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Evos, STis, Q7s, and why a smaller engine is not always economical

Hi Baraza,

I have a number of questions, but before I begin you must agree that Subarus are miles ahead of Mitsubishis.

Look at this tyranny of machines: Subaru WRS STi may be outdone by the Evo, but the Forester will outdo the Outlander and the Airtrek. So, who is the winner in the ‘majority race’?

Now, to my questions:

 The other day I got a chance to be in a Volkswagen Golf GTI ABT. What fascinated me the most was the top speed, which, if my eyes did not deceive me, is a sweet 300km/h.  What does ABT mean, and what makes it better than a Volkwagen which has none?

 Between the BMW X6 and the Audi Q7, which is the best in terms of fuel consumption, stability at high speeds and resale value?

 When does a car consume more? When on high or low speeds? I asked someone who owns a Subaru Legacy B4 and he told me that at high speeds, he can make 10km/l but  in traffic jams, he can end up with a painful 7km/l.

 Finally, anybody who owns a Toyota Sienta as a family car must HATE his or her family. Sitting in the  far-rear seats feels like sitting in a pan.  No window, no nothing.

PS: I salute those guys who have dared bring the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini to Kenya. Kindly send me a contact if you know any of them ‘cos I really need a lift in one of those machines. I wonder why nobody has given us the Nissan GTR.

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

If you want to discuss who wins the ‘majority race’ between Subaru and Mitsubishi, I’d like you to first point out a Subaru lorry, a Subaru bus, a Subaru van, a Subaru pick-up and a Subaru SUV. No, the Tribeca is not an SUV because it won’t go off-road, so try again.

Also, point out a Subaru television — yes, Mitsubishi builds electronics too, such as TVs on which you can watch Subarus losing to Mitsubishis.

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

The actual battle lies between the WRX STi and the Lancer Evolution. Leave the rest out of the argument for the time being. That said, I may bash on the little STi every now and then, but I believe I have mentioned here more than once that I might be a sucker for the Forester STi.

That may be the only Subaru I’d actively seek to buy: if I was to buy any other, it would be for lack of choice and/or desperation; which is the same thing really.

I know the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s speedometer has 300 scrawled on the exciting side of the scale, but it won’t do 300 — at least not without some major modifications to the engine.

This brings us neatly to the ABT you inquire about: ABT is not a spec level for the Golf; it is a tuning house that fettles German cars. What they do is take a boring briefcase, which is what most German saloon cars look like; then convert this briefcase into a fire-breathing chariot capable of moving at speeds normal people should not be moving at.

One of my neighbours has a Passat sedan with an ABT touch-up. It still looks like a briefcase, but one with bigger tyres and a Roman candle under the bonnet.

On the BMW X6 vs Audi Q7, both are rubbish. Depending on which engine you have opted for, both will guzzle. At least with the X6 you have the option of the X6 xDrive30d, which has a detuned 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that can still move the car respectably fast if you so wish and return fair economy figures.

The Q7 comes with a large petrol engine that burns fuel at Arab-pleasing rates, or with a puny diesel engine that needs thrashing to eke out any semblance of motion out of it, so it will still send your money to the Middle East either way.

High speed stability is not bad in either car, but then these are big and heavy vehicles, maybe “high speeds” are not what you should be aiming for in them.

Also, at high speed the fuel evaporates in ways that make the stock price graphs in the Arabian financial index blink green and shoot skywards. Resale value? It will not be so great once the general public reads this.

A car consumes a lot of fuel at speeds below, say, 40-50km/h, consumes the least fuel at speeds between 80km/h and 120km/h, then the consumption goes up again from 120km/h onwards.

At 200km/h, it burns quite a lot of fuel. At 220km/h, it eats fuel in huge lumps. At 250km/h, the Arabs will send you t-shirts and Christmas cards.

There are a lot of caveats involved here though; the biggest ones surrounding engine size, transmission type and traffic conditions. Bigger engines are more economical at slightly higher speeds: for example, the Lamborghini you gush about later in your message is better off at 120 than it is at 80.

Smaller engines thrive at “non-motorised” pace: a 600cc Kei car is better at 70-80km/h than it would be at 120km/h.

Automatic transmissions may not allow short-shifting unless equipped with a manual override or has numerous ratios like the Range Rover’s 9-speed. So at low speed, it will likely be at a very low gear, possibly first or second, which is exactly when Shell and BP start awarding bonuses to employees. You may be better off maintaining 100km/h, give or take 15km/h.

Traffic conditions are fairly obvious: an open road is far better than a clogged one. Stop-start driving triples your fuel consumption as compared to steady-state driving.

These factors may apply in a variety of permutations, along with other variables such as vehicle weight, aerodynamic profile, right-foot flexibility, mechanical condition, and fuel quality, to prove one point I have been saying all along: fuel economy is not an exact science.

This is also why I nowadays refrain from quoting definite consumption figures for readers, because there is no telling what particular Arab-centric circumstances may be at play in a particular driving situation.

I have had people who revert like this: You said you did 25km/l in your stupid Mazda. Why can’t I achieve the same result? That is a difficult question to answer.

Interesting feedback on the Sienta. I will be careful not to get into the back seat of one. If Toyota reads this, then good for them. They will hopefully now install a window at the back of this car.

