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Importing a hybrid car? Ship in the mechanic as well

Hi Baraza,

I once overheard a former Toyota Prius owner lament about how much trouble the car had put him through when its photovoltaic cell broke down. Finding a competent mechanic to fix it was a nightmare.

Toyota EA, the franchise holders, did not stock it too. Please comment on the whole hybrid car phenomenon in terms of purchase price, maintenance, spares, resale value, and future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public.

Secondly, what is the verifiable benefit of Shell V-Power fuel on engine life, engine performance, exhaust emissions, and the general health of a vehicle?

Kikuvi

I visited the hybrid car issue some time back and the conclusion I arrived at was that it was expensive and irrelevant. It is also inappropriate for our market at the moment, seeing how we lack the technology and know-how to fix them when they break down. But anyway, here are your answers:

Purchase price: Eye-watering. Maintenance: You will hate hybrids even more than Jeremy Clarkson does when things start going wrong.

Spares: Unavailable here. They cost too much where available (before you even consider shipping costs).

Resale value: After people read this, poor. It will still be poor even if they do not read this because of the following reason: the battery pack for the hybrid system is horrendously expensive.

Also, it has a finite life cycle and has to be replaced after a short span (five years or so). So, buying a second-hand hybrid means its battery pack will be close to the end of its life and, therefore, not only will you buy the car, you will soon need to buy more batteries and the total cost will not differ greatly with buying a new car.

Future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public: Tricky. Hybrids have been trashed for not being as economical as small diesels, for being too costly, for under-performing and for having an effeminate, holier-than-thou, condescending, patronising, goody-two-shoes image.

Also, with the advent of science, extraction, storage, and dispensation of hydrogen will be both accessible and affordable in the not-too-distant future, and hydrogen cars have proved to be far more effective and efficient.

Electric cars have also made huge strides, with companies like Tesla and Fisker churning out impressive purely electric cars (Fisker is now bankrupt, but the reasons behind this are a whole other story).

That said, it was only this week that Toyota announced that it had sold one million Priuses… Priii…. Pria… whatever the plural of Prius is.

On to the other issue of Shell V-Power fuel:

Engine life: It extends it through its “sanitary” characteristics (it cleans the engine).

Engine performance: Read this very carefully. Shell V-Power improves engine performance. However, by this I do not mean that if the manufacturer has built an engine that develops 280hp, then that engine will develop 281hp when you feed it V-Power. No. What I mean is, that if your engine components such as injectors were clogged or almost clogged with deposits, then performance suffers.

V-Power, with its cleansing properties, will restore the hygienic status of your engine (I have a feeling hygiene is not the right word to use here). Also, if you have a high compression engine designed to run on high octane fuel then you put ordinary fuel in it, it will very easily knock.

Either that or the timing will be so retarded as to make the car switch to “safe mode” (limited performance). Putting V Power (which is also a high octane fuel) restores these performance capabilities. But it does NOT cure knocking.

Exhaust emissions: I may hazard a guess that a cleaner, smoother running engine has less emissions than a filthy, rough one.

General health of a vehicle: Ignore this. General health of a vehicle may extend to systems that have nothing to do with fuel or combustion such suspension, body work, electrical system…. I do not need to go on.

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Hi Baraza,
I would like to make a “soft upgrade” and switch to a better but affordable car that shares the same qualities as my first car — a Toyota Corolla Fielder 1500cc, manufactured in 2003 and bought in the year 2011 with 60,000km mileage.

I drive at least 250kms a week and it has not developed any major problems, thanks to regular servicing. My driving is an average of 15km/l (am I a good driver?)

Now, please assist me on available choices for a more powerful car with good resale value, on- and off-road friendly, not thirsty beyond 1800cc yet pocket-friendly enough to allow me to invest my limited earnings on potential projects.

Then, from what I have as above, how long can my existing car give me valuable service?

R Nyaga

If your driving averages 15km/l then, Sir, you are a very GOOD driver. Credit where credit is due.

Now, you have heaped praises on the Fielder that you own and drive and you want to upgrade to a vehicle with “almost same qualities” and also a more powerful version with not more than 1800cc.

Well, have you considered a Fielder with 1800cc? It fits the bill to a T and it is a car that you are not only familiar with but you also seem to love and understand. The meaning of “off-road friendly” is heavily dependent on what you mean exactly.

Some people say “off-road” when they mean “unpaved” or “untarmacked”, while people like me say off-road when we mean circumstances where there is no discernible path and the only penetrable points are strewn with obstacles.

If you go by the first definition, then the Fielder will sort you out. If you mean the second one, then “not thirsty, not beyond 1800cc, and pocket friendly” does not apply here: you have to look farther afield.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a few burning queries that need expert advice. Since I am green on matters concerning motoring, you will have to excuse me for some of the questions and the length of this email.

I am looking forward to buying my first car with a budget of around Sh800,000. I feel it would be better to import a car directly from Japan as I assume local vehicle dealers are in the business of making maximum profit. That said, I have settled on SBTjapan.com as they have an office in Mombasa.

I have settled on the following models : Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida — all 2006 models.

I need a vehicle for commuting to town — I live 40km from Nairobi and with monthly or bi-monthly travel to western Kenya and back.

Now, here are the questions:

What is your honest expert advice to a novice importing a vehicle directly from Japan, including cost of buying, shipping, and KRA taxes. Please advise if SBT Japan, which I have settled on, is reliable. If you can give me other references I will be glad.

From the choice of Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida, kindly give me your expert opinion on which vehicle is suitable for Kenya in terms of availability of spare parts and experienced mechanics, resale value, reliability, durability, and endurance. Which of the four has economical fuel consumption?

Why are Toyota Caldinas cheaper than Premios? What are the factors that determine the higher prices of a Premio of the same year of manufacture as a Caldina, yet the Premio ends up higher priced despite higher mileage. Why are Toyotas generally higher priced compared to Nissans (I may have to make a choice between the two)?

