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

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

Hi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Gabu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards.

RM

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

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

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

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

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

Mr Baraza JM,

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

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Mark II, Verossa, Mark X and Camry: Same stuff

Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota Premio, year 2000 model, and would like to upgrade to a Camry or Mark X. I do not do a lot of out-of-town driving — maybe three times a year to western Kenya and five times to Nakuru — so I need the cars mostly for town service.

I expect to get power and comfort from the car I buy. I want to do 160KPH comfortably on the Narok-Bomet road but still not feel like I am pushing the engine too hard.

So, between the two, which is better in terms of performance, reliability, durability, and maintenance, and which would you recommend?

Martin.

Those two, along with the Mark II and the Verossa, are what we call “sister cars”, offering similar amenities on similar platforms with one or two differences here and there.

It is in this vein that the question goes back to you: do you prefer a front-wheel drive car (Toyota Camry) or a rear-wheel drive one (Mark X)? The Mark X also has the option of 4WD, the Camry does not. Otherwise they are similar in so many other ways.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your continued assistance in car reviews and advice. I have been searching for a low-priced car and the Suzuki Aerio has caught my eye.

The car looks good from the outside and the price is within my range. Following your advice that there may be better deals out there other than the conventional brands, I am tempted to risk buying this machine, only that I would highly appreciate your views on it beforehand.

It is almost the size of a Subaru Forester, and is a 1.5-litre two-wheel-drive (year 2005), so fuel consumption might not be an issue here.

My concern is availability of spare parts for this particular model because, unless I am wrong, it is a very rare piece. Also, is it reliable, though my use is the normal home-to-office run and an up-country visit over the weekend. In a nutshell, would it be suitable for a first-time car owner?

Regards,

Njomo JM

The Aerio has been accused of blandness in other markets, and from what I have seen, the estate version looks remarkably similar to a Toyota Spacio (another bland car).

Reliability does not seem problematic, nor is fuel economy, and in these days of the Internet, availability of spares is directly proportional to how badly you want a particular type of car.

Hi Baraza,

I am basically what you can refer to as a sufferer who loves speed and performance. In a profession which places a premium on appearances, and with a budget of between Sh600,000 and Sh700,000, I have my mind set on a Mercedes-Benz C Class, W202 or an E W124.

I, however, would like to get your two cents’ worth on maintenance, fuel consumption, and reliability of the two, bearing in mind that both have been used on Kenyan roads for over 10 years. In other words, which of the two would be a better buy?

Henry.

If keeping up appearances is a priority to you, then the three points you raise there are moot. Ask owners or drivers of the Range Rover P38A (what we use to call the “House”, the old 4.6 HSE) what I mean.

Ignore the tears streaming down their faces as they recall their ownership experiences and listen keenly to what they have to say as regards reliability, consumption, and maintenance.

In terms of common sense, the W202 wins on economy. Maintenance could also swing the 202 way because of the bigger service intervals. Reliability might favour the 124: those things simply do not break down.

Appearances turn the tables around. The 124 is a bigger car and looks more menacing. The 202 could be accused of looking a bit “lady-like”, and I know of people who consider the C Class as a beginner’s Benz (before the A Class was invented).

Hello,

Thanks for the great work you do. Yours is a very interesting read. I like your way with words; even novices can understand what you are talking about.

I own a Toyota Sprinter AE 114, manual transmission, full time 4WD. I have had problems with wheel alignment for a long time. Several mechanics have told me the alignment bushes on the arm have collapsed, and Toyota Kenya does not have the spares in stock.

Driving, even on a level highway, is a nightmare because I have to wrestle with the steering wheel. What can I do to remedy this?

Tiony AK.

I did not think I would ever say this to a reader, but it may be time for you to head “downtown” towards the infamous Kirinyaga Road. If the part is out of stock at Toyota Kenya, you might be lucky along that seedy avenue where cars are chopped and stripped of parts.

If I could find the fourth gear synchroniser unit for a manual transmission 1990 Peugeot 405 there, I am sure the steering system bushes of a more recent Toyota car can be found too.

Hello Baraza,

I bought a Toyota NZE 121, year 2005 model recently and there are two knobs that are confusing me. First, what is the work of the ‘Shift Lock’ button at the gear console?

And, second, on the gear lever are two knobs. What is the work of the smaller one? Please enlighten me because I have never touched them. The car is light, very fast, and pocket friendly. Kind regards,
JMM.

The ‘Shift Lock’ button, when pressed, allows the driver to change from ‘Park’ to ‘Neutral’ when the engine is off. You may have noticed that the gear lever will not move at all if the vehicle is off, and that might make towing a problem.

Now to the two buttons. The bigger one must be the one which is pressed when one of these is selected; ‘Park’ or ‘Reverse’.

This is a fail-safe feature to prevent the erroneous engagement of either of these selector positions, which would be detrimental to the gearbox if the vehicle is in forward motion. When pressed, at least that way the driver is sure of what he is doing.

The smaller button must be the ‘Overdrive’ switch. Keep the overdrive on, unless you are towing another vehicle or pulling a heavy load, in which case you can turn it off.

Hi Baraza,

We appreciate your help on motoring.

1. Recent high performance engines run best on high-octane fuels. What kind of fuel do Formula One monsters run on?

2. Does the same apply to super bikes?

3. What type of engine oil, transmission oil and lubricants do they use?

4. Could you demystify these Formula One cars for us?

Thank you,

Chris MM.

1. Formula One cars run on high octane fuels, as you may have already suspected.

2. Up to a point, yes. Though bikes can easily run on lower octane stuff without much risk of blowing an engine or pre-ignition.

3. F1 cars mostly use synthetic oils of the high performance variety. Stuff like Shell Helix (Ferrari) and Mobil 1 (McLaren, Mercedes).

4. Yes, it would be possible to demystify these things, but you see, I would need insider information, which is a closely guarded secret. The inner workings of naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine making 750hp is not something that is out there in the public.

All I know is that the power comes from the ability of those engines to rev to 15,000rpm or more, but that ability is what is kept mysterious to us lesser mortals. That is why you will never see a detailed photograph of anybody’s F1 engine: even mundane details like bolts sizes are kept away from the prying eye.