I may have the contact details of the chap in the green Lamborghini, but sadly for you I will not share them. That is proprietary information to begin with; and anyway, I want to get a lift from him too. The fewer of us lift-begging lowlifes there are banging at his door, the higher the chances of one of us actually getting to sit in that car.

In the course of looking for the man, do look around you in traffic. There are Nissan GTRs around; quite a number, in fact. I’d say there are more GTRs around than there are Lamborghinis. And yes, I have the contact details of some of the GTR owners; and no, I will not be sharing those either.

_______

Greetings Baraza,

I bought a 1993 Toyota Starlet EP82 from my employer after she endured all manner of abuse from five different drivers for seven years.

She has done Mombasa, Loitokitok, Nyahururu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru, and Kisumu countless times.

She was also once hit from behind by a Mercedes in control of a drunken guy, but the little lady flew and perched herself atop a fence, with her rear wheels stuck to the body.

Her engine still holds and is strong. With four full grown men cramped inside her as she purrs uphill, she overtakes boys like Fielders, Airwaves, and Pajeros like a joke. I bought her because of the price, the fuel consumption and her power.

Recently, however, she started smoking in the morning like crazy! Grey and heavy smoke. She does this in front of other ladies who park overnight next to her, like Vitzs, Honda Fits and Duets, and she is the least remorseful.

Our parking lot slants 40 degrees, and yesterday I let her rest with her nostrils facing downhill towards the fence. I think she wasn’t happy; to get out, you have to reverse, look for space to turn and head to the gate at the top of the hill.

She embarrassed me so badly with her smoking that I needed full lights to see. I could even hear the other ladies nearby (Vitzs, Fits and Duets) choking.

At speeds of 80kph on Thika Road, if I sneak a peak on the rear view mirror I can see her smoking behind my back.

One mechanic told me to do an engine overhaul, another one said I change piston rings, another that I should replace the entire engine, and yet another that my lady is drinking oil, even though I religiously service her on due dates.

Please help save this relationship because, since I don’t smoke myself, I can’t live with her like this, not matter how much I love her.

Finally, I recently drove an Allion, 1800cc, dual VVTi to Loitokitok and back to Nairobi. It was amazing because, on average, he did 23km/l. The Starlet returns 16km/l on the same journey with the same shopping and passengers, yet I thought a bigger engine consumes more. Some of us fear big engines (by big I mean anything beyond 1,490cc).

Godfrey

 

Godfrey, I also once had an EP82 that gave me trouble-free operation until some idiot tampered with the wiring harness linking to the ECU and from there it was one problem after the other: stalling, poor consumption, lack of power… all this against the backdrop of an intermittent now-on-now-off ‘Check Engine’ light.

It was eventually sorted though, and shortly afterwards, the car found a new owner.

I’d like you to fit four grown men in that Starlet then challenge me to a hill-climb drive-off we see if what you say is true. I’ll bring a Pajero, possibly one with a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (I believe you listed a Pajero as one of your victims), and I’ll be alone in it.

Any readers out there who want to place bets on who reaches the mountain-top first are free to do so, but we split the winnings 50-50. Care to indulge?

Anyway, the smoke: the heavy grey vapours indicate either a blown head gasket (ruptured or cracked), which is letting water into the cylinder; water which is then burnt off as steam; or the vehicle may be burning ATF (automatic transmission fluid), if the vehicle is automatic.

Another cause could be oil and water mixing: either water is getting into the oil and the oil gets burnt, or oil leaks into the coolant, and the coolant in turn is leaking into the cylinders. Either way, that engine needs to be taken apart.

Now, that Allion. First off, it has VVT-i, which the Starlet lacks. That’s a plus.

Then there is the small matter of highway driving. You see, at highway speeds, bigger engines return better economy. It doesn’t apply across the board, I mean, a Bugatti Veyron is not the most economical car at highway speeds, but for motor vehicle engines between, say, 800cc and 2,000cc, at 120km/h the 2.0 litre will be most economical.

Why? Because it requires little effort to attain and maintain that speed. It will definitely have taller gearing, so 120km/h will correspond to roughly 3,000rpm in top gear.

Smaller cars will be revving higher and longer, therefore burning more fuel. The Allion is also more aerodynamic than the little hatch, it has a very pointy nose: so it encounters less resistance at those highway speeds. Less resistance means less engine effort to cut through the air.

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The Forester’s bigger engine and weight make it more costly to run than the Allex

Hi,

I recently bought a second-hand 2006, turbo-charged, 1990cc Subaru Forester LL Bean edition and have noticed a significant change in my budget on fuel (I initially owned a Toyota Allex 2002 with a 1490cc engine).

I knew the larger engine size would consume a bit more but the disparity is sizeable.

Could it have anything to do with the symmetrical AWD feature in the car.

Noting that I drive mostly on rough roads, does engaging the ECO button have any impact on the vehicle’s stability and traction?

Did you expect the disparity not to be sizeable?

Besides the bigger engine, the Forester is a bigger car.

Couple this with the 4WD transmission (whether symmetrical or not doesn’t really make a difference here) and you have weight gains that will most definitely be reflected on your fuel consumption.

Then there is the aerodynamic profile too… I’ve written about this before, haven’t I?

Hi Baraza,

I buy the Wednesday paper just to read your articles on cars.

I want to point out to you that no matter how well you do, there will be people who always see the half-empty glass.