In some of your articles, I remember you saying that Honda’s VTEC engine is touted as the best. I have also heard people saying Toyota’s VVT-i engine is good. I have no idea what type of engine Nissan uses, but how does it compare to VTEC and VVT-i?

How does a vehicle’s mileage affect the performance of a car? I seem to have a general phobia of vehicles whose mileage is above 100,000km.

Finally, when does an engine start having issues in terms of mileage?

Victor

You are right, this is one lengthy email. My honest, not-so-expert advice (I am also green in the field of motor vehicle importation) would be to elicit the assistance of someone knowledgeable in the import business and known well to you, say a friend or relative.

I was once asked the exact same question by another reader and I assumed his position and did a ghost importation up to to the point of payment but did not actually buy the car. And interestingly enough, the company I chose to do my ghost import from was SBT Japan.

However, I cannot vouch for their (or anybody else’s) trustworthiness because as far as I am concerned, importation is a pig-in-a-poke setup. Buying what you cannot actually see is always a huge risk, and I do not see why I should recommend them over others. I have not had cause to think they are better in any way. My exercise was strictly as a tutorial for that reader on what might happen should he head down that path.

Two years ago, I started the year on a belligerent note, speaking against imported vehicles and their lack of suitability in markets for which they were not designed.

After the series of two articles based on tropicalisation, I was berated for being elitist, narrow-minded, and possibly in the pay of brand-new vehicle dealers (I may be elitist and/or narrow-minded, but my one and only paycheque comes from the Nation Media Group, nowhere else).

Later that year, the Car Clinic received thousands of emails containing this (or variations thereof) statement: “I bought this car from Japan/Dubai/UK/Singapore some time ago and now it is not working properly. The mechanics make wild guesses and charge me exorbitantly for every wrong guess they make. Help!”

To cut a long story short, the vehicles you are referring to were built in and for Japan, so they may not be suitable for Kenyan conditions. In cases like the Nissan Tiida and Sylphy (which were also sold locally as the Tiida and Sunny N16), you might get away with the intersection of different markets, hence availability of (trustworthy) parts and experienced mechanics.

For the rest, you may just have to search until you find one. Of the four, the Tiida is available with the smallest engine and so may give the best economy.

Caldinas are cheaper than Premios because of demand.

Toyotas cost more than Nissans also because of demand.

Nissan uses something called NTEC, which in essence is more or less the same as VVT-i and VTEC — some form of variable valve timing which may or may not have “intelligence”(VVT-i and i-VTEC). Kenyan drivers will sing about Toyota’s VVT-i because it offers a good Jekyll-and-Hyde personality between economy and performance but most of them will be lying.

Not that VVT-i is bad. No. In fact VVT-i is very good, but most of these drivers have never experienced the effect of VVT-i. The switching of cam profiles (and thus valve timing) occurs at engine speeds most of us rarely reach (6,000rpm- plus) where the “economy” camshaft profile is swapped for a more aggressive profile and the vehicle gets a surge in performance.

Most of the time we drive in “economy” mode, optimised for torque and gently breezing along.

Honda’s VTEC has the praise of pioneering this whole variable timing and lift control thing (as far back as 1983 compared to Toyota’s 1991 VVT) and in Type R vehicles (Civic, Integra, Accord, and NSX), the switch-over is so marked as to almost feel like a turbo is kicking in. This is an effect driving enthusiasts love.

It also occurs lower in the rev range, increasing the overall sportiness of the vehicle. And also, Honda’s VTEC engines have been nicknamed “Terminator” by European motor journalists because they never fail. They are almost unbreakable.

The higher the mileage, the more likely the engines (and other parts) will have problems because of wear and tear. Why do you think a 1983 Corolla does not look and sound like a 2006 Corolla? Technology aside, the 1983 car has endured a longer beating so it is no longer as solid, or as together, as it was when new.

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Don’t drive in Neutral gear, it makes no sense at all

Hello Braza,

Thank you very much for your advice on tyre size. It worked perfectly. I have one other question. Somebody advised me to be changing my gear selection to N (Neutral) when going downhill in order to save fuel. Is this true?

Does it have any adverse effect on the vehicle, especially when I change from D to N and vice-versa when the vehicle is in motion?

Please help, and God bless you.

Lisa

Don’t do it, Lisa. There may not be an “adverse effect” per se, but it is risky in that you may bump the lever into R instead of D when going out of N, though this is heavily dependent on the design of the car in question.

Also, it is self-defeating, in that most of the time before going into N most people accelerate hard in D (or whatever gear for a manual transmission) to gain the momentum they think they are preserving in neutral.

If you want to save fuel, drive like this: accelerate gently, but not so slowly as to be a nuisance to me when I come up behind you in a powerful car. Do it within reason.

As a driver, use your discretion as to what “within reason” means. Don’t crawl like an old woman.

Also, don’t stomp the accelerator to the bulk-head, unless under special circumstances… like when stuck at a railway crossing and a freight train is bearing down on you, but this is an unlikely occurrence. We don’t have freight trains any more.

Avoid braking as much as possible, but again within reason. I once said that to someone who offered to drive me from point A to point B, then the joker proceeded to drive into a crowd of people saying “Baraza said not to brake”.

Were it not for the cat-like reactions of the subsequently insanely furious bystanders, there might have been some injuries. No, no, no: brake when necessary, but only when necessary. This is because braking wastes precious energy in the form of momentum, which energy was expended getting up to speed.

Try this: rather than braking hard, try and lose speed with the throttle closed (foot off the accelerator) first, then when you have lost enough momentum and are ready to stop (or the car ahead of you is REALLY close now)… stop.

When going downhill, instead of going into N, simply take your foot off the accelerator. Gravity will still pull your car downhill, so you won’t stop. The compression in the engine will create a retardation effect, so you won’t have to keep braking to prevent your car from behaving like a runaway bicycle. And with modern engines, once the sensors tell that there is no load on the engine, fuel is cut off completely, so you use zero fuel. In neutral, some fuel is used for idling. Which is better?

Economy driving at first seemed fairly obvious to me, but over the nearly-three years of doing this column I have come to realise it is more of an art: not everybody understands it, not everybody can do it, or knows when to do it.