Dear Baraza,

I recently bought a Toyota Belta, 996cc engine, type 1KR-FE. The car is very nice for town service and fuel economy. A few questions though:

1: The engine vibrates a lot, especially at idling or when caught up in traffic and the air con is on. I have changed the plugs to manufacturer’s specs but there is no change. Is this vibration normal?

2: The ‘Check Engine’ and ‘ABS’ lights came on a while back and diagnosis has returned accelerator and front wheel ABS sensors. However, the parts are not available in Kenya and the local franchise is hopeless. Where can I get these?

3: What is the standard fuel consumption for this car? On the Net, some sites indicate 15KPL in town and 18KPL on the highway, while others talk of 12KPL in town and 15 on the open road. Mine consumes 11.5KPL in town and 15 on the highway.

Ken.

1. Vibration: It depends. How bad is the effect? It could be that the water pump/fan and/or the air-con are placing a huge load on the engine. Remember 996cc is not much to play with, so even a small peripheral accessory could have a significant effect on engine load. I once had a Toyota Starlet, EP82, 1300cc, and at night, when idling, if I put on the headlamps, I noticed the idling would change: the revs would dip slightly.

2. Buying sensors: You could always try the Internet. Search for the parts yourself or join a forum. There are always people selling stuff on those forums. If not, there might be someone with a car similar to yours who knows where to source these items.

3. Fuel economy: There is not such a thing as “exact fuel consumption”. The economy figure is highly dependent on several factors: Driving style. Driving environment (being stuck in traffic for three hours, for instance).

Gross Vehicle Weight. Aerodynamic profile. How much air-con is used. The figures quoted are a guideline; they are not set in stone. Different people will achieve different economy figures. Expect 12KPL in town and 15 on highway.

Hello,

I am looking for a vehicle, either a Toyota Corolla station wagon or a Nissan Wingroad. Please advise me on the following:

1: The resale value of each.

2: Which one can best withstand rough terrain?

3: Maintenance costs of each.

4: Availability of spare parts and their cost.

5: Is an automatic transmission as good as manual one, especially in old cars?

Finally, everyone in the rural areas is rushing for the Toyota Probox. What is so special about this car compared to other Toyota station wagons?

Thanks,

Lincoln S Njue.

1. Wingroads tend to age badly, so they do not hold their value well.

2. From 1 above, the Toyota could be a safer bet.

3. Sundry parts are the same: things like wiper blades, brake pads, oil… Model-specific spare parts should also not have too big a disparity in cost between the two cars.

4. See 3 above.

5. The automatic gearboxes in old cars were not too good. And manual transmissions offer better economy and accord the driver more control.

The Probox’s popularity comes from its cheapness and load capacity. Best in class.

Hello,

Thanks for your informative articles on cars. I always look forward to reading them. I drive a 2003 Subaru Legacy BL5, 2.0GT spec B, auto-manual that I would like to do Stage 2 tuning on. Where can I get such services in Nairobi?

Also, I changed my short block EJ20 and my car increased fuel consumption from 9.8KPL to 6.0KPL. Needless to say, I am suffering at the petrol pump. Even though my mechanic says most Subarus do 6.5KPL, what is the best solution to regain my 9.8KPL?

Regards,

Robertson Amalemba Lumasi.

I know of two places where you can get your car modified to Stage 2 level: Auto Art K Ltd, run by The Paji (Amir Mohamed), located behind Total Petrol Station, Gilgil Road, Industrial Area, and Unity Auto Garage, run by a man called Asjad, just a few metres away along Kampala Road.

To regain your previous economy figures, the simple straight answer is to revert to your old EJ20 engine. I do not know what you changed it to, so I cannot tell what exactly led to your high consumption.

What I can tell you is this: if fuel economy is a pain right now, you will be in tears once your car gets to Stage 2 status. Those things can be very thirsty, especially when thrashed.

Posted on

Misbehaving tyres, misinformed mechanics and, well…

Hello Baraza,

I want to pick your brains on a couple of things:

1. Yana tyres: I recently replaced my tyres, one pair Yana and the other Chinese Marshall. The car started “bouncing” whenever I was at about 40kph.

After checking, I zeroed in on one of the Yanas. On closer observation, however, we noticed that the rim was slightly bent and required to be straightened (well, that should be rounded, no?)

At the workshop, which is independent and specialises in tyre service but not sales, the very experienced mzee said that the quality of Yanas has gone down and that he would not recommend them for saloon vehicles, although he admitted that their durability is still good.

He said that they were too “heavy” and therefore require frequent balancing, and suggested that I fit the Yanas at the back.

After fixing the rim, the problem persisted and I went back to Sameer. To their credit, they replaced it without much fuss.

At the workshop where we took the new tyre for balancing (at an independent Shell station where they do not sell tyres either) two different gentlemen there also commented about the “lowered quality” of Yanas.

When I asked the engineer at Sameer about this, he said that it was all hogwash, but probably he would not have said otherwise even if it was true.

In all my years of driving — heading to two decades now — I have always thought highly of and hence used Firestone, now Yana, and considered them good value, even with their high price.

But having heard the comments from two independent sources, neither of whom sells tyres, and therefore should not have a personal interest, I fear that there could be something there. What is your experience/opinion?

2. Clearance: When it comes to offroaders, I believe that clearance is key in enabling you to go wherever your heart leads. But your clearance is only as good as the vehicle’s lowest point.

So does it not beat the purpose when, say, an X-Trail has a silencer hanging what looks like inches off the ground, or some 4WD pickups that have differentials dangling like udders?

3. Many experienced drivers say that when you are going a long distance (say, several hours long) and have to make a brief stop in between, you should not switch off the engine.

Although they all seem to agree on this, none has given me a convincing reason.

Some say it is to maintain the temperature (but will five to 10 minutes make a difference really?) others lubrication (ditto), and one even said that when switched off, an engine loses “rhythm” (but he drives a petrol-powered VVT-i whose “rhythm”’ should be controlled by the computer-box).

