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Your engine’s faulty; Demios don’t normally make tractor-like sounds

Hello Baraza,
I really love your column and look forward to the Wednesday issue of the Daily Nation. I hope you will respond to my mail this time round.

Now on to my question: I have a 2005 Mazda Demio and of late, I have been seriously disturbed by a noise coming from under the hood.

The car sounds like a tractor/diesel engine and somebody can tell from a kilometre away that I am approaching. In fact, my children have become so used to the noise that they open the gate when I am still some distance away. Several mechanics have told me that it is the normal sound of Mazda engines. Is this true?

Secondly, the car is a 4WD. How do I know whether the 4WD is damaged or in working condition? Could it be the reason the consumption is not good since the car (1300cc) is doing about 11km/l, which I think is awful.I would greatly appreciate your help. MK

I would say something is definitely broken under the bonnet. Demios do not sound like tractors and/or diesel powered cars, unless so equipped. You might have an engine with a knock.

To test the 4WD, you could jack the car up, i.e put it on stands/stones. Just to be safe, prop up all four wheels.

Start the vehicle, then engage the transmission (D or first gear, depending on transmission type). Observe the wheels. If the 4WD is functional, all four wheels should spin.

If they do not, then the 4WD drivetrain has a problem, though I suspect you might get a dashboard light warning you of something to that effect.

Drivetrain problems could be a reason for high fuel consumption, though at 11 km/l, I would first ask what your driving style and environment look like before pointing a finger at the 4WD.

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Hello Baraza,
I am a great fan of your column, which I read religiously every Wednesday. I am in the process of importing a car and after looking at a few options (the usual Honda Fit, Mazda Demio, Honda Mobilio Spike), I settled on a Fiat Panda.

It is a 1200cc automanual model and I would think it might be the only one on Kenyan roads. What is your opinion of the car? I am comforted by the fact that the guys at Top Gear really liked it….

Fiat has a reputation for making unreliable cars and this might actually be reflected all across the range.

Fiat cars have long been known to break down not very long into the vehicle’s lifespan, as do Alfa Romeos, which are made by Fiat, while certain models of Ferrari (another Fiat brand) tend to spontaneously combust, which could be seen as a reliability issue. You cannot call a car reliable if it catches fire by itself, can you?

Let Top Gear be. The UK market is more varied and more forgiving than ours. Cars there, being mostly brand-new, are protected by warranties and dedicated dealer networks; Britons rarely ask whether spares for a particular car are available.

They know there exists such a thing as the internet, which they put to good use (mostly). So, for a motoring journalist with a six-figure annual income (in pounds sterling), a Fiat Panda is more an object of amusement and experimentation than the sole solution to his transport needs, as could be your case. Buy it at your own risk.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
Having just sold my Toyota Surf, I am planning to buy a Nissan Patrol 2007 model, diesel, or a Harrier Lexus 2006/07 model, petrol. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Pandit

This is what we call a vague or ambiguous question. What, exactly, is your dilemma? I think in a case like this, you decide what you want, whether it is a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Harrier or a Lexus RX.

The purchase will mostly depend on how much money you have to spare and what you intend to use the car for. Do not buy the Patrol if you do not do any serious off-road excursions.

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Hi Baraza,
I want your expert advice on the following cars:
1) Between the Toyota Belta 1000cc and 1300cc, which is better for Kenyan roads and fuel efficiency?
2) Is the Toyota Passo 1300 cc better than the Vitz?
3) Is the Nissan Tiida 1490cc a good car to drive and is it fuel-efficient?
4) When importing the above cars from Japan, is it okay to buy cars with mileage above 87,000 kilometres or will they break down?
Andy

1. The 1000cc car is better in fuel efficiency if you are using it in the city. The 1300 will be more appropriate for extended highway use.

In this era of the NTSA and its sometimes mind-boggling speed limits, you might be better off with the 1000cc car. You might not need the extra 300cc, especially if your car does not bear loads that extend beyond your person.

2. Better in what way? The Vitz might be the better car overall.

3. Yes, it is a good car to drive, although the 1500cc version feels a bit underpowered. But remember the NTSA and its speed limits, so you do not exactly need a very powerful Nissan car to drive around the country.

4. They will break down. However, being Japanese cars, this breakdown will happen later rather than sooner. The good thing is, a car with an odo reading above 87,000km will obviously be cheaper than one with lower mileage.

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Hello Sir,
I am a young hustler whose father uses a Toyota Fielder 1400cc 2006 model. I admire the vehicle for its fuel efficiency, stability, and comfort.

I want to buy a vehicle for myself and would like a fuel-efficient one (like the Fielder). My favourite models are the Fielder, Avensis, and Allion. Kindly advise.
Thanks, and I appreciate your work. John Maina

Well, now that you are already familiar with the Fielder, it will not hurt if you get one of your own, will it? The consumption figures are not very much different with the Avensis and the Allion, but there is comfort in familiarity.

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Dear John,
It was a cold day in Wolfsburg, Germany, when your current car, the Mazda Demio, won the World Car of the Year in 2008, its heyday.

