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2014: The year of Mobius II, Great Run 6 and the Russian revitalisant

  1. Kenya vs Uganda: Mobius II vs Kiira EV

Our neighbours across the border are a demure, taciturn lot and as such, it is a little difficult to imagine what they are up to all the time.

Never mistake quietness for lack of resolve; and, clearly, meekness is not weakness, because what they did recently was win a game of top trumps against Kenya in a match that nobody knew was even happening.

Mobius Motors has been in Kenya for a while, just simmering below the surface of the motoring grapevine. The name would crop up every now and then in discussions surrounding the local automotive industry and the prospects of developing a homegrown automobile.

A few pictures here and there, an inactive website, a silent (or possibly non-existent) public relations department, a hardworking and single-mindedly determined man, cheers from one corner, jeers from another; hope from a few, proclamations of doom from many more, disregard by the government, the ever-present threat of the used vehicle import grey market and….

…And they did it. Mobius Motors actually built a car intended for sale! What’s more, it even got the C-in-C to attend the car’s launch festivities.

The Mobius II is less of a pukka petrolhead’s tarmac-tearing, corner-carving chariot and more of a motorised donkey, a beast of burden, a tool to get things done. It is basically a wheelbarrow with extra wheels, an engine, lights, windscreen, and bench seats.

The vehicle does not break any boundaries. If anything, part of the R&D does smack a little of corner-cutting. What they call a “tubular steel monocoque” is essentially a heavy roll-cage, not entirely dissimilar to the type used as buggy frames. The bodywork is then wrapped around this roll-cage.

The suspension is… well, you have to see it to believe it. There are exposed leaf springs, lightly fastened to the rear axle via some slim metal brackets and the whole set-up does not look as robust as Mobius’ blurb claims it is. It looks rather flimsy and likely to shear off its moorings if the vehicle goes round a bend at anything apart from crawling speed.

If the coat is threadbare, then the inside is almost nonexistent. The interior is festooned with only one gauge directly ahead of the driver and what looks like a sports steering wheel.

My pre-drive analysis might seem a little acerbic, and it is. But this is a tough world.

There are many ways of developing homegrown automotive output without trying to re-invent the wheel or starting from zero.

Building a car from scratch is an effort 100 years too late, especially if you are not introducing anything new and lack financial backing.

You can build motor vehicles under licence instead of trying to come up with one.

The countries of the Pacific Rim discovered this: where initially they tried making their own vehicles which were frankly odious sacks of potatoes, building old versions of Japanese cars under different badges led to an explosion of their auto industries and now they can afford to make their own cars.

he fastest expanding auto industry at the moment is China’s.

What we need to do is get the licence to reproduce the Toyota Corolla AE100 (one of the best and most appropriate cars ever to hit these shores) and either reprint it as is, or at least copy the hell out of it.

What, pray, is wrong with borrowing ideas? That way, a much better result can be realised at the same or lower cost than making a new vehicle.

This car does remind me of something I wrote about back in 2013, the OX. That vehicle was, incidentally, launched just around the same time as the current Mercedes-Benz S Class, and while one was quite literally a motorised ox-cart, the other was a machine so highly developed as to be in danger of being smarter than its creators.

I recall saying (not in these exact words) that the OX was a racist machine, a stereotyping of the developing world’s requirements, and that we did not really need it. Not surprisingly, I have not heard of it since.

That said, credit where it is due. The efforts of Joel Jackson are laudable, if not necessarily ground-breaking. It should be obvious to anyone that one cannot discuss the Mobius car without at least thinking of the infamous Nyayo Pioneer from three decades back.

Jackson has managed what an entire government could not, and that is to put a fully functional, locally developed motor vehicle into production and on sale — however simplistic the vehicle may be — and it is this kind of thing that inspires others.

The car might be rendered irrelevant in a few years, necessitating a whole new project, but clearly, the intentions behind the current Mobius II were honorable. You might not reinvent the wheel, but that should not stop you from making your own. Jackson is the name behind Mobius Motors, just to be clear.

Then there are our Ugandan neighbours. Theirs was something else altogether, and at face value, they seem to have their motoring fingers solidly inside the automotive pot. Their car is the definition of how to grasp current affairs and keep up with the times. Where the Mobius harks back to the uncomplicated wheels of yore, Uganda’s Kiira EV Smack is a trendy concept, if a little overstyled. The builders chose to go the hybrid way, which seems like an intelligent option in these days of uncertainty about the longevity of the world’s oil fields.