Does this make any sense?

4. I have been doing some agriculture and now would like to take it a notch higher.

One of the things that I will need is a tractor. I have seen used entry-level imports being advertised and some locally used ones as well and have started taking a look at some.

But unfortunately, the only advice I am getting so far is from sellers/dealers who are, predictably, biased.

What is your experience in terms of the different models (assuming equivalent specs): Ford, Massey Ferguson, Same, New Holland, John Deere, etc in terms of local availability of spares and expertise, reliability, etc?

Tom

Well, you are not the first to mention the Yana issue to me. However, I usually reserve judgment until I come up with conclusive evidence (myself). This might call for a comparison test between tyre brands to see who the culprits are.

2. Yes, that is true, and that is the likely reason the X-Trail with the “udder” exhaust is never taken off-road.

However, the bigger SUVs with the “udder” diffs work well. Off-roading is a skill, and part of that skill is how to avoid knocking out those diffs when driving over a rock or a tree stump.

If you have been following events of late, I was in South Africa (again) recently to drive the little Range Rover Evoque off-road, and you would not believe what it did, even with its (lack of) ground clearance.

It boils down to skill as much as ground clearance.

3. The theory about losing “rhythm” is hogwash, but there is sense in leaving the engine running if your stop is going to last less than five minutes.

The biggest problem is the sudden loss of oil pressure, so if you are going to drive off again, you would not want an oil-less engine to work with (start lubricating from scratch).

Heat dumping is another issue: while oil is used to lubricate, it is also used to cool certain parts of the engine.

With the oil pump not delivering oil to those parts, they cannot cool fast enough and so they “dump” the heat in whatever little oil happens to be around there.

If the dumped heat exceeds the heat capacity of the oil there, the oil is coked, or broken down, so you have no oil, but sludge. This heat dumping is the number one killer of turbochargers, especially in diesel engines.

4. I will have to disappoint you on this one. The last tractor I was involved with was a Ford Hughes 6610, and it was older than I am. I have not had much experience since.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your articles. Please give me some advice on what I can do about my Toyota Wish.

I refuelled at a Shell petrol station in Machakos and a pump attendant messed up by pumping diesel into it instead of V-Power, as I had advised him.

They later emptied the tank by disconnecting the fuel pipes and off I went. The car is new and I request you to advise me on what I can to do to clear the mess.

Second, what is your take on this car? I have never heard you comment positively about it. You once equated this expensive car with a bicycle and my fiancée now tells me that I drive a cheap car.

James.

Disconnect the fuel lines, empty your petrol tank, and rinse it out with petrol.

As for the fuel lines and the filters/injectors/pumps, you may need someone who is knowledgeable in the exact workings of a Wish.

A common method of cleaning out wrongly fed vehicles used to be to disconnect the fuel filter from the injectors, then prime the pump until only petrol is coming out through the filter. Then reconnect the throttle body to the filter and crank your engine.

Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I want to engage you on a new-found love in the Mazda RX8.

From the little knowledge I have gathered, the RX8 is a 1300cc and does not have pistons. Here are my queries;

Is there a garage you know that services other types of engines that are not piston-driven?

What is the biggest weakness of these types of engines?

Would you buy this car?

How is the fuel consumption?

Which other vehicle would be ideal as a sports car?

Rick

The “non-piston” engine in the RX-8 is actually called a Wankel.

To differentiate them, let us use their proper names: Piston engines are called reciprocating engines because the pistons move in an up-and-down (reciprocating) motion.

The Wankel engine is called a rotary engine because, one, rather than conventional pistons, it uses rotors (usually two or three) and these rotors move in a circular/rotating motion, hence the name.

I cannot declare any one garage competent enough to service these engines because they are rare and delicate.

If one garage proves its mettle, I will be glad to get their name out there.

There is very little torque, they require regular servicing, the oil consumption is high and they are thirsty. The rotor tips also get fried very often, requiring frequent overhauls.

See 2 above.

No, and for the reasons, see 1 and 2 above. There are also very few around, so spares and replacement engines may be hard to come by.

This is compounded by the fact that the Mazda unit is the only automotive engine of its kind in recent times and it is no longer in production.

When getting one, the best thing to do is a compression test to see if the rotor tips need replacement (replacement means overhaul, by the way).

There are many sports cars. Keep looking.

Hello Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the effect of keeping your foot on the brake pedal in an automatic transmission car as opposed to engaging the neutral gear for those short start-stop moves, especially in traffic jams.

Also, where can one read and keep abreast of traffic rules and their relevant actions or fines since policemen frequently take advantage of our profound ignorance even for trivial issues such as a cracked windscreen or failing to carry your a driver’s licence.

Ndung’u.

The only effect of keeping your foot on the brake pedal is a tired calf muscle from applying pressure on the pedal all the time. That is it. It does not hurt the car at all.

On traffic rules, I think a regular subscription to the Kenya Gazette would be a good source of updates on rules and regulations, because the ones we see on TV are not always very well explained.

However, I can tell you from experience: you will never win an argument against a traffic policeman. If he decides to take things a step further, knowing full well that he has no case, he has nothing to lose.

You, on the other hand, will be inconvenienced thoroughly if your car is impounded or you are given a court summons.

Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet fitted with a manual gearbox and for a while it has given me problems to the extent that I have grounded it.

The problem started two months ago while I was on my way to Thika. The car started intermittently jerking then running smoothly before it stalled.

My mechanic came, checked the engine, and said that I should buy a new head gasket to check the leaking oil, but even after we installed it, the engine would not run well.

After a lot of guesswork, during which he removed the timing belt but could not re-instal it, he finally told me that probably the car needs new piston rings and a lot of blah blah blah.

Kindly advise me on whether there is someone out there who can return the duet’s timing belt to its proper position, and what is required to put the car back on the road.

Tony

My deepest sympathies for your woes Tony, and for being at the mercy of a clown of a mechanic.

The jerking, I suspect, comes from an erratic electrical current in the high tension leads. The leaking oil may or may not be a contributing factor.

