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To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

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Toyota RunX beats the Spacio and Peugeot 206 hands down

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column and I must say I appreciate your work, even though I don’t own a car yet.

However, I am looking to buy my first car, and I have in my sights a Toyota RunX/Allex, Toyota Spacio and a Peugeot 206.

Please advice me on the best buy between these three in terms of durability, availability and cost of spare parts, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns given that I will be a very careful driver), fuel consumption, off-road capability, ease of handling, and resale value.

Thanks and God bless,

Wanjiru.

Thank you for the compliment. I am always glad to help where I can. On to the three cars you ask about:

Durability: The Runx/Allex is best. It is basically a Corolla with the boot chopped off, and we all know that Corollas run tirelessly.

Only a really abusive ownership will ever bog down a Corolla. The Spacio is not so good on longevity. I have seen several lose shape quite badly after only a few months’ use on Kenyan roads. It does not seem like a solid car.

Even worse, by sheer power of reputation, is the little Peugeot. Nobody uses the words “durability” and “Peugeot” in the same sentence, unless one is telling a joke.

This I know from experience (I owned a 405 for a while) and from observation. I once did an article on Peugeots, and I remember saying acquiring ownership of a Peugeot is like getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is very exciting, but there is no knowing where it will lead to.

Availability and costs of spare parts: Spares are there for all these cars, but the Toyotas will have cheaper ones than the Peugeot.

The clutch of my 405 cost me Sh14,000 to replace, and that was three years ago. Compare to the then cost of Sh3,000 for the same job on a Corolla 110.

Maintenance: The Peugeot will frustrate you, let me be honest. The RunX, like I said, is a Corolla, which never breaks down unless you force it to.

Fuel consumption: Buy a 206 diesel and discover the joys of 25 kpl-plus motoring. Briefly. That is, until the DPF (diesel particulate filter) gets choked by mud and/or the little turbo over-spins at high altitude and fails.

The RunX will hover around 12-15 kpl, more if you drive like a lady (pun intended). The Spacio will give slightly worse economy than the RunX.

Off-road capability: None of the above, least of all the Spacio, with its long wheelbase and minimal ground clearance. How many times must I tell you people to use appropriate cars for specific activities?

Handling: The 206 has the sweetest handling of the three cars you mention, especially if you opt for the GTI. The RunX is a close second, losing out only because there is less “feel”, or driver engagement.

The Spacio looks like a small van, and handles like one. Don’t try to get on its door handles through tight corners, because it WILL get on its door handles.

Resale: You will grow old and die trying to transfer the Peugeot’s problems to someone else.

The Spacio will not exactly fly off the shelf either, but it will not gather as much dust as the Peugeot before getting a new owner.

The RunX is pretty popular: someone might even make you an offer while sitting in traffic; that is how much Kenyans love them. Kenyan ladies, to be exact: I know a few women here and there who drive a RunX. Join the pack.

Dear Baraza,

I am writing for advice on the cooling system of my 1987 short-wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser.

I’ve had it for one year now and bought it without an engine and gearbox. I installed what I was told was the ‘original’ engine, the 2H. While the radiator is large and the fan as large as can fit within the available space, the vehicle overheats when driving up steep hills slowly.

I’ve had the radiator flushed, coolant added, and the fan is working. Also, if the car is idling in traffic I do not have a problem with overheating. This suggests that the cooling system is just not efficient enough.

Could this be the case, or could something else be wrong? I had a similar problem with a previous vehicle and the fundi told me the fan was spinning too slowly, tightened something to increase the speed and I never had a problem again.

Would this help?  Another suggestion I’ve had is to add a fan guard to better channel the air to cool the engine. I’m reluctant to try this as it seems yet another expense without sufficient promise of solving the problem. Could you please advise?
Cheers,

Darcy Ogada

The capacity of the current cooling system may be inadequate to counter the 2H engine’s thermal output. Either that or the car is running lean under power, which causes heating problems (and may even damage the exhaust valves).

For the first cause, a bigger fan may help, as may a fan guard. Some people go the extra mile and upgrade the entire system, fitting bigger/auxiliary radiators, fatter hoses and high-capacity water pumps, but this is costly.

Before diving into extra expenditure, first ensure the following:

1. The radiator core is clean

2. The radiator screen is clean

3. Side panels have nuts at the bottom

4. The water/antifreeze ratio is right (typically 50:50)

5. There are no blockages in the cooling system hoses/water jackets.

Check the timing also, and the valve tappet clearance.

Hi Baraza

I have an Opel Astra 1.4 1996 model. I’ve driven it for 10 years and it has given me excellent service.

Benta, for that is her name, still looks good, drives fast, handles well, is solid… and strong. An excellent, extremely reliable ride.

In the last six months, though, I’ve been to the mechanic more times than in the 10 years combined. My question: Is my car just old, has the mechanic lost the plot, or is it a combination of both?

