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Driver madness is the problem, not the cars

JM,

Let me state from the get go that I’m an irredeemable petrolhead through and through. Having said that, I’ve made some observations that I suspect are not unique to Kenyan roads, such as the fact that most accidents are the handiwork of drivers with “unschooled” blood, you know, the kind that think they are WRC or Formula One drivers with bog standard, used Japanese clunkers.

In light of this observation, I have formulated what I think is a way of purging our roads of this problem, and it is in the form of a law that goes something like this: It should be illegal for all individuals below the age of 25 to drive a vehicle with any form of forced induction, a displacement of more than and including 1800 CC or any vehicle that has 135 bhp, 150 Nm of torque, a cylinder count of more than four and an engine speed of more than 7,500 rpm, unless it’s in a sanctioned motorsports event. What do you think ?

That is a bit harsh. What kills people on the road is stupidity, and not motor vehicle preference. A couple of days ago, I watched an driver in a Suzuki Vitara squeeze into a space that his car would clearly not fit into.

The defining limits of the space? On the left was a flower bed, on the right was a Mercedes-Benz Actros juggernaut. Both the truck driver and I watched speechless as the obviously intelligence challenged Vitara driver knowingly and wilfully drove into the truck’s plastic front left fender, squeeze through like a rat squeezing through a hole in the wall when escaping from a hungry cat — all the while scraping a good deal of paint off his own car — before speeding away without looking back even once.

The Suzuki Vitara has four cylinders, 1600cc, less than 135 hp, is naturally aspirated and has the redline at 6000 rpm, so it clearly falls into your category of “sane” or “safe”. What I saw that day was more shocking than watching a man jump off a building.

Honda cars rev up to 9,000 rpm and they are perfectly safe to drive. One can also drive a Toyota Camry V6, which you will agree with me is a perfectly safe vehicle to drive, even for beginners.

The Mahindra pickup is turbocharged, surely a 24-year old can handle one if he is employed as a delivery driver for some company that buys these pickup. That same company can choose to buy a Nissan NP300, which comes in 2400cc, 2700cc or even 3200cc.

In contrast, one can drive a 660cc Daihatsu Mira TR-XX or Suzuki Capuccino, which is bloody fast and has minimal safety features.

It has a 3-cylinder engine (less than four), 660 cc (less than 1800), does 100 hp and about 140 Nm of torque (both are sub-135 and sub-150 respectively) and has the red line set at 6,500 rpm (less than 7,500).

But if my son found his way into one of those, I would still give him a sound thrashing, irrespective of his age, and tell him to get himself a Camry instead. Luckily, I do not have a son to cane. Yet.

The best way to optimise road safety would be to confiscate the driving licences of intelligence challenged drivers like the one I have described and send them to jail indefinitely.

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Hello JM,

My mother has been searching for a vehicle with a fuel consumption of 32 kilometres per litre. I tell her that the only car you can get such consumption out of is an Indian one, but she still insists. She hates the Toyota Vitz, Probox, Ist, Cami, NZE, Corolla, Premio and Allion, so she is thinking of the new model Mazda Demio. Please help her find the right car.

Roy

The only vehicle that can clock 32 kpl under normal driving conditions and techniques is a motorcycle, and one that has an engine capacity of 250cc or below.

I have heard of things called Bajaj, TVS and Focin. I have also heard of Hongda and Keweseki, all of which have two wheels and no bodywork.

They also have sub-250cc single-cylinder 4-stroke engines, so economy is good. I wouldn’t recommend a tuk-tuk though: I have watched a few do cartwheels, backflips and somersaults, and the acceleration is terrible and top speed is very poor.

However, if your mummy has the skills and know-how on how to extract the maximum number of kilometres from the minimum number of quarts of fuel in something with four wheels, then she could look at a Maruti: its 800cc, 3-cylinder engine is the easiest available engine with which to attempt 32 kpl (and still fail dismally).

Otherwise, the best one can hope for, in ordinary circumstances, is 18-20 kpl.

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Dear Baraza,

What is the difference between a ZZE engine and an NZE engine in a Toyota Corolla vehicle? How suitable are these engines on the Kenyan roads and weather conditions, and do they require different treatment once somebody purchases them?

The first one or two letters specify the engine family (NZ or ZZ), while the E represents fuel injection. The NZ family uses straight-four aluminium engine blocks with 16 valves, double camshafts (overhead) and VVT-i. SFI fuel injection is present, hence NZE.

The ZZ family also uses an aluminium straight-four block with aluminium cylinder heads. Double camshafts (DOHC) with chain drive are also used, with bore and stroke varying within the range depending on how sporty the engine is.

The basic layout does not need anything special to be able to run in Kenyan conditions. However, the sporty ZZ family engines (2ZZ, especially) having been developed for power at high revs, might need a cylinder head replacement to lower the compression ratio to enable it run on low octane fuel. This is not too much of a problem though, both engine families will run okay.

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Hi Baraza,

What’s your take on tiptronic cars, and in case of emergency braking, how do you shift the gears down to avoid stalling? (In a manual car, you depress the clutch and shift to neutral).

William

Actually, for a sportier, smoother and more effective braking effect, a technique called heel and toe is used. It synchronizes engine speed and gearbox speed by using all the three pedals at the same time (the brake slows you down, the clutch allows you to shift down — you have to declutch after each downshift — and the accelerator raises the engine revs to match the gearbox speed) and complements wheel braking with engine braking. It does not involve braking with the transmission in neutral.

Anyway, tiptronic cars are driven just like automatic cars, no clutch work is needed (because there is no clutch pedal) and the car will prevent itself from stalling. Nothing to panic about.

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Baraza,

What do you think of the BMW owned MINI (whichever make starting from 2001)?

I rarely see them on the streets but I think they look great, especially for a young guy (size of a Vitz but definitely more manly), plus there is an option for a 5-speed, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that I’m guessing has quite a kick. Let me know more about the car in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption with sane driving.

2. Safety record.

3. Price.

4. Ability to handle Kenyan roads and a little bit of offroading.

1. Which of the models? For sure, the supercharged car will not burn fuel at the same rate as the NA versions. And anyway, why would you be concerned about fuel economy for a car that size, it is bound to be impressive no matter what.

2. It has a good safety record. No recalls, no reports of nasty cornering surprises or infidelity at speed.

3. You will need to shop around for prices because they vary.

4. Some Kenyan roads, yes. Offroading: you must be out of your mind. Unless you are referring to the MINI Countryman, in which case, yes.

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Hi Baraza,

I must say I really miss the days when a full column was dedicated to a particular subject as opposed to the Q&A.

However, it’s still encouraging to see people appreciate good advice from qualified persons (the days of “Grogan engineers” are numbered).

I currently own a year 2000 1500cc Toyota EE103 and it has served me very well. The pros of this car: large boot space, rear leaf suspension, good fuel consumption, available spares, hardiness (you should see what we call roads here), etc. The cons: none that I can’t cope with.

But I now want to upgrade to another station wagon that can endure some donkey work and still be a comfortable family car.

A Probox is not an option: I am torn between a Toyota Caldina (new and old shape) and Avensis, both 1800cc. I would like to get your opinion on these, and feel free to add any other make or model that can fall in the same class.

Another thing, some mitumba cars that we usually run to buy were not originally meant for a market in the tropics.

Some are rumoured to break down on the first long trip on Kenyan roads, which could be somewhere along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway immediately after importation.

What is your take on this issue, and if its true, how can one tell whether a particular car is fit for a given climatic condition?

MK

Let me answer the second part first. That was a topic I covered in a two-piece special called “Tropicalisation” that ran during the first two weeks of 2011.

The result was vitriol from a good number of people who accused me of capitalist thinking and being elitist and/or receiving brown envelopes under a table. So I decided to let them suffer with inappropriate cars for a while. I will get on their case again very soon.

Anyway, the old-shape Caldina is the best. It also has leaf spring rear suspension (which, for some reason, you seem to like) and a massive boot, and it will ferry your family in relative comfort.

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Hi Baraza,

Kindly tell me:

1. What produces the distinctive sounds of the different vehicles; is it the engine or the exhaust?

2. The engine brake (freno), according to the little power mechanics I know, should be used when the momentum of the vehicle is driving the engine, especially on descent, so why do the small bus (like Nissan Diesel MK210) drivers use it every time they are braking? I suspect they are thrilled by the sound, like I am.

3. Eicher looks like an Isuzu; where is it from and who assembles it?

4. Do all direct injection lorries have engine brakes?

Mwangi

1. When it comes to the sound, it’s a little of both, but more of the exhaust than the engine.

2. Actually, the exhaust brake (engine brake, or retarder, or exhaust retarder) is used as the primary speed-shedding device before the foot (wheel) brakes are applied. This is to save the wheel brakes (brake pads) from rapid wear because they are easily prone to failure owing to the great mass of the vehicle. In some vehicle models, such as Scania trucks and buses, it has been incorporated into the foot brake just in case the driver thinks using the column mounted stalk/lever is too much work.

The procedure is: apply the retarder, lose speed, maybe dab the foot brakes a bit to shed more speed, double-declutch down one gear, apply the retarder again, when slow enough, downshift again, and repeat until such a point when the foot brake is needed for a complete stop.

3. Actually the Eicher started off as a defunct Mitsubishi manufactured under license. The parent company is based in New Delhi, India, but they are assembled and sold locally by CMC Motors.
4. Most lorries do have the exhaust retarder.

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Dear Baraza

I drive a Subaru Cross Sport, which requires that refill the coolant every week, if I go for more than a week, I find it empty but the car does not overheat and everything else is fine.

I have asked several mechanics about this; one told me that it could be that the radiator lead was worn out (I changed it but nothing changed), while another told me it was because I am always using the AC .

I have had the car checked and no leakages have been found. What could be the problem?

Beverly

There is clearly a leak somewhere. If your car does not wet the floor every time it is parked, then the leak could be by evaporation through some unwanted aperture. A third theory is a worn out head gasket, through which coolant seeps and gets into the engine.

The way to confirm this is to check for smoke pouring out of your exhaust pipe: if you see white smoke, there you have it. Also check the overflow bottle in case it is the one leaking. But there is definitely a leak.

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Mr Baraza,

I drive a turbocharged year 2005 Subaru Forester and I have two concerns regarding it:

1. If the makers of the Forester understand the delicateness of the turbo, why not fit it with a turbo timer?

2. I have noticed that in the morning the car produces blue smoke after idling in the traffic jam, then the smoke disappears once I hit the highway . The performance and service of the car is okay.

Nderitu

Much as I said turbo engines need care and are delicate, I did not mean THAT delicate. Nowadays they can do without turbo timers given the amount of R&D that has gone into improving forced induction systems.

The most susceptible vehicles to turbo failures, by the way, are the ones with turbo diesel engines because they run higher boost pressures, generate more heat and the turbos spool at higher speeds compared to turbocharged petrol engines. Don’t worry, your Forester is fine without the timer.

However, it is not fine if it continues producing blue smoke. The car is burning oil, so there could be blow-by, the rings might be worn out or the valve seals need replacement. Get it checked ASAP.

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Hi Baraza,

Is it possible to modify an old model car by fitting it with extras like airbags, ABS, automatic gearbox, sensors and so on? Secondly, is it true that Volvos are the safest cars in the world, and if so why are they not common?

Kahara

About the modification, yes you can, but by the time you are through, you will feel like you have built a whole new car, which in a way, you will have, given the degree of modification you have to do to almost all major systems. It is easier and more sensible to just buy another car that has all those features.