My advice is for you to visit a reputable garage. Since I cannot market particular enterprises, all I will say is find a big one, preferably one referenced by a friend.

Dear Baraza,

What are the advantages of the VVT-i engines in Toyota cars in terms of safety, speed, fuel consumption, and manoeuvrability on both tarmac and tracks in rural Kenya? These cars also come in automatic transmission trims.

J B Angote.

The transmission type is largely irrelevant when considering the pros and cons of VVT-i, but anyway here goes:

Safety: The use of variable valve timing has no direct effect on vehicle safety, but the engine management could utilise this variable timing to dial back the power in conjunction with the traction control system.

Speed: If by speed you mean outright performance, then yes, VVT-i does help. In the low rev range, say 4,000 rpm and below, the valve timing and lift is programmed for economy and smoothness.

At higher revs, towards the red line, the engine management assumes a racer-type personality and adjusts the valve action accordingly.

In some engines, this is achieved by the use of two different camshafts, or a camshaft with two profiles, one for economy and one for performance. Honda’s equivalent of VVT-i is called VTEC, and in some cars (such as the Type R vehicles), one can actually feel the change-over taking place as you drive along.

Fuel consumption: Same as speed above, but this now happens at low revs. At low engine speeds, the valve timing and lift is set for optimum economy (and thus poor performance).

Manoeuvrability: This has more to do with suspension and chassis setup than engine management.

Hello JM,

Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and have picked loads of tips.

I was very eager to read your responses regarding issues that one of the writers had about his/her AE 111 (1,600CC). I have a similar experience with my Caldina 1,800CC, 1993, manual transmission model.

1. At a speed of 40KPH, the vehicle shakes/vibrates so much, it feels like a person limping while running. Several theories have been fronted by mechanics who unfortunately have failed to diagnose the problem.

Some say it has to do with the Yana tyres I bought recently — two of which I bought early last year and the other two in 2010, and all of which are in fairly good shape.

Others have recommended wheel balancing and alignment, which I have done several times without any success.

I am at my wits end and considering replacing all the shocks soon to see if that is where the problem lies. I have replaced tie rod ends, stabilisers… name it.

There is also a light on the dashboard that usually comes on when one of the brake lights is not functioning. Despite replacing the bulbs, this light is on. What would you advise on this?

Lastly, I intend to buy a new car soon and am considering buying a Toyota Alphard. Are there manual types? Any pros and cons you may wish to share?

KO

That Yana tyres issue has arisen several times in the recent past from different readers, but I am avoiding it for now. Without solid evidence, I cannot comment on it yet.

I expect that the manufacturers, after reading this, will be in a position to reaffirm the superiority of their brand, which, as one reader says here, has been top-notch for decades.

I am, however, compiling a list of repeat offenders and planning on putting their products to the test to verify whether or not they are indeed below standard.

As for the vibration, if wheel balancing and alignment does not solve the problem, tell the mechanics to look at the wheel bearings.

They might have gone out of round or suffered some other physical affliction and need replacement. One of the cars I drive has exactly that problem.

On the brakes issue, what light is that? The dashboard has a variety of lights and graphics.

Finally, I know not of any manual transmission Alphards. The car is smooth, comfortable, fancy, handy for large families and if only Toyota’s G-BOOK telematics software worked here, it would be really awesome.

Its cons are; Toyota’s G-BOOK telematics does not work in Kenya (Japan only), the car is expensive and a 3,000cc V6 petrol engine powering a large van means one thing: thirst.

Hello,

Your educative motor articles on Wednesday are a must-read for me. I drive a Toyota Probox, 2005 Model (NCP 51V).

I have been using it for a year and was its first user in Kenya. Problem is, the starter needs to be cranked twice for it to start running, but in the morning it starts well, albeit with a “choking” feel.

Once the car starts, it picks properly and has enough power. I have taken it to five mechanics and all have given me varying verdicts.

The first one argued that we needed to change from Denso to NGK plugs, but this did not help the situation at all.

The second one had his finger on the alarm system, but the installer said it was okay. I did a diagnosis that returned a low/high voltage verdict, but the battery technicians at Chloride Exide said all was well with the battery.

The third mechanic argued that the fuel pump was delaying delivery of fuel to the engine, but after cleaning it I noticed no change. The fourth said the throttle was clogged… same story.

The fifth one, thank God, was clueless.

Help!

Peter

Let us go back to the second mechanic because it seems he came closest to locating the problem.

The diagnosis said wrong voltage, right? Too high or too low. The battery and charging systems might be fine, but what about the high tension leads? The ignition system?

Check the distributor and the alternator, as well as the cables themselves. Also check the ignition coil and make sure the starter motor is getting enough electricity.

Check for loose or frayed connections which could lead to sporadic shorting.

Posted on

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.

——————–

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.

—————–

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.

—————

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.

——————-

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.

—————

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.

—————–

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.

—————-

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.

——————

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.

——————

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.

Posted on

There is more to a car than fuel consumption and parts

Hi Baraza,
There is a car that I do not think I have read about in the recent past in your column; the Pajero iO. I would be really grateful if you can let me know its merits/demerits as a 4WD, its fuel consumption, durability and maintenance (are the spares readily available and cost effective).

Joan

First, I have to chastise you for falling into that clique of money-minded Kenyans who ask the wrong questions about motor vehicle ownership. Are you sure you do not want to hear about stability issues at highway speeds? Or the fact that space is not one of the iO’s strongest points? Or even that it is not that comfortable?

Anyway, to your questions. As a 4WD it is not half bad, but it is not that good either. It is easily beaten by the RAV-4 and the Nissan X-Trail, though the short overhangs provide it with goat-like manoeuvrability in tight nooks. In some trim levels, it comes with over-the-top body addenda that could hamper extreme off-road progress.

The same goes for fuel consumption: the fact that GDI technology is used under the bonnet still does not make this the epitome of fuel economy. Imported versions, like almost all other imported cars, suffer under our Third World infrastructure, so durability is also a non-starter.

Maintenance will depend on how badly you treat the car, but take comfort from the fact that spares are there and engine swaps are easy… if you can find a Galant engine lying around.