(It’s the same mechanic I’ve used all along and though he’s been super in the past, he has employed many young men who may not have the same thorough training he obviously had)

Lately, when the car goes to the shop it is fixed for one thing but leaves with another problem, usually small, but still a problem. So, is this the signal that I should start looking for another car? Or should I hang in there, get all her little problems fixed and move on with her for another 10 years?

If you think I should move on (sob!), what car would you recommend that is just as strong and fuss-free as my girl has been? I live in a place where there is no road, so this new car has to be solid enough to handle that, be fuel-efficient, look good, and not attract thieves

Thanks for your help,

Judy.

Benta, eh? Prejudices are like foreheads, everybody has one; and some are bigger than others.

I have one concerning people who name their cars and call them “she” and “her”. Don’t let that stop you though; the good thing with prejudices is that they are almost always unfounded.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I wish you were more specific about the little problems you mention. How bad is the frequency with which you keep returning to your mechanic? And what does he say?

A 10-year-old car is still serviceable and should easily give you another six years of painless ownership, unless you bought the car second-hand, in which case it may be time to lay Benta to rest (or palm her off to someone else to struggle with).

If you don’t mind buying a second-hand car, stay German. An ex-Mashariki E39 BMW 520 should cover most of these bases. Or you could look farther back and get a W124 E200 (or 200E) Mercedes. From Japan, the ideal car would be a Toyota Corolla, or even a Camry, but a locally sold, fully tropicalised unit. The problem is, it might get stolen.

Generally, any locally sold saloon with an engine of 2.4 litres or smaller will serve your purpose. Just don’t buy an Alfa though… Car & General sold a few units some years back and keeping one on the road will be a hard lesson you will not easily forget.

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1997 Toyota Premio that has served me well. Recently it has developed two problems.

First, when the gear lever in on neutral or parking, the idling is high at about 1200rpm and the engine is rather noisy. I have checked with my mechanic and he pointed out that the problem was with the throttle and opened it up and cleaned with WD40. However, the problem still persists.

Second, in the morning the steering wheel is difficult to turn but softens after a short drive. I replaced the automatic transmission oil pump but the problem still persists. Kindly advise what could be wrong.

Regards,

Macharia.

That high-rev idling: when does it occur? If it is only on start-up, then that is normal, the engine is warming up. If it happens all the time, check your Idle Air Control valve. There could also be a vacuum leak at the intake manifold or at the vacuum hose.

For the hard steering: your PAS fluid could be low, or the pump is taking too long to work. Check the fluid levels first, then the pump. Does the car make a screeching noise when you turn the steering? If so, then the fan belt is not sitting true within the pulley of the power steering pump.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly talk about Korean cars, specifically the Hyundai Accent.

I own a 1996 model and it has never disappointed me. The fuel efficiency is more than excellent (at 19 kilometres per litre). Of late I have seen many Hyundai minibuses plying the Embakasi route, could it be a sign of Kenyans realising that they have colonised their minds for too long with Japanese models and ignored better alternatives?

Give people time, they will realise how good Hyundai cars have now become.

Once upon a time they were close to rubbish (if not actually rubbish), and they stayed above water by building and rebadging obsolete vehicle models.

Then they tried their hand at making their own cars (also bottom-rung stuff). Now they build their cars in a way convincing enough for the American market to sit up and pay attention. Maybe it is about time we did too.

Hi Baraza,

1. Ever since Toyota changed their double-cabin pick-up, why are Volkswagen and Ford copying the look? And who told Volkswagen to venture into that pick-up field yet it’s not their thing? I know Ford has a history with the Ranger, but why copy the Toyota look?

2. Now that the ‘freno’ is always on heavy commercial vehicles, how come I have heard it on some Subaru? What purpose does it serve in both cases, and how come in some vehicles its auto while some are manual?

Regards,

Brian.

1. The VW pickup you deride here is actually quite a machine, and it rocked the double-cab world at launch. It is not as hopeless as you may suspect. As for Ford and VW “copying” the Hilux look: well, that is your opinion.

In my view they took completely different design routes. The VW has a blocky, butch, almost square design, the Hilux is swoopy and curvy while the Ford is Amero-centric: big toothy grille, plenty of chrome, oversize with a simplified execution, though not as simplified as that of the Amarok.

2. What you heard in the Subaru cars was not an exhaust brake (so-called ‘freno’), it is called a BOV (blow-off valve/dump valve), and it is used to prevent compressor surge (air rushing the wrong way up the turbo) when the throttle is closed (the compressed air is trapped between the closed throttle plate and the turbo fan blades, and starts depressurising backwards into the turbo, causing the turbo to slow down suddenly).

Automatic and manual exhaust brakes depend on the manufacturer’s wishes. I know the exhaust brakes on Scanias are integrated into the foot brake (they also have a separate engine brake and retarder).

On most other trucks/buses it is manually activated using a lever/stalk on the steering column. However, deactivation may be manual (pull/push the stalk back into its original position) or automatic (the exhaust brake is deactivated automatically whenever the accelerator or clutch pedals are touched).