However, there are certain truths that we should accept, for instance, the fact that most Kenyans drive Toyota saloon cars.

We acknowledge that tastes differ, so what you do is tell readers the situation as it is on Kenyan roads.

I long to read nice terms you used some years back to describe cars.

For example, you described the bonnet of a Toyota NZE as looking as if it had been stung by a bee (I drive an NZE), said some car designers seemed to have worked under the influence of forbidden substances, or that the car would be thirsty and drill a hole in a man’s wallet.

What other expressions did you people enjoy? Any readers out there longing for such terms?

Let’s request Baraza to add more flavour….Mike

Roger that, sir. Beginning 2015 — if I am still here — it will be back to the original “nice terms” that I started off with.

You might have noticed a dearth of car reviews in recent days.

This is because of a certain scarcity of road tests that I can’t really explain.

I fear the era of the motoring journalist might be nearing its end, more so when one learns of new car launches from (other people’s) newspaper articles rather than the PR departments of respective brands.

Nowadays, business editors, lifestyle reporters and unknowledgeable bloggers (people who know diddly-squat about cars) get to sit at the automotive launch table while motoring hacks like yours truly are consigned to staring at pictures of the event on Instagram and asking, “When did that happen?”

The best we can hope for now is a memo from the PR ladies, quickly followed by a phone call confirming whether or not their press release will feature in one column or the other.

The answer is usually no. I find it hard to report on a car I have not driven.

These are subtle hints that we might have reached the end of our usefulness.

The end may be near, but it is not here yet. In the meantime, let us see what we can put together…

Dear Baraza,

I am a computer science lecturer at Chuka University.

I want to start by appreciating the good work you do educating our motorists.

Indeed, information is power and I believe your advice not only helps people make informed decisions regarding cars, but also save lives on our roads.

Keep up the fantastic work!

To my issues:

1. Car fuels: I have noted that whenever I refuel my car at some filling stations, mainly in the suburbs or some highways, its picking or accelerating pace slows down.

When I fuel at Total petrol stations, there is huge difference in performance.

I know you will advise me to be fuelling there but I would like to know the reason for the difference.

What is so special about Shell FuelSave petroleum, which they spend so much advertising, yet I have not noted any difference.

There is a brand of fuel from Shell known as V-Power, what on earth is that? It’s very expensive yet I did not notice any difference in my car. Or is it that my car has a problem?

2. There is a time you indicated that the performance of new Mercedes cars is coming down to about 12km per litre.

I would like to know which specific type and model and how much it costs.

3. Finally, thanks a lot for your article on Peugeot 504s and other ’70 cars and their ever ageing owners.

These guys, some of them professors, I am sorry to say, think that other cars are too useless to be on our roads. I hope they learn to grow with technology.

Another thing: the Nation should not hide your article inside the paper.

I always have to pull out and toss Living magazine aside in order to enjoy your articles without interruption.

Hello Charles,

I would have suggested to the bean counters at Nation Media to do away with Living magazine in your favour but the people who write, edit, print, publish, distribute and sell this Living magazine also have to make a living (see what I did there?).

The magazine also has fans just like Car Clinic does, and I am not going to enter into a contest to see who can spit the furthest, so just grin and bear it.

Anyway, 1. The slow picking/acceleration might be due to the fuel being adulterated and thus suffering erratic combustion properties, or the octane rating is too low so to prevent pinging/detonation, the ECU retards the ignition timing as far back as it possibly can, which in turn affects the revving characteristics and power outputs of the engine.

I have a colleague who has been quietly doing tests on various fuels from various forecourts and his results make for grim reading.

Some stations offer water adulterated with a hint of petrol in it (if you get my drift), others offer muddy sediment and well… our octane ratings are so low, even for the “high-octane fuels”, that what we call premium over here might as well be bathwater for those who know what proper high-octane fuel is.

I’ll see if I can steal those results and make them public.

That Shell FuelSave is like “V Power with added Aromat”, for lack of a better description.

I don’t know what exactly they put in it but Shell claims it improves fuel economy by optimising combustion and thus maximising on the energy transfers that define the four-stroke cycle.

Shell V Power is high-octane fuel (relatively, and I do mean relatively) with cleaning agents in it.

I haven’t tried the FuelSave (with a 1500cc car capable of returning 18km/l on regular driving, I am two steps away from having the consumption figures of an unused bicycle), but I have tried V Power several times and well… I didn’t notice any difference either.

I still use it, though; my engine purrs like new and who knows, it might be the cleansing powers of V Power behind it.

2. Pick any model of Mercedes and if properly driven, it will do 10-12 km/l… yes, even the AMGs. The latest CL65 AMG is a monster of a car, packing a 604hp 6.0 litre twin-turbo V12 engine, but Mercedes say it will do 12 km/l without resorting to desperate tactics.

I guess they mean when shuttling slowly (two miles an hour so everybody sees you) from the driveways of well-off people to the driveways of other well-off people.

Bring that AMG to the Kiamburing Time Trial and 12km/l will be something that you only read about in the brochures of plebeian vehicle models.

3. You are most welcome. When I err…. “slandered” the 504 (somewhat, I once had a Peugeot too), a reader was disappointed and asked me to try again, this time with a Volkswagen Type 2 bus and I was not kind to it either.

Now the VW Owners Club might have put out a contract on my head, if rumours are to be believed.