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Dear Baraza,

I have been driving a 1990 Nissan Primera (1838cc) for the past five years. The car has given me no problems at all — until recently, when it started emitting black smoke and guzzling petrol such that I had to ground it. My questions are:

1. What might be the problem, and what is the solution?

2. If I were to replace the engine with a second-hand 1500cc or 1600cc EFI or VVTI one from, which one would you recommend, and how much should I expect to pay for it?

3. What are the things that a layman should look out for when buying a replacement engine?

Luvembe

1. Your car is running rich, very rich, and these are the probable causes: Oxygen sensors, a leak in the intake or exhaust before the oxygen sensors, cracked or disconnected vacuum hoses, faulty fuel system, and clogged fuel lines, among others. The best way to determine the cause is to get an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) scanner that gives you feedback in real time.

2. Be specific. Almost all engines nowadays are EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection), and have some form of variable valve timing. My recommendation would be to buy an engine from that model range (Primera), but newer. It will be easier to install than trying to shoe-horn a Toyota engine into a Nissan engine bay.

3. You can’t. That is why it is advisable you have a reliable and trustworthy mechanic who can help you with such analyses. Either that or someone who knows his way around a car engine. Even I sometimes have to seek help from some of my friends on some matters.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been reading your articles for some time now and I must say I find them interesting.

I would like you to do some research on the Kenyan Traffic Act because I feel police officers have been making their own laws. For instance, who said driving without a driving licence in your car amounts to an offence?

The offence should only apply to those who have never been issued with a driving licence, not those who do not carry it around in person. If you have a licence but have not carried it with you, the law is specific that you should be allowed to produce it within 24 hours at the nearest police station. A lot of drivers continue to be harassed on the road simply because they do not know the provisions of the law.

Finally, I seek your advice on an unrelated matter. Which is the most ideal car to drive between an automatic and a manual one?

Thanks,

Peter Wachira.

I will study the Traffic Act (the full Act, not just the recent Amendments) and do something thorough about it. In the meantime, let me ask you this: if you get into an argument with a traffic policeman, who do you think will win?

If stopped at a road-block and you show signs of being hard-headed (kichwa ngumu) or extremely knowledgeable (mjuaji sana), your day will not go well, I assure you. Most of the time when the police stop you it will be for a legitimate reason. If not, then it is just to let you know that they are watching.

If you start getting argumentative, you are letting them know that you have plenty of time on your hands, and they will help you to occupy this time. Traffic policemen are experts at using time up.

On the second issue: manual or auto. Which one do you prefer? That is the better one. One man’s preferred gearbox could be another man’s accident-in-waiting.

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Dear Baraza,

Please tell me what, in engine sizes and configurations, does the number of valves in an engine mean? I have an example below to illustrate this:

How different is a 2006 6V 2.7-litre Hyundai Tuscon (JM-Japanese version) from a 2007 Toyota Rav-4 with 16V 2.4-litre, VVT-i engine? In terms of maintenance, is there anything peculiar these vehicles require regarding service intervals and requirements, given the different engine configurations?

Many thanks,

Josh.

The number of valves, simply, is the number of valves. There are two types in an engine, according to function: inlet and exhaust. The inlet valves open to allow air into the cylinders. All valves are closed during the compression and power strokes, then the exhaust valves open for the burnt air to be scavenged from the cylinders.

In a nut-shell, the higher the number of valves, the better the engine ‘breathes’ — takes in fresh air and expels exhaust. Still, there are several key constraints, one of which is cylinder head design and the increase in number of moving parts (increases friction and rotating inertia moments of the new masses). So sometimes instead of having many valves it might be better to make the few bigger.

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Hello Baraza,

Your article on hydro cars was a thriller. I’d like to share what seems like a rare find. I read about a Swiss inventor who’s patented square pistons for reciprocating engines… with reason.

Yes, you heard me right. They’re true squares, viewed from top. The square profile enables the piston to tilt with the rod on strokes, eliminating the gudgeon pin. A lighter reciprocating assembly is created by directly welding the piston to the rod or by forging one compact assembly.

Reciprocating masses reduced mean a harder revving, more powerful engine. I did a paper model of it and found it true. It can work. The problem was designing rings that can seal the wide cavities arising. You may consider getting a paper model of it from me absolutely FREE (I’m gifted in craft!) to see how true this is if you haven’t come across it.

I’ve since tried to look for it on the Internet in vain. But I’m not complaining; even more ambitious engine projects like Kauertz are in books but not online.

Lawrence Mutisya.

The problem with square pistons is that the corners create problems. This is how:

1. Lines of weakness. The high pressures and extreme stress caused by combustion will weaken the engine block along those corners first.

This is also the reason why water and fuel tankers have cylindrical containers rather than the cuboids used to transport TVs and other stuff.

The weight of the water will act on the edges first and weaken the structure. A round container has no definite stress point, so pressure is distributed evenly all over

2. The corners look like potential ‘hot spots’, places where pockets of heat form and these could cause detonation and or pre-ignition.

3. As you mentioned: sealing the corner gaps will not be easy.

4. The rotary engine, though clever, never really managed to oust the reciprocating engine. Lack of torque, high fuel consumption, high oil consumption and frequent replacement of rotor tips made them impractical. Mazda struggled to keep the rotary engine alive with the RX-8 sports car but even they had to give it up as a lost cause.

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Dear Baraza,

I work in Rift Valley and reside in Nairobi’s Eastlands. I have an automatic Toyota Fielder X, 1500cc that has proved very reliable. My only problem with it is that, when it rains, I get stuck all over the place, even on flat surfaces.

I am now thinking of replacing it with a good family car with adequate space for cargo. Which, among, the following, would you recommend: Toyota Noah/Voxy, ‘Nissan E-Trail’, Subaru Forester or Honda CRV? Fuel economy is of utmost importance to me, as is automatic transmission.

Thanks,

Zacheus Karimi.