The exhaust brake is used in HCVs to slow down without having to use the foot brake. This reduces wear and tear on the wheel brakes, and is especially handy at high speed where there is a real risk of burning out the wheel brakes due to vehicle momentum.

Hi Baraza,

Great work with the column. I know it is specified ‘car trouble’, but I have a question on motorsports in Kenya. Which categories are there? Which is the easiest (read cheapest) way to join the industry, assuming all I have is the passion and a little money?

Under KMSF, I know of the rally circuit and karting competitions, especially in Mombasa. There are also buggy races (I don’t know the exact name of that race series).

Then there is the Concours D’Elegance (yes, believe it). I doubt if the Rhino Charge falls under the aegis of KMSF.

Outside of KMSF we have the Great Run (sic!). It is not competitive, but hey, you get numbers and stickers on your car. And it is cheap to take part in.

You don’t even need a specialised vehicle, your own daily runabout will serve the purpose quite well.

Let me get a more comprehensive answer from KMSF then I will get back to you with it…

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The Avensis is just another bland Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I have shipped in a Toyota Avensis from the UK and have been told of certain concerns regarding the car:

1. That parts are not locally available; I will have to get some spares, such as suspensions and ball joints, from Dubai.

2. That body parts can only be found upon placing a special order to the auto spares dealer shops along Kirinyaga Road. Are these concerns real?

Also, please comment on the performance, maintenance, as well as the merits and demerits. It is a 1.8-litre automatic model.

John

1. Visit Toyota Kenya and ask if they have the parts you seek. They sold the car under franchise, they should be able to offer support for that model.

2. I repeat, visit Toyota Kenya and ask.

The performance of this car is not exciting, maintenance is typical of pseudo-executive Toyota saloons and, being a Toyota, it is hard to come up with legitimate demerits without resorting to nit-picking.

Also, being a Toyota from the early 21st century, it is hard to come up with particular strong points that stand out versus other vehicles (maybe fuel economy in the D4-D diesel version).

In other words, it is just another bland Toyota that will do everything a family saloon is supposed to. That is why I have never reviewed it; there is nothing to say without boring the hell out of my readers.

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Hi Baraza,

What is the difference between a restricted and unrestricted exhaust system in a car and how do the systems affect performance and fuel consumption?

Also, what are the pros and cons of low-profile tyres? Do they make a car more stable as compared to the “normal” tyres?

Restricted exhausts are what you would find in any normal car, complete with catalytic converters, back boxes, silencers and such.

Unrestricted exhausts have all these removed and are just one straight pipe from manifold to tip (hence the name straight-thru exhaust), which, more often than not, is of a larger diameter than stock (factory spec).

The effect is to improve performance, but you will not make your car faster by removing the silencer and the cat, you also have to map the ECU, in effect telling the engine that there is lower back pressure as compared to before, so adjust your timing accordingly.

Also, the real purpose of straight-thru exhaust comes after engine modifications are done; such modifications will make the engine rev higher, faster and with greater volume/mass of intake charge/exhaust products, such as by forced induction or using bigger and highly polished intakes.

The exhaust is rarely, if ever, Step 1 in making a car go faster.

About low-profile tyres; Pros: better handling since most low-profile tyres are also wide-section and offer better grip. Also, the thinner side walls are stiffer and so reduce body roll and the tendency to flip over.

Cons: They are expensive, and they make the car uncomfortable. They also are unsuitable for less-than-perfect road conditions as the impact from constant bumping makes them swell.

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JM,

What would be your advice in regard to driving on roads that have been damaged by heavy trailers such as the section near Eldoret?

Is there any damage to the wheels/suspension if one drives on the raised “rails” now that this seems to be the only way out for low cars (else their under-carriage will scrape the road)?

I know the place you are referring to: not too far from the Equator crossing and just next to the turn-off into Kapsabet, right?

The trick is to keep the tyres on either side of the car on top of the bumps (or “rails” as you call them).

Avoid slipping into the troughs as you might bend your steering arms, scrape off the sump or even knock out the diff in a rear-drive car if it is low enough. Keep your speed low to guarantee control and avoid skidding under hard braking (downhill plus slippery road surface).

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Baraza,

I previously owned a Toyota 110 but recently disposed of it. I now want to buy another car and, owing to the market prices, I have decided to go for a Subaru Impreza.

I would like to know the consumption of this car verses Toyotas of the same engine capacity (1500cc) and why people don’t like Subarus as much as they do Toyotas.

Njoroge.

The fuel economy figures for Subarus and Toyotas should not be too disparate, if we keep turbos out of the picture.

The Subs may be a touch thirstier owing to the AWD transmission, but this is not something you cannot recover with a little common sense.

After all, Subarus are built and developed by Toyota (in a way).

The disregard for Subaru cars stems from several avenues.

First, are the turbocharged versions; they are thirsty, especially when pushed, so people generally assume (after buying the wrong Subaru once) that all Subs are dipsomaniacs.

Second, is the STi clique, the Impreza WRX fan club.