I don’t honestly expect the Smack to enjoy unprecedented sales success either, but one thing is for sure: it will grab the attention of the motoring world’s big shots.

Developing a hybrid car is terribly expensive, and hybrid cars are the present and foreseeable future, so investment is most likely going to be channelled in that direction. The internal combustion engine in the Mobius is a relic by comparison and is about to see the end of its usefulness.

Will I get to test these cars? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is not the last you will hear of them. The battle lines have been drawn.

 

  1. Pretty Great Run through Aberdares

December 6 marked the end of our third successful year of motoring campaigns with a charitable bent as we staged a pretty remarkable Great Run.

The Great Run is always a challenge, or rather, is supposed to be. This time round we thought we had a real doozy of a run, one that would test skill rather than endurance. You had to be at one with your fully-fledged 4WD car to make it, and a 4WD it had to be. End-of-year runs are off-road specials.

The path we chose was a little unusual, Nairobi-Nyeri, but not the way you know it.

We went through Naivasha, and then up the escarpment through a little-explored back route that feeds its users directly to one of the gates of the Aberdare National Park.

It is from this gate  that things get thick, and by things I mean the muck we had to crawl through.

A stone’s throw from the gate and into the park lurks a mud-hole of the type and consistency that could hide fully grown crocodiles. You need a proper 4WD transmission to plough your way through. You also need horsepower, but most important, you need ground clearance.

Up ahead lay some pools of variable depths, some of which hid large stones that could rip apart even the most solidly put-together undercarriage.

There is a rocky slope that demands the use of a low-range gearbox if one is to go up at all without risking a burnt clutch or slipping tyres.

There are more mud holes, the roads are narrow, twisty and have no run-off areas, what with the thick undergrowth creeping almost over the road itself. It is very easy to lose each other if the vehicles do not stick to tight formation, and it is very easy to lose one’s footing if one does not pay proper attention to one’s driving.

So it was with confidence that we announced that participants this time really do need to bring proper SUVs for the exercise — and then a lady showed up in a Toyota RAV4.

Long story short: not many people had high hopes for her on arrival at the mud hole, or at the end of the line in Nyeri, to which she made it without incident (or pulling shortcuts).

Fellow participants reached one of two conclusions: maybe the course was not tough enough (it actually was), or maybe we tend to seriously underestimate the off-road abilities of Toyota RAV4s (this part is subject to a lot of argument). Inarguably, everybody was impressed with the lady’s spunk.

Having held six discrete drives so far over the course of three years, it is indisputable that the Great Run is growing bigger, with each event, and is here to stay. Expect more interesting things come 2015.

 

  1. From Russia with some XADO

 

From the deep mines of Siberia and into your vehicle’s internal organs comes the weird product boasting the seemingly alchemical (and scarcely believable) ability to cure metal: the engine revitalisant.

Once dismissed as yet another brand of snake oil, it has had to be reconsidered and the prognosis looks promising.

Research with no funding is both risky and expensive. Paying for experiments out of one’s own pocket doesn’t always yield results that are thorough and/or impressive (look at the Mobius), more so if that research is done on oneself.

However, that did not stop me from going in head-first: I bought the snake oil and put it in a car fitted with a manual transmission.

There was one clear problem from the start: the fluid is meant to improve and refurbish worn out or fatigued metal surfaces, so how exactly does one determine the effectiveness of a miracle cure using an otherwise perfectly healthy guinea pig?

The car used for the experiment did not seem to need any revitalising — not in the engine, not in the transmission, not in the suspension. I wasn’t going to deliberately ruin a car just to make it eligible as a test subject. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try.

There were results, albeit a little indefinite. But they were there all the same.

After less than 150km of driving with the revitalisant in the transmission, the gear change did become a little bit slicker, less notchy and fell that much more easily to hand. The stuff actually does work, contrary to my admittedly cynical expectations.

Would I buy it? Yes, and I actually did, if only initially for experimental purposes.

The transmission revitalisant seems especially ideal for a used car, say in the 10-12 year-old age bracket that has seen some use and might start showing early signs of wear.

Rather than face the quandary of replacing apparently unbroken parts or waiting for them to fail expensively, one could revitalise them, and revitalise does seem like the most apt description for what happens when it works.

Let us be clear on one thing though: what I tried was a mineral oil-based transmission fluid specifically for use in a manual gearbox, with an SAE rating of 80W 90. The instructions on the bottle say it can also be used in transfer cases and differentials, basically anywhere with a mechanical transmission. I guess this means if you have a Lamborghini, Ferrari or BMW M5, you cannot use it because these cars have electronic diffs.