Cargo Space: There is a five-seat option on the Voxy (two rows of seats instead of three), which leaves an entire warehouse of space where typically the other passenger bench would be. That particular configuration leaves the cross-over cars biting the dust in terms of capacious cargo holds. I don’t even want or need to give figures as proof; it is so obvious.

The Nissan X-trail comes second with 603 litres of space with the rear seats up and 1,773 litres with the seats down. This, however, you did not ask about, which leads me to ask a question of my own: what is a Nissan E-Trail?

The Subaru Forester comes at last place, with 450 litres if you don’t drop the rear seats and 1,660 litres if you do. The Honda CRV, according to my research, was quoted in cubic feet: 37.2 with the seats up and 70.9 with them down.

Further research resulted in this being an astonishing (and frankly unbelievable) 1,053.4 litres with the seats up and 2,008 litres with them down. This places it second, especially if you also remove the middle row of seats in the Voxy. It then turns into a pickup. (All figures quoted are for the latest versions of these cars. Next time be more specific about vintage).

Automatic transmissions: All these vehicles have them. The Subaru and the Nissan X-trail also have CVT options, which I’d encourage you to explore, if only to get more people into the world of CVT. I don’t know about the Nissan E-Trail (if such a thing even exists).

Again, these vehicles have some form or other of 4WD, which some would call AWD (Subaru). It is always on in the five-star Fuji product (stars on the logo, not its overall ranking), the Nissan X-Trail has deselectable 4WD via an electronic system (which turns it into a FWD), the CRV is predominantly front-drive until grip runs out fore then power is sent aft (an adaptive system, you could call it), while the drivetrain configuration of the Nissan E-Trail is unknown because the vehicle itself is unknown.

Fuel economy: All these cars rank somewhere in the 9l/100km zone, which translates to about 11kpl. The van can be thirsty if provoked. A way into even better economy would be to acquire a Forester diesel with a manual gearbox (for the 2013 model such a thing does exist), but then again you say you want an automatic car, so… too bad. Also, Subaru Kenya does not sell diesel Foresters. Given Subaru’s past output, it is highly likely they have never even seen a diesel engine over there.

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Dear Baraza,

I have a Nissan Sunny, B15 2002 which is in a good condition. The problem with the car is that I cannot read the odometer clock because it only shows half the digits. When I start the car in the morning I can barely see the whole mileage, and, as the car warms up, the numbers fade off. What could be the problem?

Titus Musyoka

The problem is that your digital odometer read-out is on the fritz, which is just what you have told me. What you want to know are probable causes.

It is unlikely to be temperature-related because engine heat has to go through a veritable buffer zone before it gets to the odo’. That buffer zone has a plethora of insulators within it (insulator in this case is not necessarily the dressing on heat or electricity-bearing components, but rather is any material that does not conduct heat… or electricity.

The opposite of the word “conductor”, in other words). My guess is a loose connection somewhere. The vibrations from the running engine slowly work loose some tiny little wires that feed the digital read-out, so half of it gets blurry or disappears.

That is my best guess. Whether or not I am right is immaterial here: either way you will have to see an electrical expert to sort you out. It may require pushing a wire back in place, soldering it or maybe replacing the whole readout.

Posted on

A beginner’s guide to importing a car… minus the headache

Hi Baraza,

I’m one of the regular readers of your column and I must say that I appreciate your work very much. I’m planning to import a Toyota Corolla on my own, but my friends who have done it before are not willing to help me.

Please advise me on genuine dealer websites that I can trust in order to carry out this exercise without losing money, and kindly detail the general procedure of importing a car. I feel this is a dangerous venture because I have never done it before.

Thanks in advance.

I am not sure about the selling/clearance companies, though SBT Japan seems to make quite an impression on a lot of people. Anyway, I gave it a try for your sake and this is what happened:

1 Since I wanted to look for a car, I first created a user profile (they want names, numbers, e-mail addresses and the like).

I wanted a Lancer Evolution IX. So under the vehicle makes I chose Mitsubishi, under model I chose ‘Lancer’ (there was no option like Lancer Evolution. Only Wagons, and Cedias and Cedia Wagons…). Pah! I didn’t want any of those.

2 Two minutes later, a phone call, from a +815 number. SBT called me up from Japan to personally inform me that they had no Lancer Evos at the moment.

“What about a WRX STi?”

“Nope, these have all been bought out. In the sports car category I have some Toyota Celicas, but let us do this. I will send you an updated inventory of what we have. Look through it and tell us what you like…”

3. Well, the stock list came, and I looked through it. Not very interesting. No Evos, no STis, just a few regular GD and GG chassis Imprezas…

I ended up choosing a 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 with an automatic transmission (ARGH!! The only manual transmission cars were a few lorries and one Corolla NZE 121). Black in colour, 2000cc, 95,000 km $5,300 (Sh464,015) FOB, $800(Sh70,040) Freight, and $200 (Sh17,510) for Inspection. A total of $6,300 (Sh551,565). I also took note of the Stock ID Number.

4 Having my stock number ready, I went back to the website, typed in the Stock ID Number in the relevant text box and voila! My Legacy was there! There was a negotiating option which I didn’t explore, because, you see, I was NOT going to actually BUY the car. This was research for a reader.

The negotiating page included a breakdown of the $6,650 (Sh573,452) it would take to release the vehicle from Japan, and a choice of shipment (RoRo, whatever that is, a 20-feet container or a 40-feet container). The $6,650 (Sh573,452) came from the $6,300 (Sh551,565) total cost plus $300 (Sh26,265) Vanning fee and $50 (Sh4,377) insurance. I clicked on “Buy Now”.

5 You have to select a consignee, give his address, then place your order. I chose Kenfreight as my consignee, but they had quite a number of requirements.

You need the Import Declaration Form (IDF), Certificate of Conformity, Master Bill of Lading (MBL), Packing List, Commercial Invoice, Exemption Letter where applicable, then they started going on about Customs Clearance Procedure and a lot of other technical importation-finance-accounting-speak, and to be honest I quickly lost interest. After all, I was not actually buying the car.