While not all of them exhibit anti-social behaviour on the roads, there are one or two bad cards that will overtake you while driving on the pavement or wake you up at 3am as they pass outside your bedroom window in a car equipped with an aftermarket exhaust system and ALS (anti-lag system), sounding like a small army is invading your neighbourhood with automatic weapons.

But they are not all evil, sleep-depriving, rule-flouting louts in the STi club. Just as not all Subarus are turbocharged, and so not all will deplete your disposable income. Feel free to get an Impreza, even an STi if you are up to the task, but please don’t drive like an idiot.

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JM,

My friend and I are re-engineering the petrol engine of a saloon car so that it uses hydrogen; don’t be bewildered, great inventions come from mundane ideas.

We have built a hydrogen cell that uses water and electric current to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen, we presume, can be combusted to produce the driving power to the pistons. The hydrogen cell is already working and the hydrogen being produced is igniting.

Now, what are the challenges we may face in using hydrogen as a fuel? By the way, hydrogen burns at much lower temperatures than fossil fuels, and the by-product is water only, so we save on the environment. Do you think we are headed anywhere?

I hope we live through the process to enjoy the car. If we succeed, we will bring you the car for a road test… if the oil multinationals don’t smoke us out.

Harold.

You have managed to isolate hydrogen gas from water? At what cost?

Anyway, I am glad the cell is working, and yes, hydrogen does combust (with a “pop” sound, according to our Chemistry teachers; in reality, it burns with a loud bang/explosion, as the operators of air-ships will tearfully testify). The question is: how does it burn in the engine?

How are you storing it in the car? What injection system will you use? Will it have to be first liquefied? Have you studied the combustion properties of hydrogen? This will assist in variable valve timing and direct injection.

What of additives? If the by-product is water (which it is), and there is a bit of blow-by in the cylinders (which there will be), water will get into the sump and mix with the oil, forming sludge.

Exhaust gas re-circulation? Will you re-circulate steam into the engine? How much energy will the combustion process release? If the explosion is too violent, how will you control it? Is there stratified intake charge combustion? Will the engine block and heads need bolstering to prevent pre-mature failures?

I am not watering down your hard work, these are just guidelines on areas to pay attention to. You may be on to something here, who knows?

What you need is funding for feasibility studies of your project, because I have not even started on infrastructure: plants and factories for extracting hydrogen, storage facilities, dispensers…

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Hi Baraza,

I am a physically challenged person (paraplegic) who is planning to buy a second-hand car. My budget is between Sh300,000 and Sh400,000. Kindly advice on the following:

1. Type i.e. Toyota, Nissan, etc.

2. To import or buy locally assembled.

3. If it is to import, the right/proper procedure of doing it. Please note that I am tax-exempted.

4. Where can I learn to drive the same?

Mwangi.

1. This mostly depends on personal taste, though for that kind of money, a Nissan may be a better bet. The demand for Toyotas rarely wanes, so getting a good one that cheap is not easy.

2. For reliability, a locally assembled version is the smarter choice. Also, the car can be modified for use by paraplegics by the same people who sold it.

3. I have never known the exact procedure that will ensure you get the car you want without risking theft, fraud or short-selling.

4. The AA, or any reputable driving school, should be able to help you out. First of all, the car has to be modified to transfer the foot controls (pedals and parking for some models) from the floor and site them within arms reach. From there, it is just practice.

I know of someone who has had his Caldina modified with a “foot-free” kit, so to speak. He, like you, is paraplegic.

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

Hi JM,

Thanks for your article on the Scania (DN2, July 25, 2012). I have driven the Scania 380 once and for sure it’s a good machine. I would like you to help me out on these two questions:

1. What brings about the “big” difference in speed between the Scania and the Mercedes Actros? That is, the Scania outdoes the Benz when climbing a hill, but when cruising on flat/level ground, the Scania is outdone.

2. Why do truck drivers raise the wheels that are just before the rear driving wheels. That is, those that have no torque?

1. The amazing climbing power comes from the incredible torque that the engine develops (about 2500 Nm in the R420).

This torque in itself comes from the turbocharger, intercooler, intelligent engine programming, and of course the turbocompound setup, which acts as a complement to the turbocharger (it increases the speed of exhaust gases going through the exhaust turbine in the turbo).

The lower speed on flat ground stems from the fact that Scanias are programmed (and built) to last and offer good performance (in lugging loads) while returning good fuel economy, so their close-ratio gearboxes are not engineered for outright top speed.

The presence of a retarder along the drive-line also makes high speeds hard to achieve. And lastly, they come fitted with speed governors.

2. The raising of the tag axle (that is what it is called) is sometimes automatic, when the vehicle senses the load does not warrant the use of the extra axle.

It can also be raised manually, if the vehicle is so equipped.

It is usually raised to save the tyres: if the tag axle is not needed, you can save tyres (and money) by getting the two tyres off the ground, at which point they are essentially spare wheels.