That aside, classic cars are an acquired taste and provide joy to some (mostly grease monkeys) while at the same time suffer derision from the PlayStation generation.

If I spot a well-kept Peugeot 404, I’d nod quietly to myself and be glad that there exists a motoring enthusiast out there with passion for the past.

Those who found more than one TV station on air at birth will look at it and ask why it is so slow, where the air-conditioning is and how come there is no letter at the end of the registration number.

Dear Baraza,

1.  Internal combustion engines give off lots of heat. Considerable effort and resources are actually spent cooling them.

Cooling systems take up space and make the cars heavier, etc. It seems to me there are lots of inefficiencies here.

It appears that it would make sense to somehow convert more of that heat energy to boost the propulsion of the vehicle instead of concentrating on just refining ways of losing the said heat to the environment.

To your knowledge and in your estimation, has there been exhaustive research in this area?

2.  The average car is equipped with a 12-volt battery and a generator (alternator).

Noting that for most cars I know, the alternator is always working, I expect that, as a result, it produces much more electricity than the car will ever require.

Does this not lend some credence to the concept of “hybrids’”, perhaps even the “loathsome” Prius?

Jeijii

1. Yes, the internal combustion engine is a paragon of inefficiency, barely cracking 40 per cent.

This is just about as far as it will go, for the engine itself.

Further losses occur in the transmission and drivetrain, which is why one type of hybrid involves the use of the engine as a generator rather than a source of tractive power.

There are fewer losses that way.

The heat dissipated from the engine is primarily a result of friction, and more often than not, this heat is radiated away from exposed parts, absorbed by convection where the cooling system can reach, and dissipated by conduction where heat shields are attached.

Your theorem sounds attractive: instead of wasting this heat, could it not be put to good use? Well, a) some of it does get put to good use, such as in declogging the catalytic convertor/diesel particulate filter (DPF) and in warming up the interior of the car b) there is one small problem, and that is how to trap this heat.

Of all energy forms, heat is the most dynamic and the most easily lost.

You will have to do a lot of capturing if you are to acquire any useable energy from heat, and while doing this capturing, some of it will be escaping.

Then where will you store this heat as you wait for it to accumulate to useful levels?

Lastly, heat being very dynamic, is more often than not the last form of energy before dissipation: it is easy to convert other energy forms into heat, but the reverse is not necessarily true without involving elaborate equipment.

Where will this equipment be stored?

Won’t you be making the car even heavier and more complicated?

Most of the research has been focused on minimising heat losses rather than trapping the heat itself.

Petrol inside your tank is chemical energy. When oxidised (combustion), it explodes, which means this chemical energy has now been transformed into various other energy forms: light energy (the flash of the explosion), sound energy (the “boom” of the explosion) and heat energy.

Light and sound are mostly wasted, though, through sound deadening and the use of non-reverberating materials, the sound waves can fail to be absorbed and become kinetic energy.

The heat energy is what is desired here; it causes a rapid expansion of air, and this rapid expansion results in motion of air particles: kinetic energy.

The kinetic energy of air molecules is then transferred by impact to the piston crown, and this energy forces the piston downwards and from here I think you know the rest… the end result is the engine rotates and eventually the vehicle moves.

The cooling system is designed to do away with heat from friction, and this heat can get to very high levels owing to piston speeds (in high performance engines like the E46 BMW M3’s, piston speeds can reach up to 87ft/s, which is quite high)

2. When you run out of fuel in your ordinary car, the car will not run on the battery, will it?

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I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

**********

Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

***********

Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

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Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

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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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Our dirty diesel will kill your Touareg, Audi, Range Rover and Discovery

Hello,

First off let me start by saying I am not to sure my question is going to the intended recipient. Still, I seem to have stumbled upon a quagmire of a situation in picking the right luxury SUV for myself, and I’m split between a BMW X5, a Volkswagen Touareg and an Audi Q7, all having 3.0-litre diesel engines and manufactured in 2008.

1. Which of the above three is the best to buy?

2. About the BMW X5, how frequently does it get the electronic bugs that people keep reporting? Is there a way to avoid the said electronic problems, and are there any other problems/bugs known in this beast?

3. About the Touareg, how frequently does it get the dreaded transmission mishaps? How often does this occur? Is it possible to avoid the said problem, and are there any other known problems/bugs regarding the same vehicle?

4. Other than the SUVs mentioned above, is there any other out there that you would advise one to consider? I have singled out the BMW and VW because those are the ones I am very keen on.

Thank you in advance,

Jude Musebe

Worry not, Sir, this has landed on J M Baraza’s desk, and this is he. On to your questions:

1. The X5 is the best of the three as it suffers from the least amount of complaints both as a vehicle and as a long-term investment. The other two cars have problems, the biggest one being how to run them here.

Our diesel fuel, I have said time and again, is not to standard, least of all prevailing European standards (Euro 4, Euro 5 etc). Bring those cars here and see how long they last swilling the muck that passes for derv in our forecourts. Watch your DPF (and subsequently the engine) fail as surely as the sun rises. Feel free to write me another email. I will express my sympathy… before signing off with a big I TOLD YOU SO!

The situation is so sticky that VW does not offer diesel engines for the Touareg via the local franchise. Should you insist on importing a diesel car through them, they will not offer a warranty; at least that is according to word from a fellow motor hack. The Q7, buddy, is essentially a Touareg in a different frock.