Hi JM,

I have a BMW 320i which is due for service shortly. I have used synthetic oil on all the cars I have used before.

Now, the company that services the car is a BMW centre, and the mechanics there have told me that, going by BMW guidelines, I should use regular motor oil for the 2003 model and stay away from the synthetic stuff. I’m now confused because I assumed synthetic oil beats regular oil any day.

Is the mechanic right or should I insist on synthetic oil?

While still on the same topic, which brand of synthetic oil is the best in the market and ideal for a performance car, if at all I am right in my choice of oil?

Robert

By regular oil, I’m guessing you mean mineral oil. That mechanic of yours should be hung, drawn and quartered; how dare he?

Synthetic oils are the best, period. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with a blend, but I still maintain, there is nothing wrong with synthetic oils. If anything, they are the best for the highly developed European engines such as BMWs.

Read the handbook/manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations, it will clear the air. The mechanic does not work for BMW, I doubt if he’s even been to Germany.

Now, it is not my place to recommend one oil type over another one, but there have been some which have not only been proven in motorsport, but are actually recommended by manufacturers for their vehicles, so go on and do a bit of research.

Hi JM,

I’ve been doing some research on the BMW 3 Series and keeping an eye out for the same on our roads. One particular YouTube clip by ‘Top Gear’ totally dismissed the 318i, which is the most common on Kenyan roads.

My preference is for a 2001–2005, 328i E46. How would you compare the 318i, 330, 328i and 330i in terms of fuel consumption, performance, cost, usability on Kenyan roads, and so on?

Evans

Except applicability, all the characteristics you mention increase in magnitude with increasing engine capacity or degree of tune.

Of the various 3-Series, the best, discounting the M3, is the 330i with M Sport Pack for outright performance, or the 330d with its massive diesel torque, making for entertaining wheelspin and tail-wagging action — on a track, don’t try it on public roads.

Applicability? One day, take a drive from Nairobi to Sotik through Narok and Bomet, and you will discover a playground where you can wind your BMW up to top speed without running the risk of driving into someone you “did not see”. But if you get arrested for speeding, remember, I had nothing to do with it.

Baraza,

I drive a B14 which I bought from its second owner and, of late, the engine won’t start when cold unless I floor the fuel pedal. When it finally starts, it makes a noise and vibrates like a diesel motor for a few seconds before it starts running smoothly, but it still produces a lot of white smoke from the exhaust.

I did a diagnosis, tuned the engine, and changed the plugs, air filter, engine oil and oil filter as well as the auto gearbox oil, but the problem persisted. When I went back to the mechanic, he asked me to change the idle control unit.

So I decided to go to another garage for a second opinion and was told that the idle control unit sensor and cold start sensor switches were okay. He even swapped the ECU from another B14 engine, but there was no change. He then told me to have the engine overhauled, suspecting that the valves were faulty.

I did a cylinder head carbon cleaning and put a petrol booster/cleaner and injector cleaner in the tank but there were still no changes.

The auto tranny also jerks on second gear, I think, because it happens after the speed reaches 20 kph, and when shifting from P to R. Please advice.

That is one problematic car you have there. I must add that the B14 has fans that are few and far between, if they even exist.

From what you describe, you replaced almost the entire engine short of the engine block itself. Funny that you did not check the entire electrical system, though faults here should have shown up on the diagnosis screen.

A common cause of hard starts is a faulty starter or weak battery. The shaking and shuddering, and diesel-like roaring, suggest an engine knock, or even worse, imminent seizure, but let’s not go there yet.

This is my theory: maybe the transmission line is vibrating against the block. Fitting a spacer clip between the line and the block might help cure the problem. This situation might also explain the white smoke (burning ATF) and the badly behaving transmission (low ATF levels due to combustion of the same).

Hi Baraza,

Between a Nissan Tiida (hatchback, 2005 model), and a Honda Fit, which car would you advise a lady to buy? Is a Toyota iST any better than the two, even though its shape completely turns me off?

Kate

A very close call, this one, I might have to say go with either. The cars are similar in a lot of ways, right down to appearance. If you are into tuning or modifications, go for the Honda; it responds better to modification.

The iST may not be as good. I have driven one a bit and I was not very impressed with the weighting of the steering or the visibility out. But it is a feisty little performer. The central instrument stack also puts me off, but that is a personal thing.

Oh, and the fuel gauge in the iST has a non-linear movement, so you need a keen eye and presence of mind to avoid an embarrassing episode.

Baraza,

I have a 2002 Nissan Hi-Rider pickup, 2400cc with a petrol engine. Recently, I sought a mechanic’s opinion on transforming it to diesel and was advised to try a Nissan TD27 engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of this move.

Also, I have been having challenges with its carburettor system and consistent faults with the spark plugs.

The TD27 is in use within the current Hardbody/NP300 range, so my bet would be it would fit into the Hi-Rider’s engine bay without any modifications. The issue is this: Diesel engines develop a lot of torque and as such they are built with heavy duty drivetrain components compared to petrol engines.

I cannot say with much confidence how long your current drive shafts/prop shafts will last under the twisting torque that is the TD27’s forte. Maybe they too should be replaced.

The gearbox: petrol engines develop smaller torque and rev higher than diesel equivalents, so, again, that too may need swapping.

Otherwise, the Nissan TD is a good powerplant. It has seen service in many 14-seater matatus, besides the Hardbody pickups, where it has shown a tendency to develop cooling problems.

This could be a difficulty unique to the vans, though; Hardbody owners don’t seem to suffer this affliction.

Hi Baraza,

I am a big admirer of the Nissan Skyline series, specifically the GTR R34, which is my dream car. I am, however, skeptical about how this vehicle will cope in Kenya.

I haven’t seen many of them on Kenyan roads and only have information from the Internet. Could you check up on this car and give me your take on it, especially how well it would cope here?

I’m a huge fan of Godzilla too (the R34) and there are quite a number in the country, including even the Nismo Beast and a Mine’s tuned R34 GT-T.