Volvos: At one time, they were. This does not mean that they no longer are, just that almost everybody else has caught up now, so the top slot is shared among many (except the Chinese, and maybe Russian).

The reason they are not common is because Kenyans have this unique mindset that they’d rather die than spend more than the bare minimum on buying price, spares and fuel costs.

The bare minimum is what it costs to own a used car from a faraway land, buying parts poached from a vehicle whose owner did not invest in an alarm system, and the fuel charges of a 3-cylinder sub-1100cc Japanese engine driving downhill on an extra-wide highway.

The erroneous perception extends to the belief that Volvos are thirsty, which they are not.

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The Voltz: Thank God its production was stopped

Hi Baraza,

1. How does the 2004 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT compare to the 2004 Toyota Voltz S 1.8/2.0 in terms of performance, comfort, driver appeal, practicality, safety and insurance?

2. Why was the production of the Voltz stopped after 2004?

3. What criteria is used to determine a vehicle’s insurance policy cover in relation to premiums?

4. How much would it cost annually in terms of insurance for any one of the above cars?

5. Is it true that tuning a vehicle’s performance and appearance may void insurance?

Githaka

1. Performance: Forester XT.

Comfort: No idea; I have not driven a Voltz, but I’d say Subaru again.

Driver Appeal: Subaru, again. It looks better and is based on the Impreza chassis, which ensures good handling.

That Voltz is based on a Pontiac (Vibe), an American car, which was itself based on yet another Toyota (Matrix), so the Voltz is the derivative of a derivative, with American influence thrown in. That can never be good.

Practicality: Take a guess. Yes, you are right: Subaru. It has a bigger boot and better interior seating space. AWD is a much bigger advantage than the Voltz’s FF chassis, especially with Noah’s revenge falling from the skies this season.

Safety: Hard to call, because both cars have airbags and ABS and whatnot. But where the Subaru wins it (are you surprised?) is by having AWD, which provides directional stability when the going gets unpredictable. I know the hardships of driving an FF on slippery roads, so I would opt for the AWD.

Insurance: Please see your agent for details.

2. Production of the Toad, sorry, Voltz, stopped in 2004 due to poor sales (Thank God!). I don’t know what they were thinking putting it on sale in the first place.

3. This criteria varies from one agent/company to another, so I cannot speak for them. But stuff like driving records (previous accidents), age and sex would determine the individual’s premiums; with the car’s value, mechanical condition and age determining how high or how low your premiums will be set.

4. Third party insurance is Sh2,500 for one month’s coverage. Anything beyond that, please see your agent.

5. Depends on the company, but in some countries it is the law. Changing the car’s appearance (such as a repaint or adding spoilers) will not really affect your insurance, but some mechanical modifications (installation of spacers, abnormally lowered suspension systems or having nitrous injection kits) are both insurance and warranty voiding, and against the law (some people have been known to inhale the nitrous oxide themselves instead of directing it to the car’s engine).

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Hi Baraza,

I fitted my X-Trail with Rob’s Magic springs and got better ground clearance but the vehicle is now very bumpy. The dealer told me that they will stabilise with use but since I don’t often use the vehicle, they are still very hard. Will they affect the car’s body?

Away from suspension, there are small vehicles made in Korea called Atos and Tico, and others found in Italy that I hear have very good consumption. Do we have these vehicles here in Kenya? And if I were to get one, who would I go to for service?

About the springs, sometimes this happens when a car’s torsional rigidity is not up to par. The worst victim of this was the first generation Land Rover Freelander whose body would flex to such an extent that the doors would not open (or close) properly, and sometimes the windscreen would crack (typically a crack would appear at the base of the windscreen in the middle and then snake its way up and to the left). I am not sure how the X-Trail would behave in this respect.

In the olden days, I would stop at the word “Korea” and reply with ROFLMAO, but not anymore. The Koreans have really come of age; have you seen the new Sonata?

It is beautiful. Anyway, the Hyundai Atos (called ATOZ in the UK, which is actually A to Z) was once on sale in Kenya but not anymore. If my memory is not playing tricks on me, a former Miss Kenya had one of these. I don’t know what a Tico is.

Italian micro-cars are just the best, but again, nobody seems to sell them here.

I remember the tiny Cinquecento Sporting had a 7-speed gearbox in a body barely three metres long and two metres wide.

The old Fiat 500 was a “bubble” car; very tiny. Nowadays we have the Alfa Romeo MiTo (Milan, where the design is done, and Torino/Tourin, where it is assembled) and the new Fiat 500 (I would go for the Abarth version of this. Abarth is like AMG).

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Dear Baraza,

I have recently become a fan of the Nissan brand because their vehicles are cheaper in terms of price compared to Toyota models. Now, is there a major difference in regards to fuel economy, stability, durability and maintenance costs between the B13 and B14?

Also, I have been shopping around for a B15, but after 3 test drives I was not happy with the way the back suspensions felt. On a rough road, or when I hit a pothole, it sways sideways at the back. Is there a known problem with these vehicle?

The B13 was more unstable, especially at 110 km/h with the windows open; it experienced an alarming degree of lift. Fuel economy is similar, though the B13 had carburettors for some cars while the B14 is mostly EFI. The B14 is flimsier than the B13 and loses shape (and parts) much faster, hence its bad reputation.

I don’t know if I can call it “known”, but I recognise there is a problem with the B15 suspension, especially at the front, as far as bad roads are concerned.

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Hi,

I am about to be a first time car owner and I am torn between a Toyota Allion, Premio (new shape) and the “Kenya uniform” (Toyota NZE); all automatic transmission, 1500cc and 2003 model.

I am looking for a car that is easy and cheap to maintain and comfortably does 15 kpl (I do Kasarani to town and back every day). If you were in my shoes, which of the three would you go for and why?

Nderitu

The Premio looks the best, but costs the most. The Allion is the sportiest but also the most fragile. The NZE will make you look like an undercover CID officer (they use these in large numbers).

All are easy to maintain, with the NZE’s parts costing the least of the three, and all will do 15 kpl without too much struggling (though between Kasarani and town 15 kpl is a bit ambitious, irrespective of the new Thika Road).

Of the three I would go for the Premio. Not only is it a looker and economical, it is also smoothest and the most comfortable.

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JM,

1. Between petrol engines and diesel engines, which ones pick better on turbo?

2. Are petrol engines faster compared to diesel engines that have massive torque?

3. If you put two turbocharged 3000cc Prados, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine against each other, which one would come first on straight stretch?

4. Do turbocharged engines consume a lot of fuel as compared to NA engines, assuming both cars have 2000cc engines?

It really depends on the degree of tune of the turbocharging setup. In some cases, the diesel will beat the petrol on initial acceleration, but the petrol will come out tops in terms of absolute speed. In other cases, the petrol will shine all the way.

Turbocharged engines generally burn more fuel, but in factory spec, some have transmissions that compensate for the extra push that the turbo provides by having slightly taller gears, thus improving economy.

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Hi Baraza,

1. Are there Toyota sedans that come with an automanual gearbox? I ask this because I saw an advert for a Toyota Avensis on sale that was said to have an automanual gearbox.

2. What’s the difference between 4WD and AWD in saloon cars?

3. Why, for example, do the NZE-Toyota Luxel and some Toyota Wish have rear disc breaks while others in the same family don’t, including the much loved Premio?

4. Sometime back you said that Allions physically depreciate faster than Premios if carelessly used, is there a difference in how their bodies are made? And does Allion’s chassis being heavier than Premio’s have anything to do with this?

5. What are CVT and FAT transmissions and how are they different from the common transmission?

6. Is the Toyota Verossa related to the Mark II in any aspect and how does it perform compared to other popular machines in the Toyota family of equal engine size?

Fanon

1. Yes, there are automanual gearboxes (more accurately referred to as automatic transmissions with manual override) in Toyota sedans, the latest of which I have experienced in the 2012 Camry saloon.

2. AWD is similar to full-time 4WD, except that torque distribution between axles and tyres varies. In 4WD, the torque distribution is constant.

3. The cars with rear disc brakes are of a higher spec (and thus cost a bit more when new) than their drum-equipped stablemates.

4. The details of the construction of these two vehicles are unknown to me, except for the fact that I know both use steel spaceframe chassis and aluminium body construction. Or something.

5. CVT stands for continuously variable transmission while FAT stands for fully automatic transmission. CVTs are alleged to optimise performance and economy, but some types actually do the opposite and feel weird to drive (such as the car accelerating at constant engine revs or the road speed and engine revs seem at odds with each other).

6. Yeah, the Verossa, Mark II, Mark X and Camry are all members of one family. The Camry is the FF option (front engine, front wheel drive), the Mark II is the FR option (front engine, rear wheel drive), the Verossa widens the variety with optional 4WD and the Mark X is the spiritual successor to all these, except the Camry.

The Premio and the Allion are also siblings (but of a different class from the Verossa) with the Premio bending towards comfort and the Allion towards sportiness. The Wish is just something I don’t think much about, it could be a bicycle for all I care.

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Dear Baraza,

I am intending to purchase a Japanese import among the following: a 2000cc Subaru B4, a 2000cc Mitsubishi Galant GDI or a 2000cc Premio. Looking at the market price, the Galant seems to be the cheapest. What is your take on the longevity, consumption and reliability of the three vehicles and what which one do you think would be the best purchase?

Gichohi

Longevity: Poor across the board.

Consumption: Subaru and Galant will burn more fuel than the Premio, especially if their electric performance capabilities are tapped.

Reliability: Also not very good across the board, again with the Premio possibly holding out longer than the other two before packing it in.

Advice: Buy a Galant or a B4, but not one that was in use in Japan. Simba Colt used to sell Galants, so a locally sold unit with full FSH will be a much wiser purchase than an ex-Japanese example. The same applies to the Legacy: one that was sold and maintained by Subaru Kenya will offer better longevity and reliability. Of the two my pick is the Galant.

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Hey,

I want to purchase my first car and I am stuck between the Subaru Legacy and the Mitsubishi Galant. I drive both offroad and on the highway for about 30 km to my workplace. Please advice on which one to go for considering fuel consumption, maintenance, stability when in high speed (I like racing) and style.

Offroad, both cars will break your heart, but on road, the Galant feels better to drive. Fuel consumption will go as low as 5 kpl for both if you indulge your urge to race, and maintenance costs will bite for both (frequently replacing tyres, brakes, maybe a burnt clutch here and there, using high grade engine oil etc).

Stability is good for both. The Subarus are (on paper) more stable though, because of the symmetrical AWD, but then again word on the street is they weed out the unskilled by sending them to hospital and/or the morgue. I find the Galant more stylish than the Legacy.

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Hi,

I intend to purchase a 2.4-litre Toyota Harrier and would appreciate your advice on the following issues in regards to the car:

1. What is the difference in respect to fuel consumption and maintenance cost between a 4WD and 2WD? How many kpls can either of the two do in town and on the highway?

2. How does the Harrier compare to a 2.4-litre Toyota Ipsum in terms of fuel consumption?

3. What other Toyota model that can do offroad, has a VVT-i engine and with an engine capacity of 1800cc-2400cc would you advise?

Fred.

1. The disparity is marginal at best, but 4WD systems lead to higher consumption due to added weight and increased rolling resistance, and are more complex mechanically than 2WD. About the kpls, it largely depends on your driving style, but it’s roughly 7 kpl in town and 10 or 11 on the highway, for both. Like I said, the disparity is not noticeable, and the weight issue could easily swing the other way with the inclusion of a heavy passenger.

2. The Ipsum is optimised for gentle use and might be less thirsty. 3. Depends. Could be anything from an Avensis to a Surf. What are your needs?