You need an IDF from KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority), which you will have to fill out in order to get a consignee. The consignee is the clearing and forwarding company at the port of entry for your imported vehicle. The best way of getting the exact procedure is to ask a friend. I have asked a friend and he is yet to get back to me.

After giving the consignee, click on the button that says “Place Order”, then I guess from there it is a case of ‘yer pays yer monies and yer waits fer yer steed at th’ neares’ port, mate’.

7 Anyway, we cannot forget Caesar. The taxman. The government will charge you to introduce your imported good onto our sovereign soil. This is where a website like autobazaar.co.ke comes in handy. There is an option where you can calculate exactly how it will cost you to get your car ashore and ready for a KBU plate. On the home page of autobazaar.co.ke, there is such a tab as “Buyer Tools”. Click on it and select “Calculate Import taxes on used cars”.

That will bring you to a page where you can quickly estimate how much it will cost to import your car according to the prevailing KRA rates. My 2006 black 2.0 litre B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 automatic had, as cost of vehicle, Sh497,250 (at Sh85 per dollar exchange rate, the $5,850 — all costs minus freight) and KRA taxes amounting to Sh671,354, bringing the total cost to Sh1,168,604.

On the same page you could get a consignee by filling out the form on the right hand side of the page, after which they’d contact you with their clearing and forwarding process quote. Interestingly enough, from the AutoBazaar website you can also get loan quotes and insurance without having to leave the website. They seem to have everything, short of the vehicle itself…

As of the time I wrote this, none of the clearing companies had gotten back to me. Also, I did not have the Sh1.2 million I would need to get the black 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 2000cc automatic gear box, four doors and 4WD ontomy driveway.

A more comprehensive answer coming soon….

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Dear Baraza,

The information you provide on this column is invaluable, and you deserve all the compliments. I am keen on acquiring a non-turbo, manual-gearbox, locally assembled Toyota Prado that is affordable to both buy and run.

My search has yielded two machines; an L3 and an LJ95, one of which I am considering purchasing. Both of the machines were manufactured in 1999, and while they are in very good condition, are powerful and have smooth engines and superb bodies, they have clocked very high mileages — 245,000km each.

Both machines were previously owned by UN agencies, probably explaining the long distances covered. Before making up my mind, I’d like your advice regarding these vehicles on:

a) Availability and affordability of spare parts, including a complete suspension system for both.

b) If the machines are in perfect working condition — no pungent exhaust smoke — does the high mileage matter?

c) Their overall performance.

Your advice would be deeply appreciated.

a) Availability of parts: This should not worry you. At all. Affordability is entirely up to you, but if you are running a Prado, then you should afford to keep it running.

b) Does mileage matter? Yes, it does… a bit. For the sake of service intervals, and also to give you an idea of when a complete engine overhaul or rebuild is due. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear before taking action. Most engines are rebuilt at around 300,000km to 500,000km, depending on where and how they are used.

c) Overall performance? Well… they are very good off-road, not so bad on-road, poor in corners. Is that it?

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Hi Baraza,

I am a constant reader of your column, and thanks for the good work. I am planning to buy a Nissan Sunny B12, 1300cc, for use on tarmac roads, save for the occasional drive on all-weather tracks. Now;

a) What is the market value of this car if in good condition?

b) Are the spares parts of this car readily available? And are they expensive?

c) Can this car cover 500km without demanding a rest?

d) What is the maximum speed this car can achieve without compromising stability?

e) What is its standard fuel economy?

Thanks,

F Kirochi.

a) A car of this age will go for any price, literally, irrespective of mechanical condition. A well maintained car from this era could command as much as Sh300,000, but try selling someone a B12 at that price and watch them laugh in your face.

Then watch them make a counter offer of Sh100,000; not a penny more. It really depends on buyer-seller relationship, but on average, a good car should go for about Sh250,000.

b) Spares are available, I am not sure about the “readily” part. They are cheap though. Very cheap.

c) Depends. If it is in a mechanically sound condition, I don’t see why not. But first make sure you have enough fuel.

d) Maximum speed should be 120KPH. Anything beyond that and you are gambling with physics.

e) Expect about 14KPL on the open road for a carburettor engine, and about 16KPL to 18KPL for an EFI. Town use depends on traffic density.

**********

Hi Baraza,

We always appreciate your articles and the professional advice you offer to car owners, and even those who wish to own one.

Please advice me on the best buy between a Toyota Premio and the Allion in terms of performance, cost of spare parts, longevity, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns), off-road capability, ease of handling. Also, which one would you recommend for a car hire business, and please compare the NZE for the same role.

Anthony.

These two cars are the same. Believe me. The differences are very small, with the Allion seeming to age just a little bit faster than the Premio.

And I ask again: why do you people buy an Allion to take it off-road? What is wrong with you? Do you just willfully ignore what I say, or do you derive some pleasure from using the wrong tool in a task?

The Premio seems a bit more popular in the car hire business, although it costs a bit more on the dealer forecourts. On that front, the Allion might be the better choice.

Posted on

Diesel is the new petrol, thanks to science and technology

Hello Baraza

For years, people have always had different issues on petrol and diesel engines. Some say diesel cars do not perform like petrol ones, they do not last long and are more expensive to maintain. Please clarify this issue for me in respect to the questions below:

1: I’ve always thought that car performance is determined by the power output of an engine and therefore would argue that a car with a two-litre diesel engine with an output of 163hp would be faster than a car with a two-litre petrol engine but with a 150hp power output. Am I wrong?

2: Taking into account two similar vehicles, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine, does it mean that the diesel engine vehicle will have a higher maintenance cost?

3: I’ve always been of the view that diesel engines are more efficient on SUVs rather than sedans, but these days there is a great number of sedans powered by diesel engines. What is your take on this?

4: At what point would it be effective having a diesel engine vehicle rather than a petrol one? That is, from what engine capacity would one rather go for a vehicle with a diesel engine?

5: I’ve seen lots of SUVs with diesel engines that have had long life spans. Is it true that their petrol engine counterparts would last much longer?