If you buy one, it will be no different from getting a Lancer Evolution or Impreza STi: your biggest problem will be finding a road big enough to accommodate this car’s monster performance.

And where do you plan to buy one? The car went out of production in 2002, so it is outside the taxman’s eight-year importation bracket.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a station wagon buff, so, with that in mind, what information can you give me on the Nissan Wingroad regarding fuel consumption, suitability to the local rough conditions, suspension system, among others?

The 1300cc Wingroad has outstanding fuel economy (you can wind one up to 16 or 17 kpl without using any tricks or special techniques). However, these are non-tropicalised ex-Japan cars, and from what I see on the roads, they get out of shape pretty fast, aging gracelessly and really quickly.

The Probox may be a better bet… or even the AD Van, which is a more basic form of the Wingroad and a commercial vehicle, and thus a bit more robust.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Mazda Demio 2004 model. The only problem I have is with its consumption, which is about 12 kpl. I replaced the usual plugs to iridium platinum NGK plugs, but it only improved slightly, by 1kpl. What might be the issue? I never miss servicing it after 5,000 km.

Edwin

At 12 kpl, what more do you want from your Demio? How much did the plugs cost you, and how long will it take to recover the money, basing your maths on the improved economy figure? There’s nothing wrong with your car.

If you want a better figure, stop driving in town and stick on the highways, don’t carry anyone else in your car, and drift as many other cars as you can to minimise drag. In other words, improving on that 12 kpl will call for some extremist manoeuvres; be happy with it as it is.

Posted on

You should not buy a Forester and expect the fuel economy of a Duet

Hi Baraza,

I have a Toyota 104L Extra, which I bought in 2009. I have never experienced any mechanical or fuel consumption problems with it.

However, I have fallen in love with the new model Subaru Forester non-turbo, so I want to sell the Toyota and buy the Subaru. Problem is that people have been discouraging me from buying it, saying it consumes a lot of fuel and that its spare parts are expensive.

Please advise me before I make my move.

Wanyoike

Why marry if you cannot support a spouse? In the same vein, why buy a car if you cannot afford to run it?

People say that Subarus are costly to run, but exactly how much more costly is it compared to other cars?

From what you have described, you sound like a guy who can take good care of a car, so go ahead and buy the Forester. It will not trouble you if you do not trouble it.

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Hi Baraza,

In one of your articles you wrote that a Subaru Forester 2.0XT, compared to the likes of the Nissan X-Trail and the CR-V, is a fuel guzzler but its consumption also depends on the way it is driven.

Since I have always been interested in being a professional driver, can you kindly advise me on how one can ensure economy with such a car?

Victor

I wish you would not throw words like “guzzler” around when what you want to say is “thirstier”.

If you call the Forester a “guzzler”, what would you call a Hummer? Or a supercharged Range Rover?

Drive gently if you want to ease up on your car’s thirst — avoid hard acceleration and brake as little as possible (within reason).

Also, try and maintain a sleek aerodynamic profile, which means that you should shut the windows when on the highway, and lose unnecessary weight from the car (and yes, this includes freeloading passengers who have no solid reason to be in your car).

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HI,

There is this belief that when you turn on a car’s AC, you are actually consuming fuel. I wonder, what is the connection between the AC and fuel consumption? Does the AC require fuel to function? And if yes, what is the mechanism?

Peter

There is a relationship between the AC and fuel consumption, but it is not direct.

The AC saps engine power, so to maintain a certain speed (or load-lugging capacity), you need wider throttle openings and as such consume more fuel.

In some cases, the increase in consumption is as extreme as 12 per cent but the average increment lies between five and eight per cent.

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Hi,

I’m planning to buy my first car at the end of this month and on my mind are Subaru Legacy, Toyota Avensis, Mitsubishi Airtek, and Toyota Voltz. Can you advise me on the maintenance costs and fuel efficiency of each of them?

Thanks.

Of the vehicles you have mentioned, the Airtek is the most recent and I know least about it. Somebody said it is a turbo. I will confirm this in the near future.

The Voltz is visually unappealing overall and has an ugly dashboard (in my opinion), so I walked away from one the day I was invited to drive it. Now that you ask, maybe I should go back, with my tail between my legs.

The Avensis is the thinking man’s choice. Easy to run, and it is a Toyota. It also has the mature understated Audi-esque looks, is comfortable and spacious, and could be the winner here.

The Subaru (2004–2007) Legacy is even prettier; it could be the best-looking of the lot (shares the mantle with Avensis and maybe Airtek, depending on individual taste).

The carrying capacity is also competitive, as is the consumption (if driven by a human and not a demon from hell). But that AWD system adds weight and complications during repair if it ever fails.

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Hi JM,

I have a 2002 X-Trail 2000cc A/T transmission, petrol. It started losing water/coolant gradually until I was forced to top up almost daily with water.

I took it to a mechanic and the cylinder head gasket was replaced, including grinding the head to align it to the block.

Afterwards, the car had the “check engine” light on permanently, even after it was deleted from memory.

The car also lost power and even with a hard press on the accelerator, the rpm would not go above 2000. Needless to say, it could not move.

I took it to another garage that claims to be great with Nissans and they changed a couple of items, including the ECU, one plug, air mass sensor, and the intake valve timing unit. They also corrected the valve timing, which had been misaligned.

After all that, the “check engine” light is still on, the car moves but suddenly loses power every now and then (I have to switch it off, then on for it to be okay), which mostly happens if I am in slow moving traffic and less when I am on the highway and moving fast. What could be wrong?

Colin

Tsk, tsk Colin, you cured the symptom but ignored the problem.

Why did you flush the memory to get rid of the “check engine” light without first finding out what the problem was?

There is a reason the light still stays on. Do a diagnosis.

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Hello JM,

I have a Toyota Ist 2002 model, 1300cc and I would like to have your opinion on this model, any problems you have heard or know about and its fuel consumption.

When I put Sh500 worth of fuel, it goes for about 38 kilometres. Is this good or is it consuming a lot?

I have also tried to find the manual for this car online without any success (it did not have one when I bought it). Please help because I really do not know much about cars.