However, in true German fashion, the VW board summoned their engineers and ordered them to create the finest hatchback floorpan in the automotive world and wipe the smug smile off the faces of the Japanese Demio makers.

Money was no object. The result was the VW Golf Mark 5, each built carefully in 50 hours bristling with innovation, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating to boot, which was promptly crowned World Car of the Year 2009.

Richard Hammond, a Top Gear presenter, even had a Mark 5 Golf struck by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest lighting while seated inside as a testament to its German over-engineering.

However, the fly in the ointment and let-down to many Kenyan motorists who ship the used version of this car from Japan is the DSG gearbox which, in simple terms, is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing and working as one unit.

It was designed by Herr and was initially licensed to the Volkswagen Group. Designed to shift gears more smoothly than a conventional manual gearbox and quicker than your reflexes, this automated manual gearbox resulted in a worldwide recall by VW of 1.6 million sold vehicles.

This has caused grief to many a Golf Mark 5 owner, who experience intermittent transmission jerking, usually at low speed, and agonising delays in shifting down once the car has warmed up. VW has finally figured out the cause after a lot of head scratching since the computer does not produce any fault codes.

Apparently, the DSG transmission has a protection mechanism switch built in that prevents excessive power from being delivered to it if the brakes are engaged.

When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator for power, the switch lags and makes the transmission tranny think the brakes are still on, resulting in the annoying shifting delays. Once this brake switch sensor is replaced, the fly is removed from the German ointment.

As a preventative measure, it is also worthwhile to drain all the synthetic gearbox oil from the Golf Mark 5 with a DSG gearbox  and replace it with a good quality mineral oil before making the maiden trip from Mombasa port to Nairobi as VW has confirmed during recalls that in hot climates, the synthetic oil causes short circuits in the gearbox power supply due to build-up of sulphur, a scenario absent in the frigid testing grounds of Wolfsburg.

Lots of innovations remain true to form, like the fuel stratified injection (FSI) engine in the Golf Mark 5 gem in increasing fuel economy in tandem with power, and is kinder to the environment and better built than the Toyota D4 and Mitsubishi GDI employing similar engine concepts. The only catch is to ensure that no adulterated fuel ever enters the filler cap.

The ultimate Golf mark 5 innovation has to do with safety, giving it a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a safe family car packed with curtain airbags, ESP wizardly, and doors like a steel safe to ferry the children to summer camp when needed to a non-turbo Impreza and Evo thrashing hatchback when provoked by their loud exhausts on the way back home to a classy, yet frugal transporter to work on Monday.

Truly, the Golf is the car you will ever need, even in the land where the car in front is always a papier-mâché Toyota. VW fan club member

This is very enlightening. And yes, the Golf is a marvellous car; too bad about the DSG. Impressive gearbox, this one, if a little glitch-prone. I would still have me a pukka three-pedal, six-on-the-floor Golf (GTI, to be specific) if I had the inclination.

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Kindly tell me how a Toyota D4 engine is different from that of other Toyotas and how I can achieve maximum performance.
Also, what is its consumption (km/petrol) rate?

Toyota’s D4 engine is different from (some) others in that it uses direct injection rather than port injection. Direct injection is where the fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders of the engine, where it mixes with air and is then ignited by the spark plug.

This is at variance with previously established systems of port injection, in which fuel was injected/fed into the intake port, where it mixes with air before being delivered into the engine’s cylinders.

Achieving maximum performance is simple. Use high-octane (and reputable) fuel and stomp on the accelerator pedal as hard as you can. The fuel consumption varies, depending on the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle bearing that engine.

D4 engines are quite economical. However, when maximising performance, do not expect the fuel consumption to be impressive.

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The Vitz is most ideal for the smart penny-pincher

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for an affordable, fuel-efficient car that will not give me too much trouble. I have narrowed my choice down to the new model Toyota Vitz going for Sh650,000, Nissan Tiida wagon at Sh710,000, and Subaru Impreza at Sh800,000. I want to use the car to drive to and from work and maybe travel upcountry once a year. I have an 11-month-old baby boy and thus having a big car seat is important. I am also considering the resell value as I would like to get a bigger car in two years’ time. This will be my first car and I would really appreciate if you would help me out with your objective advice.

Brenda.

I can see the answers to your question right within the question itself. You want an affordable car, right? By “affordable” you mean with the smallest asking price, right? How much did you say the Vitz was again? You want a fuel-efficient car, right? By fuel-efficient you mean the one that burns the least amount of fuel per kilometre driven, right? Bigger engines and heavier cars tend to burn more fuel than smaller, lighter ones with tiny engines. The Vitz can be with engines ranging from 1.0 litre to 1.5 litre, which cannot be said of the other two. Also, it is tiny and light. How much did you say the Vitz was again?

You want a car that will not give you too much trouble, right? By that you mean infrequent breakdowns and ease of repair, right? Tiny engines and small cars are simpler or less complex than larger engines and/or bigger vehicles because there is less that can go wrong, and if it does, it can be quite easily fixed. Also, by sheer reputation, Toyotas are known the world over for their reliability. Of these cars, which one would you say is the smallest? The simplest? Which one is the Toyota? How much did you say the Vitz was again?