Kind regards,

Ndung’u.

I see the old argument is back.

1. You are right, generally. The higher the power output, the better the performance. To put this in perspective: Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once demonstrated how a Skoda Octavia Diesel out-dragged a Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk IV over the quarter mile, and by quite a margin.

His point, however, was how bad the Golf had become, but our little discussion here applies too. A diesel car can be faster than a petrol car of similar capacity; if the diesel car’s power output is higher.

Other factors that determine these disparities in performance in vehicles of similar engine capacity are gross vehicle weight and gear ratios in the ‘box.

2. Again, generally yes; more so if that diesel car has a turbo also (as is common nowadays). This is down to the use of heavier (and sometimes bulkier) components that can withstand diesel torque and the application of high pressure injectors in the engine. They also have shorter service intervals.

3. My take on this is that diesel power can be used almost anywhere now. In fact, diesel engines are so developed that major races (Le Mans 24 Hours and Dakar, for instance) are now being dominated by diesel-propelled entries, in a history plagued by petrol victories.

The development of diesel engines is such that they are as smooth as, and as powerful as (if not more than) their petrol equivalents. This is due to turbo technology and material science.

Diesel engines have the added bonus of having good economy and low emissions, which is why they are finding their way into small cars, with incredible success. In France, more than half of the cars bought, irrespective of size or class, are diesel-powered.

4. From Point 4 above, any. Engines range from as small as the 1.0 litre 3-cylinder turbo in the VW Polo BlueMotion to massive units such as the 6.0 litre V12 TDI in the Audi Q7. These are just road cars.

Trucks have engines as huge as 16,000cc V8s, then we have trains, ships, earth-moving equipment…. There is no limit to size for diesel engines nowadays.

5. This greatly depends on how they are (ab)used.

*********

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Toyota Probox and would like to know how you rate this car in terms of speed, stability on the road and fuel consumption. Second, the fuel gauge is not working and it’s thus difficult to tell wether the car has enough fuel or not. What could the problem?

Eric.

The Probox’s speed is typical of Japanese econo-box cars: nothing special, in spite of what people may say (this includes those who will tell you that nowadays these things are used to transport miraa).

If and when you get to 180 km/h the car will stop accelerating. Japanese cars have a limiter set at this speed. Stability on the road is not the best either, especially given that the car is a bit tall and some use leaf-spring rear suspension.

Fuel consumption is good though, if you avoid trying to clock maximum velocity all the time. I’d say 10KPL is the worst reading you’ll ever get, but 16KPL is possible with sensible driving.

About that fuel gauge: eliminate the usual suspects first. Check to see the wiring in the dashboard is in order. These are the other common causes:

1. Defective Dash Voltage regulator (voltage limiter) or gauge

2. Loss of ground/earth at the sending unit

3. Break in the wire going to the dash

4. Bad Sending Unit

5. Fuel gauge itself is defective

**********

Hi Baraza,

I’m planning to buy a 2005 Pajero IO. I like the boxy look and whatnot, but I’ve been discouraged by those who say it has a high fuel consumption and its GDI engine is problematic.

If I decide to go for it anyway, should I buy one with an automatic or manual transmission? Plus, what is its off-road capabilities and comfort?

Mark.

As for whether to buy manual or auto: that is entirely up to you. Which do you prefer? I would go for the auto myself (that is not saying much: there is nothing to nominate the auto over the manual, I just prefer autoboxes on such cars).

Off-road capabilities: I’d give it a “Lower Fair”, on a scale of Poor – Average – Fair – Land Rover Defender – Mountain Goat. Maybe 5.5 out of 10, where 0 denotes a Lamborghini Aventador and 10 is a Rhino Charge-spec off-roader.

Off-Road Comfort: I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5, where 0 denotes maximum likelihood of car-sickness (vomiting due to the bounciness or the need for physiotherapy due to rock-hard ride.

It’s a little of both, actually and 5 is the point where you can’t tell if the car is off or on road, such is the smoothness (2013 Range Rover).

**********

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I’m writing to make a rather unusual enquiry: I have a budget of just Sh200,000 for either an old 1.3-litre local Nissan B12, a Toyota AE86 or 90, or a Duet which I will use to cover a distance of 20 kilometres daily to work and back. Bearing in mind that I have never owned a car before, kindly tell me which of these, or any other, would suit me.

Thank you.

I was reading through your e-mail until I go to the point where you mention an AE86, and my eyes turned misty. Where can I get a Hachiroku for 200k? I definitely want one of those.

Maintenance and economy of course favor the Duet, but a Duet going for 200k is not likely to be a wise purchase. There must be something seriously wrong with it.

It is thus a close race between the B12 and the AE90 (the B12 was the last good Nissan Sunny car we saw for the longest time. Later models were rubbish), but I would say the AE90, especially if it is 1.3 like the Nissan.

The 86 Corolla might not be as economical as the others (the difference is negligible anyway), but it is a damn good car to drive.

Where can I get one for 200k?

**********

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing. I had a petrol Isuzu Trooper 2 and a Toyota Sprinter K25 which I have liquidated in order to acquire the old box-type Prado.

I would like to know the cons of this car since I made the mistake with the Trooper, which once guzzled Sh20,000 in fuel from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

This time I don’t want my December journey to the coast to become a nightmare again, so your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thumbi.

The only con I can think of is that the Prado does not corner too nicely, but then again, this is not a car built for cornering. The box shape is also aerodynamically inefficient, but if you got one with a diesel engine (a well maintained one), Sh20,000 worth of fuel to and from Mombasa will be confined in the dark chasms of unpleasant memories and life’s hard lessons.

**********

Dear JM,

I am looking forward to purchasing two cars in the near future, kindly enlighten me on the following:

The first is a family car (madam, two daughters and I) to be used within Nairobi and going to Nakuru once in a while. I am torn between a Honda CRV, a Nissan X-Trail, and Volkswagen Tiguan, all local and manual versions. Which of these is the best in terms of performance, comfort and safety?