Strangely, BMW, whom you would expect to build a more “choosy” engine, say that their engines are a lot more accommodating to a range of fuel quality.

Want a diesel? Sure, have one. We will fix it for you when it goes on the fritz, not that you should expect that to happen. It gets even trickier now that you want a 2008 car, which means a second-hand import.

Again, allegations are that the local VW outlet won’t touch anything that they didn’t sell themselves, though I highly doubt this. I have had readers who say they took their imported cars to VW and one thing or the other happened there, but dismissal was not one of them.

Bavaria Motors, on the other hand, welcomes any vehicle that has any affiliation to BMW in any way. They have a direct link to BMW HQ in Germany where the engines can be fixed by proxy or phone or via the Internet or through whatever this link is made of, again not that you would expect this to happen on a regular basis.

As cars, both the Q7 and the Touareg have hard rides. The X5 is more comfortable. The Touareg has poor rear visibility, so you may one day reverse into your own child because you didn’t see him or her run behind the car as you tried to leave for work in the morning.

The gearbox for the automatic in the first generation Touareg was designed for trees, not humans. Its perception of time and urgency runs into “moments”, not milliseconds. And the Touareg is not exactly the prettiest SUV ever made, is it?

Even less pretty is the Q7. To the hard ride add hard seats and wallowy suspension to complete the poor ride quality trifecta. The car is huge; a stretched Touareg with extra weight. This poses problems: the handling is not ideal, a foible further exacerbated by the boat-like suspension action and the great weight. Understeer and body roll will be your new vocabulary words in conversations.

Also, the large mass of the vehicle puts the 3.0 diesel to task, which leads to further problems: the 3.0 diesel Q7 is slow and, to add to this, the engine struggles with the weight on its back. This in turn hurts fuel economy.

2. The X5’s bugs are few and far between. Not much has been reported on this car; neither here nor out there where I roam and forage for vehicles to drive/learn about. If the car has problems, then the owners are very cagey about letting them known.

The best way to avoid electronic issues starts with cleanliness. Keep the car clean, especially in areas of high electronic device concentration: sensors, harnesses, terminals etc.

3. The gremlins afflicting the Touareg are almost guaranteed to surface at one point or the other. Besides the DPF, turbo actuator failures are also fairly common with diesel Touaregs. Not a lot of good is said about this car, sadly.

Most of its issues lie around reliability with the diesel engine when run on low quality fuel and the build characteristics that went into it, which I have listed in 1 above and which you cannot change.

4. This answer depends on what you want an SUV for. Your list seems to imply a taste for status, in which case you could turn your eye towards a Mercedes Benz ML320 CDI.

Other options include a diesel Range Rover (L322 or first-generation Sport) or a Discovery 3, but these tend to present more problems than usual. If you want a proper, reliable, capable and painless-to-own sports utility that has no pretentiousness about it, Japan would like to see you now in its office.

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Hello Baraza,

A few weeks ago I hired a Toyota Corolla NZE for a safari to my home. I returned the car to the owner in good condition, but a few hours later he called to say the reverse gear was not working.

My question is, can an automatic gearbox just stop working suddenly or is this an ignored service problem that recurs and the owner is being cagey about it?

Thank you,

Mayday! SOS! Help!

Hello Mr/Mrs/Miss Mayday! SOS! Help!

For me to give a comprehensive answer, I will need a better description of the situation. Does the gear lever refuse to slide into reverse position? Does it slide into position but the car fails to move even with the throttle opened? Does it make any untowardly noises? Is there any kind of warning light on the dashboard?

The most important question here is: was the reverse gear working when you submitted the vehicle back to its providence?

Reverse gears don’t “just stop working suddenly”, at least that is not a common occurrence. The most likely causes would be: lack of lockup in the torque converter, or if the car uses an electronic clutch, then the clutch control mechanism gets befuddled once reverse is engaged. Also, the TCM (transmission control module) could be having a bad day and taking it out on the driver.

Gear linkages may be lacking in structural integrity; maybe the gears themselves are broken (this would be accompanied by tremendous amounts of unpleasant noises)…. The reasons are as many as they are diverse.

Tread carefully. There is a third, unsavory element to your unfortunate circumstance here. Not everybody can be trusted nowadays. This looks like a situation where someone broke the gearbox and is looking for a scapegoat; in this case, you.

Car hire vehicles are usually inspected BEFORE and AFTER the lease, just to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be. Calling you a few hours later means a lot could have happened in those few hours, including the marring of a transmission by persons unknown.

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Dear Baraza,

This is a passionate appeal to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the law (the police) are unable to do so, do not want to do so or are condoning the breaking of the law, hence the reason the appeal is not directed to them.

Government of Kenya-registered vehicles, parastatal cars and now county government 4X4s are breaking nearly every traffic law that exists; from reckless driving, over-lapping in traffic jams, bullying their way on roads, driving in the wrong lanes, going against traffic and even behaving as if they are emergency vehicles.

The police are top on the list. How do law enforcers expect the rest to obey the law when they disregard it in the first place?

Buses carrying prisoners or suspects are also known to overlap as if they have right of way, and those with chase cars that in no way appear as police vehicles also join this clique.

My reading of the law is that it is only emergency vehicles (police, fire engines and ambulances) and the president’s escort that have a right of way. A common feature on these vehicles is sirens and strobe lights, so the issue of hazard lights or indicators acting as strobe lights should never arise. And why do hearses have strobe lights?