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Hi Baraza,

I am 24 years old and thinking of buying my first car. I love muscle cars and there is a Ford Capri I have been eyeing (I think it’s a former rally car). What advice can you offer about muscle cars in terms of fuel consumption and other technical issues such as maintenance. Also, do you think it is a good buy considering that I can resell it later since its a vintage car?

Muscle cars and fuel economy are two concepts that will never meet. Maintaining it also requires commitment not dissimilar to that of marrying a temperamental, high-strung, materialistic (albeit achingly beautiful) woman. Finance and passion are the two key requirements to owning and running a muscle car.

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Cami vs Fielder

Hi Baraza,

I am a teacher who is about to acquire his first car. Therefore, forgive my KCSE-like question: After much soul-searching I have settled on acquiring either a Toyota Fielder or a Cami. Could you please compare the two in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, handling of rough roads, maintenance cost and resale value?

Comfort: The Cami is bought by those who don’t love themselves. Hard ride and bouncy, and it won’t track straight at speed because cross-winds affect it badly. It is like being in a small boat sailing through a typhoon. It makes the Fielder look like a Maybach in comparison.

Fuel economy: The Cami is bought by those who spend their money on other things that are not fuel. A tiny body with a 1290cc engine means very low consumption. The Fielder is commonly available in 1500cc guise, a whole 210cc more, and in a larger body.

Handling on rough roads: The Cami is bought by those who are scared of Land Rover Defenders (or cannot afford one). It is available with proper off-road hardware, and its ground clearance means it won’t get easily stuck. Its compact dimensions and light weight means it can be carried by hand when it does get stuck. Possibly. The Fielder will get stuck long before the Cami does.

Maintenance cost: The Cami is bought by… I don’t know, but it should not cost much to fix when it goes belly up. Tiny engines are usually very cheap and easy to repair and maintain, that is why motorbikes are everywhere.

Resale value: The Cami is bought by those who did not think hard about disposal when buying it. Unless you fool your potential buyer into believing that the Cami is a better vehicle than the Fielder (pray that the said potential buyer does not read this), you are most likely going to lose that buyer to someone selling a used Fielder. Unless you lower your price to unbelievable levels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

Fanon

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

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

Hi JM,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

Which of the three is cheap to maintain and service?

Davy

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

A Prado, an Everest and a Grand Vitara, which is best?

Dear Baraza,

I’d like to know how the Ford Everest (you rarely talk about it, why?), Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Prado compare with regard to:

(a) Fuel consumption (please don’t bash me, I’m so keen on this!).

(b) Performance on rough and tarmac roads.

(c) Durability.

(d) Availability of spare parts.

(e) General maintenance costs.

(f) Other important factors, such as cost, resale value, speed, comfort, etc.

Which of the vehicles would you prefer?

Sammy

Fuel consumption: If they are all diesel or all petrol, the Suzuki will give the best economy, but the Prado and the Everest will go a long way further on a full tank before needing a refill.

Rough road performance: the Prado is king, closely followed by the Everest. Their superior ground clearance means they can go anywhere, at almost any speed.

The Everest is not that comfortable though. On tarmac, the cross-over Vitara feels best, then the Everest. The Prado is too bouncy to be taken seriously, but it hits back with outright speed; it is the fastest one here.

Durability: All three will last forever, but from driving feel, one could say the Everest will bury the other two when they die from natural causes. It feels like it was hewn out of granite.

Spares: Toyota Kenya for the Prado and CMC Motors for the other two.

Maintenance: This is hard to tell as it depends on what goes wrong, but I presume the Prado will cost the most to fix when broken, then Everest, then Vitara.

Resale: Prado is the best bet here.

Comfort: If you like a wobbly roller-coaster ride, the Prado is your car, if you are married to a chiropractor (or plan to marry one), the Everest is here for you, while the Vitara is the most “normal” of the three.

Of the three I would buy the Prado — it is capable, fast, and the turbodiesel has a certain deep thrum derived from the insane torque coming out of the exhaust and a subtle turbo whine coming from under the bonnet that announces to the whole world you are driving a serious vehicle.

The Everest sounds underwhelming in comparison, but is no less capable and might even be more practical in terms of space.

I wouldn’t bother with the Suzuki; in my world, people who buy cross-overs are declaring to the world that they wanted an SUV but couldn’t quite stretch their budgets that far. Malta Guinness versus the real stout, in other words….

Hi,

I bought a Suzuki Swift Sport sometime back. This car is absolutely amazing; the acceleration is superb, the handling good and fuel economy is good as well.

NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is poor, but I can live with that since it is a sports car and not a luxury ride.

My only problem is that it is way lower than the standard model, so low that when it came with its original 195/50/15 tyres, I would literally scrape pebbles off the ground.

I installed a sump guard and replaced the tyres with 195/55/15.

Now the car is at a reasonable height but on dips, if I don’t slow down significantly, the tyres touch the wheel housing. I am afraid that the wheel housing will get ripped out over time.

What options do I have on this? Some people have recommended installing spacers, but I have taken this with a grain of salt.

Apart from that, are Suzuki spares readily available?

Also, I am considering supercharging the little beast. What are the disadvantages of this? (The advantages are obvious; blistering acceleration and speed!)

Mike

You say you wanted a sports car, now you want to raise it, and this will compromise its sportiness (and safety).

Try changing the springs and shocks for stiffer ones to reduce the stroke room and travel of the suspension.

The other option is to learn to live with the challenges of living in a country non-conducive to sporty vehicles. And the third option is to install spacers and roll over at the first right-hander you come across.

As far as maintenance is concerned, talk to CMC and find out if they can manage the car. The disadvantages of supercharging are poor fuel consumption and, if done unprofessionally, shortened engine life.

Hi,

I am looking to buy my first car. Now, my options are limited by cost but I would love to buy a Honda Civic. So far, from my calculations, a Honda Fit, Nissan Bluebird, Mazda Demio and a Honda Aria are within budget (though I am not keen on a Nissan).

What would you advise, especially when taking spare parts availability and cost, and resale value into consideration?

Hannah

If you love the Civic, just buy one — it cannot be that much more expensive than the stuff you mention there. But do a DIY import, it is cheaper than going through a car dealer.

Spares availability and costs depend on the shops selling them, but none of these cars will keep you on a waiting list, or a wailing list for that matter.

Resale, right now, goes the Demio and Bluebird way, but my crystal ball says the Fit/Aria is going to become the new Toyota Starlet (the car had amazing resale value and still changed hands very easily and really fast even after three or four previous owners).

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought a BMW 525 E34 with an M20 engine (6-cylinder, 2500cc). Is it a pocket-friendly car? How is it when it comes to consumption?

I also have an 1800cc BMW 316i, which, from Nairobi to Embu and back, consumes about Sh3,000 in fuel. Can compare the two BMWs in terms of consumption?

No, it is not pocket-friendly. It is a 6-cylinder BMW, the preserve of executive types. The consumption should vary between 5 kpl and 10-11 kpl, with an average of around 7 or 8 kpl.

The 5-Series and the 3-series cannot be compared — the 3-Series is a small compact saloon with a small 4-cylinder engine (good economy), while the E34 is a large, heavy, executive saloon with a 2.5-litre straight six made from iron; none of these characteristics promotes fuel economy.

Hi Baraza,

1. What’s the difference between the Legacy, the Outback and the Brighton?

2. What do these acronyms in Subarus mean: GT, TS-R, TX and LX?

3. What’s the meaning of E-TUNE in Subarus?

4. When is your DRIVE magazine going to hit the streets?

Ken

1. The difference between Legacy and Outback is that the Outback uses a 6-cylinder (H6) larger capacity engine while the Legacy uses a 4-cylinder (H4) smaller capacity unit.

The Outback is biased for slightly more off-road ability than the Legacy (increased ground clearance, plastic mouldings around lower half of the car) and usually (not always) has two-tone paint.

Available (optionally) on the Legacy and not on the Outback are a manual gearbox and a turbocharger (or two). Brighton is just a Legacy with a fancy tag, just like the Forester LL Bean edition.

2. GT, TS-R, TX and LX are the various spec levels within the Legacy range. While I care little about the TX and LX, I know the GT and TS-R are turbocharged, with the GT having two turbos and developing some 280 hp.

3. E-tune is yet another spec level within a spec level: it is a type of Legacy GT with clear lenses all round rather than the amber turn signals and red brake lights.

4. From the current outlook, never; but before you start panicking take a look at the April edition of Destination magazine and all forthcoming issues of Motor Trader magazine (starting with the March edition). My work features heavily, especially in the latter.

Baraza,

I own a new model Premio. In the morning, while trying to shift the automatic gear lever from Parking to Drive or Reverse, the lever does not move easily, you have to force it.

What could be the problem? I recently (two weeks ago) changed the ATF but the problem persists, more so when the car is parked for two or more days.

Nike

The problem may be with the linkage, which is the mechanical connection between the gear selector lever and the gear box, the connection that transmits the lever movement from driver action into gear position selection within the gearbox.

If the lever is hard to move, then the linkage is jamming somewhere; either a cable or shaft is snagged or a joint/knuckle needs lubrication…. This is one of those things that one has to see to know exactly where the problem lies.

Hi Baraza,

1. I have driven a number of Carina Si (1800cc) and Carina Ti (1500cc) vehicles and have noticed that the Si consumes less fuel by approximately 2kpl, all other factors held constant. What could be the reason for this?

2. It is alleged that some insurance companies do not insure vehicles fitted with spacers, is it true? Why?

3. What are the merits and demerits of replacing size 13 tyres with size 14s on a car?

4. What is the relationship between sound — as produced by racing cars — and fuel consumption? How does the exhaust system, including the size of the exhaust pipe or dual exhaust pipes, affect the performance of a vehicle?

1. It is because an 1800cc doesn’t need caning to behave appropriately, especially on the highway. The effect can be magnified by expanding the parameters: drive a 2500cc Mark II at 120 km/h, then try a 1000cc Vitz or Nissan March at 120 km/h. One will be strained, guess which?

2. I cannot speak for all of them, but I know that in the UK, installation of spacers or nitrous injection voids one’s insurance.

3. Merits: The car will have higher ground clearance, and a higher top speed. Demerits: Low gear acceleration is compromised. But seeing how the difference is one inch, you will not notice any of these things (but they will be there).

4. A Lexus LS600 at 3,000rpm is quieter than a diesel tractor at 1,200rpm, but it is burning a lot more fuel. Sound has no direct correlation with fuel consumption among different cars, though it must be said that on the same car, more noise means more fuel is being consumed, whether by increasing rpm or by a leaking/broken exhaust (energy is wasted mechanically as sound).

The diameter (and number) of exhaust pipes affects performance as follows: bigger (or more) exhausts provide a free-flowing pathway for the exhaust gases, allowing the car to breathe easier and rev higher.

However, other factors such as combustion chamber shape, injector and plug placement, valve timing and emissions control will determine whether or not it makes sense to expand the exhaust system of your car. In some cases, it may prove counter-productive.

Dear Baraza,

I have observed that a lot of questions from your readers dwell so much on fuel economy and cost of spares.

Most vehicle manufacturers publish a fuel consumption figure for their cars, however, there is always a big disparity between the published figures and the actual consumption on the road.

A lady motorist recently sued Honda Motor Company in the USA for what she stated as the cost difference between her car’s actual fuel consumption and the manufacturers quoted figures.

She said that no matter how she drove, she could not achieve the fuel economy figures quoted by the manufacturer.

Back home, how come people never ask about the cost of insurance? I think a Kenyan motorist spends more on insurance premiums than fuel cost and spares combined.