Car seats nowadays are manufactured with ISO-fix compatibility, which means that the same child seat that can be fixed in a Range Rover can also be installed in a Vitz (I am guessing the five-door will be a surer bet than the three-door, if only for ease of access). If it will not go in, you can get rid of the visual addenda on the child seat and the resultant skeleton will fit in nicely. The Vitz does have a boot, as do the other two, so you can throw the visual add-ons in there until you get to wherever you are going.

Resell value? This is a cheap, fuel-efficient, and highly reliable Toyota car in Kenya. What do you mean, “resell value”?

Dear Baraza,

I have a question about fuel consumption. Why is it that when you fill the tank, the gauge does not seem to move? It is as though the engine was combusting vapour (as suggested by my father). We drove from Nairobi to Arusha and the gauge barely moved.

Jessie.

I will let you in on a little secret. Those fuel gauges are doctored. Yes, in almost every car they build, manufacturers interfere with those gauges to wage psychological warfare on unknowing drivers.

The first quarter (between FULL and 3/4 tank) barely moves after filling up. This leaves the driver impressed with the “economy” of the car, ending up expressing sentiments like yours. The fastest moving level is between 3/4 full and 1/2 a tank. More often than not, this occurs after many kilometres of driving (having started from full), by which time the driver will be thinking of the overall distance covered instead of how the two quarters of the tank have different depletion rates.

This swift descent of the needle slows down somewhat once the gauge drops below half. It is not as fast as the 3/4 – 1/2 transition, but then again it is not as slow as the FULL-3/4 segment. This is usually the most accurate reflection of the rate of consumption. Once the needle drops below quarter tank, it slows down yet again. You may have noticed how “far” one can drive on a quarter tank of fuel.

There is more to this.

This irregular reflection of a car’s consumption is after years of study of people’s driving habits. Most people drive around in the two slowest moving segments of the fuel gauge: Either properly full or near empty. This leads them into overestimating the efficiency of the engine (but not to the point where they miscalculate the fuel consumption subconsciously). The 3/4-1/2 segment of the tank is almost ALWAYS reached from a full tank level; rarely will you find someone filling his tank to “just above half”.

They either fill it all the way up or put in just enough to get them to point B, which in most cases is barely a quarter tank. Seeing how this 3/4-1/2 level is reached after a long time with the needle barely moving, the driver is falsely confident and feels complacent, and is more likely to overlook the increased rate of gauge descent.

To safeguard against lawsuit-loving, mileage-calculating “geniuses” armed with protractors, rulers, cameras, maps, and GPS devices, the fuel gauge is also cleverly designed. Those FULL, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4 and EMPTY levels of the fuel gauge are not equidistant. I am yet to come across a car where all four points are marked at exact separation from each other. With that, what looks like 3/4, or 1/4, is not really 3/4 or 1/4.

The F mark is not exactly on the scale, nor is the E mark, which is why on some cars, you can drive to “below E”. No amount of geometry will lead you to calculate exactly how many litres of fuel you have in the tank just from looking at the fuel gauge.
Now you know. Fill up the car, drive until the fuel gauge points to E, at which point you fill up again. Life is easier that way.

Dear Baraza,

I would like to know if I can import a car which was manufactured in the year 2000 in Japan. What do the Kenya Revenue Authority regulations say about that?

Bett Bernard.

The KRA regulations say no. Thou shalt not import a car manufactured more than eight years before the date of importation. So now you are looking at a September 2005 vehicle as the “oldest” car possible to import. If it takes a few months to get here, then you have to factor in those months, plus an error in case pirates raid the ship and demand ransom, or the ship runs out of fuel… or just general contingencies. So you are looking at 2006 as the furthest year of manufacture (YOM) for an import, just to be safe.
Hi Baraza,

I am looking for an SUV that has an engine capacity of about 1,500cc and whose price does not exceed Sh1 million. It should be of the year 2004 and above. I am torn between the Toyota Rush and Daihatsu Terios. Please compare them in terms of: Fuel economy, durability, spare parts availability, purchase price, ‘comfortability’, off-road performance, and engine power.

David.

Fuel economy: It is the same for both cars

Durability: There is no difference.

Spare parts availability: The cars use the same parts. So, no winner here.

Purchase price: The difference is barely worth noting.

Comfortability: There is no such word as “comfortability”. What you mean is comfort. And it is the same for both cars
Off-road performance: No discernible disparity between the two.

Power: Exactly the same

PS: You may have noticed none of those comparisons was very helpful. This is because the Toyota Rush and the Daihatsu Terios is THE EXACT SAME CAR with different names because of market demand.

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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.

Posted on

Motoring news this year

The Sky Has Finally Fallen

It is all doom and gloom along Lusaka Road as CMC Motors woke up to the shocking news that Jaguar Land Rover is no more.

No, the Indian-owned British corporation has not closed shop, but as far as CMC Motors are concerned, Jaguar and Land Rover cars may as well not exist beginning February 2013, if the world does not end in two week’s time.

CMC’s contract expires then (Feb), and it will NOT be renewed. I bet some individuals there wish the world would end this month, after all….

