead of D.

These transmissions are programmed to work with the engine at a rev range that will yield the best fuel economy and the smoothest shifts. This rev range, sadly, does not fall within what we call the “power band” (this power band is usually found near the red line).

So the car tends to change gears at mid-range revs. By locking it in 2, the hooning driver is sure he will hit the red-line (peak power), at which point he slides the lever into 3. The gearbox, by now wondering what is going on, then goes into 3rd gear. Red line.

Slide into 4. Gearbox goes into 4th. Dial up to the red line. That is the point where we can now select D and let the gearbox do its thing. Ideal for winning a drag race in an automatic car, bad for fuel economy and gearbox life-span. Don’t try this at home.

The other situation in which these lever positions are used is even more impertinent for passenger cars: It is ideally used in pickups, heavy trucks and commercial vehicles (yes, some of these are also automatic), and that is when engine-braking.

Engine braking is when one uses the compression resistance of the engine to slow down the car. The lower the gear the transmission is in, the greater the retardation effect of the engine braking.

Engine braking is as simple as getting you foot off the accelerator when the car is in gear. The lever position (and hence gear “lock”) used depends on the severity of slope one is descending.

Very gentle slopes can be tackled in 4, and the position goes further down into 3 and 2 the steeper the downhill slant gets. So for gradients close to vertical, you had best be in 2 or L/1 if your car is so equipped.

I’d say go for any synthetic oil of the correct grade and viscosity index from a reputable brand. There are some oil brands that have been known to incur grief on many a penny-pinching motorist.

High performance oils (Shell Helix, Castrol GTX, Mobil 1 etc) are good but superfluous for an unstressed engine. And they cost a bit more, but at least that way you will be sure.

The coolant is OK, no problems with that, but to save some money on the forecourt, most motorists are advised to mix the coolant with water (in varying ratios, starting from 1:1 all the way to 1:9, depending on which “expert” you are talking to). Don’t put plain coolant into the radiator, it is a pointlessly expensive exercise.

Engine performance is good, because it is a 1.8. I’d say “gooder”, because it also has a turbo. Don’t take it off-road though. It is ideal for long distances, but requires to be watched very closely on short runs because, again, of the turbo.

Hello Baraza,

Folks have been buying some old luxury vehicles for their daily use of late, and I really do not understand the thinking because of the mechanical inefficiencies of these cars.

Still, I am interested in a classic Range Rover from the 1980-94 era, 3-litre EFi fitted with a manual transmission. Could you shed some light on this marque, especially on:

Reliability: As compared to its successors —the 4.0, 4.6 HSE, 4.4 Vogue/TD8 and the mighty, supercharged 5.0.

Safety: In terms of roll over, collapsible steering, cabin (is it comparable to the Mercs?

Simple Mechanics: As in any qualified mechanic or electrician can work on it.

Replacements: Timing chains and any other parts that wear out periodically.

A Chege

Pots and kettles, eh? Or is it “if you can’t beat them…”? Anyway, I’m not judging, I also desire to own and drive a Classic Rangie.

Reliability: Poor. Even poorer if it is factory-spec. Most members of owners clubs worldwide found ways of circumventing the Range Rover Classic’s various infidelities, so you might want to get cozy with these folks for a less painful experience. The 4.0 and 4.6 HSE were not much better, if anything, the 4.6 was notoriously fickle in the electrical department and when (not if) the air suspension leaked, the car became undriveable (this I say from experience).

The later models were a vast improvement, courtesy of BMW’s input into the production protocols.

Safety: Poor also. The frame chassis, built out of steel, meant your Range Rover Classic had the upper hand in case of an accident. But that was just it: the car had the upper hand, not you.

The shock wave transmitted through the chassis meant whiplash would become a common affliction for the accident-prone: your car would survive the accident, but you most likely wouldn’t.

These were the days before crumple zones and energy absorption were discovered (by Mercedes). Roll-over probability was also high for pre-1989 models. Hard cornering meant the door-handles would almost scrape the tarmac, but this was easily curable by installing stiff sway bars at the back and a strut tower bar at the front, which then made the engine almost inaccessible as the stabiliser would pass over the carburettors.

Rudimentary build and simple design mean these are cars whose biggest problems could be solved using a Hayne’s manual, a well-equipped toolbox, a spacious garage (or driveway) and a sense of determination.

There are jobs that will still test your skill to the limit, though: balancing the carburettors on the old 3.5 litre V8. You need a special tool and the patience of Job to get it right (this, again, from experience).

The rudimentary build in 3 above means replacing parts is easy. Also, the use of the modular V8 engine means you can pilfer parts from other cars, and not necessarily within the Rover family either. If you have the wherewithal, you could do the Overfinch Range Rover Classic: it has the 5.7 litre General Motors V8, which can be seen in any number of cars from the US to Australia.

Mr. Baraza,

I own a 1995 Mercedes Benz C180 which heats up to over 110 degrees and above in traffic jams or whenever I engage low gears, but it cools down to slightly below 80 degrees once I am out of the jam or engage high gears. One mechanic said it was the fan clutch, which I replaced and even removed the thermostat, but the problem persists. Otherwise, it’s a very good car. Please advise.

Ogall G Kennedy

Your mechanic says it’s the fan clutch then goes ahead and removes the thermostat? What gives? If the fan runs erratically (sometimes on, sometimes off, irrespective of condition), then the fan clutch is the problem.

My suggestion would have been to set the clutch in the permanently engaged position as a temporary fix. If the fan clutch is not working properly, removal of the thermostat may not really cure the symptom or problem.

If you choose this path (constant engagement), be careful to not leave your car with the ignition in the ON position (with the engine off) for too long because the fan might keep running on battery power and the car will refuse to start as a consequence.