Posted on

Frankly speaking, I do not see us using electric cars any time soon

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your entertaining and informative column. After seeing your low opinion of electric cars and their potential in Kenya (Daily Nation, June 27, 2012), I want to offer an alternative view. It is clear that electric cars are the future, with oil supplies peaking and air pollution reaching critical levels in most cities. Only two things are holding back the sector: the limited capacity of batteries and their expense.

However, every year the weight and cost of batteries are going down as their density and range increase. Prices for new Toyotas start at around Sh1.6 million; new high-quality electric vehicles start at around Sh2.5 million, though government incentives can significantly reduce that price.

There is a UK company that produces electric Range Rovers that have a range of 200 kilometres per charge, and an Indian company that produces a small electric vehicle that is quite popular in London.

My question is this: if electric cars were available in Kenya, why would a discerning urban commuter with electricity at home (for slow overnight charging) decide, like you, that an internal combustion engine is a better choice? Electric cars are better for everyone’s lungs and in the long run much better for the owner’s pocket.

But they’re not on sale, new or used. Let’s bring them in! Or build our own (Ethiopia is developing one, and there is a huge do-it-yourself electric car sub-culture in the USA).

Edward Miller.

Yes, the prospects for electric vehicles look brighter as oil levels drop, but the general belief in the industry is that they are really not the answer.

A lot more investment is being made in biofuels, diesel-electric hybrids and how best to use the little remaining oil than in developing a fully electric vehicle. Hydrogen has been adopted, dropped and adopted again as a power source for an electric car, and that means the wall socket will have to continue powering TV sets and microwave ovens and forget about powering the motoring industry.

I know about the Range Rovers in the UK. How much does one go for, eh? I also know about the Indian “G-Wiz” (REVO), but this is the worst ambassador you could choose to make the case for electric cars. And in the long run, it may not be cheaper to run an electric car over an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine): what happens when the electric car breaks down?

Cars powered by moving electrons may make sense in the developed world, but around here, we first need a stable support infrastructure, otherwise prospective owners will find themselves the inhabitants of a lonely, cash-intensive planet where lovers of crude oil roam unchecked and will never, ever offer a helping hand when an electric car inevitably runs out of volts and comes to a quite stop… and there isn’t a wall socket within sight.

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Hi JM,

Thank you for your continued service. I have a 1999, 1,300cc Toyota Cami that I love because it has the features I like — it is manual and 4WD. I am, however, considering making it more powerful, and I’m thinking of giving it a bigger engine (a 1,500cc or 1,600cc, preferably VVT-i, although EFI would do in case I don’t find a suitable VVT-i). My questions are:

1. Which engine should I go for (one that will be compatible without much modification)?

2. Will it require a new gear box or not?

3. What might be the power increase and how will it affect efficiency of the vehicle, including fuel consumption?4. Will it adversely affect its handling?

Thank you,

Jediel

You must be one hell of a Cami fan because yours is the first Cami I have heard of being considered for mods. Anyhow:

1. Go for the one that fits in the engine bay easiest. When it comes to the point where you start fabricating new engine mounts or modifying bulk heads/front chassis cross-members, you are entering into expensive and experimental territory, so just get an engine that will fit. Just so you know: both EFI and VVT-i can be found on the same engine: One concerns fuel delivery while the other concerns valve operation, so you can have your cake and fuel it too… I mean, eat it.

2. It may need some new ratios, but this calls for a shakedown first to determine whether or not this is necessary.

3. The new power will be the power output of the new engine. If it is more powerful than the old 1,300, then your car will definitely be faster. And a little bit thirstier, though this might not happen. You see, I have driven the Cami, and I hated it, part of the reason being that, on the highway, it requires thrashing to keep up with the rest of humanity. Maybe a bigger engine will give it a more laid back approach so that you need not cane it to go fast. Then the fuel economy gets better in that regard.

4. Depends on the weight of the new engine. The more the weight difference between the two engines, the more the effect on handling.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been arguing with my friends on a number of issues that I believe you can settle for us once and for all:

1. Which are the best cars for skidding (front-wheel- or rear-wheel-drive), and why are they the best option?

2. Between Mercedes Benz, Renault and Scania trucks, which are the best for long-distance hauliage while heavily loaded?

3. Between the Toyota Hilux D4D pick-up and the Isuzu D-MAX, which has a higher loading capacity? Also, can you compare the FSR with the FH?

1. All cars will skid, except those with advanced 4WD/AWD systems. But I assume you are asking about drifting, and it is rear-drive cars that are best suited for the purpose. You may have discovered from one of my previous articles that drifting is intentional oversteer, so what you need is to break traction at the back axle.

One way is to use the hand brake while turning, because the friction circle (sharing of tyre grip between lateral grip and forward traction) cannot accommodate both the braking effort of the locked tyres and the turning effort, so the tyres lose grip and start sliding.

Another way is to use the power of the car, similar to using the hand brake, but this time instead of the traction being lost to braking, it is lost to the surge of torque from the engine. Same result: the rear of the car starts sliding and you end up drifting.