Going forward, I urge all motorists to stop condoning the breaking of the law as they are guilty as abettors, just as the actual perpetrators. Do not give way to vehicles that are not listed as having a right of way, whether or not they have strobe lights and a siren.

Police vehicles operating as emergency vehicles can be easily and clearly identified, hence ignore all those non-police chase cars. This is the only way to discipline these rogue drivers. And, trust me, they will not dare charge you for breaking a non-existent law while they are breaking the law.

To the Inspector General of police, we have a right to receive quality service from you and that is why you occupy that office. Let your officers enforce the law to the letter.

I end with a quote from a honourable judge:

“On a balance of probabilities and based on the above evidence, I would find that both drivers were to blame. Although the road had been cleared for the presidential motorcade and the appellant was a driver of the presidential escort vehicle, he ought to have looked out for other vehicles and I would thus apportion the blame equally between the two drivers. The driver of the lorry that belonged to the respondent similarly ought to have been on the look out of other road users and not to enter the road suddenly without due regard to other motorists”.

— Rose Koome, Judge in Civil Appeal No 51 of 2003, delivering a High Court verdict in Kericho against Felican Maina (appellant) vs Ajiwa Shamji (respondent).

Yours motorist,

Maina Roy.

Over to you, Cabinet Secretary of Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

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Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).

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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Hello,
Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.

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Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).

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Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?

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Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

Posted on

The Merc 180’s main problem is the battery and wiper motor

I recently bought a ’99 Mercedes Benz C180 (? 202). Having driven other cars, namely, Toyota, Daihatsu Rocky and Honda, I must say this car is a different thing all together.

The engine delivers real power effortlessly, the handling is very smooth and the fear of excessive consumption, I discovered, is unfounded because its consumption is comparable to most Toyotas with engine capacities above 1500.

I think the Germans build their cars well. I would be glad if you could point out the troublesome areas with this car. So far, I can’t complain about this machine.

Christopher

Hello Chris,

The W202 (which I guess is what you meant by ?202), like other cars, does have a few problem areas, the first being electrical: wiper motors and indicators intermittently packing up, power seats sometimes malfunctioning and ECU failures. Other known issues include: faulty MAF sensors (this causes erratic acceleration) and automatic transmission problems (rough shifting of gears).

There was an issue with exploding batteries – instigated by gas emissions building up in the boot area and ignited when the owner opens the trunk lid while smoking/using his cell-phone, which causes the hydrogen gas to explode. Some vehicles were recalled while others were fixed under warranty.

A solution to this was for the owner/driver to check electrolyte levels regularly to prevent the gas buildup. To confirm whether your car was part of the recall, check your owner’s manual. There should be big stickers placed over the original battery maintenance information section.

Most of these issues (except for the battery and wiper motor problems) stem from isolated cases and will not necessarily happen to your car. They are just things to watch out for.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I read your column every Wednesday and cannot honestly imagine not having my copy of the Daily Nation on this particular day of the week. It is both informative and well researched.

I currently own  2004 and 2006 Toyota Vitz. Both cars have served me very well for the past year. They are mainly used for town running and are both very efficient. However, my concern is with the 2006 model (I will address the concerns of the 2004 model separately). It has a 1000cc engine, with 3 cylinders. I have noted that there is no dip stick for the gear box. Subsequent research informs me that these cars use long-life oil, capable of running for 100,000 km.

If this is the case, which is the correct oil to use? Over the years I have noted that Volkswagen Golf and Passat gearboxes have failed due to the use of wrong lubricants. Will I run into the same problem?

PS. I agree with you on fuel consumption of Subarus compared with other models. They are less efficient and more expensive to run as non-original parts do not work on these cars. I have experienced it and will share more on that later.Best regards.

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

Has your car covered the 100,000km yet? If yes, how far is it from the next 100,000km transmission service interval? Does it have FSH (full service history)? It should. Under that FSH, they should specify what transmission fluid was used, if flushing and replacement were done. If it has not been done yet, then it is about to be done, under your care.

Your car does have a service/maintenance handbook, doesn’t it? It should specify what transmission fluid should be used.

Whether or not your car will experience Volkswagen-type problems depends on how badly off the grade of transmission fluid is. For some cars, there is a huge tolerance built into the components, such as the gearbox, to allow for some errors of judgment such as in replacement or maintenance of transmission fluid levels.

For other cars, such as the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, the smallest mistake will lead to the acquisition of a whole new gearbox.

**********

Dear car doctor,

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed every article of yours that I have read, but since the upgrade to the new site, it been hard to get your articles http://www.nation.co.ke/ , unless you look at the site on a Thursday. Well, enough of the whining.

I recently bought a Subaru Forester 2006 cross sports, auto transmission, which I have come to love, but there is this button with a selection of three levels next to the gear shift marked   ECO, A/T and Hold, I don’t know what it does, so I would appreciate some help regarding when to use it, but when it’s on A/T the picking is excellent. Warm regards,

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

The ECO button initiates a gearbox setting that improves the fuel economy but at the expense of performance. The “Hold” button, I guess, makes the transmission shift up sooner and holds the higher gear while preventing downshifting unless absolutely necessary, but it still skips first gear.