Have you considered other possibilities? Have you checked the coolant level in the radiator? Maybe the radiator is full of dirt and the airways are partly clogged.

At rest, no air is going through so the engine heats up really fast, but in motion, the air is forced through the radiator courtesy of the car literally “cutting” through the air, so the engine cools as the car moves but warms up at rest.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a small scale farmer and have been using an old Ford Courier pick up whose maintenance cost is extremely high. I have seen a TATA pick up fitted with 2956cc diesel engine and a very spacious flat bed body.

The only problem is the roaring sound the engine makes — similar to that of a tractor! Would this be a good vehicle? My only alternative is a second-hand Toyota?

I don’t know much about the 207 DI (except for the reminder that some things clatter and roar in an uncharismatic manner, sounding almost as bad as our MPs demanding a Sh 9m-apiece send-off package).

No complaints have surfaced about this car (unlike the case with our parliamentarians) so I’m guessing it would not be a bad buy in the foreseeable future. Try one. At least you can rest assured that if it goes wrong it will not be expensive to maintain (again, unlike our Honorable Members): TATAs are easy on the pocket, both in purchase and running costs.

Baraza,

Habari ya leo? You have done some articles on the Galant GDI 1998 model in the past. Kindly share them with me. Also, I recently changed the rear shocks of my Galant and it’s now making some squeaky noises. What could be the cause? Looking forward to hearing from you.

Moses

I’ve actually only answered some few questions about the Galant, I have not done a full article on one yet. Maybe I should. The squeaky noises are because the shocks are new.

Give them some time to bed-in properly then they will be quiet. If they don’t shut the hell up then they are not sitting properly in their mounts (huge tolerances or out of line) and so some metal parts are rubbing against each other, creating the squeak. My vote is on the first surmise.

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Take note, Shell V-Power won’t turn your Vitz into a Ferrari

Hello Baraza,

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the ordinary super petrol and the V-Power fuel sold by Shell. I drive a supercharged Vitz — RS 1600cc — and have tried using both fuel types and experienced no difference at all in terms of speed, performance and kilometres per litre. Let me hear from you on this.

Nawaz Omar.

Shell were very careful when pointing this out. Much as the ads starred a Ferrari road car (and an F1 racer too, if I recall), it did not mean that putting V-Power in a Vitz will turn it into a 458 Italia. Nor did it mean that the fuel economy of a small car will be changed from the incredible to the scarcely believable.

Shell V-Power contains extra cleaning agents that will wipe away all the dirty sins, sorry, dirty deposits from your engine and fuel system, just like Christians insist Jesus will if you call out to Him.

Even more importantly (for those of us who love performance engines), it also contains octane levels high enough to allow high compression engines to run on it: engines such as those with forced induction (turbocharged/supercharged) or even… yes, a Ferrari F1 racer.

So Nawaz, take note: V-Power will clean the engine of your Vitz, not transform it.

Hi Baraza,

I enjoy reading your column every week. Good work! I would like to know the relationship between engine size and fuel consumption. Basically, what is the relationship between the fuel injected into the combustion chamber and engine size?
Thank you,
Kiama.

If we were in the year 1930, there would be a clear-cut answer to your question, but it is 2012 and we have with us technologies like Variable Valve Timing and Direct Injection which make things very hard to explain without pictures.

Anyway, I will try to make things as simple as possible, and, before I start, I hope you know the basic physiology of an engine.

For normal running, we have what we call the stoichiometric intake charge ratio, which is simply referred to as air-fuel ratio, and stands at 14.7:1. If it goes lower, it is called a rich mixture (such as 10:1 or 5:1). If it goes higher, it is called a lean mixture.

Now, if it was the year 1930, the calculation would be simple: for every 15 metric units of air sucked into the engine, the fuel levels would drop by just a shade more than 1 metric unit.

So for a 2.0 litre engine operating at a constant 1,500rpm, you have four cylinders, which go through 1500 revolutions in one minute, consuming fuel in one stroke out of every four, and two strokes make one revolution (0.5×1500=750 fuel-intensive strokes). Since the cylinders occupy 2,000cc, 750 strokes of 2,000cc would be 1,500,000cc worth of intake charge.

I talked about metric units, and it is here that you have to pay attention because it ties in with all the economy advise I give people about filling up early in the morning.

While at the dispenser down at the petrol station you will buy fuel by VOLUME, the injection system of a car measures it by MASS for the intake charge ratio.

The density of air at 25 degrees Celcius (RTP — room temperature and pressure) is about 1.2 kg/cubic metre. So 1.5 cubic metres (1,500,000cc) will weigh 3.6 kg, which constitutes 14.7/15.7 (93.6%) of the intake charge, with fuel covering the remaining 1/15.7 (6.4%), which by simple arithmetic translates to about 0.25 kg of fuel.

Fuel has a density of 0.74 kg/L, so 0.25 kg of petrol will translate to roughly 338 ml of the stuff, or about 1/3 of a litre.

This is for the 2.0 litre engine running at a steady 1,500rpm for exactly one minute under the stoichiometric intake charge ratio. In the year 1930.

Nowadays, with electronic engine management, direct injection and variable valve timing, the cars can run lean and the effective volume of the cylinder changed in real time, so it is not that easy to calculate the consumption by hand like I just did.

Hello JM,
I drive the new-model Caldina and whenever I encounter dusty roads or wade through muddy waters, the brakes become a gamble. Recently, I noticed the same on my friend’s Subaru Outback. Is it a manufacturer’s error or just the pads? I almost rammed another car because of this.
Sam.

No, Sam, that is not a manufacturers’ mistake. It is your mistake. What you are telling me is: “Look, I drove over a police spike strip and now all my tyres are flat. The manufacturer must be really useless.”

When wet or dirty, brakes don’t work as well as they should because the foreign material interferes with the friction surfaces that convert your kinetic energy into heat energy; and that is why at the driving school they told you to increase your braking distance by at least half if you are driving on a wet surface.