Moses

Thanks a lot Moses. Maybe I should sign you up as my sidekick.

I read about the Honda case, and it made me unhappy about the direction society is taking. Pretty soon, we will sue our butchers for selling us meat that does not quite come out in the saucepan like it did in the recipe cookbook (and whose fault is that?).

One of my fears is that I might end up in the same hotpot as Honda: “Baraza said a Platz can do 22 kpl but try as I might, I’ve only got to 14 kpl. I will sue the bastard for that!”

The obsession with money is the biggest issue. More people are concerned about fuel consumption and cost of spares rather than whether or not the vehicle is appropriate or enjoyable and stress free to own.

The spares might be cheap and readily available, but where is the fun in that if you are buying the (cheap) spares every three days?

Posted on

Fuel tablets do not improve consumption

Hi,

I had a 1982 Toyota DX-KE70 model that had a 1300cc carburettor for five years. The car was lovely, extremely hardy and very reliable.

It used to do 10kpl but I used to buy fuel tablets, which I would put in the fuel tank — one tablet for every 30 litres or as recommended — and that would improve fuel consumption to 13 kpl.

I sold the car eight months ago and replaced it with a 1995 1500cc Toyota AE100 LX model with an EFI engine that does 15.4 kpl.

I decided to try the fuel tablets on it but there is no significant change; the best it can do with or without the tablets is 16 kpl at an average speed of 100 km/h, which I do on the Nairobi-Embu highway.

I thought that with the tablets and the EFI engine, I would get better results, like 18 kpl. Why is this not the case? Please advise.

Phil

Fuel tablets belong in the same category as snake oil and Father Christmas; they are best left as bedtime stories. They NEVER work, much in the same way that Santa Claus will never show up at anyone’s house at Christmas time.

If you achieved a lower consumption with your E70, then the tablets had a psychological effect on you and turned you into a gentler driver, hence the improved economy. In simple terms, you have been buying a placebo.

Hey,

I have a Forester and I’m now thinking of buying a Wingroad for the sole reason that the price is fair and the interior does not look too bad.

Kindly tell me what I will be getting myself into with this car and if you think I should put out this fire. Thank you.

Flo

From a “personal friend” point of view, I’d ask you to “put out this fire”. But if you owed me money, I’d say ditch the Forester, get a Wingroad and pay me sooner than immediately.

As it is, it is entirely up to you. I don’t entirely agree with your judgment of the Wingroad’s interior, but this is an apple juice-lemon juice sort of thing, so I will not dictate matters of taste.

Beware of the car’s flimsiness and watch out for various electronics, especially the dashboard lights. They may light up like a Christmas tree once in a while.

Stick to proper roads if a suspension overhaul is not on your budget in the near future. Fuel is not a problem, nor is the asking price.

Hello,

I will be a first car owner very soon and need your advice. I am thinking of getting one of these Japanese “econoboxes”; FunCargo, Passo, Vitz or a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. If you were in my situation, what would you go for?

Sandra

If I was in that position I would go for a Vitz, but not for the reasons you might think. It turns out that when a Vitz is supercharged, it becomes a pint-sized Bugatti Veyron for those living close to the poverty line.

What do you expect from these cars? Forget any sort of performance (you could supercharge a Vitz though) and forget space. If it is economy you are after, any of these cars will do, but the Pajero Mini is not a very smart choice.

It is a very smart choice, however, if light off-roading forms part of your weekend activities.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes A160, a 2000 model, which is a beautiful little car. But a year ago I blew up the sump pan after hitting a stone while driving on a rough road.

This damaged the gear box and it cost me almost another car to fix.

During my time at the garage, I learnt that these cars are poorly designed and heard that almost all of them experience a gearbox failure in their lifetime. Others say that the Mitsubishi Cedia also suffers from the same illness.

In summary, these small cars tend to have a problem with the gearbox design.

I’m now scared of these small cars and have lost faith in them. What do you have to say about them?

Small cars are awful, and you get what you pay for. You see, small cars exist so that the not-so-well-to-do can also experience the world of motoring, but these cars are half-baked lest the not-so-well-to-do forget their station in life and think they are now haves and have-mores.

Truth is, for small cars to be as cheap as they usually are, R&D costs have to be minimised, and cheap, fragile materials used to build them. Learn to accept this.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Nissan B15 and it recently developed a fuel pump problem. I changed the pump but the new one is now producing some funny noise when I start the car or when moving.

The mechanic tells me that new pumps behave that way and that the noise will go away in time. What do you think? The car is also consuming more fuel than before.

Your mechanic seems to think every component of a car needs a bedding-in period to work properly, but this is not always the case.

What is the noise like? It may be that you are running on low fuel and the pump is sucking a mixture of fuel and air (and sometimes just the scent of fuel) hence making a buzzing noise.

Or maybe you have sludge in your tank and it is getting into your pump, in which case the new pump will go the way of the old one. Check these two theories out, if it is none of the above, get back to me.

Hello Baraza,

Do you have any experience with the Citroen C3 Super Mini, specifically the 1.4-litre petrol model in the Kenyan market?

I understand that, in accordance with its manufacturer’s (PSA Group) policy, the C3’s chassis was used for the Peugeot 1007 and 207, and that many of its components are the same as those of the 206. Is this true? You have written of your experience with Peugeot models, so I am hoping you can advise me on this.

Also, I would like to hear your thoughts on why the Citroen WRC team tends to excel consistently with their range of Citroen racing cars. I thought that, on this basis alone, people would be buying this make, but you can hardly sport a modern-day Citroen on our roads.

Mwaura

I have not had much experience with Citroens, new or old, nor have I had much experience with the new crop of Peugeots. The newest I’ve tried is the 307, I think, which is currently obsolete anyway.

It is true that some Citroen cars share platforms and components with Peugeot products. Whether or not the franchise will take this into consideration is a matter of conjecture.

Citroen’s WRC success comes from a variety of factors, some of which include a strong team and the withdrawal of past supremos like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Also, the Citroen WRC is not on sale as is, while back in the day, the Impreza WRC, Lancer Evo, and even Group B monstrosities like Lancia’s Delta HF and Stratos could be bought in a spec very close to that of the competition car.

Kenya’s taste in cars is an odd one. Citroen cars in Europe enjoy a huge market, especially with the successful DS3 (a new car), but here in Kenya, if the car is not Japanese, then it had better be cheap to buy, cheap to run and its spares readily available for plucking from the nearest tree.

Hi Baraza,

Why do you say the B14 belongs to the gutter when I was thinking of getting one? Second, what would you say of the Mazda Familia in terms of fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, what would be a good car in the rural area where I work and operate a chemist? And would you recommend a second-hand auto or manual?

Eliud

Drive the B14’s main competitor, the Corolla 110, and you will see where Nissan went wrong. Check power, suspension and build quality especially. The Mazda Familia is an OK car on both fronts.

What exactly will this rural-based car you seek do? And how is the infrastructure in that rural zone? These two questions will decide the type of car to buy. Auto or manual is entirely up to you. Which one do you prefer?

Hello,

My friend bought some Tata 407 trucks in a public auction by a parastatal and wants to sell one of these to me. Please advice on cost, maintenance and fuel consumption. Do you think it would be a wise investment?

Given what it is, it cannot cost much. Given that it is sold locally, maintenance should not be too difficult. And given that it is diesel-powered, fuel consumption should not be too high.

Whether or not it is a wise investment, hmmm… I find it crude and badly built at best, with poorly contained NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and unresolved design. So many of these that I see on the road smoke harder than wet firewood. You decide.

Hey Baraza,

I own a 1977 Range Rover Classic three-door model with an original 3528cc petrol engine. My mechanic proposes that we fit it with a TD27 power plant for better fuel economy.

He further proposes that we retain its original four-speed gearbox. Please advise on the merits and demerits of this move.

Macharia

Die-hard Land Rover lovers like me will deride you for installing the engine of a Japanese commercial vehicle into something as regal as a Range Rover Classic.
More importantly, how does your mechanic know that the engine will fit? The 3.5 was a V8, the TD27 is an in-line four. And then the gear ratios may not be appropriate.

Baraza,

I want to buy my first car, which must be either a Toyota NZE or a Premio, and there are some issues I would like you to advise me on.

1. Is it true that a 1800cc Premio has a fuel consumption similar to that of a 1500cc NZE?

2. What is the meaning of the alphabet letters at the end of the model name, like Premio G, and Corolla X?

3. How can a 1200cc Datsun have a speedometer reading a top speed of 200 km/h and a 3000cc Prado have one ending at 180km/h?

4. If an 1800cc Premio and a 3000cc Prado are driven on a straight 20-kilometre stretch, both at a speed of 120km/h, which car will reach the end before the other?

1. Depends on very many things. How and where are they driven? How loaded are they? Their aerodynamic profiles? The 1800 might be more economical at highway speeds but thirstier in town, though by a very small difference, if everything else is kept constant.

2. It is what we call spec levels, or trim levels: cloth vs leather seats, wood vs aluminium trim and such. These letters differentiate the various spec levels.

3. It is mostly because at the factory, the 1200 was given a 200 km/h speedo while the Prado was given one maxed at 180 km/h. Actually, the Prado is most likely ex-Japan while the 1200 isn’t. In Japan, there was a gentleman’s agreement that all cars made in Japan will have a power cap at 280 hp and will be limited to 180 km/h. Finally, a 1200cc at 200 km/h is drivable. A Prado at 200 km/h (if it can even get there) is a handful.
4. This is not a very well thought out question. Read it again. Which one do you think will get to the other end first?

Dear Baraza,

What is the fuel consumption of a 1000cc Toyota Platz? Can this car be driven for over 500 km? Does it have a problem in climbing a road that is steep?

If I take a Platz on an economy run on the highway, I can clock 22kpl. I have managed that in an EP 82 Starlet. I have a friend, though, who I am sure will do no better than 8kpl.

The difference between us is body mass (I am a bean pole) and driving style (when the mood takes me I can be ridiculously snail-like in pace). Go figure.

About the driving distance, yes it can. Surely, there would be no Platzes (Platices?) on our roads if they could only drive 500km or less (other cars get to hundreds of thousands of kilometres before dying).

If you are asking whether it can do 500km in one shot, then the answer is maybe. I wouldn’t risk it though, one or two stops in between are advisable.

How steep is the road? If the slope has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or what we call a 50 per cent incline (forgive the jargon, this simply means the slope is at 45 degrees off the horizontal), then no. But a Land Cruiser can. Much gentler slopes can be tackled in a Platz, though.

Baraza,

We all know that Kenyan number plates are some of the ugliest in the East African region. As a result, many owners, especially of high-end cars, are getting customised plastic plates with all types of artistic fonts and customisation.

What is the rule on such plates? Are they illegal and can one be arrested for having them? Does KRA issue customised number plates, and how does this work?

Moses

As far as I recall, custom plates were and are still illegal. This includes funny fonts and personalised plates, like BARAZA 1. One can be arrested for having them.

Thing is, these are mostly found on high-end cars, and there is no telling who is being transported inside that car. I doubt if there is a traffic police officer willing to risk his employment just because he pulled over the “clandestine arrangement” of a high-ranking individual for having illegal plates.
JM,

I came across an article about the CVT transmission (specifically in Honda cars) and was amazed that they perform way better than all others in terms of fuel economy and power output.

Yet we Kenyans remain stuck with the Toyota mentality. Now I think I know why you were quite positive about Honda cars, though a select few. Maybe you could tell folks around here to look at that brand.