Dru

That kind of fuel consumption, 38 km on 4.2 litres of fuel, is the sort of consumption reserved for cars like the Toyota Mark X, not a tiny tot like the Ist. So, yes, there is a problem right there.

I have not heard much about this car, and I have not driven one much (just a quick lap round a dealer forecourt), so I cannot give comprehensive information just yet.

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Hello,

I am planning to buy a Daewoo Cielo and after searching the Net I could not find any negative comment from people who own the car. But I am not so sure about this car in Kenya; it is not a common car on our roads.

I know its an old model, but would you recommend it because it is cheap, economical, strong, and the spare parts are available?

Daewoo has had a rather colourful history, starting off by rebuilding extinct GM passenger cars, then going solo, and then rebranding some Chevrolet cars to Daewoo so as to sell them cheaply.

The Cielo is bloody old, as you have pointed out. I am not too sure about spares — they are there, seeing how it is an ex-GM car (Vauxhall/Opel Cavalier or something along those lines), but maybe not in Kenya. It is doubtful that someone would stock spares for a car that appears in such small numbers.

Do not let this stop you from asking around, though. If the spares exist in Kenyan shops, then go ahead and assuage your yearning heart.

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Hi Baraza,

I recently changed the CV joint on my Probox but the ABS light will not go off even though the ABS ring was fixed.

I have taken the car to several mechanics but no one seems to know what the problem is. How do I get this light to go off?

First, be sure that it is the ABS which has a problem and not your brakes. You can drive without ABS, but I highly doubt if you can manage without the wheel anchors.

The light staying on will either be caused by a large air gap between the sensor and the exciter, a bent exciter ring, or corrosion or damage to a sensor cable.

Check all the cables for any damage e.g. rubbing against the front wheels when on full lock or damage to pins in connector sockets due to water.

All output voltages from sensors must be within five per cent of each, so any extra resistance in the sensor wires will cause the fault light to go on.

If the light really is the ABS warning, the first thing to try is to cycle the ignition key off and back on — it is like rebooting your computer — and just maybe whatever transient glitch confused the ABS controller has passed and all is well. If the condition repeats, you need to do some poking and prodding.

Find a shop with a scan tool that will talk to your ABS controller. A technician will interrogate your ABS controller and look for a trouble code stored in memory.

This code will at least give you some idea of where to look. For more information, trawl the Internet.

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Hi Baraza,

I now understand cars better, thanks to you. Anyway, I always read some boring terms about supposed qualities of a car such as kW, hp, PS, torque etc. Can you kindly clarify for readers like me what these terms are in simplified language.

For instance I read in one of the Daily Nation magazines about the Peugeot SR1, which has an engine that delivers 160kW(218 PS;215hp). Now is that a lot of power compared to say the Mercedes C200 or the Toyota Vitz?

To you they may be boring, but to some of us, they make for exciting reading (depending on the car in question).

kW is kilowatts and is the power a car develops, expressed in SI units. Hp is horsepower, and is the same power expressed in imperial measurements.

This is the power that either the engine develops at the flywheel or the car itself develops at the wheels (the figure at the wheels is usually smaller) and sometimes, when the figure is quoted, the authority giving it will specify whether it is at the wheels or at the flywheel.

Torque is the twisting ability of the crankshaft when the engine is running, and is either expressed in Nm (Newton metres), kgm (kilogramme metres), or lb.ft (pounds feet).

Cars vary in power, and the Benz Kompressor may or may not have a bigger number attached to it compared to the Pug (that is short for Peugeot by the way) but the ultimate ability is expressed by the power to weight ratio (PWR), simply got by dividing the horsepower or kilowatts available by the weight of the car in kilogrammes or preferably in tonnes.

The car with a bigger PWR is typically a better performer, keeping other things constant of course.

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Hi,

I have a 2004 Toyota Mark II Blit station wagon and it is a lovely machine. What is the difference between this car and the Mark II sedan? Which one is better? And what is your take on the Blit?

The two cars should be mechanically similar, but the differences are obvious: one is estate, the other is not and the front facade treatment is a four lamp edifice for the Blit against the single ovoid lamod lamps of the sedan. As for which is better, it depends on your taste and needs.

I personally do not like the Blit. It looks too much like a hearse, especially in black or grey, but I guess that means it has some awesome carrying capacity.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Rav4 J and the problem is that it does not pick when climbing a hill. I have changed the gear box but there is no improvement.

And the handbrake sign is always on. When changing from reverse to drive, it produces a loud bang. What could be the problem?

When I read about your problem, I first laughed for close to five minutes. Forgive me. Disengage the handbrake and go.

About the loud bang when changing gears, have the linkage checked, as well as the clutch system.

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Probox: It will kill your image but build your business

Few cars have elicited such varied reactions from the Kenyan public as this one. And far much fewer cars have served as many functions, too.

Considering it is vintage (a year 2002 creation), fewer cars are as simply built.

From some perspectives, it is a car that makes no sense at all, and from others, it makes all the sense in the world. What makes matters worse is that it comes in two distinct spec levels, which have different names, and as such Wikipedia counts them as two different vehicles. Strange.

This particular piece, this review (or to be exact, my take on this car), has been a long time coming. Welcome to the paradox that is the Toyota Probox.

This is what industry specialists would call a “world car”, though in some ways it does not fit the description. World cars tend to be cheap, usable, versatile, and in most cases, poorly styled — the Probox fits this description.

But world cars are also typically aimed at Brazil and the Third World, but correct me if I’m wrong here, the first Probox I ever saw outside of the Internet was an import, meaning the local franchise holders of all things Toyota never sold it new. If they did, then the sales they made were a closely guarded secret. More and more curious. With a little foresight, they may have made a killing.

What is it?

It is Toyota’s answer to the prayers of the typical Tokyo taxi driver. The need for a cheap and spacious vehicle to ferry clients along the Shutoko freeway could not be answered by Mark II (too flashy for the ordinary citizen) nor the Progrés (smaller and cheaper, but the 2.5-litre engine is also found in the Mark II, so driving it in thick traffic would run up a huge petrol bill).