Just to prove my point, tell me, honestly, really truthfully, with a straight face: When clean and dry, the brakes work fine, don’t they?

Hi Baraza,

I imported a Subaru Imprezza GG2, 2004 model late last year and the mileage on the odometer at the time was around 82,000km. I had a small accident with it along Valley Road, Nairobi a month ago and the insurance company fixed the car, but since then there’s a “wheezing” sound that comes from the back as I drive.

Two mechanics have independently confirmed to me that the rear right bearing is the source of the noise and that, for this particular model, the bearing and the hub are sold together as one component. Could you confirm this? What would be the risk of driving it that way before I get it fixed? Can the rear right wheel come off as I’m driving?

Secondly, having done that mileage, what particular parts or components should I replace? Do I need to change the timing belt or any other particular thing? Kindly advise.

You could go to a shop and ask to buy a bearing. If they tell you that it sold with the hub as a unit, then there’s your answer.

I went through a similar case with a Peugeot 405 I had: the fourth gear synchroniser unit was damaged, and when I went to buy a new one, they handed over the unit, to which was attached a gear, and they quoted an unfriendly price. Told them the gear in my car was fine: lose the cog and drop the price. Can’t do, they said; the synchro is the one that costs that much, the gear is actually free. I wanted to weep.

The rear wheel will not necessarily come off, at first, but the bearing could collapse and this might lead to the studs in the hub breaking when the wheel wobbles. Then the wheel will come off.

You could pre-empt breakages by replacing parts such as the timing belt, but the Kenyan way is to drive a car until it stalls, right at the moment when you are at the front of a queue in a heavy traffic jam and the lights turn green or a traffic policeman waves you off.

A physical check will let you know what to replace before your dashboard lights up like a gaudy neon sign, but look at tyres, brakes, the timing belt and the transmission. The suspension too, the shocks especially.

Hi Baraza,

On a trip abroad I had a taste of the great Lexus LS400 and the Chevrolet Lumina SS, though I fell in love with the Lexus as it had a huge, all-leather interior and that ‘cruise feeling’ to it.

You wouldn’t want to go to work in that car, it makes you feel rich and lazy. The consumption, I was told, is on the higher side, but wouldn’t that depend on how heavy your foot is?

Then came the Lumina. She is a beauty, though fitted with plastic interior. I couldn’t help but feel the car had that ‘I’m gonna fall apart soon’ look. I mean, it looks like it wouldn’t survive a head-on with a Vitz. Fuel consumption was much the same.
Considering I can afford the two cars, which one would you suggest I go for?

Wilson.

Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

The SS is not meant for driving to the office through heavy traffic (the Lexus will shine here), it is meant to go through corners while facing the wrong way, executing massive powerslides and doing great big drifts in the process. It is a car for having fun in.

Your wife will not take it kindly if you show up one day exclaiming: “Honey, we are broke, but at least we have a 6.0 litre V8 car to show why.” The massive spoiler, fat tyres and unsubtle body kits will not tickle her fancy as it would yours. The SS is a sports car. Buy the Lexus.

Hi Baraza,

The ‘check engine’ light on my Nissan Wingroad 2001 model is permanently on. I did an OBD and the fault detected was the primary ignition coil, which I replaced. The plugs were also checked and found sound and of correct specification, but the engine light has refused to go off. I have tried four other OBDs and the result is the same. My mechanic is advising that I change the computer unit. Are the units repairable? Kindly advise.

Isaac.

You should have flushed the ECU after replacing the coil, especially if that cured the problem. It has to be done to most cars. The recommended method is using the same OBD scanner or a PC with the appropriate software and hardware links. Another method is to disconnect the battery overnight.

Dear Baraza,

I drive a 2002 Toyota Corolla station wagon EE103, 1490cc. It has served me diligently, but I would like to sell it to another financially challenged Kenyan and upgrade myself. I like fancy cars but I’m afraid of the cost implications.

I have made many visits to garages manned by thieving mechanics and would like my next car to guarantee me few mechanical breakdowns.

So help me make the big leap. Of the following, which one should I go for: Toyota Mark X, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Wingroad or Toyota Wish? If I remember, you likened the Wish to a bicycle, but still….

Hassan Mahat

The only fancy cars in that list are the Mark X (lovely machine) and the Diamante (dodgy ancestry — Diamantes of old were unreliable). The rest are common fare, especially among the “financially challenged”.

The Wingroad feels — and is — cheap, and ages fast. The Lancer is pretty but suffers from wonky powertrains, especially as an auto. The Wish is aimed at those who have little interest in cars (and from the seating capacity, little control over their loins too).

Hi Baraza

I am 29 and want to buy my first car. I have sampled what’s on offer and this is the fare that has caught my attention: VW Golf, VW Polo, Toyota RunX, Mazda Demio, Toyota Cami, Toyota Opa, Suzuki Maruti and Suzuki Swift.

I’m looking for a second-hand car priced between Sh500,000 and Sh750,000, a car that can do long-distance drives twice a month (Nairobi-Mombasa), a car that is not a ‘Kenyan uniform’ and would still have a good resale value after four or five years. What should I go for?

Second, where is the best place to buy a car? Is it okay to trawl through the classifieds?

Job. 

Job, maintenance and consumption aside, what you want is the Golf if you are serious about doing the Nairobi-Mombasa run once in a while. The rest of the cars will prove to be a heavy cross to bear. For economy, get a diesel Golf.

On where to get it, cars can be bought from anywhere, but do not commit yourself to anything until you see the car itself. I know of some people who have been sold non-existent vehicles after following newspaper and Internet ads.