Yes, it’s true, CVTs are close to sorcery in operation and efficiency. Don’t be so quick to deride Toyotas though, they do have CVTs also (Allion, Wish…), but not all. Some are just regular automatics.

And no, that is not why I rave about Hondas. I like Hondas chiefly because of the high-revving, dual-natured VTEC engines (where available) and the trick helical differentials that make the front-wheel-drive variants such sweet cars to drive and corner with.

Posted on

I insist, the Verossa looks horrible

Hi Baraza,
I have owned a Toyota Verossa for the past two years and I am aware that you included it in your list of most ugly cars, and that one of your readers requested guidance on whether to go for a Verossa or a Premio (DN2 Dec, 7).

Surely, looks should not be the only yardstick when judging a car’s performance. My opinion of the Verossa is that it handles well, is spacious, and spare parts are easily available, same as with Mark II.

Being a V6, it is a good alternative in handling, comfort, power, cost of running, and spare parts availability when compared to either a BMW or a Mercedes Benz.

In as much as I enjoy your column, which is quite educative, please be objective on all fronts, not just on the looks of a car.

Keep up the good work!

Jack.

Jack, tell me why I would walk past a Mark II, a Mark X, and a Crown (all Toyotas), a Diamante (Mitsubishi) ,and a Skyline (Nissan) just so I can place my hard-earned money into another man’s hands and relieve him of a Verossa.

All these cars cost more or less the same, and in the case of the Toyotas, they share plenty of parts, seeing as how they are almost all the same thing underneath — the Mark X is a spiritual successor of the Mark II.

When I spend my money, it has to be worth it. Why buy a car that you cannot gaze at for longer than five minutes before nausea makes its presence felt?

I am sorry, Sir, but in car reviews, looks do play a part. They are not the biggest thing, but in some cases they are the deciding factor for two or more very similar cars. Verossa, Mark II, Crown? I would go for the Crown any time.

Objectivity comes into question under brand loyalties (a colleague would die for a Mercedes and thinks all other cars are crap) rather than looks.

Some cars are downright beautiful (Mark X), some split opinions (BMW X6), while we can all quietly agree that some (Verossa, Will) are the reason women leave their husbands, children play truant, and dogs bite the hands that feed them. Yes, they are that ugly.

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Dear Baraza,

I am keen to delimit my Forester Turbo S/TB (please do not lecture me on the dangers or law issues). It currently does slightly above 180 kph.

I have done my research and asked around and have been presented with three options: buy a gadget called a speed limit defencer that is connected to the ECU (it supposedly overrides the limiter) but I will not know how fast I am going as the speedo will just keep rotating, “fool” a sensor at the back of the speedometer (the downside being that the check engine light will probably appear and again I will not know how fast I am moving, and, last, buy a speed dial that reads more than 180, probably from the UK. I am for the first or last option.

My question is, will installing a dial that reads more than 180 actually work? I have always thought it is a bit more complicated than that. I thought the speed limit is programmed in the ECU, hence the need to remap.

Hilary.

The third option will not work, for the reasons you suspect. Combine either option one or two with three to know what your exact speed is when past 180.

But the ECU could be reprogrammed or even replaced instead of employing “fools” and “defencers” to circumvent the electronic nanny.

There is a company called Ganatra that deals in ECUs, among other things, like combining a Platz, a Landcruiser VX, and a supercharger into a 450hp Mendelian road-going progeny that inherits all its parents’ phenotypes.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes Benz-124 series 200E. What is the difference with the E200? I have heard talk that the latter is superior.

Nick.

There is no clearer way of putting this, so let me speak Japanese. In Japan, cars like the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 240 SX have “Kouki” models and “Zenki” models.

Zenki models are the ones that were produced in the early lifetime of that particular model of car, while Kouki versions came after recalls, modifications, face-lifts, and adjustments, though still on the same model.

So, while the 124 200E and the 124 E200 might be the same car, the 200E is a “Zenki” (early) model while the E200 is a better developed, better specified, and better engineered “Kouki” (late) model. I hope this clears the air, Jap or no Jap.

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Dear Baraza,

First, I would like to know how one can fix the flashing on/off light of an automatic RAV4. It started this problem after changing the engine.

Two, immediately after engaging gear D or R, the vehicle jerks. What could be the problem?

Gikaru.

What light is that? Is it overdrive? That sounds like an electronic problem. The jerking is because the clutch does not fully disengage when the transmission is shifted from neutral into gear, so there is something called shift shock. I have seen it in a B15 before, what was supposedly a “new” car.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the good job you have been doing. My auto Nissan Wingroad, a 1497cc 2002 model, has started consuming every coin I make on fuel.

For 13 litres of fuel, it covers a distance of 98 km instead of between 170 km and 182 km, the way it used to.

Friends who own a similar ride have given me various reasons, including the sensor and braking.

Kindly let me know what exactly is the problem, where it can be diagnosed, and how to fix it, once and for all. The engine runs smoothly, picks fast, and does not misfire.

Seven kilometres per litre on a Wingroad? Clearly, something is wrong. Diagnosis can be done at any garage with an OBD II device. Get it done and get back to me with an error code.

As for brakes and fuel consumption, unless the brakes are binding, I do not see what the efficiency/mechanical state of one has to do with the magnitude of the other.

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Hello Baraza,

I am trying to decide which is the best car to buy, so could you please compare the Audi A3, Ford Focus, Mazda Premacy, and Volkswagen Golf (GTI grade) — all with a 1.8cc or 2.0cc engine — in terms of fuel consumption, maintenance, long mileage coverage, and some added comfort.

I am not planning to go for a new car, but I prefer post-2001 models. Any other recommendation would be highly appreciated.

Charles.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Mazda Premacy is a van, is it not? The rest are hatchbacks. Ignoring the Mazda temporarily, the fuel consumption should be highest in the Ford and lowest in the Audi, with the Golf languishing in between, but for non-GTi. The GTi is thirstier than the Ford.

Maintenance is the same for the Audi and the Golf because they share a platform, but availability of spares for the Audi may be subject to a lot of factors.

When it comes to long mileage, Golf goes first, then Ford, then Audi. This split is — despite the shared platform between the Audi and the VW — because of the Audi’s high waistline and thick C pillars: view is obscured and the interior is dark and cramped. Comfort? Audi, Golf, Ford.

The car I have been talking about here is the MK 5 Golf. The MK 4 was pathetic and a sham, an embarrassment to the GTi badge.

It was abnormally heavy, ponderously slow (slower than a Rover automatic and Skoda Octavia Diesel, of all things!) did not handle too well and the interior was not the best.

The Mazda, on this scale of things, lies next to Ford in almost all aspects: they too, share a platform and engines.

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Hey,

I am researching cars with a turbo engine to know the advantages and disadvantages. Kindly assist.

Advantages: Insane power, volumetric efficiency, fuel consumption is low comparatively (likened to a car of similar power and capacity but naturally aspirated).

Disadvantages: Delicate (needs tender care, especially turbo-diesel), a swine to fix once the turbo goes phut, generally costlier than naturally aspirated equivalents, cooling problems, sensitive to oil type and temperature fluctuations, and lag (the delay between throttle action and corresponding turbo activity), if anti-lag is fitted, engine damage is common and fuel consumption is no longer a strong point.

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Hi,
I have a 2003 Wingroad. Every time I hit a small stone, it feels like a thud on the steering. I have at the front new Monroe shocks and the original springs at the back. I drove a Fielder for some time and hitting the same stone in it would give a springy feel. Why the difference?

The difference lies in the steering system and the front suspension/chassis setup. The NZE 120 model (Fielder is the estate version of this car) was built with driver orientation in mind, so the steering feel, performance and handling, among other things, feel quite good, especially compared to Wingroad.

The Wingroad comes off as a loveless white good strictly for generating profit and serving the most basic of motoring needs.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your motoring column, keep up the good work. I am planning to buy a saloon car early next year.

I am, however, torn between three choices, which somehow look similar but are of different makes and models.

My major concerns are on cost price, fuel consumption, availability of spares, and durability. My options are a Toyota Mark II Grande, 2000cc, VVT-i, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, a Nissan Teana 230JM, 2300cc, CVT, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, and Mercedes Benz E200 Kompressor, 1796cc, used in Kenya, probably a 2002 model.

Kindly advise on the difference between VVT-i and CVT engines in terms of fuel consumption and, based on the above concerns, which of the three vehicles is best.

David.

David, go for the Benz. The others are basic clones of each other and are not entirely dissimilar. The added advantage of a locally sold Benz is that it would be tropicalised and maintained under warranty, so more likely than not you will end up with a car with FSH (full service history) and the ability to run in our conditions.

CVT (the valve control system, not the transmission type) and VVT-i do the same thing (varying the valve timing and controlling valve lift in real time) but in different ways.

There is neither the space nor time for me to get into the actual differences here, maybe in a future article, but rest assured the effects are the same: better performance, better economy, and reduced emissions.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been considering swapping my Caldina, which I have used for five years, with a bigger car for a big family. I wonder if there are Prados of that range and if not, what the best alternatives for a civil servant would be.

Yes, there are Prados of that range. There are also 4Runners (also called Surf), Nissan Terranos, Mitsubishi Pajeros, and maybe an old school Land Rover Discovery (could be costly, though).

“The best alternatives for a civil servant”? Are you planning on keeping your car a secret? Try a Land Rover Defender. Seating for 10, go-anywhere ability — and climate control by God Himself courtesy of the huge panel gaps and absence of A/C in some models.

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy a BMW 318i or 320i, 2005 model saloon sedan. The main reason is security — I notice the car is not popular with carjackers or robbers.

However, I am not sure about the performance of this car, especially its fuel consumption, and parts availability in Kenya. I will appreciate your advice on this. Also, do we have alternatives in the market for this car?

Jared.

The performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW: class-leading, quick, and it handles like magic. The fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into: the degree of German technology under the bonnet means that 16 kpl is possible, even realistic, from a two-litre engine (or up-rated 1.8, which is what the 320 is), provided you do not try and reach 200 km/h. Drive sensibly.

Parts are available; we do have Bavaria Motors, BMW specialists, you know. But BMW is a premium brand and so parts cost in keeping with the image and quality of the car, so you will pay through the nose. But treat the car well and drive maturely and you will not have to wear your wallet thin running it.

Alternatives are the Mercedes C-Class (not only available, but also common) and the Audi A4 (less common). A recent entry into the class is the VW Passat (bland MK1 version and the MK 2 makes you look like a government official/NSIS spy), while a cheaper option is the Peugeot 406 (yes, I actually did it. I recommended a Peugeot)!

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Hi,

I am in a dilemma here; I have a passion for Impezas, specifically the 1490cc ones, but almost all my friends say Subarus are thirsty, their resale value drops pretty fast, and their spares are expensive.

When I compare the cost of acquiring the Impreza with that of the NZE/Fielder, the latter is far much expensive whether already used on Kenyan roads or not.

Kindly advise me on whether to take the Impreza, considering that I have no information on its fuel efficiency when in the heavy traffic common on our city roads.

Charles.

What is stopping you from buying the Impreza? If it is not a turbo, then there is nothing to worry you about fuel consumption. Spares are there; how else would you explain the growing number of Subarus on the roads? And you yourself admit that the Fielder is costlier to “acquire”.

I see you yearn for the little Scooby, go for it. But take good care of it and try not to race fellow drivers if you want your fuel economy to stay within affordable margins.

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Hi,
Kindly tell me the difference between turbo-charged and turbo-unchanged. Also, what does naturally-aspirated mean?

Most tuning outfits specialise typically in Japanese cars (STi Subaru, Lancer Evo, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, Nissan GT-R etc), a good number of which are turbo-charged.