In a statement released to members of the motoring press all over Africa, one Willem Schoeman of JLR SSA (Jaguar Land Rover Sub Sahara Africa) made it clear that JLR as a company has high hopes for Kenya; only these hopes are tied to another company; one that few people have heard of: RMA.

It was not so much we don’t want CMC as it was we want RMA. These sentiments were echoed within the Tweet-verse and the blogosphere, the difference being that while JLR’s statement was more pro-RMA than anti-CMC, Internet opinions were the other way round.

“It has been a long time coming…” one of my Twitter followers chirped. “It is about time…” piped another. “Good riddance…” said a third. Hard times, these.

“Jaguar Land Rover is pleased to announce the appointment of a new partner in Kenya, the RMA Group,” thus quoth Herr Schoeman.

If a lady announces she is pleased to have a new boyfriend, more often than not that means the incumbent/outgoing squeeze was not up to scratch and was therefore relieved of his duties. I don’t know if this also applies in the corporate world.

“The RMA Group brings a broad range of expertise and experience in the… industry… with the (JLR) brand, which they currently represent in other global markets.”

( My new boyfriend is an accomplished lover and is way cooler; and all his old girlfriends still have the hots for him). These are not very encouraging words to be reading when one is being replaced: whether as a boyfriend or as a franchise holder.

On a more serious note: this is not a time to celebrate for the motoring giant (CMC, I mean, not JLR). JLR is on a roll, releasing new products faster than we can write about them, and now is not the time for anybody to fall off their wagon.

The 2013 Vogue has been received with rave reviews and plenty of excitement worldwide. There are updates for the two Jag saloons: the XF and the XJ.

There was the Discovery 4, and the Evoque not too long ago, the Freelander has just received its 2013 model year refresh, there will be an all-new Defender in the not too distant future, the long awaited Jaguar F Type is slotted for release next year, there should be an all-new Range Rover Sport somewhere within sight also….

Now is really not the time to get oneself fired, in a Trump-esque, Apprentice-style send-off.

You may have noticed that the word “surprise” does not appear anywhere in the preceding writing. This is because whispers and hints of the looming break-up reared their unseen heads as far back as September.

Back then, the grapevine had it that, first, CMC and RMA were to share the franchise, with RMA being primary importer. Then it became a contest as the two vied and jousted for the new contract (still on the grapevine, and thus unverifiable). Now word from Mzanzi is that CMC will not be selling JLR products much longer. This much is verifiable.

What Herr Schoeman’s missive doesn’t explain is exactly why CMC Motors have been kicked to the kerb in favour of RMA. The signs were there though: scandals – 1. the head honcho earning a bigger salary than the entire company’s profits, 2. his replacement being on the receiving end of some dirty, underhand maneuvers in an attempt to keep him and his whistle (which he blew very hard) away, 3. the disappearance of (of all things) an ex-President’s Range Rover car…

This, by the way, had been nearly forgotten until the vehicle surfaced several years later (a few weeks ago) in the hands of yet another high-profile individual, blowing the case wide open again.

An insider also confessed to yours truly that they were unable to move units in sufficient numbers, so the company depended heavily on maintenance and service of Range Rovers for the department to make money. Clearly all has not been rosy at the country’s biggest motoring franchise for a while.

It was good while it lasted, CMC Motors. Hold your heads up and work towards a brighter future. RMA: you have your work cut out.

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2013 Freelander

Still on matters Land Rover: The Freelander 2 has been updated for the 2013 model year. Cosmetic surgery has been done to great effect so that the new car looks much better than the outgoing one.

Not that the predecessor was ugly to start with, but it takes fresh input to put things in perspective, and the perspective is that the Freelander Two-And-A-Half is out in full force to threaten the competition which had been catching up.

Freelander 2.5, you ask? Well, yes. The changes are not just skin-deep. New engines and new transmissions appear too. The Evoque’s engines to be exact: the 2.0 litre petrol Si4, the 2.2 litre diesel SD4 (which we will get, good for 140kW/182bhp) and the 2.2 diesel TD4 (110kW/143bhp, which we will not get, and is also not found on the Evoque).

All are turbocharged 4-cylinder units: the 3.2 litre V6 is no more (boo!). The engines come attached to a 6-speed automatic gearbox with Tiptronic override. A new body, new engines and new transmissions: that sounds like a whole new car to me, but JLR says its is not the Freelander 3, so Freelander 2.5 I will call it.

The car is semi-skilled off-road (not that many of you will be driving it on cliff faces or underwater anyway), it is fine on road, with a floaty feel from the steering at speed.

In an odd turn of circumstances, the petrol engine is ok, you could even call it a bit special, but the diesel is a mite underwhelming in performance and response.

Weird, considering how diesel versions of a car are usually made to outshine the petrol version in order to boost sales. Couple this to a dim-witted automatic and it is easy to see which spec will win hearts: the petrol version, which you will most likely drive in Tiptronic mode 85 per cent of the time.

Expect the car to cost anything from Sh5 million upwards once it hits the showrooms next year.

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Nissan Qashqai

The-Nissan-with-a-name-that-cannot-be-pronounced has just been “launched”. This is despite its making an appearance in several local shows and displays, including DT Dobie’s own previous other-vehicle launches.

