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Why cars made in the ’80s and ’90s will outlive the ’00s by far

Hi Baraza,

In the past two weeks, I have driven down to Nakuru three times, every time using a different car, namely a 2003 Toyota Kluger, a 2007 Toyota Premio, and a 1991 Mercedes Benz 190E.

By quite a distance, the 190E was the most comfortable and most stable. Older Volvos and Mercedes’ seem way more reliable than modern-day equivalents and also better cars than, say, a 2007 Premio. Do you agree with the saying that the golden age of motoring was the ’80s and early ’90s?

Pete.

It depends on one’s perspective. But in a way, yes, the ’80s and early ’90s were some of the best years in motoring.

This was the era when Formula 1 cars were turbocharged and did close to 1,500hp with few yawn-inducing rules and regulations to try and “balance the field” and ensure “close racing”.

This was the era of Group B in rallying, undeniably the most spectacular aspect of the sport.

Unfortunately, it is also the one with the highest rate of fatalities for both drivers and spectators.

The innovations of this time led to the current turbo 4WD cars on our roads.

This was the same era when the 200mph (322 km/h) mark was crossed by a production car — the Porsche 959 — also the shortest-lived fastest production car record ever.

The Porsche was unseated by the Ferrari F40 within a few short months by a mere 1mph (1.6 km/h). You do not get excitement like this nowadays.

The marvel was not limited to the rarefied atmosphere of race cars and limited-production, horribly expensive supercars.

This was also the era of the over-engineered Mercedes: Cars like the Addams Family dragster (the extra-long and extra-menacing W126), the Berlin Taxi (the ubiquitous W124) and what Top Gear and/or racer Martin Brundle called “the slowest sports sedan ever made”, the 190E.

These are cars that cannot and will not break, so they will last forever.

Their popularity and desirability are about to peak, so getting one now would be paramount for a collector before clean examples run out of stock.

The ’80s also saw the swan song of many small rear-drive Japanese saloon cars (Toyota Corolla, Nissan Bluebird, etc) with many of these going for an FF format, and thus becoming boring white goods for faceless, entry-level employees.

This was also the last time engineers had “free reign” to create a car exactly the way they wanted it.

From the ’90s onwards, things like emissions control and safety standards have steadfastly turned cars into heavy, ugly, self-driving, aluminium-and-plastic, lawsuit-perpetrating, smugness-generating cocoons in which people hide from the outside world while tapping away at heavy, ugly, think-for-you, plastic-and-glass, smugness-generating electronic devices while their cars’ electronic brains do their damnedest to overcome the nearly-fatal incompetence of the idiot behind the wheel through a variety of driver aids and a veritable battery of sensors and chips.

Gosh! The ’80s and early ’90s saw the last of the real driver’s cars!

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a 2013 Audi Q5 which I use here in the UK and plan to ship to Kenya next year when I relocate.

I have read an article regarding the DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) and have come to the conclusion that I will need to remove this and reprogramme the ECU before I send the vehicle to Kenya.

There are a lot of companies here in the UK that offer DPF removal (physically remove the DPF, add in a stainless steel pipe to connect the exhaust and reprogramme the ECU properly).

My question is, once I arrive in Kenya with the car and I need the ECU reprogrammed or anything else, is there anyone able to repair or update the ECU?

How much do they charge, approximately? Also, the car has something called Adblue. Is this available in Kenya? Any help would be great.

Pinal.

Hello Pinal,

ECU reprogramming is available now from a variety of individuals here in Kenya.

What they charge is entirely up to them; their rates vary so it is not easy to get a ballpark figure.

Adblue may not be readily available in Kenya, but that does not mean you cannot get it. A lot of people nowadays do to-order imports of spares and consummables rather than bulk importation and praying for a ready market.

What they do is take orders from different people until they have enough to fill a container, after which they go in search of the materials to import.

This would make more sense rather than importing a whole container of Adblue and discovering that only one person back here is interested.

These are the folks you need to get in touch with. They are all over the internet.

Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your column and love the advice you give on various issues.

I have a 2005 Toyota Harrier 240G and have the following questions regarding the car:

1. Does it come with a traction control function? If so, where is the button located?

2. I recently saw a VSC light on the speed gauge and was wondering what it was and what it does.

3. Could you also compare the Harrier with a Mark X 250G in terms of speed and performance?

3. It has a Japanese-language radio (Eclipse AVN 7705HD) and I was wondering if you have a list of translators who could help me since it seems the previous owners (the Japanese) already set it up to their preferences.