Sometimes, in the quest for bigger horsepower, the factory turbo is either replaced for a bigger unit or another one is added to create a twin turbo setup if the original was single.

Also, the stock turbo can have devices added/modified/replaced such as the anti-lag, wastegate, blow-off valve and actuators.

Naturally, an engine built to develop 280hp will not last very long if forced to output 500-plus hp, and the kind of people who do this kind of thing do not go easy on their cars.

As a result, the resale value of tuned cars is next to nothing. If you own one of the cars I mentioned, or other performance vehicles (especially from Japan) and you intend to resell it, you might have to say “turbo-unchanged” to mean that the car still runs on a factory turbo.

This means that any outstanding warranties will still be valid, the vehicle’s manual can be followed if the turbo needs repair, the performance and fuel consumption will not be too far from the manufacturer’s claims, etc…. In other words, the car will not have any surprises under the bonnet.

Turbo-charging is the act of forcing air under great pressure into an engine (any engine) to increase the power output.

The fan (impeller) that forces this air into the engine is driven via a shaft connected to another fan (turbine), and this turbine is driven by the force exerted by exhaust gases leaving the engine. This is as opposed to supercharging, whereby the impeller is driven by the engine itself rather than by an exhaust turbine.

Naturally-aspirated means “neither turbo-charged nor super-charged”, i.e air goes into the engine under atmospheric pressure only; no extra force is exerted.

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Hi,

My Mitsubishi Cedia is back on the road after your advice, thanks a lot. I recently bought a Toyota Prado TX but it did not come with a manual. Kindly expound on the following available gadgets, their use, and at what times or situations they are to be used.

1 Button marked PWR.

2. 2ND.

3. Red button.

All these buttons are next to the main gear lever with all the other functions well indicated, that is, P, R, N, D, 2, L.

The vehicle is auto but with a manual 4WD gear lever and I wish to ask, why is the vehicle very poor in handling slippery terrain?

It skids too easily. And what is this overdrive thing and when is it supposed to be used? When it indicates “Overdrive Off” on the dashboard, what does this mean?

Juma.

Where were you when I was discussing overdrive and how to drive an automatic? Anyway, mine is not to chide, but to inform and educate, so here goes:

1. The PWR (Power) button is a function of what Toyota calls ECT or ECT-i (Electronically Controlled Transmission). When that button is pressed, the settings for the gearbox change, shifts happen faster, downshifts happen earlier, and upshifts later (much higher in the rev range) to maximise the car’s performance.

2. 2ND locks the transmission and limits the gearbox from going beyond second gear.

3. I have never found out what the red button is for, but I suspect it is a shift lock. I have pressed it surreptitiously (out of owners’ view) in the numerous automatic cars so equipped but nothing happened, as far as I could tell. Further research is on-going.

4. Overdrive allows the engine to spin at fewer rpms for a given road speed at a particular gear. The effect is to save fuel and reduce strain on the engine and transmission. If it says Overdrive OFF on the dash, then the unit has been disengaged and you should turn it on again. The circumstances that warrant its disengagement may be outside your skill range, judging from your email.

Finally, when your Prado skids, is it in 2WD or 4WD? Allow me to digress a little. The advent of ABS led to more carelessness among drivers and as such braking-related accidents went up statistically.

It is in this vein that I should ask you not to fall into the same trap: your car having 4WD does not mean that after engaging the transfer case (4L or 4H) you are now a driving god and can go anywhere.

If anything, off-roading is one of the most difficult driving tactics ever and requires plenty of skill. You will still skid, spin, or wedge yourself into the countryside if you do not know how to use the hardware available to you.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. My question is, what are the advantages of a Toyota Corolla NZE, G-Grade, for example?

Ben.

Advantages: It is cheap, common, easy to maintain, easy on the fuel, and has an eager autobox.

Disadvantages: It is VERY common, the eager autobox is actually overeager and hunts too much, I do not like the looks too much (my opinion), and the car is treacherous if you are not paying attention.

Posted on

Manual cars may offer more fuel economy than autos

Hi JM,
I have an auto 2002 Forester that I would say is quite economical. My wife bought a five-speed manual 2004 Forester that has nearly the same peak power but is far more economical in terms of fuel consumption.

While I spend a thousand bob to Thika and back to Nairobi, she will spend Sh800. This is something I have tested myself and I know it is not tuning because I take both to Subaru Kenya for diagnostics and service. So, is a manual vehicle more fuel friendly that an auto? And if yes, why?

Yes, and for two main reasons. First is a fact that a manual gearbox allows you to short-shift, that is shift up way earlier than an auto would, like at 1,700rpm from first to second.

With an auto, the computer decides when to shift up or down, so there is a tendency for these engines to operate at higher (and racier) rpms, thus pushing up the fuel consumption.

Second is the clutch. Unless the car has an electronically operated friction clutch, most autos tend to have a power sapping fluid clutch, also called a torque converter.

It does not transmit 100 per cent of the engine torque to the transmission; there is some slippage and thus losses at the clutch. These losses translate into less mechanical efficiency and hence higher fuel consumption.

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Hi,
I wish to enquire about the Toyota Verossa. My friends tell me that I may have problems with it when it comes to spare parts and that I should go for Premio instead. Could you kindly advise me on this with respect to fuel consumption in both cars?

The Verossa and the Premio are not in the same class. Your friends should have referred to Mark II or Mark X, which are all similarly sized.

The Premio is a small, compact saloon with a very economical engine while the Verossa is a mid-sized semi-luxury saloon and may be performance-oriented. The bigger engines mean they cost more to fuel over a given distance compared to the Premio.

On a personal note, I do not like the Verossa’s looks. It featured prominently on my list of ugly cars.

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Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a car in January but I am not sure what car I should go for. I will mostly require the car to run work-related errands within the CBD and occasionally outside Nairobi.

With the skyrocketing fuel prices, I am keen on a car that is not “thirsty” but I also do not want something that is small and too girly (IST, Vitz — no offence meant).

I have in mind a Premio, Allion, NZE, Avensis, or a Nissan Primera. I am also torn between buying the car locally (one that has not been used on Kenyan roads) and importing. Kindly advise.

You want a small car? You want economy? And you want something not too girly? And, in the name of nation-building, you also want a locally sold unit? Forget Allion, forget Premio, forget NZE. There is a car that fits the bill exactly, though — Maruti Omni.

It is dirt cheap, even brand-new, it is small but handy (seeing as to how it is a van), and that puny 800cc engine will burn less petrol than anything else on the road, other than a motorcycle.

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Hi Baraza,
On the question about the handbrake sign, highlighted here some time back, it happened to my old model Ipsum too. When the handbrake was disengaged, the light would stay on. When I did a diagnosis, I found that the problem was the brake fluid lid.

Thanks for the heads up, but the lady said performance was also compromised, so my thinking was that the handbrake itself was increasing the load on the engine.

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Hi
I have a 2002 Toyota Vista 4WD with a D-4 VVT-i 2000cc engine. The engine light would go on and off for a while, then stay off for months. I did a diagnosis that yielded “p1653 SCV circuit motor”.

I changed the oxygen sensor and the plugs and cleaned all the speed sensors at the wheels, but there was no improvement.

Now, the car misfires in the morning and produces smoke before attaining the operating temperature. I have also realised its consumption has gone up. I was advised by my mechanic to use synthetic oil for service. What could be the problem and where can I get help?

Mwangi

SCV is the swirl control valve and I think it needs replacing. This is one of the weak points of a D-4 engine. I do not know anybody who can open one up and put it back together. Pole.

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Hallo Baraza,

I drive an automatic 1.6 litre 2002 VW Golf Mark 4 (station wagon). Unfortunately, I have never driven other cars so whenever people ask me about its consumption compared to other vehicles, I am at a loss. Could you please clarify or provide insight into the following issues.

1. What, in your view, is the normal consumption in km/litre for a 1600 cc vehicle (whether Mitsubishi, VW, or Toyota) in peak traffic (Nairobi situation) and on the highway?

2. When I suddenly slow down, like when approaching a bump or something is crossing the road, accelerating afterwards is problematic, the vehicle behaves as if it is in neutral gear. But if you step on the acceleration pad once then release and then step on it again, it picks up well. Please unravel this for me.

3. When driving, mainly on the highway, at gears three to five, should the rev indicator settle at, say, less than 2,000? How should the rev counter ideally behave when driving? Does the consumption of the vehicle change when the rev counter is higher?

Finally, it may be a good idea for you to lead a forum for motorists to exchange experiences. For instance, you can organise a forum for Mitsubishi Galant owners on where they physically meet and share experiences such as how they rectified a particular problem.

Tom

1. In traffic, expect anywhere between five and nine kilometres per litre, depending on the severity of the gridlock. On the highway, anything from 14 kpl upwards is possible, with as much as 24 kpl for a diesel engine of that size.

2. Is your car automatic? If so, then the gearbox is what we call “lethargic” or slow thinking; it takes some time before it realises that it should have geared down by that point. If not, another suspicion could be a jamming throttle pedal, so much so that the first gentle prod does nothing, so releasing and depressing it again resolves the jam, allowing it to move as it should. Just a theory.

3. Ignore the rev counter. How does the car feel and sound? If it stutters, judders, or sounds like it is about to stall, the revs are too low or the road speed is too low for that gear and you should downshift. If the engine sounds belligerent, high strung, “shouty”, or if the needle points towards the red line, shift up or ease off the throttle, you are almost over-revving the car. And yes, at higher rpms (4,000 plus), the fuel consumption is a little bit higher than at mid-level revs (2000-3500 rpm).

Finally, visit www.carbaraza.com to start a discussion topic — physical meetings will call for a venue, an announcement and, knowing Africans, refreshments will be expected. In other words, non-refundable costs. So I prefer the Internet.

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Hi JM,

I am interested in purchasing a mini-van and I am inclined towards a Nissan Serena 1990cc, but everyone I know advises that I should get the Noah instead. I am sorry, but I think Toyotas are a bit over-rated. Would you kindly compare the two vehicles in terms of consumption, road handling, parts, and anything else that you may find useful, especially for female drivers?

Christabellah.

Yeah, the people’s faith and belief in Toyotas is damn near religious in intensity, and for good reason. Count how many cars you see and express the number of Toyotas in that group as a percentage and you will see what I am talking about.

The Serena, if we are to go by reputation, has an ugly ancestry — one of the earlier models (late ’90s) earned the dubious honour of being the slowest accelerating new car on sale (at the time), taking a calendar-filling 19 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest.

Later versions are, of course, better than that, but the damage has already been done. There is a new version out (2012), but I doubt this is the car you intend to buy.

Consumption should be broadly similar but the Serena may edge the Toyota out slightly, but nothing that cannot be corrected with a small adjustment in driving attitude.

Handling is a mostly redundant characteristic in vans (I do not see you oversteering a Serena on purpose) but maybe the Toyota takes it here.

Parts and service also go to the Toyota; there are plenty around, so mechanics have been practising a lot and dealers bring in spares in droves because of the ready market.

So, against my better judgement, I would say go for the Toyota if you want a cautious approach. Go for the Serena if you have a pioneering spirit; who knows, you might start a fad like someone did with the Galant some years back.

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Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy a Toyota Cami. Is it friendly to a low -lass earner and does it have different ccs? What are its general advantages and disadvantages? Where would be the best place to buy one?

It is very friendly to a low-class earner — cheap to buy, cheap to run, and will rarely break down (it is also called Daihatsu Terios). I know it is 1300cc, but there could be a 1.5 somewhere in the line-up.