Quite a launch this particular one was though, featuring well-heeled senior corporate suits, finger food, fruit juice, paint guns and graffiti. I don’t know what effect DT Dobie was going for with this ensemble.

The Qash-and-Qarry continues Nissan’s recent tradition of unleashing slightly underpowered vehicles on an unsuspecting public (Tiida, Almera). 136bhp and 20kg.m are nothing to write home about, especially for a Kluger-sized car; when a mid 2000’s Honda Civic Type R hatchback has better outputs.

To sum up the irony, DT Dobie used words like “dynamic” and “distinguished” when they introduced the already familiar motor show prop. Interestingly enough, a sizeable portion of my Internet disciples detest this car.

The Nissan Qwerty can be had with 2WD or 4WD. It can be had with 5 or 7 seats. It can be had in black, or silver, and maybe in some other colours too. But there is no escaping from the 136bhp 2.0 litre “powerplant”. DT Dobie also says they sold out their initial stock, which took an entire year to accumulate.

Methinks either they are taking liberty with facts or that “stock” consisted of only three cars, because I kid you not: I have not seen a single Cash-Guy on the road. Maybe I’ve been driving on all the wrong roads….

The Nissan Quash-Key costs Sh3.6 million (more, if you spec it up). If and when I do a review on it, we will decide whether this Qar will be a Qlever Investment or a Nissan Waste-of-Qash.

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F30 BMW 3 Series

Another new vehicle release (in Kenya, at least) is that of the F30 BMW 3 Series. The front looks shark-like, which means it looks like the former 6 Series. The rear looks like just like it did on the outgoing car. I have not driven it yet, so for now that is that.

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An electric vehicle in Kenya? Not a good idea

Hi Baraza,
1. Do electric vehicles stand a chance in Kenya?
2. Is it possible to convert a car to use electricity? If so, what are the pros and cons of implementing such an idea in Kenya?
Nick

1. At the moment, not a chance in hell.

2. Yes, but the costs and labour involved are prohibitive, especially given that the end product will not be worth the sweat or the money.

Pros: Your running costs will go down tremendously. Electricity is cheaper than petrol per kilometre driven.

Cons: Travel any distance greater than 50 km and you will be very, very late for whatever you were going for.

Also, self-servicing when things go on the fritz, and of course acquiring the vehicle in the first place (whether bought or assembled in your backyard), calls for a massive financial outlay. Not worth it at all.

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Baraza,

I drive a pre-owned FWD automatic transmission Subaru Impreza GC1, 1998 model with an EJ15 engine. The car has 140,000km on the odometer and I service it regularly. It serves me diligently.

I have been driving it for the past one year. I have taken it for OBD diagnosis and no faults were found, apart from a problem with the ABS and the thermosensor, which I sorted out.

I also feel that the thirst that is associated with Subarus does not apply to this one; I am able to do 10 km/litre, except when I floor the accelerator. Here is what I would like to know:

1. In your opinion and knowledge, how much mileage should one clock on a car before declaring that it has served its purpose?

2. Would you recommend to anyone driving such a car to do an engine swap with a bigger engine like an EJ20, tune the car, sell it, or do a trade-in? Is it sensible to change the engine or is it better to just buy another car altogether?

3. For the past one week, my car occasionally sputters in the morning when starting, especially during cold weather. But if I start it with the gas pedal partially depressed, it starts just fine, though I notice that the fuel consumption is not good. What could be the problem? The problem is much worse when I put it in reverse gear. But once the engine warms up, all this disappears. On the highway it does just fine.

4. Is it true that all EJ engines, both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged, including WRX EJ engine variants, can fit in a stock GC1 1998 Impreza? If so, what other modification should I do if I instal such an engine?

5. Can someone fit a used engine from a manual transmission model into an automatic transmission model, or one has to change the tranny completely? And how realistic is it to change from FWD to AWD on such a car?

Robert

1. It depends on the state of the car. Some world record holders have done more than two million kilometres in their cars. The general rule of thumb is roughly 500,000km for passenger cars before an engine swap or grounding of the car.

2. Do an engine swap if repairs on the current unit prove to be too expensive to justify. Tune the car if you want to liven things up (or even resort to settings close to new) without having to buy another car. Sell it if you are sick of it.

Trade it in if the finances for a replacement vehicle lie just outside your reach. Changing the engine or buying another car: that is up to you, to be honest, but here is a guideline. Replacement engines are a lot cheaper than replacement vehicles, but if the swap is done poorly, you will regret it.

3. The issue could be a clogged fuel filter, requiring a wider opening of the throttle plate to create negative pressure high enough to suck fuel through the filter.

Another problem could be the idle air control valve (IAC), which allows air to come into the engine whenever you do not have your foot on the throttle.

It automatically varies idle speed by load, temperature, etc. If it fails, you will not have sufficient air flow into the engine to make it run when the throttle is closed.

That is why the car runs normally when it goes down the road. Some people talk of cleaning the IAC but replacement is usually the best option.

4. Yes. The GC chassis can accommodate any of those engines. Most of those engines are similar anyway, the difference being the presence of turbos/intercoolers and capacity.