It is ideal for snow and slippery conditions where the high torque of lower gears would just lead to wheel-spin and little or no forward movement. When used in D, the car takes off in second gear instead of first.

When position 3 is selected using the gear lever, the cars shuffles between gears 2 and 3 (takes off in second and quickly shifts into third). When 2 is selected, the vehicle uses only second gear, skipping first. It is claimed that HOLD also makes the transfer clutch in the centre differential lock up sooner and harder.

By inference, A/T would mean “All Terrain”, which would make the transmission automatically react to the grip conditions, depending on which wheel is spinning. It uses input from the traction control system.

You are right; the format of the new website makes it extremely difficult to locate my write-ups, unless you delve deep into the pages searching piece by piece. It is a bit frustrating to my online readers and you are not the first to complain about this.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I find your column informative and was amazed by what I read in the January 1, 2014 issue. One gentleman thanked God that he had not landed in a ditch despite doing 180 in his Nissan Wingroad.

Andrew claimed that the Prado is very stable even at 170 kph. Please advise the two gentlemen to stop doing these speeds on public roads. They pose great danger to other road users and themselves. Such risky manoeuvres are simply against the law.

Vincent

Gentlemen, you heard Nick. Maxing out your cars is not safe, and it is illegal… (I don’t know about Andrew’s case, though, since he says he is in Afghanistan, and the traffic laws there are unknown to me).

**********

Hi,

First things first. Your column inspires me a lot. My dream towards the end of this year is to own a Range Rover, manual transmission, from around year 1990 to around 2000, with 3.9 V8 engine or slightly above. The reason is that I am a —rrain is quite a challenge. Besides, I am a Rhino Charge enthusiast and like tough machines.

Second, I would like to look a bit formal walking in high offices pursuing tenders and the like without switching Machines.

Kindly enlighten me on this since I am an automobile novice if I am willing to spend between 1m

and 1.6m.I have googled one on OLX website: year 1990, mileage 139,000 kms, 4wd with a 3.9 V8 engine going for Sh1.250m but I thought it was a bit old and maybe I will have to make some costly replacements. Hope I can read your article online. Get me into class, please.

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

A bit ambitious, aren’t we? Your demands are quite specific, and not all of them can be met.

You cannot get a 3.9 litre V8 Range Rover any newer than 1992-spec. The 3.9 engine went out with the Classic in 1992, and was substituted by a bored-out 4.2 V8 until 1996 before being replaced as the range-topper (so to speak) by the 4.6-litre V8 in the P38.The P38 is also available with a 4.0 V8, which should be closest to what you are looking for, but again herein lies another impediment:

The P38 had a manual transmission available on only one spec level: the BMW-powered 2.5 litre DSE diesel. The V8s only have automatic transmissions.

This means the particular car you want cannot be any older than a 1990 model or any newer than 1996. That really narrows down the scope of availability, as these were the final years of manufacture for the Classic model. This means these are the units in best condition. Seeing how they are fast becoming collectors’ items, getting one in good condition for sale is a search for a Land Rover Holy Grail. The people who have them will not likely be selling them, cheaply or at all.

Should you come by one, expect the following: a stiff asking price, rust problems, poor handling and unavailability and/or costliness of parts. Owning a Range Rover is not for the weak of pocket.

**********

Dear Jim Baraza,

Hallo sir. I am recently married and I want to replace my ageing 2001 model Toyota Corona with a bigger, affordable 4x 4. I am a Toyota person due to the availability of spare parts so I was thinking of getting either a 2007 Toyota Harrier 2.4 litre or a 2007 year Toyota Kluger. I have little knowledge of the performance of either and I would greatly appreciate your input on the performance, problems and reliability of the 2007 Harrier and the 2007 Kluger.

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

Congratulations on your recent nuptials. My name is not Jim.

Performance: Depends on what engine the Kluger is packing. The 2.4 Harrier is a bit underwhelming, but should do slightly better than the 2.4 Kluger. However, if the Kluger has a 3.0 engine, or even the 3.5…. then the Harrier fails.

Problems: none in particular stands out as “recurrent” or “notable”. Most of these seem to stem from poor maintenance. Toyotas are highly reliable. Whichever car you choose, just stay on top of the maintenance schedule and you will be fine.

Reliability: see “Problems” above. The Kluger is more rugged, or at least was intended to be more rugged than the Harrier, so it should suffer less use-related glitches in the course of its lifetime.

Posted on

Getting a VW is fine, but forget about the TDI engine for now

Hi Baraza,

I am a loyal reader of your articles and appreciate the work you are doing, giving advice on vehicles.

I am looking to purchase a vehicle. I would like a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. I was considering a VW Golf or Jetta with a 1.9 litre TDI engine. How are they in terms of service and repair costs and reliability?

Regards,

Joel.

Hello Joel,

You are, in fact right, when you refer to a Volkswagen as a car that is well built and does not cost much in terms of maintenance. However, while the former is fairly obvious, the latter is not so straightforward.

Many will tell you that Volkswagen parts are not the cheapest out there, not by a long shot; nor are servicing and repair work.

Fortunately, reliability comes into play here and it will be a while before you get to shell out your hard-earned cash for the upkeep of the vehicle. This is as long as it is not a Golf Mk. V automatic or DSG…. Those things have issues with the gearbox.