Advantages: It is small and, therefore, easy to park and not too thirsty. It can also do 85 per cent of the off-road tricks that a Land Rover Defender can. Disadvantages: It is bloody uncomfortable, 100 km/h plus on the highway is more dangerous and nerve-wracking than an afternoon as a matador, and the small size means you will be getting pretty intimate with your passengers.

Posted on

If you want to save thousands in fuel costs, stay home

Hello Baraza.
Thanks so much for your help in your Wednesday column. I have a new shape Nissan B15 but its seems quite thirsty. Someone told me to change the plugs and buy original ones from dealers. Is this the solution, considering it never misses service? And if so, where do I get them? Is there any other way of economising on fuel? Finally, there is an ECO sign on the dashboard, what is it and what is its work?

Munene

Yours is a strange car. Or you are the strange one? On the one hand you say fuel economy has gone to the dogs and on the other hand the car tells you that you are outdoing yourself saving fuel (the ECO light on your dashboard) all in the same breath. Which is which?

Don’t rush to swap parts in your car just so that it can cost Sh200 less in terms of fuel driving from Nairobi to Nyeri.

What does the swap cost, and how many trips will you make, saving Sh200 every time, before you can recoup the money you spent changing plugs? And what if you change plugs and there is no difference?
Just how bad is the fuel consumption?

First, try changing your driving style and go for a gentle approach, then get rid of any clutter in your car that you do not really need.

And, once in a while, use a matatu, especially in very bad traffic, or cut down on the trips you make. And do you really have to drive to Kikopey for meat with your friends every weekend? Stay home if you can — you will save thousands every year.

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Hello Baraza

I am interested in buying a Toyota Mark X. From the people you have interacted with, what views have they had about this vehicle?

I have read a lot of your articles and I am aware that the consumption will not be akin to that of a Premio.

No complaints so far, but give it time, they will surface eventually. And yes, the fuel consumption is not akin to that of a Premio, so start saving.

Join a chama if you can and every time your turn comes around, sink all that money into the gas tank… just kidding, the fuel consumption is not that bad, but it is higher than that of a Premio.

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Hi Baraza,

I am interested in purchasing a small 4×4 vehicle that I could use in my rural home as well as to ferry me to and from my office in town.

I have been thinking of any one of the following: Toyota Fielder/Kluger, Nissan X-Trail or Suzuki Vitara/Escudo (all second-hand).

Please advise me on the best in terms of price, fuel consumption, and maintenance.

M’Nchebere

For starters, the Fielder does not belong here, although it is the cheapest of the clique to buy and run. Whether it survives extended use off-road will depend on you, your mechanic, and how well roads are maintained in your home area.

As a general rule of thumb, from among the Kluger, X-Trail, and Vitara, the Kluger could be the priciest and the Vitara the cheapest.

Fuel consumption should not differ that much across the range (but approach the Kluger like a cat approaching a bath in this respect), so economy will be down to you driving like your grandma, shedding deadweight, keeping the windows shut, and the AC off.

From past experience, Vitaras have been hardy little things, so they will tolerate a lot more abuse before throwing in the towel compared to the rest.

Discovery (not the TV channel, but the court-like process) has led me to the knowledge that automatic X-Trails go through gearboxes with alarming speed, so you might want a manual on that front.

The Kluger does not seem cut out for hard use, but I cannot declare anything yet until I try one out.

For the second time:

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Hi Baraza,

My car is sucking wind from outside while at speeds above 50 km/h, producing a whistling sound from the AC vents on the dashboard.

The sound is always there irrespective of whether the vents are open or closed or whether the ventilation fan is on or off. It only stops when I reduce speed.

When I listen inside the engine compartment with the bonnet open when the car is standing still, there is no such noise at idle and/or when the engine is being revved.

Kindly advise me on what could be the problem as I have been unable to get a solution from the mechanics in my area.

What kind of car is it? Sometimes we motoring hacks talk about something called “build quality” and it entails, among other things, how long your car stays in one piece before panels and knobs start falling off, how easy it is to knock those parts off, panel gap tolerances and consistency, application of material (leather, aluminium, carbon-fibre, etc), and such other things.

It sounds like your car has issues with build quality. There is a leak somewhere, not that it is “sucking wind” as you so graciously put it; the weather is finding its way into your car. You may have to take it apart and patch up the leaks.

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Hi JM,
I am interested in importing a Toyota Corolla, Avensis, RAV4, or Previa from the UK with the D-4D engine. I am convinced that the fuel efficiency of the D-4D engine, being a common rail, should make it cheaper to run. What is your take on the aforementioned models and on availability of spare parts in Kenya?

The D-4D is quite economical, I agree, while at the same time imbuing some performance into the mix. That is the good part.

The bad part is that given the complexity of the kind of technology at work, and the size of some of the components at play (the fuel nozzles for starters), if and when the engine needs an overhaul you may have to buy a whole new engine because for the life of me I am yet to meet a single Kenyan who can fully service, strip, and reassemble a D-4. And that is what overhauling is all about.

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Hi Baraza,

I love Land Rover Freelanders and I want to own one soon. Please advise on its power, fuel consumption, efficiency and availability of spare parts. What is the major difference between the 2000cc and 1800cc, and which option is better, manual or auto?

Which Freelander in particular? Early versions of the first model had shortcomings in “build quality” and sometimes broke the 4WD transmission (the shaft to the rear axle sheared and rendered the car permanent FWD), among other things. It is a good car, though.

Performance can be lived with, economy is as expected from a car of this class, and there are enough Land Rover enthusiasts around to ensure that you will not be lacking spares any time soon. As for 1800cc vs 2000 cc, to be honest, there is not much difference in the real world, but generally, if you want economy, go 1.8, if you want power/performance, 2.0 is the way.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a 4WD Allion which has an “ECT snow” button. I have used it in mud, where the car responds slowly to throttle pressure and hence reduces skidding. Technically, how does it function and how different is it from “diff-lock”. Lastly, what are the pros and cons of the 4WD over the 2WD model in terms of performance, handling, thirst, and maintenance?

As I once explained, ECT is Electronically Controlled Transmission, but it is also tied in to some form of traction control. It is purely electronic and is actually some form of software that governs throttle response and gear shifts for the automatic transmission whereas diff-lock is mechanical and “locks” all the tyres so that they all rotate at the same speed with no slippage.

Now, 4WD vs 2WD. Performance-wise, it depends on a lot of things. The extra 4WD hardware might bog the car down with weight compared to the 2WD, but from a full-bore standing start, it has the advantage, seeing how torque is spread over four wheels instead of two, so wheel spin is minimised and traction is maximised.

4WDs are better for directional stability. This means that they are harder to turn and are sometimes prone to understeer.

But once they start turning, they turn better, owing to the grip levels available. Cars using advanced 4WD systems (like the Nissan GT-R and Lancer Evolution) use torque vectoring technology to achieve impossible cornering speeds and lateral G without understeer/oversteer/drift.

4WDs are marginally thirstier, again, because of weight. And they are harder to maintain because there are more things that can go wrong.

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Hi Baraza,

I am 21 years old and have a Nissan B15 auto (bought by my father in case you are wondering where I would get a car at this age).

My question is, what are the uses of gears 1 and 2 and when is the appropriate time to shift to these gears?

Felix

These gears are used when more power is needed, such as when overtaking. They can also be used in hill descent control when the foot brakes are not really needed.

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Hi,

I have used Subaru cars from Leon, Legacy, Impreza, and currently a Forester, since 2007.

I like everything about Subarus but I intend to change to a Toyota Noah or Voxy this festive season due to its space (but come January I will be back to Subarus).

My question is how, are these two models in terms of performance and fuel consumption compared to Subarus? Are there any other issues of concern in these models? Keep up the good work.

Gichovi

Why would you want to know about the performance of a van? How fast are you planning to drive it?

The consumption figures from Japanese test cycles are 10–15 kpl for the 3ZR engine vehicles.

Issues of concern? I don’t know of any but some of my acquaintances were lamenting about the diesel Voxy — they were not specific on just what exactly is wrong with it.

Posted on

Avoid running on ‘E’ all the time, just fill up

Hi Baraza,

I have a well-maintained Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia, 1500cc, 2003 model. I often drive it when the low-fuel light is on and the car covers many kilometres before refuelling.

What are the implications of driving a car when this light is on for a long period? Another issue is that, whenever, I top up with fuel worth about Sh500, the light goes on immediately, even before I am out of the petrol station. Why? How effective is this vehicle in terms of fuel consumption?

I would also like you to generally comment about Mitsubishi Lancers as I have found this car to be much nicer compared to the Subaru Legacy I had before.

Frederick.

How many kilometres does your Lancer cover from the moment the light comes on?

If it is more than 100, then you might have a special car in your care: either the fuel consumption is extraordinary or the electricals are playing with your mind.

The biggest implication for running a car with the fuel light constantly on is that you might run out of fuel far from a filling station and you would go to a lot of trouble getting it running again.

Most cars indicate ‘empty’ or have the light shining when there is about five to 10 litres of fuel remaining.

So, if your tank was very nearly empty (say, had less than 100ml of petrol left) and you put in Sh500 worth of fuel (given that petrol is going for about Sh120 a litre, that is about four litres of fuel ), then what you have in your tank is still below the empty mark. Fill your tank if you can.

The Cedia is very economical, even in the 1.5 litre form, especially if the car has a GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection, similar to D4 in Toyota) engine, but to harness the maximum effect from GDI, maintain steady throttle openings (a light constant pressure on the accelerator) as the GDI system reverts to the normal stoichiometric charge ratio whenever the throttle opening is adjusted.

Let me get my hands on a Cedia and I will definitely give you something worth reading.

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Hi Baraza,

Let us separate two warring factions here: the D4 engine haters (a larger group) and those who praise it.

First things first; is the D4 engine different from a VVT-i one? Or, if I may shoot more straight, can D4 technology be used in a VVT-i engine?

I have heard things that make touching the engine sinful — it is significantly thirstier than the others and requires you to talk to the HR department for a loan to repair it once it goes nuts.

Please clarify whether all these things are true.

Finally, please confirm whether the new car models, specifically the Toyota Premio and the RAV4, can come with the D4 engine.

And is it possible for the D4 label not to appear on the engine cover?

Nyaga.

The D4 technology was supposed to be the motoring industry’s second-coming, but Toyota rushed it and. because of that, it does have a few weaknesses. It is my understanding that they are back to the drawing board over this.

D4 and VVT-i are two different technologies: one concerns fuel delivery (D4, Direct Injection 4-stroke cycle) while the other concerns valve timing (VVT-i, variable valve timing with intelligence). It is, therefore, possible to have both on the same engine.

Why would a D4 engine be thirstier than others?

The technology is supposed to improve fuel consumption, not make it worse. I have driven some cars (Toyota Vista the most) with D4 and if carefully driven, the 1.8 litre would return astonishing mileage.

Toyota Premios and RAV4s do come with D4 engines for some trim levels.

Most D4-equipped cars have the logo plastered on the engine cover. I have not seen one that did not, but this is not to say that it is impossible. I just have not seen one yet.

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Hi Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles even though I do not have a car yet. However, I’m planning to buy one in January and I needed you advice.

There is this car I see, Toyota Lexus/Altezza salon. I have not seen many on our roads, though, but I admire its aesthetics and I’m planning to acquire one.

Please advise me on its performance, engine size, handling, fuel consumption, speed, and spare parts availability. Your advice will be much appreciated.

First off, there is no such thing as a Toyota Lexus. Those are two different brands under the same umbrella. You either have a Toyota or you have a Lexus.