The second is a personal car for use within Nairobi. I am again torn between two versions of the same model, Mitsubishi Lancer GLX or EX.

Again, in terms of performance, comfort and safety, which is the best? I am made to understand that the Lancer EX comes in two versions, which is the best? The sport or the ordinary one?

Lastly, I prefer manual cars after near-death experiences with automatics. In a manual car, I feel more in control compared to autos, where one just sits ‘there’. Do manual cars have any distinct advantage over their cousins?

Performance may favour the X-Trail in the first lot, but only if it is the X-Trail GT. Otherwise, the Tiguan may be faster. And safer. And more comfortable.

For the second lot, the EX may be better than the GLX in comfort. Performance and safety is the same (it is the same car, after all, with different trim/specs). Of the two Lancers, I would opt for the GT, mostly because Mitsubishi tells us it is sporty, and it does look like an Evo X. I know these are not sensible reasons for choosing it, but hey: we all have our own peculiarities.

Manual cars offer better control (as you point out) as well as slightly improved fuel economy and marginally better performance.

**********

Hallo,

Thanks for your good work. I wish to take you back to the old-school era and I hope you will assist because, hey, we deserve your attention too!

I have driven a Peugeot 205 for 10 years, initially an 1124cc and later 1.4 which actually is 1360cc and the performance of the latter is above-average, except for suspension issues. I have two issues, though, that require your help:

1: How can I fix gear number two in the 1.4, which makes a loud sound when slowing down but all smooth when the car is stationary? I hear this is a common problem with these cars.

2: Any advice on dealing with suspension issues, especially on stabilisers and bushes, would be much appreciated.

3: How would you rate the 205 against the 206 and the Toyota Starlet?

Regards,

Joseph.

1: You are right, 205s suffered from jumpy drivelines, and this problem was most pronounced in the GTi. However, I suspect you may also be downshifting a bit early. A 405 I once had also did not favour early downshifts.

Try this: when slowing down, wait until you lose as much speed as possible (with the clutch engaged, wait until engine speed dips to 1,000 rpm or less) before shifting down. Tell me if there is a difference.

2: Yes. Change them when they go bust, and only use genuine parts. Avoid cheap fakes (or expensive fakes, for that matter, if they exist).

3: I sort of prefer the 205 to the 206. The 206 looks too girly and I have a thing for old-school, bare-knuckle, no-frills driving, which is what the 205 offers.

The 206 is more modern, softer, heavier, more mild and generally… feminine. Compared to the Starlet… well, they are very similar in terms of utility. The Starlet may be more practical though because it has a wider opening hatch at the back compared to the 206.

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

Toyota beats them all when it comes to reliability in the 4X4 category

Hello,

I work and live in the rural area, so I deal with a lot of rough roads, especially during the wet season.

Please recommend a good 4WD with a VVTi engine (diesel or petrol) and has good clearance. Other than Prados, what other makes would you recommend?

——————————–

Hi,

The moment you say VVTi, you limit yourself to Toyotas. But, anyway, any fully-fledged 4WD SUV will do the job.

I’m guessing you do not want a full-size SUV (Landcruiser 100 or 200, the “VX” or a Nissan Patrol), so you can have a Nissan Terrano, a Mitsubishi Pajero (a good choice, actually, in terms of comfort and ability), maybe a Land Rover Defender if you do not mind the hedonism of an Eastern European prison cell, a Land Rover Discovery if your pockets go deeper than mine, Isuzu Trooper… the list is endless.

I would, however, advise you to stick to Toyotas, especially if you can get your hands on one made in the mid to late 1990s.

I assume now that you operate from the backwoods, reliability and ease of repair should be top on your list after the very obvious off-road capability.

If you have, say, a Discovery, what would you do when the air-suspension goes phut and you are a million miles from anywhere?
Try the J70 Toyota.

It might be a bit too geometrical in shape, and carrying milk in it might see you change your business to sales of cheese and ghee, but, as cars go, it is unbreakable and will go anywhere.

The J90 Prado is also an option, with a bit more comfort added to the equation, but anything newer than that and you will be gambling with expensive repair jobs.

Choose wisely.

——————

Hello Baraza,

My car smells of petrol after going six kilometres. What could be the problem? I service the car regularly.

Lorine

——————

Hi Lorine,

Maybe you have a petrol can inside the car with you? What happens beyond six kilometers?

Anyway, it could be one of many problems: leaking fuel lines, a loose air cleaner connection, a loose fuel filter, plugs that are not firing properly…. I need more symptoms for a more definite answer.

——————

No, I do not keep containers in the car. Three days ago, it stalled. I thought the battery was down so we ‘jacked’ the car.

It went for about two metres then stopped, showing the battery, engine and ABS signs on the dashboard.

The mechanic seems not to know what the problem is. The petrol fumes are now so strong that you can smell them from outside.

The car is a Toyota Vista with a D4 engine, which people have been telling me is problematic.

Please elaborate on the engine and its maintenance.

——————

Lorine,

You jacked the car? Do you realise that you have just told me that you stole the car? Did you mean you jacked it up, or jump-started it?

Displaying all those notifications on the dashborad is normal. When starting a car, the moment the key reaches the “ON” position, all the dashboard graphics come on.

They then go off when the key reaches “START” and stay off when the engine is running (unless the car really has all those problems).

When a car stalls, all those lights come on (because the key is in the “ON” position but the engine is off).

I think I can now presume what your problem is. One of your fuel connections is leaking badly, as I had approximated earlier.

The only marriage between a strong petrol smell and a stalling car is a compromised/breached fuel system: you are fuelling the car, but the fossil fuels seem to go back to the ground rather than finding their way into your cylinders.

I cannot say for sure that this problem is connected to the D4 characteristic, but I do know D4s have problems.

Tell your mechanics to check the connections between the fuel lines feeding the fuel filter, the ones from the filter to the throttle body and at the throttle body itself.

If they don’t know what a throttle body is, it is the chunk of metal at the top of the engine into which air is fed from the air cleaner, and the origin of the injectors.