2. Depends. Nowadays these vehicles are so well developed that it is hard to put them apart, but the technological advancement of Scania may put them ahead of the pack.

3. The two pickups are not very far apart. The D-MAX has a turbo, though, so go figure. The FSR has a shorter payload area than the FH, so it may accommodate a smaller volume of luggage: but on the other hand it may lug a heavier load owing to its huge tyres and superior capacity (9,800cc vs the 6,557cc of the FH). A better comparison for the FH is the FRR (8,200cc).

——————-

Dear Baraza,

Cars either have full-time 4WD, 2WD, AWD, 4WD with select option and others that I may not know of. Now:

1. Do front 2WD cars have better fuel economy than the others (all other factors held constant)?

2. Is it possible to disengage the rear drive shaft of a 4WD automatic transmission so that the car drives with the front wheels only (it becomes a front 2WD)?

3. How complicated is this process of disengaging the rear shaft? What would be the risk to the car?4. Would it improve fuel economy and torque/power to the front wheels?5. What is the difference between AWD and full-time 4WD?

Regards,

L Murithi.

1. Generally, yes, but it does not necessarily have to be FWD. It could also be RWD.

2. Yes. This was actually a mechanical infidelity in the Freelander Mark I because the rear prop shaft would shear, rendering the car permanently FWD. Owners would rarely notice because they rarely took their cars into situations that would warrant the need for 4WD.

3. It is as complicated as applying a spanner to some bolts until the offending prop shaft falls off the car. However, if the diffs are electronically controlled, you might need to remap the control units (engine, transmission, differentials), otherwise your poor car will be confused, wondering why it has lost the feeling in two of its legs.

4. Not really, because to improve economy to 2WD levels you need to lose the entire 4WD setup. Disengaging the prop shaft is OK, but you will still have transfer cases and two or three differentials in the car, which still weigh a lot. Discarding some of these pieces of kit may leave holes and gaps, making your car look like a competitor in a demolition derby. It will not “improve” torque/power, but all of the available power/torque will be going to the front wheels, so you could say that.

5. AWD distributes torque to tyres depending on available grip levels, so in extreme circumstances, the car could be one-wheel drive, since the diffs distribute torque between axles (front and back) and across sides (right and left). Full-time 4WD means all wheels receive torque at all times irrespective of whether or not they are slipping. Torque may be shunted in the same way as the AWD, but the difference is, while in AWD a car can be one-wheel or 2WD, for full time 4WD no singe tyre/axle is completely starved of torque

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Hi Baraza,

I wish to upgrade from a Toyota Corolla AE110 to a Subaru Forester 2.0XS 4WD AT 2.0 (2005). Have you test-driven this car? If so, how would you rate it? Would the upgrade be worthwhile?

Regards,

Alex.

I have driven both the XS and XT versions of the Forester, and I rate them both highly, especially the XT (because it has a turbo, albeit a small one). Depending on your desires, the upgrade may or may not be worthwhile, but the general feeling would be it is a worthwhile venture.

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Hi Baraza,

I appreciate what you do for us and, after following your articles, I have become very enlightened on various vehicle problems that I even find myself transferring your valuable advice to my mechanic.

I drive a Subaru Legacy, twin-turbo, station wagon. Brilliant car! However, it has one major shortcoming when driving at high speeds, especially in gears three and four. At times it lags as if I’m off the throttle, which is very dangerous, especially when overtaking.

My mechanic has never figured out why, but when you drive it and time the gear change appropriately, it flows smoothly. But that only comes with experience and at times you can get it wrong.

I suspect there is a turbo lag as it changes to the second turbo, but my mechanic doubts that since both turbos are okay. Kindly let me know what to do about it.

Elly.

Is your car manual or auto? What you describe there sounds like turbo lag, but then again you have mentioned something about changing gears.

Anyway, if it is manual, try keeping the revs high for the turbos to work properly (they only spool in at high rpm, say, 3,000 rpm or more) and avoid short-shifting (changing up too early). If not, get a mechanic who will look at the turbos physically. There could be boost leakage either from a burst pipe or worn out impeller blades inside one or both turbos.

——————-

Hi Baraza,

My Nissan N16 showed the ‘check engine’ light when it was almost due for service.

I took it for service but the light did not go off, so I took it for diagnosis. My mechanic had checked the air flow sensor and said it was okay, but the diagnosis showed two faults — air flow sensor and knock sensor.

After being reset, only the knock sensor fault remained. The ‘check engine’ light has not appeared again since that day, though I’m advised to change the knock sensor.

Should I still go ahead and replace it? Should I buy it new or second-hand?

What is the work of a knock sensor in an engine?

Kind regards,

CB.

I don’t know how your mechanic came to know the air flow sensor was okay, but if the knock sensor is kaput, replace it too.

The purpose of the knock sensor is to detect “knock” (caused by pre-detonation of the air-fuel mixture), or pinging, after which the ECU advances or retards the ignition timing to optimise power and economy.