Neither of these two saloon cars can lug much more than a rucksack or two suitcases at a time. What if you have an adventurous threesome toting backpacks on the way to the airport for an overseas trip?

Enter the Probox. It has a sub-2.0-litre engine and all the more economical, thanks to Toyota’s VVT-i under-bonnet wizardry. The passenger space is more than ample. The boot is cavernous, for lack of a better adjective. And it can be had for next to nothing. This also makes it the spiritual successor to the famous, hunchbacked Corolla 100-based DX, right down to the drab grey interior and the five-speed manual transmission with a thin gear lever sprouting from the darkness that is the space between the driver and passenger foot-wells — the four-speed auto is an option, as is 4WD — and yes, even the splashes from Toyota’s design palette (available in either metallic grey or white).

Some might claim that they may have or may have seen red, blue, or even black examples, but ignore them: these two hues are the most ubiquitous.

This DX ancestry means that besides taxi work, the Probox is also classified as a commercial vehicle (in Japan), so the car you buy may or may not have been a sushi-delivery vehicle or transport for a quartet of toilet cleaners in its former life.

And this is not cynicism; back when the import car market was opening up and everyone thought it was cool to have a car with Japanese hieroglyphics emblazoned all over the side, we once asked an Oriental acquaintance to translate the writing on a Nissan matatu, and he told us it says “We Clean Toilets”.

What you should know

So you want to buy a Probox? Lucky you. It is ridiculously cheap, given how adaptable the thing is, which we will get into in just a moment. Most dealers will quote you prices just below 600 grand for a newly registered ex-Japan model, which should be just about seven or eight years old.

There are also rumours that the automatic has issues with the gearbox. If it does, then maybe it is time people reconsidered the manual transmission.
Should you care?

It depends on a lot of things. If you spend any amount of time in front of a mirror making sure you look acceptable to society, then you are slightly narcissistic and as such, you are barking up the wrong tailpipe.

You can never look good in a Probox, no matter how outrageous a body kit, how many inches apart the outer edges of your rims are, or what colour you choose to paint your car. Buy an Avensis estate, or maybe a used Caldina. Or even a Wingroad. I don’t care; anything but this. After my “List of ugly cars” failed to star this vehicle, some readers raised protest, so it is clear that a good number of your equally vain peers deem this car unsightly.
But if you possess even a modicum of business savvy, then this is your car.

Just check this out: In western Kenya, the Probox has now replaced what we call the “seven-a-side”, the passenger transport “solution” derived from a pickup. You know, the kind that can only be found in areas so remote, there is only one M-Pesa agent in the entire district and traffic policemen walk bare-foot and use large rocks to set up road blocks (obviously the nearest tarmac road is a good 70 kilometres away).

Not satisfied with that conquest, now Proboxes (Probices? Probi? Proba? What’s the plural?) are now phasing out the seven-seater Noah/TownAce vans as short-distance, high-speed convenience transport. But unlike the Noah, the Probox can apparently accommodate 10, not seven, with a bit of creative placement of limbs and heads. I don’t know how that works.

It is not just low-capacity passenger transport that is feeling the presence of the Probox; the light commercial vehicle sector is also reeling under the onslaught. The Probox took over from where the DX left off as a bearer of meat from abattoir to butchery, which in itself was formerly the preserve of the half-tonne pickup.

And in a grand coup d’etat of West African proportions, now someone tells me they are used for the conveyance of qat/khat — miraa in Kenyan parlance. This cannot be taken lightly, so obviously further investigation is called for.

The Probox is a lot cheaper (a new Hilux pickup can buy almost five of these accursed objects), but there is a trade-off. The carrying capacity can never quite match that of the Hilux, the tiny petrol engine is not as powerful, and it is not as robustly built, so its lifespan can be likened to that of a mayfly when subjected to hard labour. But you will have five of them for every brand-new Hilux you buy.

It is my intention to pit the Probox against its second cousin, the Hilux pickup, not in ferrying miraa (I would not dare) but in a shoot-out just to see if it is worth the savings.

One more thing you should know… If you, like me, have a secret plan to disband the revenue authority once in power, then here is a tip. For all that work it can do, and in spite of its classification as a commercial vehicle in Japan, it is not a commercial vehicle here.

So instead of buying a pickup and fretting over TLB, inspection stickers, reflectors, and speed limits, just get the Probox. It is the equivalent of a plug-and-play USB device: buy-and-drive (carrying meat or khat, but please make sure you have a licence for your business).

Verdict?

There are very few cars that I care less about. I do not hate the Probox, but I don’t love it either. I have no feelings for or towards it at all. I am not a businessman, so I do not need it. The leaf-spring rear suspension, the seedy little 1.5 litre VVT-i, and uninspiring front-drive chassis mean I do not want it either.

You might be wondering why I did not discuss driving dynamics, experience behind the wheel, and all that jazz. That is because there is almost nothing to report. I have been in a Probox (behind the wheel, no less) and I came to two conclusions: One, I am not sure I want to be in one ever again and two, save for the roominess, the soft-edge rounded off dashboard surfaces (comes off looking like someone was child-proofing a late ’80s Japanese dashboard), and horrible instrument panel, speedometer especially (what is it with the long strokes marking the speeds?), it looks messy, crowded, and unprofessional. There really is nothing else worth writing here about. Sorry.

There are now too many of these things on the road to call for a nationwide embargo, so it is a case of live and let die. May we please have another world car, please.

What is a Succeed? Is it or is it not a Probox?

Honestly I don’t know. They look the same to me. But something I read on the Internet may have shed some light on this.

The new Probox model will have something called G-BOOK, not a social network for gangsters, but Toyota’s own telematics device, a sort of Japanese iDrive for those familiar with BMWs.

The Probox/Succeed will become a lifestyle vehicle for the very young — old enough to drive but too young to afford their own cars. This is a demographic that has an uncanny grasp of elaborate and sophisticated electronic devices, the people who crowd social networks, speak a strange language that sounds almost like English, and are thus made mobile and connected using Daddy’s money.

More on this later.

Posted on

How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.