All the best.

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Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota FunCargo, 2003 model and thus relatively new. Every time I drive on a highway and do above 100km/h, it starts vibrating, literally affecting the entire car.

I have not sought advice from a mechanic because I wanted to consult a specialist first.

Please advise.

Regards,

Edwin M Kihara.

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Hello Edwin,

Your FunCargo could be suffering from one of these: the wheels need balancing or one of them is loose and needs tightening. Check the alignment also, but I doubt if this is it.

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Hi Baraza,

I have recently imported a Toyota Wish, manufactured in 2004, and just want to know if there is anything in particular to look out for with this model.

Also, mine does not come with a CD-DVD player/TV (as is usual with the more recent models), and would like to know if you can suggest a good and honest person who can install these for me at a pocket-friendly price.

I am also on the quest for a good and honest mechanic based in Nairobi. Female car owners out there know what I’m talking about.

We are charged double or triple the price for some of the services provided to us by unscrupulous and unprofessional mechanics.

Pamela,
Nairobi.

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Hello Pamela,

About your Wish lacking CD/DVD, maybe the very first owner (the one who bought it in 2004) did not specify these on his/her vehicle.

But in case they did, these things get stolen at the port in Mombasa. A while back, it was almost impossible to get a second-hand import with the stereo/TV intact.

Most aftermarket tuners/modifiers install these entertainment kits. The most experienced are of course the ones who do matatus, but they might charge you matatu prices and you might have to join a queue.

One way of ensuring honesty might be a bit tiresome: buy the kit yourself and then ask what the installation labour cost is. Theft and dishonesty typically occur at the point of purchase of the kits you seek.

As for the mechanics, there are no guarantees unless you enter yourself into a crash course in motor vehicle basics.

For now, find a trustworthy male friend who knows one or two things about cars and have him accompany you to the garage, or better yet, let him take the car to the mechanics. Several of my lady friends do this with me, and I think it works.

All the best.

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Hello,

I drive a Toyota Mark II Regalia, old model (KAY XXX). I took it for an engine wash and it appears some sensitive sensors got in contact with water because it is now too slow to accelerate.

My question is: are there known dangers associated with engine washes? If yes, how can they be avoided? Thanks a lot for the informative column.

Jackson,
Mombasa.

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To be honest, Sir, I think this is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, because similar complaints are coming thick and fast from other readers.

Yes, water might have got into the electronics. And yes, it is rectifiable either lizard-style or hairdresser-style.

The lizard style involves parking your car in the sun with the bonnet open for some hours (not 100 per cent effective, bad for your paint job and the car will be uncomfortable inside when you finally pick it up).

The hairdresser style involves getting a blow drier and applying it to the areas you suspect the water might have got into (logistically tricky: most blow dries have short cords, and it is also embarrassing for a man to be seen using a typically female electronic device on his car).

Do this: Perform the engine wash yourself, because it seems like most car wash outfits out there are putting drivers into difficulties.

Engine wash is not the same as body wash where copious volumes of water and detergent are needed to acquire a gleam.

A wet rag, meticulously used, should clean your engine and spare your car future hiccups.

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Dear Baraza,

I drive a Nissan Sunny B15, 2001 model, that I imported three years ago. My agony started when the original front shocks got worn out.

All other shocks I have fitted hardly last three months. We even replaced the front coil springs with “tougher” ones but this has made little difference in prolonging the lifespan. The bushes are alright.

The car is only driven by me, covers a distance of six kilometres daily (Ngara to Parklands) and occasional trips upcountry.

It covers on average 600 kilometres a month and is carefully driven. The rest of the systems are okay (engine, electrical, steering, braking, transmission etc).

Is this a common problem with this model? What would you recommend?

Sincerely,
Daniel.

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One common mistake people make is replacing the springs and shocks but forgetting to change the mounts too.

This tends to be counterproductive: it is like washing one sleeve of a dirty shirt, or replacing one worn out shoe in a pair.

The suspension problem could be typical of B15, but I do not see how a drive from Ngara to Parklands and back would warrant a suspension change. Maybe the mechanics are short-changing you; I don’t know.

My advice towards addressing this problem will sound harsh and generate heat among some circles: maybe it’s time we started paying more attention to locally franchised cars, even when buying second-hand.

They have the advantage of having dealer support and in some cases you might even get a car with an outstanding warranty, which will be a relief to you, your bank manager and your dependants.

When I discussed tropicalisation, I was disparaged as a minion for the local outlets, but now it seems a good number of readers are facing complications from “new” imports.

Maybe the chicken have come home to roost?

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Hello Mr Baraza,

My Nissan Sylphy N16 does not engage the reverse gear after travelling for a distance.

It however has no problem in the morning or after parking for more than two hours. What could be the problem?

Thanks, Isaac.

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Hello Sir,

Is it manual or auto? Either way, it looks like you will have to face the music and have the gearbox dropped to the ground for further investigation. Take it from me, it is not an experience you will enjoy.

Have them check the linkage (on either transmission type) first before disassembling the gearbox.

If the linkage is intact, for the automatic have the electrical systems also checked (with the manual just go straight to disassembly). If the electricals are fine, well, take the bull by the horns.

Just so you know, you might have to buy a new gearbox… or learn how to make three right turns in order to go backwards.

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Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet (YOM 2000) which was a perfect car until some time last year when it stalled on the road.

When the car was fixed by the mechanic, it started vibrating. He told me the mountings needed to be changed, which I authorised and the work was carried out.

Several months later, despite numerous visits to the mechanic, the vibrations have not stopped.

This problem is more pronounced when in traffic jams and the car is in gear. I have now changed all the mountings and I’m wondering what is next.

I love the car and its fuel efficiency. It normally does not give me any other problems as I take it for service regularly when it is due (every 5,000 km).

Alfred Njau.

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I strongly suspect you changed the mounts for nothing. I think the first mechanic messed up the idling settings on your car, so have the idle checked (at the throttle body), before you commit yourself to more expensive measures.

Let me know how this goes and we will take it up from there.