Knock is caused by wrong fuel grade (low octane rating), overheating or when the timing is too advanced; or even by hot carbon deposits within the cylinder.

Posted on

The baby Range Rover: An understated pleasure

I was going to start off this article making analogies involving fashion accessories — about how they are high on looks and low on practicality — and I also intended to talk about the unwise move of deploying the pop star wife of a football legend in the automotive world to influence the end product of what, we have to admit, is the most profound Land Rover vehicle ever since Charles Spencer King installed a Chrysler V8 into the very first Range Rover car.

I even thought of touching on the defining characteristics of one Judas Iscariot, a man for whom the word “loyalty” was Roman to his Jewish “sell-out”.

Basically, I was not planning on being kind to the Evoque, the latest and most controversial Range Rover car, ever. Here is why.

Range Rovers have been typified over the years by several key ingredients. They are tall, massive, seat five (or more), have full-time 4WD, and contain six or more cylinders in their engines.

They were also thirsty, most of the time. The Evoque is none of these. Range Rovers have also been manly cars and the manifestation of an engineer’s passion.

This one, the Evoque, was designed by a woman, not even an “engineeress”, so to speak, but a diva from the now-defunct British girl band called the Spice Girls.

It is like asking Beyoncé Knowles, former lead of Destiny’s Child, to come up with the new Scania prime mover. Sounds like a corporation committing suicide, right? Wrong.

What Mrs David Beckham, née Victoria Caroline Adams, unleashed on us is nothing short of epic. Again, here is why.

The engine

While Range Rovers past have always packed 2.5-litre plus six — or eight — shooters under the hood, the Evoque arrived toting a puny four-cylinder with a single turbo.

This flouts all known automotive technology rules: Range Rovers are supposed to have massive engines, and nowadays nobody does single turbos anymore.

To eliminate lag without resorting to an anti-lag system (ALS), which is dangerous to both engine and pedestrians as it shoots flames out of the exhaust pipe, most engine builders use twin turbos; a small one for low revs, complemented by a larger one for full top end power.

The brochure says: “The Si4 petrol engine is a lightweight all aluminium unit…” I believe them. Driving the Evoque, one would be hard pressed to tell that there is even an engine up front.

So even is the weight distributed through the front chassis components that balance is not a point one would want to raise when criticising this vehicle.

The brochure also says: “It uses the latest direct injection technology and advanced turbocharging…” Again, I believe them.

So cleanly and smoothly does this engine run, you would not be fooled into thinking it belongs in a cheaper car — that is courtesy of the direct injection.

But more important is the authoritative pulling power that is accessible from low revs. Now, that is the turbo. Most single turbo setups suffer from tremendous lag or very narrow torque bands (or even both), but the Evoque’s engine is something else.

From as low as 1200 rpm, pedal-to-the-metal antics yield results, and impressive results at that. Acceleration is instantaneous and torque delivery is linear. Woe unto any competitive drivers of lesser cars who would want to take this on.

There is also twin independent variable valve timing that allows economy when the driver is circumspect with the hot pedal and haste when he turns lead-footed.

It works, believe me, it does.

With a three-cylinder economy on demand, it is actually a four-cylinder, emits a five-cylinder growl under WOT (wide open throttle), gives six-cylinder smoothness, delivers V8 torque, and still possesses the top-end screaming power of a V12. Dr Jekyll’s doings have nothing on a road test of the little Evoque.

Performance

That single turbo suffers from so little lag you would hardly notice it at all. At full tilt, the Evoque will humiliate anything affordable on the road right now — it even shamed its ancestor, the grandfather of all SUVs, the Vogue, on an open road.

(If you were driving a black Range Rover Vogue along the northern bypass on 17 May and a tiny, grey Evoque pulled away from you despite your best efforts, that was me. Sorry).

While the top-end power is quite impressive, there was still a moment of weakness somewhere. The car will pull from rest to 180 km/h effortlessly, but between 180 and 200, it gets a little breathless.

Beyond 200 requires an autobahn to find out, and we do not have one here. Yet.

Power had a dead spot somewhere, but torque did not. Overtaking was not even an epiphany, nor was it even momentous: there is no adjective majestic enough to describe what happened the first time I sent the pedal all the way to the floor while on the wrong side of the road.

The figures in the mirrors could not disappear backwards any faster if I was in a low-flying aircraft. Stupid grins were available all round as my road test crew suddenly realised that we were not in yet another ordinary 4-cylinder mini-SUV.

Sum up: While the general consensus is that BMW builds the best engines in the world, the Automotive Engine of the Year last year was from the bigger Range Rovers.

It was the 4.4-litre TDV8, now available in the Vogue and the Sport. The Evoque’s 4-cylinder mill proves that this was not a lucky hit; the engineers at Jaguar Land Rover are on a roll.

Tip: Use the cruise control. At 80 km/h, it will stick to fifth gear at 1950 rpm, but it will not stay in sixth (1400 rpm), even if you force it. Sixth gear works best at 95 km/h and 1600 rpm, which, I believe, is the most economical state of this car.