However, the peripherals may necessitate some modifying, especially of the front air dams, to accommodate intakes/front-mount intercoolers.

5. Changing from auto to manual tranny is a common practice in the car world, and is quite easily done. However, changing from 2WD to 4WD is a lot more complex and may not be worth it. Changing from 4WD to 2WD is easy: you just disconnect the offending drive shaft.

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Hi JM,

What is your take on 2005 Nissan Tiida Latio in terms of performance, availability of spare parts, and fuel consumption? How does it compare with the 2005 Toyota Corolla (NZE)? In your opinion which is a better buy?

Henry

Performance is poor but economy is good and spares are available at DT Dobie. The NZE may be a better car, especially on the performance front, but the Tiida is prettier.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a BMW E34 (520i), with a 2000cc, six-cylinder M20 engine. Now, can a 6-cylinder engine be 2000cc? If it is true, how is the consumption compared to a four-cylinder 2000cc engine and a 2500cc, 6-cylinder one?

Otieno

Yes, a 2000cc engine can have six cylinders. Yours does, doesn’t it? Alfa Romeo race cars of yore had 12-cylinder engines of only 1500cc. Consumption may be slightly higher than a 4-cylinder of similar capacity, but this is tied to so many factors that the question cannot be answered in black and white. It will be less thirsty than a 2500cc six-cylinder, though.

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JM,

I have a 1997 Nissan B14 that I took for an overhaul. Afterwards, it did only 100km before it heated up badly. It has now stalled. What could be the problem here and what should I do?

The problem is exactly as you have described it: the car over-heated. What to do: Since the heat problem came about after the overhaul, the prime suspect is the cylinder head gasket.

Either the product itself was low quality or the work done was low quality, but in each case, the gasket may be leaking.

Other things to do: Check the obvious. Was there enough water in the radiator? Is the radiator leaking? The overflow pipe/jar? Are the fans working? What about the water pump?

Is the radiator clean (outside)? What of internal blockages?

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Hello JM,

I own a Nissan Hardbody double-cab. Whenever I make a sharp turn, there is a sharp creaking noise from the front right tyre area. I have no idea about what could be causing this problem. Any ideas?
Fide

The fan belt is either old and worn out or is sitting badly within the pulley of the power steering pump. A quick cure of the symptom is to splash some brake fluid on it, but check the two above parameters for a longer lasting solution.

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Hi Baraza,

1. I have a differential problem with my 2004 Nissan Navara 2.5D double-cab, turbocharged, D22 chassis, diesel. In December last year, it started producing a funny noise and my mechanic suggested replacing the bearings.

The whole job ended up being messy due to the inexperience of the mechanic and resulted in differential lock, damaging the crown wheel and the pinion.

I looked for another mechanic who initially suggested repairing the differential, but even after replacing the pinion and the crown wheel, the noise still remained.

Later, he suggested replacement of the entire differential assembly, including the casing and the axle. We did this but since it was not the right fit, the vehicle lost power.

I therefore had to go back to my repaired differential. I now rarely use the vehicle.

(a) Can you advise on a mechanic who can be of assistance?

(b) Where can one obtain such a differential, locally or elsewhere?

(c) Do you think the continued use of the vehicle in its current state could create other complications?

2. I also have an auto 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia with a 4G15 engine, 1460cc, CS2A model. Sometime back, I noticed that the car had a problem with gaining speed and its fuel consumption had gone up significantly.

My mechanic checked the plugs and the fuel filter but these were okay. I then carried out a computer diagnosis that pointed to a faulty exhaust system. The mechanic recommended replacement of the catalytic converter and the car improved, slightly. What could be the problem?

The advice I have received, so far, including replacement of the gear system, is just scary.
JMM

1. Why did you not go to the franchise holder, DT Dobie? And did you just put any diff or did you buy a Navara diff? You have to be careful about specifying the vehicle make and model (and YOM) when buying spares.

What we know as the Hardbody NP300 double-cab is actually called Navara in other markets, but it is mechanically different from the current Navara car. So, here are your answers:

(a) DT Dobie. They sell Navara vehicles under franchise, so they must be able to service/repair it and provide spares.

(b) DT Dobie. For the same reasons as above.

(c) Yes. The entire 4WD transmission may be ruined, more so given that the Navara is a delicate vehicle and uses electronic 4WD engagement.
2. The diagnosis said the exhaust system is faulty and changing the converter improved things slightly, so that is where the problem is: the exhaust system. After changing the converter, have a look at the lambda sensors also. And check for a leak too.

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Hello Baraza,
I recently bought a 2005 VW Jetta 1.6-litre engine. The check engine light is always coming on and when I raise this with my mechanic, the answer I get is that I over-rev the engine.

Is this true? Also, whenever I park the car on a gentle slope, I get the check oil light even though I changed the oil a couple of weeks ago. Is this a common feature with VWs?
Mshengah

Do a diagnosis. That is the only way you will know what that check engine light is all about. Your mechanic is very dodgy, judging by his response; over-revving will not necessarily cause the light to come on.

Parking the car on a slope means that the oil level in the sump goes up on one side and down on the other. The oil level sensor is on one side, so that change of level causes a false reading:
either too much or too little, depending on which side the sensor is mounted.