I guess, also, most new-age SUVs wouldn’t be appropriate candidates for its use because a number of them use viscous couplings for the centre diff, meaning they do not have transfer cases per se.

Was I impressed? A little, considering the alleged modus operandi of the revitalising fluid. Was I surprised? Yes. I really didn’t expect to feel any difference, especially in a car with no underlying problems, but I did.

Roll on the engine oil, this experiment is not over.

 

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Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

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Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

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The Camry is not sexy, but it is still a Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I always enjoy reading your insightful reviews on various brands of vehicles. I am just wondering whether you have ever tried out the Toyota Camry.

It seems to me a very well-built car and good shape and gives me the impression that it is a very stable car. But I do not see many of these cars on the road compared to, say, the Toyota Mark X, which has a 2500cc while the Camry is 2400cc. What could be the issue with them? Are they thirsty cars?

Secondly, the Nissan Murano: How would you compare it with the 2007 Rav4 or the Honda CRV RD 5? I do not see so many of them on the road too.

Thanks,

Albert.

I have actually tried several Camry models and you are right: They are well-built… at least the later models are. They are well-shaped… again at least the 2012 one is, and it is stable on the road courtesy of its front-drive chassis.

The reason Kenyans opt for the Mark X is that it is prettier than the Camry. Kenyans are very image-conscious. While the Camry is “well shaped”, you would not really call it striking to look at or even sexy. It is a bit bland. The Mark X, on the other hand, attracts instant attention anywhere it goes. They certainly are not thirsty cars, especially when compared to the Mark X.

The Murano is not in the CR-V/RAV4 class of vehicles. It is more of a premium type of thing, closer to stuff like the Toyota Harrier/Subaru Tribeca. Therefore, in comparison to the RAV and the CRV, the Murano is bigger, better-specced, and more powerful. It is also a lot more comfortable and handles better. There are not many Muranos on the road, but give them time: They will come.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I would like your opinion on which is the better between a Toyota Landcruiser VX (4.7-litre petrol and 4.2-litre diesel engines) and Nissan Patrol (4.2-litre turbo-diesel and 4.7-litre petrol).

I would like a car I can use for work, travelling, and off-roading. Which one is suited to Africa’s rugged terrain? How do these cars compare on the following grounds: power, speed, comfort, stability, off-road use, and ease of maintenance (not prices but accessibility of spare parts).

Thank you.

Regards,

Aryan

Apparently there is a new Nissan Patrol out, but I have only seen one on the road. One. And that was on the road. I do not even know if DT Dobie has them in stock. As such, I will base my arguments on the outgoing model.

Power: The best is the petrol-powered Landcruiser VX 4.7-litre at 314hp, mostly because it has clever VVT-i and is turbocharged. The 4.5-litre turbo-diesel is not half bad either. The Nissan Patrol’s best is the 4.8-litre GRX with 281hp (no match for the VX, though the current model uses 5.6-litre engines which I doubt we will get until smaller engines are available).

Speed: See above. The VX petrol rules. The Nissan Patrol does struggle a bit with its weight, low power, lack of forced induction, and breeze-block aerodynamics.

Comfort: Ahem… VX, again. It is stable, smooth, and well optimised. The Patrol is floaty and wobbly and bouncy, like a ship in a less-than-calm sea
Stability: See comfort above. That roly-poly chassis of the Patrol can be treacherous if you try to keep up with a VX when the going gets gnarly.

Off-road use: You may not believe it, but these vehicles are evenly matched. Some say the Patrol is more capable, and for older versions this was somewhat true (the underpowered engines were the weak link in an otherwise perfect setup) but take it from me: these two vehicles will keep going long after any competition has fallen by the wayside. If the going gets extreme enough to split these two on ability, I am yet to meet the driver skilled enough to get to that point. This one is a tie.

Ease of maintenance: There is a reason why the car in front is always a Toyota, and that is because spares are everywhere. Drive a Toyota and you should NEVER ever worry about spares availability.

I expect to hear from you about how life with your new VX is; because the VX is what you will buy… I think.

***********

Hi Baraza,

I have a locally assembled 2005 MT Chevrolet Aveo. Six months ago I replaced the clutch plate and pressure plate and all has been well until recently when I started to hear a strange grinding noise from the gearbox area whenever I start the car in the morning. It goes away after the engine has run for about two or three minutes.