Thanks,

Kefahngwei

1. Yes, the car comes with a form of traction control programmed into it.

Do you want to turn it off? I strongly advise you not to because the car will become unpredictable and difficult to drive in slippery conditions.

I am not sure where the button to disengage the traction control is, but in most Toyota cars, it is found to the left of and slightly below the steering column.

However, in some models, especially those that are the same as Lexus, the VSC cannot be turned off.

The Harrier just happens to be such a model (it is also the Lexus RX), as are the Altezza (Lexus IS), Aristo (Lexus GS), and Crown (Lexus LS/ES). Therefore, there is no button to turn it off.

2. VSC is Vehicle Stability Control and it is what you were asking about in Question 1 above. The stability and traction controls are controlled together in some cars, of which this is one. In other cars, especially German ones, the stability and traction controls are (dis)engaged separately.

3. The Mark X is superior in both terms.

4. Unfortunately, I do not have such a list right now.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your wonderful insight and advice through this column.

I would like to purchase a four-wheel-drive car that will enable me to see Kenya when I retire soon.

Touring the country has been my dream for a long time and I need a strong vehicle that will take me into the deep interiors of our lovely nation any time of the year.

I am attracted to the Land Rover Defender 110, but would like to know more about it and other equally good 4WDs.

Does the Toyota Hilux Surf fit in this category? What about cost of maintenance due to the wear and tear that will arise?

Which tops the list among the Toyota Landcruiser Prado, the ordinary Landcruiser station wagon, and the Defender 110 in terms of 4WD capability?

Thanks,

Joshua.

Hello Joshua,

The Defender you mention perfectly fits the bill of the requirements you demand from your next car: It is a strong vehicle that will take you into deep interiors at any time of the year.

However, something in your question begs the warning; Not so fast!

You say you will be retiring soon. So you are approaching senior citizen status.

Well, Sir, the Defender will be quite a cross to bear owing to its suspension.

It is the hardest, stiffest assembly I have come across in any car bar none (except maybe a go-kart, which has no suspension at all).

Now that you want to go into “deep interiors” — by which I take it you mean to rush in where goats fear to tread — then you may need another car that will take it easier on your senior citizen spine.

Either that or change the settings and components of the 110 to something more forgiving.

The Land Rover Defender is not comfortable on tarmac and off-road, it will try you physically and emotionally as you bounce repeatedly off the pain barrier.

I think that is why policemen are always in a bad mood. They are forced to ride in Land Rover Defenders all day.

The Hilux Surf (nowadays it is just called a Surf, they dropped the Hilux prenom. Other markets call it the 4Runner) also fits in this category.

It has the full off-road running gear, ample clearance, low-range gearbox, 4WD transfer case, and diff-locks, but in extreme conditions, the Defender will keep going long after the Surf has given up.

This is due to the longer wheelbase length, longer rear overhang, and sometimes-there-sometimes-not subtle body kit present on the Surf.

They are all impediments to progress once you are off the beaten path.

The Defender also has more clearance.

Take heart though; by the time you notice the difference in abilities between the two SUVs, it will be less of driving and more of trying to survive. I doubt you will end up in such a situation.

Cost of repairs and maintenance are not horrendous for the Land Rover. It was designed to be rugged and simplistic intentionally.

Bush remedies are supposed to work and body damage is easily fixed because the aluminium panels are easy to remove/panel-beat/replace, even in the jungle.

However, the current Defender comes with a lot of electronic systems in it which has raised eyebrows among pundits as to whether or not its “simplistic” nature still applies.

The difference between the Landcruiser Prado, the regular Landcruiser station wagon (the J70, right?) and the Defender 110 in off-road conditions is not that big. The J70 and the Defender are especially hard to distinguish: One will follow the other without white-flagging to a point where the respective drivers will begin to wonder how they will get back to civilisation.

Both are unstoppable off-road in the right hands. The Land Rover’s only letdown will be reliability.

Hello Baraza,

I need a car to use in Nairobi, preferably an off-roader. We have an ex-Posta, 2.8-litre, diesel Daihatsu Rocky.