Park your car on level ground, wait for the engine to cool, and use the dipstick to establish whether or not, in fact, your oil level is outside the accepted range. I do not think it is a common feature with all VWs.

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Baraza,

I will skip the details about how much of an old school enthusiast I am but and ask: What are the odds of being able to put a new engine into an old car? For instance, I would like to fit a 1977 Toyota Celica with a Subaru WRX or Impreza engine. What should I consider when taking such a step? Will it be as efficient as it should be, and what are the constraints?

Do not be afraid of trying that out; it is actually a common method of tuning cars. Just make sure the engine fits, and if it does not, you can always make modifications to the mounts and firewall (front bulkhead). Also, remember to strengthen the mounts and front cross-member.

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Hi Baraza,
1. Does engine capacity significantly influence the car’s road speed? Case in point: A Toyota Prado with a 3.4-litre V6 petrol engine doing 100 km/h versus a Mercedes Benz E240 with a V6 petrol engine and around 200hp also doing 100 km/h, all other factors held constant.

My understanding of physics is that speed is not relative but absolute, meaning 100km/h is the same in all cars irrespective of the engine capacity and all other relevant factors, such as forced induction or lack of, and transmission mode. However, I feel like I have this entirely wrong. What is your opinion?

2. In terms of safety, what is the effect of installing big wheels and wider tyres (ridiculously wide) on an SUV, bearing in mind that they are not low profile tyres?

3. Sometime ago you wrote an in-depth article about tropicalisation of cars. Would you mind doing a quick overview of the important points for those of us with a short-term memory?

Bryan

1. Engine capacity does affect road speed, but not in the way you describe here. Case in point: I was in South Africa last month to drive a variety of cars from General Motors. One of them was the Chevrolet Spark, which had a tiny 1.2-litre engine. Despite my best efforts, I only managed 175 km/h in it. It could not be pushed any further.

Enter the dragon, the Chevrolet Lumina SS, sporting a 6.0-litre V8 engine from the Corvette supercar. Five minutes after I took the wheel, I had hit a heady 240 km/h without even trying, which the little Spark could not do if its life depended on it.

However, power output aside (that SS was something else I tell you), when the convoy was cruising along at 120 km/h, ALL cars were doing 120 km/h and ALL speedometers showed 120 km/h. 120 is 120, whether you do it in a small aircraft or in a motorised wheelbarrow.

2. I am guessing that you mean the huge rubber lumps that are bigger than asteroids used by hardcore off-road enthusiasts, right? They make the car wobbly and are totally useless on smooth roads. Do not use them if you do not need their abilities. They are meant for wading through swamps.

3. Here are the pointers:

  • Modify the engine (compression ratios especially) for the sake of our low octane fuel.
  • Increase the capacity of the cooling system (bigger ducts, pipes, radiators, high capacity water pumps)
  • Toughen up the suspension.
  • In some cases, another coat of paint (or UV resistant lacquer) may also come in handy.
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When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

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There is more to a car than fuel consumption and parts

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

Joan

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

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

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

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

Hi JM,

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

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

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

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

Robert

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

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

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

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

Hi JM,

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

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

Evans

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Kate

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Edwin

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

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

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Ghost recalls, ‘terrorist cars’ and other motor news

CMC’s cup runneth over?

Anyone with half an eye on the motoring industry must be aware that something is seriously amiss at Cooper Motors. It first came to my notice through the Daily Nation (naturally).

The affair went thus: Mr William (better known as Bill) Lay, former paterfamilias at General Motors and a man I first heard of when he lectured Junior Achievement students at Kenya High School several years back (don’t ask, I’m a creature of vast resources and far-reaching talents) mailed shareholders, “snitching” on the outgoing chair and the powers that were, accusing them of misappropriating funds off the books and stashing them offshore to a tune in the vicinity of a quarter billion shillings. Abnormal pay hikes were on the menu too.

At the same time, former chairman Peter Muthoka, through his other company, Andy Forwarders, had allegedly made half a billion shillings off CMC through overcharging for its services, thereby earning more than the entire company which made a profit of Sh400 million.

That is a tidy sum, in whatever currency, if you ask me. And that is the point at which this whole mess became my choice scandal of the month.

I will not delve further into the matter just yet, mostly because somebody else already has (and still is).

And also because at this stage it is hard to separate fact from fabrication and constructive evidence from conjecture and as such it is dangerously easy to talk oneself into a lawsuit — not a good thing especially if the litigant may be having more than half a billion silver coins at his disposal.

But from what I have gathered, the entire saga takes a juicy twist involving immigration, denied entry permits, and some good ol’ dirty politics. Stay tuned for developments.

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GM and the Chevrolet Cruze

Switching lanes from Bill Lay’s current haunt to his former one, and this time round on a positive key.

Now cars like the Nissan Tiida and Toyota Corolla have cause for alarm as General Motors release their newest pet into the wilds that are Kenya roads. It is called the Chevrolet Cruze. Moving on…

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Rolls-Royce Ghost faces a recall

If there were any two terms that were unlikely bedfellows in the same sentence it would be “Rolls-Royce” and “recall”, unless they were separated by negative connectors/conjunctions or whatever.