If I depress the clutch pedal, the noise disappears but comes back immediately I release it. My mechanic insists that the culprit is the release bearing (I did not replace it when I did the clutch job) but the information I gather from the Internet is that a faulty release bearing will produce some noise when you depress the clutch pedal and not the other way round. What is your take on this?

Secondly, the car has been producing a whistling sound since I replaced its alternator bearings. My guess is that the alternator bearings are responsible but more importantly, do I need to get worried? Thanks a lot.

Kefa Marendi.

Hi,

For that grinding noise, check the input shaft bearing if you can confirm that it is not the release bearing — I agree, though: If it was the release bearing, then the noise would come when the clutch pedal is depressed (disengaged). It may need replacement (or in some cases you may need a new gearbox).

About the alternator: The belt may be loose or the bearings misaligned.

**********

Hi Baraza,

First, let me thank you for the good work you are doing on the Car Clinic. I own an automatic-transmission Nissan B14 manufactured in 1998 . I have owed this car for the past three years and this is my fourth year.

The problem with the car is that its fuel consumption has increased while its engine power has decreased tremendously. It also produces white smoke when I start it in the morning but this fades as I go to work.

For instance, last week I went to my rural area, Nyahururu, via the Nyeri route, which is around 230km from Nairobi one way. When I had already done around 120km just near Karatina town (at a place called Kagocho, known for a steep uphill slope), my car totally lost power and started overheating.

I decided to stop for one hour, topped water in the radiator, and resumed my journey. It started the same problem at a place called Nairutia past Mweiga after about 80km. I topped the water again, then reached my destination. All this time I was going at an average speed of 100-120kms/hr.

After consulting with my mechanic over the phone, I travelled back the following day but with an average speed of 80km/hr and my car did not overheat at any interval.

The following day the mechanic inspected the vehicle and found the radiator and the fans to be fine. He told me that my engine had worn out the piston rings and valves and that they needed replacement, which I was hesitant to do.

I have not replaced these rings and valves until now because the cost of replacing them plus the labour is almost equal to the cost of buying a new ex-Japan engine, so I would prefer buying a new one and getting it fitted.

With this regard, I wanted to consult you on the best recommended auto-garage shops to buy an engine from and if this is a good move.

I plan to buy the engine from General Japanese Auto Garage at Industrial Area where I had asked the quotation of the price and they said it costs Sh65,000 together with its auxiliaries (alternator, computer, aircon), but they can sell it to me at Sh55,000 without these auxiliaries.

Is this the recommended price? Please advise.

Gilbert

Did your mechanic say anything about a blown head gasket? These symptoms are also similar to those one gets when one blows a gasket: the overheating (the combustion heat escapes into the coolant) and the power loss (compression leakage). Have another word with him (or get a second opinion) just to be sure because replacing a cylinder head gasket is not as expensive as buying a new engine/replacing the rings and valves.

However, if your mechanic was right, then just buy a new engine. It will save you plenty of time, the risk of a shoddy repair, and some money. I do not normally endorse shops in my column so just look around for whichever one looks the most credible and offers the most sensible arrangement.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I am planning on buying a diesel SUV since I travel extensively across East Africa on what are often terrible roads.

I would, therefore, appreciate your opinion on which one to buy based on the following criteria: Off-road capability, availability of spare parts, build quality, comfort, luxury, and resale value. Initial purchase cost is not an issue.

Eric S

Since your question is very vague, my answers will also be vague.

Off-road capability: Most SUVs are of similar ability, but the Range Rover is the easiest to drive in extreme conditions. Not many people buy a Range Rover to do Rhino Charge-style green-laning, though. So, anything with good ground clearance, 4WD, low-range, and diff locks will do.
Availability of spare parts: Japanese. Anything Japanese will never lack spares.

Build Quality: German. Anything German will be assembled to a degree of perfection that is hard to emulate. And hard to believe.

Comfort: Get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport, or a Freelander, or a Defender… especially a Defender, and discover what motoring journalists mean when they start using sentences like “wafting on a feathered pillow” or “floating on a cloud”.

Luxury: The 2013 Range Rover Vogue, aka the L405. No contest.

Resale Value: Most SUVs hold their value well, but I have noticed that the Landcruiser VX especially does not lose value, more so the earlier versions (80 Series).

Posted on

I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

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The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.

Posted on

What is the problem with modern diesel engines?

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

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

Many thanks in advance, Moose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Very Disturbed.