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a car for the first time and I’m so much interested in the Subaru Forester. But after enquiring about it from various people, I’m beginning to get confused. Those who own it swear it’s the best car on Kenyan roads today, while those who don’t feel nothing for it. Kindly tell me more about this car, especially the 2000cc model.

Also, between the turbo-charged and non-turbo, 4WD and 2WD, which one is better in terms of fuel consumption, availability of spare parts, durability and performance.

In addition, what is the difference between these two Foresters: the 2.0XT and the 2.0XS?

Thank you.

I had no idea 2WD Foresters existed, but if they do, then they should have lower consumption but lose out on performance to their 4WD compadres. Turbo cars are faster, thirstier, harder to repair and a touch fragile compared to NA versions of the same vehicle. Generally.

The XS model is naturally aspirated (non-turbo) and has auto levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, climate control and a CD Stacker (six-disc in-dash).

The XT is turbocharged and shares features with the the XS, but additionally, also has 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a Momo steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo.

Hi Baraza,
1. I recently came across and advertisement for a motorcycle that can do 70 kilometres per litre. Is this practical?

2. VW have developing a car called the 1L and claim it can do 100 kilometres per litre, thus 10 litres will take you from Nairobi to Mombasa and back. Kindly shed more light on this.

Chris.

1. Yes, especially if it’s engine is of 50cc or less.

2. The reality remains to be seen, because the self-same Volkswagen had a “three-litre car” (3L/100km) which I have  discussed before, the Lupo/SEAT Arosa/Audi A2. It might have done the 33kpl, but not exactly daily. Our roads, diesel quality and traffic conditions may hamper drivers from easily attaining this kind of mileage.

Practicality will depend on the intensity of engineering genius behind it: how many passengers, how much luggage, whether or not it can sustain highway speeds, how easy it is to live with, and so on.

Posted on

Yes, a Forester XT can beat a Lamborghini in a race, but…

Hi Baraza,

One of my friends who owns a Forester XT claims that, if fully stocked, the car stands a chance against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-400 in a race. What’s your take on this?

Yes, there are races in which the Forester can beat a Lambo. Off-road races. Or a race to see who can carry the most people and the most luggage at a go without compromising on comfort.

Otherwise, if we are referring to racing as we know it, on tarmac and on a racetrack, or even a normal road, the Forester is a tree-stump compared to the Gallardo.

But the Forester, against its rivals (cross-over utilities), is a capable handler and is fast.

Hi Baraza,

I have always wanted to import a used car from the UK but friends have strongly discouraged me citing reliability issues. Is it true that cars from the UK are generally in poorer shape compared to their Japanese counterparts.

What I know is that it’s easier to get a manual transmission car from the UK — like the Mercedes C180 or Toyota RAV4 — which is my preferred choice of transmission unlike in Japan where most cars are autos nowadays. What’s your take on this?

The biggest problem with UK cars is rust. You see, way up in the North Atlantic where the UK lies, there is a part of the year that gets very cold.

Winter, it is called. The low temperatures create problems, especially for drivers. The snow on the ground creates a slippery surface on which it is extremely difficult to drive (unless your car is AWD).

Worse yet, something called black ice is created. Black ice is like wet glass.; it is a thin film of ice that forms on the road surface due to the freezing of the water on the surface (this does not even come from snow).

Here, not even AWD will help: if you try to drive on it you WILL crash. So how to deal with the black ice? Pour salt on it.

Salt is an impurity for water, so the freezing properties of water are disrupted, meaning that no matter how low the temperatures go, the water on the road will never freeze.

Having a salt solution covering the road surface makes the road more tractable, yes, but that salt solution sloshes into the various nooks and crannies underneath the car, and most of these gaps house iron or iron-based components.

Iron plus water equals rust, iron plus water plus salt equals rapid rust. Very rapid rusting. Need I continue?

Dear Baraza,

I just started reading your column a few weeks ago and I am wondering if you have compared the Nissan X-Trail to the Toyota Kluger 2.4S in the past editions. Which of these two SUVs would you prefer and why?

John

I prefer the X-Trail. It looks better, is more solid and feels robust, offers better space and you can buy a tropicalised version. Oh yeah, there is also a 280 hp GT.

Dear Baraza,

I am preparing to buy a Subaru Impreza. Could you please advise me on the advantages and differences of a Subaru Impreza 1500cc (2WD and 4WD) in terms of performance, durability, spares, and maintenance? What other alternatives should I consider?

There is no big difference between the two. Very small disparities exist in performance (the 4WD is marginally heavier, but you won’t notice), and maintenance, as far as the transmission is concerned, the 4WD is more complex to repair.

Alternatives are many: Toyota Corolla, Allion 1.5, Nissan B15, Bluebird, Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda Civic (if you can get one)… basically any small 1.5 litre saloon car fits the bill.

Hi Baraza,

There is this meter on the dashboard of my VW Polo that is scaled from 0 to 65 and is coloured red between 45 and 65. The needle moves as one accelerates and I always change gears before the needle reaches 30, which I presume is the middle. In the centre of the dial there is a scale which no one seems to understand; 1min/100. Please explain to me.

Karangi

That, sir, is called a tachometer, or a rev counter in simple terms, and it shows engine speed (the rate at which the engine crankshaft is spinning).

That is why the needle moves to higher numbers when you accelerate. Given the numbers you have quoted, I take it your car has a diesel engine (not that it matters here).

The label is actually 1/min X 100. So if the needle points to 30, it is 30/min X100, which comes to 3,000. So the engine is turning at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

The red zone should be avoided, because it is in this zone that engines blow, seize or start hydraulicking.

The tachometer is installed to help you avoid over-revving the engine, and in some instances to avoid straining it (when the revs dip too low). For professional or enthusiastic drivers, the tach’ is used to determine the maximum power and torque points of the engine speed and shift gears accordingly.

