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The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

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Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

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Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

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Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

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Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

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For town service, the Premio will edge out the Noah

Hello Baraza,
Thank you for the good work; it is educating. I intend to buy a vehicle for an airport transfers contract and I am eyeing a Toyota Premio (1800cc), a Toyota Voxy, and a Toyota Noah, all 2005 or 2006 models.

From my research, I am likely to get both the Voxy and Noah cheaper by Sh250,000 in comparison with the Premio. I have received conflicting advice from two different mechanics on the Voxy.

I am made to understand that its 1AZ engine is actually a D4, which one of the mechanics says will have problems sooner rather than later, and that repairing it will bee too expensive, if possible at all.

The other mechanic says the engine should be okay for quite some time (I intend to dispose of the car and replace it with a “new” one after two years), but in case it starts having issues, usually related to overheating, I may have to throw away the engine. Both say a 3S engine would be a good replacement.

a) Comment on the performance and durability of the 1AZ engine in the Voxy and the Noah.

b) If the 3S engine is better, do they instal them any more in Noahs and Voxys?

c) Considering the purpose of the car, which one would you advise me to buy, with the resale value, durability, and cost of spares in mind? Fuel consumption is a non-issue in this case, and any of the cars will give exactly the same monthly income from the contract.Thank you, Samuel,

The fact that you are comparing a saloon car to a van means carrying capacity is a moot point. I will first ignore your questions and tell you this: Get the Premio. It makes much more sense, especially now that you are talking airports (which means you are also talking town driving somewhat).

The saloon is nippier, more versatile, and generally a better and more sensible prospect compared to a van, which is bulkier and wasteful.

Now to your questions:

a) Performance is good (for a van with a 2.0 litre engine, that is). Durability depends on how you use the engine and what you put into it.

b) Who said the 3S engine is better? The 1AZ is actually the successor of the S engines (of which the 3S is one), so it goes to reason that the later engine is a development of the previous. Hence the 1AZ is better.

Just because your mech friends cannot fix a D4 does not mean the engine is rubbish. And, no, they do not use the S engines is Voxies (Voxys?) anymore.

c) Resale value favours the Voxy/Noah. People have an undying thirst for these vans, for some reason, but market demand can be a fickle mistress; what is in demand now could be shunned like the plague in two years’ time.

Remember the Galant? Durability depends on usage, while costs of spares do not vary by much

I will be curt here; buy the Premio.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for enlightening us on car issues. I would like you to give me the pros and cons of the Mitsubishi Airtrek compared to the Nissan Teana. I am torn between buying the two.

Ian.

You cannot compare the two outright because they occupy different market niches and are targeted at different demographics. The Airtrek is a lifestyle vehicle whose sales quarry mostly includes yuppies and up-and-coming 20-somethings with plenty of out-of-town action, especially on weekends.

The Teana, on the other hand, is a middle-management executive’s car, not as lowly as the sales-rep’s Tiida/Almera and not as flashy as the Deputy CEO’s S320 Benz (or Fuga, if the said CEO is poorly paid or is a cheapskate).

So the question goes back to you: what do you expect from the car that you buy?

Hi JM

I have owned and nicely maintained for five years a 1995 Toyota AE100 saloon. Lately, it seems to have lost power and the engine seems to howl during drives. This is despite changing the clutch kit and regular servicing, including trying out Iridium spark plugs (I hear they are not for old cars, but I was desperate).

Braking is also not up to scratch and the linings seem to lose friction almost immediately after adjustment. Kindly note I always buy genuine parts from Toyota Kenya. How can I rejuvenate this car that I am so attached to, or is it time to part ways?

Amos.

I really cannot say what is wrong with your 100, but I can tell you this: the only time I know of engines howling is when they are revved madly — nudging the red line — and the only cure for that is to ease off the accelerator pedal.

Power loss could come from insufficient electricity in the HT leads or bad plugs (usually accompanied by a distant smell of gasoline in the exhaust), compression leakage (too much blow-by), or slipping components in the transmission.

You may have to look at your clutch again. The only conjecture I can come up with to connect the howling with the loss of power is a slipping clutch, which allows your engine to rev up but the corresponding speed in the transmission (and hence the road wheels) is not proportional to the increase in engine revs.

As for the braking system, you just have to do an overhaul.

Hello Baraza,

I recently upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and I am confused by the new gear lever. I am used to the usual arrangement of P-R-D-2-L, but the Belta has P-R-D-B-S. What is the meaning of the B and S and how do they function? And, in your opinion, is the Belta better than the Vitz?Sarah.

The Belta should be a sort of Vitz sedan (remember the Toyota Echo concept car?) just like the now-defunct Platz. Actually, the Belta is the new Platz, the way the Allion replaced the Carina. Follow?

The only difference between the Vitz and the Belta could be that the Belta has a bigger boot. And is newer. On the gear lever, I have never seen or heard of a P-R-D-B-S arrangement in an autobox, so I have no idea what the B and the S stand for. As for now, just use P-R and D, the most essential gears.