Hello Mr Very Disturbed,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Regards, Jeff.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the steps:

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

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

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

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

5. Reassemble the transmission.

6. Instal a new transmission pan gasket.

7. Lower vehicle and instal transmission fluid.

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks,

Mugambi.

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

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

Choose.

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Dear Baraza,

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

What do you think could be the problem?

S N Mwangi.

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

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

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

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

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

Oil plug (drain plug) not secured properly.

Oil plug worn or damaged.

Oil filter not attached correctly or missing gasket.

High oil pressure (a problem in itself).

Oil coolant line corroded or leaking

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Thanks,

Alex.

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

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

Posted on

The Surf slightly edges out the Pajero and RAV4

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your advice on motoring.

Could you kindly take your time to help me decide on what is the best vehicle in relation to the issues I state below?

1. Infrequent travel on the rough roads of areas like Marsabit, Turkana, and the coastal region.

2. Going to work in town.

The vehicle should be able to tackle rough roads with potholes and other rough road conditions, be fuel efficient and comfortable, have good ground clearance and strong suspension, and be affordable.

The vehicles I have in mind are the Honda CRV, Mitsubishi Pajero (SWB or LWB), Toyota Hilux Surf, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Discovery, and any other you may suggest.

Regards,

Livingstone T.

Livingstone, the Land Rover Discovery does not tick the ‘affordable’ box on this list, but it more or less covers the rest. Watch out on the “strong suspension” aspect also; the air suspension on the Discovery 3 is very leaky and someone once told me that replacement costs Sh300,000 per corner… and you have to fix all four corners because they are all linked in a car with air suspension.

Since you say those off-road excursions are infrequent, this is a risk you can take if you can afford the car to begin with.

Toyota’s RAV4 fails on the ground clearance and strong suspension aspects. It neither hugs the ground, nor is its suspension built out of spaghetti; it is just that this list also includes the Mitsubishi Pajero, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Surf, and the Suzuki Vitara.

The RAV4’s shortcomings similarly plague the Subaru Forester and the Honda CRV. Comfort, efficiency, and affordability are well covered by these crossovers (for the Suzuki Vitara, comfort is a bit lower than in the other three).

Having eliminated the Land Rover Discovery and three of the four crossovers (the Suzuki Vitara just barely crosses the line into the next elimination stage due to comfort), we are left with the Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, and Suzuki Vitara.The little Suzuki is the cheapest, so we could call it the most affordable. Diesel-powered versions are not very common, and the petrol engines are 2.0, 2.4, and 2.7.

The 2.7 is best but it compromises on fuel economy. Also, much as it has ground clearance and strong suspension, it is eclipsed by the Mitsubishi and the Toyota; it just cannot compare. So it falls by the wayside in third position.

The Surf and the Pajero are not very different, except that the Pajero is a bit more upmarket and, therefore, more expensive. It is also more comfortable, but by an almost imperceptible margin. The Surf will go anywhere the Pajero does. Since the disparity in cost is not proportional to the disparity in comfort, we have a winner.

The Toyota Surf.

My suggestion? Get a Defender 110, in white. The latest version has a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine, so it is very economical. It will go anywhere (which Defender cannot)?

It is not very expensive compared to brand-new versions of all these other vehicles (ignore the little crossovers, they failed our test quite early in the game). Ground clearance like that was last seen on a giraffe.

The suspension is strong, but it is well optimised, making the new Defender actually hospitable to be in (Defenders of old had the ride quality of Fred Flintstone’s car). Check, check, check, and check.

The added bonus is that your car is unlikely to be stolen. There is a reason I specified a white one… wink, wink!

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Hi Baraza,

I love your articles; they are very informative and helpful.

However, I beg to differ on the advice you gave on February 6 regarding car resale value. If someone buys the Nissan at, say, Sh250,000 and its re-sale value is Sh100,000, is it not the same as someone investing Sh800,000 in a Toyota whose re-sale value is Sh600,000?

You have also mentioned that you do not understand why some cars are overrated in this market. Do you not think that the extra amount tied in a car can be used in income-generating activities? After all, only good maintenance and care ensures that you get from point A to point B, regardless of the make.

What say ye? On that note, I want to buy a KIA Sportage. It is beautiful. Any advice? Fuel consumption and availability of parts is not an issue.

Regards,

BO

I see you suffer from an affliction I once suffered from too: excessive number crunching. The figures you give there are true in percentage terms or ratios, but not in the real world. In one case, the owner loses Sh150,000. In the other he loses Sh200,000. That is not the same, irrespective of the numbers involved. This is one of the reasons why very expensive cars depreciate badly.