That is how race drivers set different “lap times” on tracks. The rest will be covered in something I am working on.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a Peugeot 406 that is currently consuming a lot of fuel. In addition, when driving in gear one, it makes jerking movements. The mechanic says that there is a fuel leak, that is, some gasket needs replacement. What are your thoughts?

Fuel leaks could explain the high consumption but not the jerking in first. Common causes of jerking in first gear (I take it the car has a manual transmission) are poor declutching technique, a worn out clutch kit and low fuel pressure in the injectors (first gear needs plenty of fuel), though the third option does not quite fit in here, it is just a theory.

Have the clutch system checked for fidelity in the release bearings.

Dear Baraza,

I want to upgrade my vehicle and I’m stuck on what to go for. I’m debating between 2005s BMW 530i, Audi A6 3.1-litre, Mercedes E320, the 2006 Lexus GS300 (Euro spec) or a Mark X with a 3-litre engine.

Yes, I know the Mark X feels out of place but I think its a very good looking car. What do you think is the best choice?

In addition, I’m trying to calculate the duty on these vehicles. Should I go with CRSP values or should I work with the conventional 76.5 per cent duty since the engines are quite huge?

In duty terms, either way the government will screw you. I cannot make a definite call on which one of the two calculations you should go for because I don’t know how much you have been asked for for these cars.

But know this: underquoting the vehicle’s price (CIF) will get you nowhere. The revenue authority has a minimum amount set for each class of car, so if you underquote, they will use their figure; if you overquote, well and good, they will still get your money anyways.

There is customs duty, excise duty, VAT (all these are calculated in compound form, one figure being used to derive the next) and some small amount for an IDF (Import Declaration Form).

Now to the cars: All the cars, except the A6, are available in RWD (an enthusiast’s dream). The Benz is classy, comfortable and handles well; the A6 has the best interior in the world but has a hard ride; the Lexus is a drug peddler’s transport and the detailing is a bit over-the-top (Lexus calls it good value for money, I call it vulgar); the BMW looks questionable but is best in performance; and the Mark X is cliche. Decide.

Hi JM,

I am in the UK and married to a Kenyan, so I am getting a Kenyan ID soon. I have been told I could import one vehicle into Kenya tax-free if it is for personal use. Is this correct?

Secondly, my cherished Mitsubishi Shogun is in tip top condition with everything working as it should, fully maintained and serviced to the highest degree, but it is a 1994 UK spec model.

Is there any way I could import this vehicle as I am aware there is a six-year block on imports, considering some of those I have seen are not as suitable for Kenyan roads as mine?

It is almost correct. You have to have owned the vehicle in question for a certain amount of time (grey area), then when selling it on, duty will have to be paid by the new owner.

The time cap is actually eight years, not six, but I think the above scenario (lengthy ownership in the land of emigration) also forms part of the list of exceptions.

This is a very grey area. I will have to consult with the relevant authorities for a concrete report, because all I have had are conflicting “expert” opinions from a variety of sources.

Hallo,

I was intrigued by your comment about the Prado being handful at 200km/h. Does it mean its very risky driving it at that speed or what? Please expound.

Samuel

Yes, that is what I meant. The Prado has an intrinsic instability courtesy of its off-road credentials (suspension and ride height), so winding one up to 200 km/h is gambling with the unforgiving laws of nature and physics.

Baraza,

Tell me, are there any advantages on fuel economy when driving a vehicle in tip-tronic mode?

Dr Ngure

There might be an advantage in fuel economy when driving in tip-tronic mode, courtesy of the ability to short-shift into a higher gear (shifting early, before the optimum rev level).

However, some tip-tronic systems override the driver’s instructions if the computer thinks it is wiser than him. Tip-tronic is mostly for performance driving. Switching from full automatic to tip-tronic can be done at will, even with the car in motion, after which, tapping the lever towards the plus sign (or using the steering mounted buttons) changes up while tapping it towards the minus sign changes down.

Mr Baraza,

I own a Toyota Vista 2000 model 1800cc. Recently, I noticed something peculiar on the fuel gauge; after I put in fuel worth Sh2,000, the gauge still read empty.

After driving to and from the office and while I was parking the car, the gauge suddenly shot to quarter tank. This has happened on a number of occasions.

I spoke to a mechanic who told me the gadget that measures the fuel level could be worn out and needs replacement. Kindly advise.

That is not a problem, it is a peculiarity with the Vista. I noted (and stated) this when I reviewed the Vista back in 2010 (check the archives for more on this car). One way of coping with it is turning off the car, waiting a full minute and then starting it again.

It should show an increase. No car will show an instantaneous increase in fuel levels on the gauge. This is because the fuel tank is slatted and thus the fuel takes time (and a bit of splashing) to spread itself evenly enough around the tank for the gauge sensor to get an accurate reading. Stop worrying.

Hello Baraza,
I’m a fan of diesel engines, and that’s why I bought a Mercedes Benz C220 CDI. What are the weaknesses of diesel engines compared to petrol ones?

I thought (hence the reason for liking diesel engines) that diesel engines have more power, especially in common rail versions. Is this true or should I be worried about my Merc?

Actually, petrol engines develop more power because they rev higher, though diesel engines are fast catching up owing to turbo-charger technology. What diesel engines have, in large amounts, is torque.

They are heavier than petrol engines and require more frequent servicing. Also, the injectors operate at very high pressure, so while in a petrol engine car running out of fuel simply means adding more and getting on your way, when the diesel injectors have no diesel to pump they are very easily damaged.

Staying on the same, diesel engines also need bleeding to be done before setting off to remove any air bubbles (vapour lock) in the fuel lines, which could also lead to injector damage.

The economy figures for a diesel engine are outstanding, though.