The car you are referring to is the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200. Although you claim not to have seen many on our roads, believe me they are there, and in increasing numbers.

Answering your queries in order of presentation: damn-near excellent (in the 3 Series league, possibly faster); it is a 2.0 litre (the IS 250 that is strictly USDM is a 2.5); the handling is sublime, courtesy of the rear drive chassis; fuel consumption is passable under normal driving conditions, but it gets a bit thirsty when pushed; it is fast with good acceleration (clocks 100 km/h in less than 9 seconds); I am not too sure about spares but take heart in the fact that, with increasing numbers, their availability will improve.

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Hi Baraza,

I am interested in purchasing a Mitsubishi Pajero. I have already identified one, a 1998 Inter-cooler Turbo which looks fairly good and is going for Sh700,000. What do you think, is the price fair? How come a Toyota Landcruiser of the same age goes for almost double this price?

For a Pajero of this age and make, what mechanical problems are likely to plague it? Are spare parts available and is it a guzzler?

Robert

The biggest issue would be poor diesel combustion accompanied by a lack of power, so check for a smoky exhaust.

A good service/overhaul should put it back in order. Also, take it to a specialist to have the turbo looked at since most people do not know how to maintain turbodiesel cars.

It is not what you would call a guzzler, given its size and class. The price seems a bit optimistic but a thorough check should reveal whether or not you are going to pay more when fixing it.

Toyota SUVs are generally expensive to begin with, and their reputation for hardiness and reliability means they will not lose value fast.

I know of Landcruisers from the late 1990s that still have an asking price well north of Sh2.5 million.

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Dear Baraza,

I have two issues I need your wise counsel on:

1. We own a Toyota Noah 2000 model, 2184 cc, diesel. The car’s timing belt broke about four weeks ago. We got a mechanic to fix it and that is when the woes started. At first, he could not get the part and had to have it imported. Later the sleeves and pistons had to be replaced. The car is now working but it is smoking like a jiko, has a hard start, and shakes when idling. What could the mechanic have done wrong and how can we correct this? Is it worth it to continue fixing this engine or should we jut buy a new one? The mechanic reckons that the smoking will go away after three days.

2. If options run out for us, we are thinking of getting a new car but would like your advice on imports from Britain as compared to Japan. What would you recommend for a family of four? We would like a small 4×4 that can go to shags and also do local running in town. I had thought of a Land Rover Freelander but have no idea how the car performs. Your advice will be highly appreciated.

The smoking means a lot of things could be wrong. The valve seals, the piston rings, or even the entire cylinder head could be leaking. The hard start could be caused by faulty electricals or poor fuel delivery, and the shaking during idle means that one or more of your spark plugs could be giving up. That also ties in with the hard start.

It might be easier to just get a new engine, especially nowadays when a new one costs as little as Sh30,000 (expect to pay up to Sh70,000 for your Noah engine, but it will be a good investment in the long run). And next time, go to a proper garage that has a reputation to stake if they ruin your car.

The Freelander is good, but get a late model first-generation car, preferably diesel. The very first Freelander cars off the assembly line had a litany of problems that you do not want to deal with, believe me.

Or you could try the Nissan X-Trail, also in diesel, although even the petrol is not so bad. Avoid automatic for the X-Trail if you can. RAV4s are expensive and a touch thirstier than the X-Trail, while the iO is delicate and wobbly on the highway.

I have not visited the import scene that much to make a declaration which is better between Britain and Japan, but, as a personal preference, I would go Jap.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Toyota Premio D4 manufactured in 2000. The body of the car and the mechanicals are as good as new.

However, while idling, the rev sometimes just shoots up even to 2000 without any obvious cause, hence seriously increasing fuel consumption. The interesting thing is that on some days it returns to normal by itself.

My mechanic appears lost on this. I have replaced the whole throttle body, including the sensors, but there is still no change. One mechanic thought there is a damaged pipe that sucks in air but he cannot say which one. I have tried a number of reputable garages but none can tell where the problem lies, but they insist there is a sensor somewhere with a problem.

Kindly let me know if there is a mechanic who can sort it out even if privately. I know D4 engines have issues but I believe there must be a way out.

Remove the IAC (idle air control) valve and clean it then put it back. Disconnect the battery for about five minutes to try and flush the ECU memory (if possible), but first try and use a scan tool (OBD II device).

Other causes can include: vacuum leaks, a build-up of contaminates obstructing movement of the IAC valve, a sticking or binding EGR valve or throttle linkage, an improperly adjusted or a sticking throttle position sensor, AC leakage from the alternator into the electrical system, fuel injector leakage, the evaporative control system, positive crankcase ventilation system, air leaks into the intake system, exhaust system leaks or a restriction, a contaminated oxygen sensor or an erratic sensor signal, and other related sensors.

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Hi Baraza

I would like to invest in the matatu business here in Kenya but I do not know which bus to choose. I want a 51-seater, either Isuzu FRR, Nissan MKB 210, or Mitsubishi. I am looking at durability, fuel economy, and ease of maintenance.

I have heard from a number of people that Isuzu is durable and easy to maintain while the Nissan is not that durable.

I also do not understand why the Isuzu FRR has a bigger engine (8200cc) than the Nissan MK210 (6900cc), yet the two vehicles yield the same horse power.

Does the Isuzu consume more fuel due to the bigger engine? Also, why is FH the most popular and fastest selling truck in Kenya?

Mwangi.

The MKB 210 is turbocharged and intercooled, that is why it yields almost the same power as the FRR (180 hp vs 187). The FH is popular due to its power (more than both MKB and FRR, at about 215 hp) and durability (the vehicle is quite hardy).

I am not sure about their fuel consumption yet, I will check with some industry players and get back to you.

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Hi,

I have a few questions concerning my Lexus RX330.

First, how can I change the language settings on the DVD screen, and where is the control DVD located?

The other problem is that when I attain speeds of between 60 to 80 kph, it vibrates, but when I stop accelerating it stops. I have tried all manner of wheel balancing and alignment but in vain.

Lastly, is there a DVD with Kenyan maps and can it work in my car? I hear something about PAL and NTSC, but I’m not familiar with these. Please help.

A tuning outfit called Auto Art says they can do Japanese-English translations for those telematics systems. Find them and ask. I do not know where the control DVD is located (or what it is, for that matter).

The vibrating could be caused by worn out engine or transmission mounts. Lexus were known to have installed active engine mounts on some cars (these mounts vibrate at the same frequency but half a wavelength out of sync with the engine vibration itself to cancel out the engine vibrations, which is why Lexus cars are so smooth).

I do not know who has the DVD with Kenyan maps, but I have seen cars with Nairobi sat-nav, and CMC boast that their Discovery 4 has a Kenyan road map sat-nav that includes game parks.

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Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and read your article touching on V-Power fuel and I just wanted to make a comment.

I use a B6 VW Passat diesel and was recently introduced to V-Power diesel by Shell.

This is what I noticed: V-Power diesel is made from a different base stock. Instead of being refined from crude, a percentage will consist of liquified gas and is meant to be a “purer” fuel with cleaner burning. Whether it is worth the price premium is a point for endless discussion.

For what it is worth, I have tried every type of diesel fuel here (BP Ultimate Diesel, Total Excelium) plus a range of additives, and none has made any measurable, repeatable difference in performance or economy. All diesel fuel on sale from reputable UK forecourts meets or exceeds the EN590 standard that car manufacturers specify.

Musau.

Thank you Musau. When V-Power was first introduced back here in the motherland, Shell were careful to point out that it will not turn your Corolla estate into a Ferrari (in spite of using images of Ferrari cars to popularise the fuel).

It is more of a cleaning agent than a high-power output fuel. With the increased octane rating, it can be used in performance cars with high compression engines.

It will not, repeat NOT, increase the performance of your car or the fuel economy, but it will clean the engine of deposits in and around the combustion chamber.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Subaru Forester 2003 Turbo. The turbo makes a whining sound at 5,000rpm while the boost has a slight delay. The sound can be heard from the cockpit. I have checked all the hoses. Is the turbo going? I am using V-Power and fully synthetic oil (Quartz 9000).

The car could be suffering from boost leak, which means that somewhere in the turbo or intake, there is an area where the air (boost) is escaping.

Typically, a boost leak is caused by a loose or bad seal or cracked housing. When there is a boost leak, the turbo will be able to generate boost, but it may not be able to hold it at a constant level, and pressure will drop off proportionally to the size of the leak.

The funny whining noise is a cyclic noise caused by unstable compressor operating conditions known as compressor surge.

This aerodynamic instability is the most noticeable during a rapid lift of the throttle following operation at full boost, which it may have in your case since you talk of running at 5,000rpm.

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Hi,

I have this car that I call an animal because I was driving on a highway and did not realise that I was doing 160km/h. It is an 1800cc Fielder S. Kindly advise on the most fuel-economic speed on highways.

I also wish to know whether switching the lever to neutral and back in attempt to save fuel, in an auto, can cause damage to the gearbox. Thanks.

The most economical speed depends mostly on engine capacity, but it lies between 90 km/h for small-engine cars and about 125–130 km/h for cars with large engines (3.5 litre plus). Shave off about 20 km/h each for diesel powered cars. You, however, need to have your windows shut and keep a steady throttle foot.

I had done an article on driving in neutral and declared it redundant in the face of current technology.

You are better off leaving the car in gear and getting off the throttle completely when going downhill.

Driving in neutral does not damage the gearbox but there is a big risk of you getting the shift wrong, like if you accidentally bump the lever up into R instead of down into D.

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Hi JM,

Your recent comments on the value of spacers needs a reply. The level of ground clearance of a vehicle when loaded is a vital and too-often-ignored factor when making a purchase. Many imported vehicles have soft suspensions and, even with small loads, cannot negotiate the ill-designed speed bumps without making contact.

While spacers may reduce the visual appearance of your favourite vehicle, it may be better for you to get something more practical for everyday use.

During the days of the 305, 404, and 504, the Peugeot factory spent a day every three or four months making these models for the African market with over 100 modifications, which included stiffer springs and increased ground clearance, and the 305 I owned never grounded when loaded.

The rules on importation of cars should be changed to include an established minimum ground clearance when loaded with the recommended load.

Muckle.

Thank you so much, Muckle. I did discuss tropicalisation and the import market in my first two articles of 2011, but, as has become the norm, accusations of being on the payroll of some local franchise flew left and right. It is difficult to help people when they do not want to be helped.

That was the beauty of the Peugeot cars of yore: they were built to a standard and the local driving conditions were taken into consideration.

If it was up to me, I would turn the import market into a forbidding venture for all but the most determined. It is time to get people back into proper cars and have them stop complaining about ruined suspensions, incompatible fuel systems, and other such problems.

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Dear Sir/Madam,

Recently, I came across an article on toxic cars from Japan. It seems that following the last nuclear disaster in Japan, unscrupulous used-car dealers and exporters are playing around with re-registration papers and processes in order to sell and export cars that are unsuitable for use, cars condemned by the Japanese government as having too high a radiation reading, hence unfit for use.

I do believe our “tough” business men and women will find a way of exporting these condemned units to unsuspecting consumers in Kenya and wherever RHD cars are used. If I recall correctly, after the Chernobyl nuclear fall-out, some pints of condemned milk did find their way into the local market.

Daniel.

Dear Sir/Madam? Seriously? I do not want to sound like a pompous, narcissistic, self-centred person here, but did you not see that the picture in the paper was that of a man?

That aside, you seem to be on to something here. If our government was serious, they would acquire a set of Geiger-Muller tubes and deploy them at the port to intercept any radioactive material that would otherwise be passed to the mwananchi.