This is what I mean by the real world. You have a salary of Sh100,000, the Bible says to submit a tenth of that to God. So you have to part with Sh10,000. Depending on how devout you are, that is something you can live with.

Now, here is a shrewd business man with earnings of close to Sh100 million a month. He is not going to give up Sh10 million, no matter how devout he is, because Sh10 million is a lot of money, although in both cases it is 10 per cent of the principal sum.

If I have a sit-down with a friend and I tell him about how I lost Sh150,000 on a B12 and he tells me how he lost Sh200,000 on a Vista, I will not care about percentages. I will laugh at him because at the end of the day, he has lost more money than I did.

The KIA Sportage is a good RAV4 alternative, and friendlier to the pocket. We also have a KIA dealership, and KIA are world-famous for giving ridiculously generous warranties, so you will be in a good place in life if you get one. And, as you say, the car is beautiful.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column. Keep up the good work. I have developed a liking for the Jaguar X and would like to own one. Kindly advise me on:

1. Availability and affordability of spare parts.

2.Its performance off-road and on-road.

3. Its fuel economy.

Thank you,

Anthony.

Availability of spares: Questionable outside of the Internet. However, affordability should not be too much of a worry, under the skin of that Jaguar you are swooning over is actually a Ford, a mid-range Mondeo saloon.

Performance on-road: Very Ford-like. Which means it is very un-Jaguar-ish. Not as fast as a real Jag. But while Ford-like, it is just a mite better than the Mondeo saloon lurking in its genes.

Off-road performance: That you can dare ask me this tells me maybe you are not as regular a reader of my column as you claim to be. Several times I have asked my readers not to use cars on tasks for which they were not designed. The X-Type is poor off-road. But the 4WD version is good on ice, which is irrelevant.

Fuel economy: A diesel-powered X Type will do 18kpl without breaking a sweat. A V6-engined 3.0 petrol X Type will dip below 5kpl if you drive in such a way as to make your passengers break into a sweat. The middle positioned 2.5 litre and 2.0 litre petrol engines should do about 11kpl and 13kpl respectively.

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Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your ever-refreshing motoring advice. Your column’s value to us motoring novices in Kenya is truly ineffable.

Now, I am looking to buy an MPV for ferrying my family around town and I am totally confused on which is best. I am torn between the Toyota Wish, Toyota Estima, Mazda Premacy, Toyota Avanza, and Toyota Ipsum. Kindly compare their build quality, light off-roading ability, fuel consumption, parts availability, and resale value (in around five to seven years).

Most importantly, can I get any of these cars in manual transmission? I absolutely hate automatic cars and would only buy one if there was no other option.

Regards,

Kevin.

Build quality: The Mazda Premacy is incredibly well-built.

Light off-roading ability: The Avanza is better than the rest, which are equal in their uselessness in this area.

Fuel consumption: Again, the Avanza. It is the only one available here with a 1.5 litre engine with VVT-i. The rest have 1.8 litre-plus engines and are big vans. The Avanza is thin and small.

Parts availability: If you cannot find parts for your car, use Google. Or your friends.

Resale value (in around five to seven years) is hard to tell. But the Mazda and Estima/Previa seem to hold their values better, more so the Toyota.

Manual transmission: Yes, the Avanza and the Previa are available with manual transmissions, but the Previa is UK-spec only. Otherwise… live with an automatic.

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Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your very informative articles. The information has really been helpful. I drive an automatic Toyota Wish. When driving to and from Mombasa I find myself hitting 140km/hr. I usually prefer a steady 120 km/hour.

When I notice this, instead of braking, I usually engage the free gear (neutral) and let the car slow down. A friend noticed this and told me applying free gear (neutral) destroys the gears while another friend tells me it lets the engine rest. My queries;

a) Does engaging the neutral gear allow the engine to rest ?

b) Does it destroy the gears, as my friend claims?

c) Does it save on fuel?

d) What would be any advantages and disadvantages of engaging the neutral gear?

Thanks in advance,

Antony Ng’ang’a.

a) No. Does the engine need to rest? Is it a living organism? With adequate fuel, lubrication, and cooling, an engine will run endlessly; it does not need to ‘rest’.

b) Only if re-engaging the gears is done improperly. This is why I always speak against driving in neutral. It is also a bit hard on the clutch, especially if no rev-matching occurs.

c) No, not really. Not as much as intelligent driving (driving in neutral to save fuel is not classified as intelligent driving, unless in desperate situations where the engine is off).

d) Advantages: you get to enjoy the feeling of “free-fall” when going downhill. Also, if done with plenty of forethought, driving in neutral will save fuel (this involves the engine being cut off).