The suspension

More magic here; the little Rangie uses magneto-rheological dampers and shocks. This simply means that the suspension stiffness varies in real time according to the prevailing conditions, and is controlled by an electrical current and billions of tiny little iron filings in the shock absorber fluid.

When the current is off (such as on smooth, steady surfaces), the little metal bits just float around giving a comfortable and slightly floaty, pillow-like feel.

During hard cornering, an electrical current runs along the metal casing of the shocks, causing the iron filings to bunch up together and stiffen the suspension, thus improving handling by eliminating body roll.

This is the same setup used in the Audi R8 sports car. It is also used in the most powerful road-going Ferrari car ever made, the 599.

Ride and handling

This being a Range Rover, no matter how small, it is a given that from ordinary road use one would expect ultra-smooth ride quality and quietness. Enter our handling test course.

Anybody who has driven from Nyeri town to Nanyuki knows of the smooth and sinuous tarmac that lies just outside Nyeri. Sweeping S-curves, tight hairpins coupled with blind switchbacks and no run-off area whatsoever define this five-kilometre stretch of bitumen.

A sneeze at any point along this course from the driver would mean instant death. We wrung the little Evoque’s neck here, but the tyres would not give, nor would the suspension, nor would the steering. Bliss.

Taking those tight turns at 85 km/h yielded no understeer. There was also no tyre squeal and no body roll. The only downside was that this is a two-way road; start clipping apexes and you might end up a statistic.

Sum up: This is a GTI car, a performance hatchback, a luxury saloon, and an SUV all rolled into one, with the focus bending towards the performance hatchback. Many tried to keep up along this stretch of our test route and many failed.

The styling

Being a footballer’s wife, a pop star, and a businesswoman exposed Mrs Beckham to the finer things in life, and that is what she has tried to replicate here.

The Evoque looks a lot like the Range Stormer I talked about some time back, only this time there is clearly a feminine shade and shadow on the silhouette.

Really clever cues include a three-quarter length skylight roof. The massive tyres are pushed to the very edges of the vehicle body, not only lending the car a sporty look, but this is also responsible for the sublime handling.

Lastly, the roof tapers backwards from the top edge of the front windscreen to the back windscreen. The side mirrors are also cleverly designed but massive, and could be a visual impediment on oblique junctions.

A bit of bad and good

The tapering roofline has a negative effect: it robs the car of rear headroom and boot space, and creates a very tiny rear window, thus impeding the rear view.

The window shoulder line is also a bit high, creating a pillbox effect for the driver and passengers. First time in the car feels like a sniper’s hideout, so it does take some getting used to, however much you fiddle with the seat controls.

The massive side mirrors create huge blind spots at junctions, so a little care is needed.

The body styling and the skylight roof, on the other hand, will generate more attention than you have ever wanted.

Not even the police are immune to the Beckham effect, gawking as the car weaves through their stingers (thus forgetting to ask themselves why three scruffy, sweaty, grinning men would be driving a car that fancy on a road that lonely and at a speed that absurd).

Sum up: Attention seekers, your Google equivalent has arrived. Looks of lust, looks of envy, and looks of approval will henceforth be your lot.

The road test

As tests go, this has been our most thorough to date. Pity there is not enough space to report everything. We did a dyno run: power hit 160 whp (which translates to about 190 bhp — the traction control and ABS kept cutting in); 336 lb ft or 458 Nm/46 kgm of torque; and top speed (225 km/h, or 140 mph).

We also played with the toys (Bluetooth can be a headache sometimes). In fact, we played with everything, short of disassembling the entire car; not a wise proposition for something worth Sh12 million or so.

Doing it differently

I will make no bones about it: my car reviews are not always regarded highly by those in the motor vehicle business. So it came as a shock to me that I was invited to drive the Evoque out of the blue.

And not in the typical Kenyan road test fashion where you are supplied with a car, a driver, and a security guard (for the car, not for you) and required to fill out 1,300 pages of paper work, before being driven round the nearest roundabout then told to get out, go back home, and write something nice.

You will have the car for two days, they said. Who is the driver and who is the security guard, I wanted to know. You will be on your own, they said.

It does not make sense, I countered. Why would I drive today, give the car back, then drive again tomorrow? You will not, they chimed. You will go home with the car, then give it back tomorrow, they added. We trust you, they cooed. What is more, we are giving you a full tank of fuel, they gushed.

I did not go home. A Range Rover Evoque, two test drivers, and a photographer: the wisest thing to do was to point the car towards the biggest and most picturesque mountain available and gun it.

That is exactly what we did, and in my mental checklist, on the dotted line next to the entry labelled “Most Spectacular Road Test, 2012”, I quietly filled in “Range Rover Evoque Si4”.

The tank was empty when I handed the car back.

Posted on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

Fanon

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

—————–

Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

—————

Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

————–

Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

——————

Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

————–

Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

————–

Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

—————-

Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

————–

Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?