Posted on

If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

Posted on

An SUV for less than a million? You are fishing for trouble

Dear Sir,

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla 110 that I love so much since it’s my first car, but everyone else thinks that’s wasted love — especially my mum and my girlfriend — so I want to sell it and buy a used SUV.

Considering the local roads, what should I go for on a tight budget below one mili, never mind fuel consumption and spare parts.

Mak

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A used SUV for less than a million? Hmm… I know of two or three Range Rovers (3.5-litre V8, 3-door, carburettors, from 1978) that are going for about 400K apiece.

Jokes aside, getting an SUV for less than a million is like buying meat at Sh40 a kilo — it could be from Naivasha and might not even be beef (maybe donkey).

In other words, if you want a big car, then you have to pay big money. An SUV for less than Sh1 million means a knackered example; the engine could be mere inches away from complete failure, the 4WD transmission could be dysfunctional or missing entirely and it might be having only one seat. Not to mention a family of rats living inside it.

Sh1.5 million is a better bet, and could net you the Prado Box (J70) or a V46 Pajero, the best bets so far and in good condition. An old Land Rover Discovery could also fall here, but running it might be beyond your means.

The same Sh1.5 million can also get you any number of 4WD double-cabs, also in good condition.

That is unless you land yourself a deal, following the advice I gave some time back on how to get the most out of your money when buying a car.

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Dear Baraza,

Many thanks for your very educative column. I want to buy a car that can accommodate a family of three soon.

Please assist me in choosing from the following in regard to maintenance, spares, fuel consumption and reliability: Mazda 2 (or is it Demio?) with a DHOC VVT engine, Nissan FB15, or a used 1998 Mercedes Benz C200.

Also, is it true that the bodywork of some of these cars degenerates faster than others even with proper care? And lastly, what is the difference between a four-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Joe

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Demio vs B15 vs Mercedes? Quite a diverse selection, I must say! If it was up to me, I would buy the Benz and live on greens for six months, but anyway, here goes.

Maintenance: The Mercedes should be the easiest to maintain, seeing as to how they don’t break down easily.

And in the late 90s, Daimler introduced this technology that informed the driver exactly when to service the vehicle, as opposed to after a given time or distance.

So, when properly handled, the Benz can go almost double the typical distance before its service is due.

The B15 might cause you a spot of bother given what I have gathered from readers, and the Demio might be a better bet between the two lowly Japs.

Spares: Of course you will sell your kidneys once the Merc’s bits start demanding replacement. Not so the Demio and B15.

And I don’t know if this still holds true, but once upon a time, whenever a busted headlamp or indicator lamp on a Benz wanted replacement, you had to buy an entire set of lights, not just the affected one.

The logic given was that if one shoe goes bust, it is atypical to walk into a shoe store and demand to buy one shoe; you normally just buy another pair.

Fuel consumption: Drive soberly and maturely and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. And yes, this includes the Merc! In C180 or C200 form, it will still do 16kpl. along with the other two.

Reliability: Benz is best, then Demio, then the silly B15. 4WD vs AWD: Here’s a quick differentiation; 4WD implies switchable 4WD (that is, can shuffle between 2WD and 4WD).

AWD, on the other hand, is a form of full-time 4WD, the difference with full-time 4WD being the use of viscous diffs to distribute torque (automatically) between axles fore and aft, and between sides, starboard and port.

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Hi Baraza,

I am planing to buy a VW Polo Classic 98, manual, with a 1600cc petrol engine and I will be the fifth owner.

That’s all I know about it. This is going to be my first car and I intend to use it within Nairobi and occasionally go with it upcountry.

My mechanic has convinced me to buy it, so what is your take on it?

Opondo

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Merits: It’s a Volkswagen, so bullet-proof build quality and good fuel economy.

Demerits: It is tiny. And it is a Volkswagen, so beware of costs. You are the fifth owner, which is never a good thing.

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Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a Suzuki Jimny. Could you please give me the pros and cons of this type of car in terms of spare parts availability, fuel consumption, engine problems?

Keziah

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I don’t like the Jimny, at all, but that is besides the point. The spares are available, second-hand or from CMC Motors, so no problems there.

The fuel consumption is manageable (1300cc) but could be a bit compromised by the breeze-block aerodynamics.

I do not know of any engine problems it suffers, but given how basic the power unit is, it is unlikely that anything would go wrong.

And in answering questions that you did not ask: The car is an off-road maestro, yes, but it is punishment on road.

The ride is hard and bouncy, the engine is noisy at cruising speed, the puny dimensions means you will not be spending a lot of time inside it and that tall ride height means you should take corners like a true Christian, lest you roll over.

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Hi,

How good is the 2000cc Avensis and what other cars does it compare to? Also, please comment on its fuel efficiency, D4 VVT-i engine and general handling.

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The Avensis is very good and compares to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and, in some cases, the entry level BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, so an Audi A4 also.

You could slot in the Volvo S40 too, and maybe the Jaguar X-Type; that Toyota is that upmarket. Fuel efficiency is at an optimum, what with D4 and VVT-i, and D4 does what D4 does.

Feed it the right fuel and treat it like you would your son and it should not present problems, at least not anytime soon.

Handling? Not bad, but nothing to keep your wife awake at night gabbling about. It is not, unlike the European competition, a sporting vehicle, so it will not tickle your fancy when driven in anger.

Genteel is more like it. It is an old man’s car, so drive like an old man if you want to enjoy it.

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Hi Baraza

I have a Toyota AE 111 assembled in South Africa and which I bought from one lady owner.

The car has given me good service for the last one year, but of late I have been experiencing problems with power steering oil leaking from the rack.

One mechanic told me nothing can fix the problem except a new replacement. Which is the best option?

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Did the mechanic make a roadside declaration like a past president of ours or did he crawl under the car and try to find the leak?

It could be a broken hose or bad seals causing the leakage, which would cost less that Sh1,500 to fix and replace.