Disadvantages: the risk of damaging your transmission is very real. Also, it does not save as much fuel as people think (if you drive with your engine off you ought to be shot).

Do not do it. I once did an article in the newspaper back in 2010, and you can read it here:http://www.autotalk.co.ke/neutral-is-it-overrated-as-a-gear/

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Hi,

Your article on fuel saving devices a few weeks back was spot on. I would like to get your opinion on a number of issues:

1. Is it illegal not to have a spare wheel for your car in Kenya?

2. If it is illegal, don’t you think we should have a clause exempting vehicles with run-flat tires like Toyota RAV4 sports and BMW X3 from having the spare wheel because, with such cars, the spare wheel is of no use?

3. Is it illegal for car dealers selling cars, whether imported second-hand or new, to sell cars without spare wheels in Kenya?

1. I am not sure, but it should be if it isn’t. Last week I promised one of my readers I will read the Traffic Act nicely and clear the air on what is what. I am yet to get a copy, the elections have everybody on edge and all I am getting is a curt “Wait!” from relevant sources. Watch this space though.

In addition, I was once stopped by traffic policemen who wanted to see my spare (the Starlet EP82 I mentioned once or twice before had just gotten into my hands), only for him to discover that the tyre and the rim were two separate entities. He asked what I would do in case I got a flat. I told him something about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking. He let me go.

Less than an hour later I got a puncture. To add to the irony, the rubber got shredded by the rim so that now I had TWO wheels whose tyres and rims were separate: the flat and the spare.

I have never been so stranded in my life (this was in Timboroa, at night). I have also never been so cold. I have also never been so happy to see a village mechanic (he oversaw the marriage ceremony between the rim and tyre of my spare).

2. Ah, but you see, run-flat tyres are not spares. There is a limit to how far and how fast you can go on a run-flat tyre. Typically its 80km and 80 km/h respectively. The faster you go, the less the distance it will stay put.

Then what? If you are far from civilisation, you will start thinking about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking to avoid panicking; then you will wish you had a spare and not a stupid run-flat.

3. It is not illegal, but there should be disclosure. I know abroad that is how it is: anyone selling a car is required to fully disclose any underlying defects or deficiencies so that the new owner does not break the law by proxy.

If you are sold a car, and the law requires you have a spare, a warning triangle and a fire extinguisher, it is uncouth for the seller not to advise you to get these things if they are missing from the car, otherwise you have no defence when stopped by the upholders of the law and you have none of them.

Some people (like me) buy a car and immediately drive long distances, provided there is oil in the engine and fuel in the tank. The seller should let you know that you need to acquire such and such.

This also applies to mechanical aspects. You may buy a car with worn suspension and understeer through the first roundabout you come across, wrecking your car.

Posted on

The Leone: A flower bed car

Hi Baraza,
I am currently in the process of acquiring a saloon Subaru Leone, 1500 cc. It’s an old model as far as I can see, with a carburettor boxer engine, (the one that fits a spare tyre in the hood) and is a 4-speed manual.

Please give me details of the car’s history and performance as well as consumption issues. Also, what do you know of the Daewoo Matiz, 1000cc? Can it be driven over long distances without issues?
Hanningtone

You are right, the Leone is an old car, 30 years old to be exact. History? It was made at a time when Subaru’s unashamed sales quarry focused mainly on agriculture and how to achieve terminal velocity inside a flower bed, hence the boxer engine, ground clearance and 4WD.

And turbo. Only Subaru could think with that kind of foresight: the three technologies helped it win several world rally championships in later years and made the Impreza a common sight for rally enthusiasts. The Leone was also the predecessor to the Legacy.

Performance: Nothing to speak of by today’s standards, but back in its day, the Leone Turbo made as much noise as it did forward movement. Given how loud they were, that means they were also fast, and the 4WD enabled them to outhandle almost anything else… especially if it was in a flower bed.

Consumption: 4WD, plus carburettor, plus an optional turbocharger, done by engineers from 30 years ago — do not expect magic. The economy is terrible.

The Daewoo Matiz is not much. On long distances, it will be an interesting bet to see which loses its cool first: the driver or the car. It is punitive to drive far in the Matiz: tiny engine, short gears, incessant top gear drone on the highway. But then again, small engines tend to have simple cooling systems that cannot contain the engine heat for too long, especially since you will be hitting the red line just to keep up with everybody else.