Is it an economical car for my needs?

Clifton.

Clifton,

An ex-Posta car, you say? Most likely my Daddy drove it at one point or the other. Anyway, that is besides the point.

I was exposed to the 2.8 diesel Daihatsu Rocky for very many years and its economy is, well, impressive.

But then again, it has a high-torque, low-revving diesel engine, so the economy is to be expected. Achieving 10kpl is easy, even more if you are something special behind the wheel.

I, however, do no’t see its point as a city car. A good number of these ex-KPTC/Telkom/Posta Rocky vehicles can be found in Uasin Gishu, where farmers need that diesel torque, high clearance, and 4WD ability due to the intractability of roads not attached to the A104.

A smaller car would be more ideal for city use.

The advantage is that with the tractor of a car that the Rocky is, you are unlikely to get bullied by matatus. So maybe it is ideal for city use, after all.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a VW Golf Touran but on checking fuel consumption for different engines, I realised that the 2.0 FSI offers better consumption than 1.6 FSI.

All same year. a) How is that possible? b) What is your take on FSI versus TSI engines in terms of performance, fuel consumption, general reliability and, most importantly, availability and cost of local support?

Both seem to cost nearly the same for same-year models.

Thanks sana,

Mwangi Kiguru.

Greetings Mwangi,

a) Yes, that is very possible. If anything, it is the norm, particularly at highway speeds.

The bigger 2.0-litre unit can effortlessly attain triple-digit velocities while the smaller 1.6 needs to be given a few more beans to keep up.

However, this difference is not big and is only more noticeable when there is a bigger percentage disparity in engine capacity and in smaller engines such as when comparing a 1.0 litre against a 1.5 or a 1.6.

b) The engines are very similar, though the technologies are slightly different.

Performance and general reliability are almost the same, as are the economy (which is good) and availability and cost of local support (which is shaky, I should point out).

The reason for the TSI and FSI techs are an attempt to meet and beat emissions regulations by optimising efficiency efficiently… if you get what I mean.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks to your column I can now almost beat my husband on motoring issues.

I even store your works in a special cabinet for future reviews! Straight to the point; I drive a Toyota Vanguard which has worked fantastically for me so far.

My husband suggests that it is time I let it go and chose something else (which he has already picked).

His view is that I should get an Isuzu Bighorn or a Mitsubishi Pajero, and that I may go for turbocharged or supercharged versions of these.

Now, Baraza, my wish is to change to a Toyota Prado. My questions, ignoring my ignorance, are:

a) How do these cars compare, considering I am always on rough roads?

b) What does “supercharged” mean? At least I know what “turbocharge” is all about.

Thanks,

Mercy.

I am glad I have a dedicated follower in you. Thank you for the compliment. Now, down to work.

a) The three cars are all capable off-road machines, though the Pajero, especially if not locally franchised (think Simba Colt) or tropicalised, may get a touch delicate when things get military.

Your choice of a Prado, therefore, is not bad.

The Bighorn, on the other hand, went out of production quite a while ago and so it is only a matter of time before parts, like hen’s teeth, become hard to come by. They are also few and far between, unlike the Prado and Pajero, which are all over.

b) If you know what turbocharging is, then supercharging should be easy to understand.

It is similar to turbocharging in that it is a means of forced induction. The difference is that a turbocharger’s turbine is driven by the momentum of exhaust gases and this turbine in turn drives the impeller/compressor.

A supercharger’s compressor/impeller is driven by a belt connected to the engine itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports utility

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

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

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

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

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

I fear I may have digressed again…

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

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

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is the problem with modern diesel engines?

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

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

Many thanks in advance, Moose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Very Disturbed.

Hello Mr Very Disturbed,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Regards, Jeff.

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

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

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

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

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

These are the steps:

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

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

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

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

5. Reassemble the transmission.

6. Instal a new transmission pan gasket.

7. Lower vehicle and instal transmission fluid.

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks,

Mugambi.

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

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

Choose.

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Dear Baraza,

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

What do you think could be the problem?

S N Mwangi.

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

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

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

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

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

Oil plug (drain plug) not secured properly.

Oil plug worn or damaged.

Oil filter not attached correctly or missing gasket.

High oil pressure (a problem in itself).

Oil coolant line corroded or leaking

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Thanks,

Alex.

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

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