What he is suggesting is much more costly; an appraisal on my own 24-year-old Peugeot lies somewhere in the region of 60K (replacing the entire power steering system).

The Corolla’s may be cheaper, but you can see where I am going… first make sure that it is not something fixable before opting for replacement.

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Hi,

I have a budget of 550K to buy a car, so would you advise that I go for a Kenyan used car or a new imported car like the Platz, Alto and such?

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Kenyan used, definitely. FSH and tropicalised, you can never go wrong. And more likely than not the franchise that sold it still exists, unless you buy something obscure like a Daewoo Cielo.

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Hi,

I own a VW Golf MK 3 ABD. For the last six months, it has developed poor combustion, producing sooty exhaust fumes and carrying a strong smell of petrol.

It has stalled in the jam a few times and then restarted after like 15 minutes. I actually suspect the previous owner may have sold it for the earlier versions of this problem.

But I believe I may have my finger on the problem. Being a single-point petrol injection arrangement, it is flooding the intake manifold at idling and intermediate engine speeds, though this seems to happen consecutively nowadays, with high speed running.

I suspect any of the relays/actuators/switches and/or sensors around the injector are faulty but the problem is that this model (1994) does not have a port for the diagnostic equipment to confirm or rule out my diagnosis. Any help out there?
Maringa

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It has sensors but no OBD port? Are you sure it has no port or it is you who cannot find the port?

Are the plugs fine? It is very rare for a fuel injected vehicle to flood; it used to happen back in the days of carburettors.

Find the port because all cars since 1991 have them, most of them at least (I doubt if crap like Mahindras and UAZ jeeps have them).

But the Golf should, even if it is OBD I (as from 1994 all cars conformed to the OBD II standard). And check the plugs because I suspect they may have reached the end of their lives.

JM.

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I intend to buy a car (my first car ever) for use upcountry and I’m split between a Nissan B15 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, both manufactured in 1999.

Please help me make a decision by highlighting the merits and demerits of each, including such things as fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, is there any other alternative in terms of acquiring, maintenance and running costs?

Kefa

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Lancer, any day. It is prettier, and I get more complaints about the B15 than I do the Lancer.

It is also a touch smoother: the shift shock I experienced the first time I drove a B15 as I switched from P through to D informed me that I was in a low quality product. The Lancer has a better interior too, only just.

Consumption is low for both (average of 12–16kpl) and spares are available at reasonable prices. The Lancer’s GDI engine, however, needs a bit more care. Alternative? Corolla NZE, or Honda Fit sedan.

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Hi Baraza,

I am considering buying either a 2005 Mazda RX8 or a 2004 Forester XT and I am mostly after speed, safety and at least 10 kpl in traffic. Oh, and I do not want to get stuck in mud, I find that embarrassing. So, of the two, which is the better bet?

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Of course the Forester. It is fast and won’t get stuck in mud. But forget about 10kpl in traffic — it will not happen. Consumption and power aside, there is one very BIG reason not to buy an RX-8, and that is the engine.

It is what we call a Wankel (the RX-8 was nicknamed the Wankel Wunderkind) and is not what you normally find under most bonnets.

Ordinary piston engines are what we call “reciprocating” engines, and have circular pistons that pump up and down and the crankshaft is below the engine.

The Wankel engine is a rotary engine; the pistons are triangular and go round and round, and the crankshaft runs through the middle of the engine.

The engine itself is the size of a good watermelon. I can’t wait to see the look on your mechanic’s face when you present one to him for overhauling!

The problems with the RX-8’s engine in particular, and rotary engines in general, are thus: they develop very poor torque, are quite thirsty, they consume oil heavily and the rotor (triangular piston) tips get fried every few kilometres, calling for an expensive overhaul every now and then.

That is why Mazda are the only ones dabbling in that technology. There is one good point behind the poor torque: to develop any semblance of power, the engine has to have the nuts revved off it, and the RX-8’s engine is redlined at a heady 9500 rpm. Yikes!

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Hello,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I have read reviews, especially on ex-UK vehicles ( VW Jetta and Toyota Avensis) using D4-D engines.

Would I be putting my money in the right place if I bought any of the above vehicles?

And which is better than the other? Do we have enough know-how on these engines in Kenya?

——————

Buying any of the two would be money well wasted, but the Avensis is a safer bet if only because Toyota is familiar to us and you can always swap the engine for an ordinary petrol unit once the diesel goes bang.

And, no, I am not too confident about our ability to handle this degree of boffinry just yet.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a 2001 Toyota Prius 1500cc/Electric. The car is good, powerful for its class and fuel efficient (16km/l). On the flip side, the shape is whack and it’s ugly.

I want to ditch the Prius for the 2005 Honda Accord 2.0EL (2WD) saloon. I have seen other Hondas on the road but the Accord is rare, any particular reason?

The other option is a 2000cc VW Golf wagon. I’m worried about two things though: fuel economy and, more so, availability of spare parts for both cars.

The Accord has an auto/manual transmission, any problems with these types of transmissions? I am not worried about resale value, what I want is a comfortable and reliable ride.

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The Accord is fast becoming popular, just so you know. If I get a Type R, I will not hesitate to buy one.

Fuel economy is nothing to worry about with these cars. Or any other for that matter; in this era where a 4.4-litre V8 Range Rover returns 10 kpl at 140 km/h on the highway, I wish people would just buy new cars and stop asking about fuel economy.

(The Range Rover is the new TDV8 though, a diesel). Spares are readily available for both, and no, there is nothing wrong with the “manumatic” transmission in the EL, that is why almost every new car has such.

I prefer the Accord on looks, handling and weight. The Golf would beat the Honda on build quality and maybe, just maybe, ride comfort. And carrying capacity; it is, after all, an estate.