But no, pinch yourself if you think you are reading this wrong and kick yourself if you thought marrying BMW technology with good ol’ English charm and elegance would be the automotive Holy Grail: it is happening.

The Ghost, also fondly referred to as the “Baby Rolls”, has fallen victim to that most terrible of automotive plagues: the massive recall. Do not blame the brand.

Once upon a time, when Rolls-Royce was still independent and derived profit from slinging jet engines onto passenger aircraft, they had a “Terms and Conditions Apply” clause in their motor vehicle sales agreement, the terms being that you will not under any circumstances be shown by the company how to open the bonnet and the conditions being you will not open it even if you found out how to do it.

The reason? Passersby will see the car with the engine lid agape and might assume something was wrong with it.

That is how fastidious the company was. Until it was bought by BMW.

We will go ahead and assume that German technology is the knees of the bee on Planet Car, where some of us live.

So it was only natural that the finest engines in the world would find their way under the bonnets of the finest cars in the world.

The pinnacle of this arrangement was the Roll-Royce Phantom, in its various (two, actually) iterations.

We live in a world driven by the root of all evil (the love of money), so the bean counters over at BMW thought it would be a wise move to create a poverty-spec Rolls.

Since it would be “pocket friendly”, development costs had to be cut for profit to be realised.

The easiest way was to simply reskin an existing car (in this case the BMW 7 Series) with Rolls-Royce bodywork and Rolls-Royce interior trimmings — sort of like a lady in an expensive Gucci evening gown but underneath is the hard, muscled (albeit very well-toned) body of a female decathlete.

Those who cannot see under the frock do not know any better, so everybody is happy. That is the thinking behind the Ghost.

Cheaper and smaller than a Phantom, it is meant for those who cannot afford real Phantoms but would not want to be seen in a German saloon (too typical). Clever. That is the brief, business-oriented history of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. But the timing of its release could not have been worse.

BMW has recently announced a serious problem in their 8- and 12-cylinder engines.

The auxiliary water pump fastened onto them is showing a tendency to overheat and as such could be the instigator of unforeseen under-bonnet conflagrations, or in simple English, it could cause an engine fire.

The real problem lies with a circuit board that controls operation of a dedicated water pump meant to cool the turbocharger after the car has been shut off.

The board has the potential to overheat the pump, causing fire. If the problem arises, the driver would be most likely warned by a light in the instrumental panel.

We need those engines back, says BMW. If you drive any of the following cars with a V8 or a V12 engine, 32,000 of them, take note: 5 Series, 5 Series Gran Turismo, 7 Series, X5 or X6. Oh, and lest we forget, we might also need back the “other” 7 Series, the Rolls Royce Ghost. It does have a BMW V12 powerplant, you know.

None of the 1,900 Ghosts worldwide has been reported to suffer a problem just yet, but about 600 of them have so far been recalled.

So now the next time an American rapper broadcasts “I’m on fire”, he might not be bragging about his ongoing success, he could really be in need of help from the emergency services.

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Toyota, terror, tort

I have already said that it is very simple to box oneself into a legal wrangle through careless declarations. Well, here is someone who did. And it cost him $7.5 million.

News clips of war-torn, terror-stricken, democratically-unsound countries share one thing in common: they almost always star a Toyota pickup, or three, even five. Anyone seen that J70 pickup doing a wheelie while overloaded during Gaddafi’s ouster recently?

In the spirit of competition (or maybe he thought it was funny, I don’t know) an American car salesman thought to point out the connection between his Iranian rival’s nationality, the problems back home, and the Toyota pickup’s role in all that. It did not end well for him.

Shawn Esfahani was born in Tehran (a Shawn from Iran? I know Shahs, but Shawn?) and owns Eastern Shore Toyota in the state of Alabama.

Bob Tyler Toyota is his cross-border competitor over in Pensacola, Florida. Word got to Shawn that Tyler’s workforce was referring to his outfit as “Middle Eastern Shore Toyota”, or “Taliban Toyota” and was alleging that not only does he support terrorists financially using his business, he also launders their money.

“I can’t believe you are buying from that terrorist. He is from Iraq, and he is funnelling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there, and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother.” Those are words spoken to a visiting couple by a Bob Tyler salesperson.

An enraged Esfahani found his way to a courtroom and said only $28 million will restore his offended sensibilities.

In the ensuing trial, both entities accused each other of engaging in underhandedness to boost their failing businesses, and after a three-hour deliberation, jolly Shawn had been awarded $7.5 million.

Good for him.

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Toyota does not seem to mind the popularity of their pickups among unsavoury clients.

A spokesman even went ahead to say that the Taliban, like any normal farmer, businessman or contractor, looks for “the same qualities as any truck buyer: durability and reliability.’’ Not everyone shares these sentiments, though.

Strangely enough, Taliban fighters have been seen getting maple leaf tattoos. The maple leaf can be found on flags that brand Canadian built Hilux pickups, and the tattoos are in honour of their favourite workhorse (besides the AK-47).

Also, there was a war between Chad and Libya so dominated by Toyota pickups, it is still called the Toyota War.