Hi JM,

So many second-hand car imports come loaded with gizmos that add to the complexity of maintenance, increase weight, and result in poor fuel consumption. There is a move in the UK for “back-to-basics” cars:

small, simple, minimalist, and relatively cheap-to-run things. Examples are the Dacia Duster, the Citroen C1 VT, the Chevrolet Spark+1.0, the Suzuki Alto 1.0 VVT SZ, and the VW Take UP!

These all retail in the UK for less than £9,000 or about Sh1.2 million. No electric windows, mirrors, or seat adjustment, just simple, basic motoring.

I think such cars have great potential here. Chevrolet, Suzuki, and VW all have franchises here and I wonder why they do not bring such cars here. There are many, like me, who would welcome a no-frills car. My longest trips are Kilifi to Mombasa or Malindi, and such economical motoring is most attractive.

Tony Gee.

We do have such cars here, or at least one that I know of: the Ford Figo. Another one is coming, from China, to be sold by Simba Colt…. Go figure! Meanwhile, General Motors are dead on their feet.

I had to go to South Africa to try out their Chevrolet cars (nine of them, over three days!) which they do not even bother marketing (the 1.0 Spark is a feisty little fighter while the Lumina SS is a Corvette for introverts).

These cars make sense, especially in the city, due to their manoeuvrability and fuel economy. Doing 500km-plus in one hit in them, however, is another matter altogether. Let us hope our conversation here provokes the franchise holders into taking action.

Hey Baraza,

I am a big fan of your articles and I know that your advice has enlightened many Kenyans into making wise decisions when it comes to acquiring vehicles. Kudos! I would like you to assist me in getting something straight;

I like the Toyota Premio X Edition (1,800cc) because of its high performance and reliability, but I am a huge fan of the manual transmission, which I have not seen so far in these cars. Are there any Premios with manual transmission? If there are not, what is your take on modifying an automatic box into a manual one?

Ken.

Sadly, the Premios I have seen are all automatic. However, there were manual versions of the Corona Premio, or what people call “the old Premio”. There is nothing wrong with swapping the autobox for a conventional manual.

If anything, I would like to see someone do it. I have this idea of getting a 4WD Allion (Premio’s sister car) and fitting it with a manual gearbox, after which I will bolt on a TRD supercharger to the engine….

Hi Baraza,

I appreciate the good work that you are doing. I must say I am now well versed in cars because of your articles. I own a Toyota AE111 (1,600cc) with a manual transmission which has served me well for the past three years. I have the following queries;

1. Is it true that wheel alignment done on a car fitted with Yana tyres normally has issues? I have been told this by many people when doing alignment. What is your take?

2. Is it a fallacy that engine oil should always be changed every 5,000km. I service my car every 10,000km and have never noticed change in performance.

3. I intend to buy new 185/14’’ tyres to replace my current 175/14’’ ones. How will this affect my car? Thanks once again for the good work.

IM

1. Ahem… eerr… aah… I cannot comment on that just yet.

2. The 5,000km figure is what we call a “ball-park figure”, a general safe zone for changing oil considering all types of driving. It covers both sensible and unwise driving techniques.

With careful driving, you could easily triple or even quadruple that mileage, though this will be major gambling on your part. Manufacturers like Mercedes now make engines with service intervals on a needful basis, that is, the car will tell you when it wants a new shot of lubricant.

The three-pointed star claimed some of their engines could easily run to 22,000km before needing new oil. However, since your 111 does not have that tech, just stick to the 5,000km. A few quarts of oil will be cheaper in the long run than a new engine, which is what you will need if you lose the gamble.

3. You will be able to corner harder since your new tyres are wider than the previous set.

Hello Baraza,

I have a 2006 Pajero Exceed fitted with a 3,000cc petrol engine. I would like to customise it and add a turbo-charger, and my mechs tell me that it is possible, not possible, possible, not possible….

Research on the Net tells me that it is very much possible to do this, but I will have to change the exhaust manifold and also probably the pistons and the brakes. So tell me, is it possible to do it?

If yes, please explain briefly the “how” and the “who” that you recommend for such changes. I am also interested in its performance and would like to push its power to about 250+ horsepower.

Again, is it possible? Please note that I am aware that there are more powerful cars like the 2012 Nissan Patrol and the Toyota VX, but I would like to stick to my Pajero and make these changes. Peter.

Yes, it is possible to turbo-charge the Paj. As you mentioned, you have to change the manifolds (especially exhaust) to accommodate the presence of the blower.

A little mapping of the ECU will ensure smooth running of the “new” engine. It is advisable to instal an intercooler also to go with the turbo, as well as upgrading your cooling system (turbo engines tend to have a lot of heat).

The “who” is very simple. I have an acquaintance who does this kind of thing. Visit Auto Art K Ltd in Industrial Area, Gilgil Road, behind the Total petrol station. Ask to see Amit Mohamed.

On upping the horsepower, yes, it is possible, although I find it odd that you settled at exactly 250hp. Most people give a ball-park figure (“around 230 to 280, maybe 250”, is what a typical statement of request sounds like).

Getting the 250hp involves mapping the ECU and adjusting the boost pressure in your new turbo. However, you can still up the power levels by other tuning methods.

Mohamed can do the turbo adjustment, but I have yet another acquaintance who does ECU maps, a certain Amit Pandya of AMS Performance… no relation to Mohamed despite the similar first names