Posted on

When the oil wells finally dry up

It must be painfully clear even to the least concerned that the world is running out of oil. Again. This time it is serious, and we have to think long and hard about how we will reduce our dependence on the black stuff.

One of the most common uses for this oil is to fuel the automobile. Considering the sheer number of vehicles on the road all over the world (California has more cars than people), fuelling these cars will soon become a major problem once the taps dry up.

Then comes the need for alternative power sources for all these cars, and with need comes innovation. Here, we will look at the motoring world’s efforts to minimise oil consumption and the search for alternative fuels.

When it became obvious that man’s thirst for oil was not likely to reduce, it was imperative that efficient use of the available oil be considered. Innovations in fuel economy were sought, and some of the results were spectacular.

Variable valve timing was one way of keeping fuel consumption usefully low under normal driving while still allowing for maniacal performance once in a while. Fuel injection was adopted for petrol engines, and then improved for both petrol and diesel engines until the current direct injection technologies were reached (D4, GDI).

Material science was plundered in a quest to reduce weight, not just that of the engine, but of the entire vehicle. Design cues were ignored, thrown out of the window, or completely rethought, as aerodynamics gained fresh importance in the search for reduced wastage.

Various permutations of these ideas have come together, and in this light, allow me to introduce the “three-litre car”.

The three-litre car is not a car with a three-litre engine. Examples of the three-litre car are Seat’s Arosa, Volkswagen’s Lupo and Audi’s A2.

These cars are the same size. What size is that, you might wonder. The Lupo is smaller than VW’s diminutive Polo, which means it is marginally punier than a Toyota Vitz.

The “three-litre” tag comes from the fact that the diesel engines in these pint-sized buzzboxes swill only three litres of the black stuff for every 100km covered.

Yes. You read that right: the Arosa, the Lupo and the A2 are capable of 33 kpl, and that is in normal city driving. These cars achieve this outstanding economy through a combination of lightweight material, itsy-bitsy diesel engines and clever engine management.

These tiny tots will burn less fuel, but a recent article in The Economist caught my eye. This was the gist: more efficient, energy-saving appliances (bulbs, specifically), while consuming less energy individually, encourage increased overall use of that energy due to the perceived lower cost.

Just as one will spend longer hours with the lights on if the costs are low, so will one drive more if the car consumes less fuel per mile. The result? An overall increase in net fuel consumption.

Also, more efficient vehicles encourage more people to drive, just as better roads lead to denser traffic. So it seems we will still run out of oil really soon. What now?

The most popular escape route has been to think electric.

There has been a two-pronged attack to this: battery power and self generated wattage. Battery powered cars have long been plagued with issues on stamina, and cars like the REVAi and REVA NXR (commonly called G-Wiz) have pathetic ranges for their batteries.

Another problem is the hours spent (wasted) charging these vehicles and their poor load capacities. The REVAi has a range of 80km per charge while the NXR covers 120km, and both seat two adults and two kids. A look at these cars says one adult is more than enough to fill the interior space.

Performance is also poor; poor acceleration and low top speeds, coupled with the above difficulties make the battery car appropriate for (brief) city use in between charging periods. So weedy are these REVA cars that one was put on display at a flower show at Hampton Court Palace.

A company called Tesla Motors thought it had figured a way around this, and their technique was to cram as many batteries as they possibly could into a single car. As such, they are the only company building highway-capable serial production electric vehicles.

Their brute force approach yielded the Tesla Roadster, which hits 100km/h form rest in four seconds, winds up to 201 km/h tops, and has a range of 380 km.

This is all fine and dandy, but another result of stuffing 7,000 laptop batteries in a car is you end up with something extremely heavy and painfully expensive, at $110,000 (Sh8.8 million).

Tesla might have solved performance issues, but there is still charging to be done, during which time the car lies comatose.

Battery power for automobile use might not be such a good idea after all.

So how about driving a car with its own on-board electricity-generating power plant? This is not a flight of fancy, but the motivation behind the hydrogen car.

Instead of seeking a wall socket every time you run out of juice, a hydrogen car is fuelled just like a conventional petrol or diesel: at a service station.

But instead of topping up with refined crude, hydrogen is what comes flowing out of the dispenser.
This hydrogen goes to a fuel cell, where it is chemically combined with oxygen to produce water, and this chemical reaction produces an electrical current, which is then used to power the car.

Just as a typical car uses more fuel under acceleration, so does the fuel-cell alternative consume more hydrogen: more hydrogen goes into the fuel cell, generating more electricity.

It is the closest an electric car comes to a fossil powered example. A good example of this is the Honda FCX Clarity.

Similar range
The FCX car makes 134 hp, typical of a sedan in this size bracket, and gives a range similar to that of a full tank of petrol in a similar vehicle. Filling up takes five minutes, just like a petrol car.

New KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) technology uses braking energy to generate more electricity.

It returns roughly 100km per kilogramme of hydrogen. Sounds like the answer to the world’s problems. Sounds like a plan. But it is not perfect.
Rumour has it that it cost Honda more than $1 million (Sh80 million) to build a single FCX back in 2005.

Gulp
Apparently, they trimmed the costs to about $140,000 (Sh11.2 million) a car, but that is still stratospheric. There are few FCXs on sale, if any, but lease cars are available to a select few.
So three-litre cars are a case of late-knight arrival, battery powered cars make little sense, while hydrogen cars are only for Bill Gates and his ilk.

The rest of the world cannot come to a stop save for a few moneyed individuals, so more thought needs to be put into the mobility of man.
I cannot say for sure what the next mainstream fuel source will be, but I have a suspicion some major auto makers can.

The question is, who? BMW and Honda tout hydrogen power, while some new players think batteries are the way to go. Toyota has placed itself on the fence with its hybrid, as has Porsche. Most mid-stream European marques experimented with LPG.