So between you and the car, you could place a bet to see who will be the first to blow a gasket before the trip is over.

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Hi JM,
1. I’m just hitting 30, with a small salary and almost starting a family. I am torn between a Premio 1500cc, a Fielder or a 1500cc Subaru Impreza, 2005. Kindly advise regarding consumption, availability of spares, durability and performance. Oh, and I love speed.

2. Are you a mechanic?
Kimenyi

1. Consumption: The Premio should be the sippiest of the three, but for even better economy, get one with a D4 engine. The Impreza is least impressive in this regard, but it is not far off the mark from the other two.

Spares availability: This has now become a moot point for car models as common as the three you mention. Durability: Treat them well and all three should give you at least six years of service before problems threaten to break up your new family. Abuse them and the Premio will be the first to go.

Performance: Again the Premio, especially if you opt for a 1.8- or a 2-litre. The Fielder is also fast, but is likely to throw you off the road on loose surfaces.

The Impreza is bogged down by its elaborate AWD system. With a family on the way, are you sure performance is a priority? There is something more important than that which you are not asking about and that is…

Practicality: The Impreza and Fielder offer estate versatility, but the Fielder’s boot is bigger than the Impreza’s. Also its interior is roomier but harder to clean than the Impreza’s due to the use of brightly coloured felt on some surfaces (kids will smear dust, jam and chocolate on any clean surface they come across).

2. No, I am not.

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Hi JM,
I recently noticed some black smoke coming out of my Nissan B15’s exhaust. The mechanic I consulted told me that maybe the fuel had a problem and advised me to use fuel treatment (motor honey).

Is this right? Please give me your expert advise on this.

Motor honey, to me, is a myth and has nothing to do with fuel. Use V-Power to clean your fuel system, replace your filter if it is clogged or full of water, and next time try to buy your fuel from a reputable dealer.

Another theory could be a weak spark, but that is accompanied by loss of power and misfiring. So if you don’t have these symptoms, then the issue is with your fuel system (dirt).

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Hi,
I have two pickups: a 2006 Toyota Vigo double-cab and an Isuzu D-Max single-cab. I want to increase the number of leaf springs at the rear of both pickups so that I can increase the load they both carry.

1. How will this affect stability when they are not loaded?

2. If I add the leaf springs, how many should I add and will I have to strengthen the chassis? What other changes will I have to make?

3. If one wants to import a used German car, which is the best market to source?

1. With a stiffer back end, the pickups will be more prone to oversteer because there is less give in the suspension. To understand what I mean by an oversteering D-Max, go to YouTube and search for a video shot by a local cameraman showing the vehicle spilling its human cargo onto the hot tarmac of Waiyaki Way. It started with oversteer.

2. Add as many as you want, but if you overload your pickup and get arrested, I was not privy to your escapade. It might also do you well to strengthen the front suspension as well and the mounting points for the shock absorbers. And the brackets holding the leaf springs.

3. Buy one from a local dealership if you really want a trouble-free experience.

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Baraza,
I have the intention of buying a 1987 Mercedes Benz 230 and replacing its engine with that of a Toyota Shark so that I can enjoy stability and fuel saving benefits. Is this workable? Is it an offence by law?

It is not illegal and it may be workable if the Shark engine will fit into the Benz’s engine bay. But what does not fit or should be made illegal is your train of thought.

How does a Shark engine make a Benz saloon more stable than it already is? And how is it more economical? The Shark can get pretty thirsty if you cane it, that is why it outruns the Nissan Caravan QD easily.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
I own a Rav 4 (automatic ) and on my dashboard there are two buttons: Manual and Power. Please let me know the functions of these buttons and the “side effects” of using them in terms of consumption, wear and tear, etc.
Thomas

I have no idea what the “Manual” button does, but I know the “Power” one lets the ECT transmission programming shift to performance mode, which allows faster shift times, and downshifts and upshifts at higher revs.

It usually hurts fuel economy but the wear and tear appear by proxy (you will be revving harder and going faster, so the engine will be working harder).

Posted on

If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?
Paul
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1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.

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Baraza,

I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?
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Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).

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Baraza,
I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?
Muteti
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I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.
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JM,
I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?
Osiro
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GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.
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Baraza,
I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?
Raphael
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Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.
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Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?
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I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.
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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.
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1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.
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Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.
Leah
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That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.
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Baraza,
I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?
Sam
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The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.
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Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?
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1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.