About that TDI engine: steer clear for now. It will very quickly sink you into poverty because, being a relatively small, highly developed and tech-laden turbocharged diesel engine, it will not run well— or far— on the muddy oil we call Kenyan diesel. Diesel engines are expensive to repair and/or replace. Very expensive.

Go for a petrol engine, whatever little extra cost it might have at the fuel pump compared to the TDI, just remember that the money would have gone into fixing the derv-drinker, and then some.

*********

Hallo Baraza,

I want to know, if someone wanted to learn about safari rally driving, which is the appropriate place to get such knowledge And secondly, my father has a Morris Marina car which is now rare and would like to change the engine. Which engine will fit well and be able to perform?

Dennis

Greetings, Dennis!

You are in luck, because there is such a thing as a rally school here in Kenya. It goes by the name ASRA, which is the Abdul Sidi Rally Academy in full. ASRA can be contacted by a variety of means, the best (and cheapest) being by searching for it on Facebook. You will find plenty of information there (up to and including lesson scheduling — event— and group). You can’t miss it.

Guess what? My daddy had a Morris too, but at the time I was not even self-aware, so I didn’t get too acquainted with it. To be honest, I am not very familiar with Morris motor vehicles at all; except for witnessing the unapologetic and ruthless brutality they endure at the hands of BBC Top Gear TV presenters.

However, I found an obscure forum on the Internet (research tends to lead me down strange paths)and after brief consultation with three of the denizens, someone from the UK told me that the Datsun 1200 engine fits into the Marina engine bay.

He was a bit too specific: he said the Morris Marina 1275… maybe he meant 1275cc, because someone else mentioned the 1300… Anyway, I left before they asked me for pictures of my own Morris Marina to prove I was a genuine questioner and not an Internet troll.

So there you have it. Get a Datsun 1200 and take out its engine. How you will do that is entirely up to you.

**********

Baraza

You stand corrected regarding your response to the last question asked by Munyonyi. You can, in fact, fit airbags within the rear springs — mostly done in Australia where they use 4wds properly — to tow caravans.

The airbags help the driver set different ride heights for the vehicle. An interesting use for them is also to give increased rear clearance when rock climbing.. I believe that locally, Robs Magic has a similar product for the 90 series.

Happy new year btw!

Sally

Hi Sally,

Ahem! Happy New Year to you, too. Now, you and I are going to disagree over jargon and reference terms. Just to be clear, are you referring to gas shock absorbers by any chance? Those are quite different from “air bags” as used to describe suspension systems.

When the term “air bags” is used to describe motor vehicle suspension, this is taken to mean air suspension, which is a very complicated and expensive piece of kit. The rubber bellows are used in place of conventional metal springs and shock absorbers, and the air in them is controlled by a compressor, which gives the adjustable ride height characteristic.

Gas-filled shock absorbers, on the other hand, are normal shocks, but instead of being filled with oil, they are filled with air (gas). Some of them are adjustable for stiffness and height.

Now, air suspension is complicated and expensive, when factory-fit into a vehicle (think Range Rover or Land Rover Discovery). For the sake of example, we will stick with the Disco.

To keep the vehicle smooth and level, the four bellows are interconnected, á la Citröen’s Hydropneumatic and/or British Leyland’s Hyrdamatic water-filled systems. Pumping the air from one corner to the other in real time calls for some fancy boffinry, hence the costs involved.

Back when the Land Rover brand was under CMC Motors, someone once told me it costs Sh300,000 per wheel to fix the system once it springs a leak. If replacement is recommended (which is more likely than not), you are looking at a bill of Sh 1.2 million…. just to fix the suspension. So how much do you think it will cost to install one where there wasn’t any to begin with? How long will the calibration take?

Gas-filled shocks, on the other hand, are just shock absorbers. Raise the car off the ground, take off the wheels, dismount the factory-installed springs and shocks, throw away the old shocks, put in the new air-filled units (which fit exactly the same way as their oily kin) and you are all set.

Now that you mentioned it, I think that is what Munyonyi’s mechanic was referring to, because there are adjustable versions of these. You can now see what I mean whenever I tell my readers to be clear about what they are trying to say.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I appreciate the good job you are doing with regard to motoring. I just want to know the ideal fuel consumption rate for a Peugeot 504 four-speed vehicle. I find the vehicle very “thirsty” as it is doing less than six kilometres per litre. Lastly, between gas and oil shocks, which would you advise to be fitted on a vehicle; the front shocks, that is.

Thanks

John

John,

Yes, Peugeots have a reputation for thirst, more so if they use carburetors. Six kpl or less is not ideal, though, but this figure depends on many things: driving style, driving environment and state of tune of the car. The engine capacity matters too. It should be doing at least eight kpl though, if it is properly maintained.

Gas vs oil… This is a decision for you to make. I’d buy oil-filled shocks, because they are cheaper and less likely to leak. But that’s just me.

**********

Hi.

I read the column every so often and I like it. Good work you are doing.

Now, I drive a VW Passat year 2000 turbo APU engine. I bought it about four months ago.

It had an oil leak which I had fixed, but that’s when my problems began. I climbed the Naivasha to Nairobi hills one day at good speed and the car gave an oil pressure error. Since then, it comes on every so often with a frequency I cannot explain; sometimes under hard driving and high revving and other times when doing a Sunday drive.

I had the sump removed and the silicone on the oil strainer was put in such a way that none was left inside but the error has not gone. It is really frustrating. I have a really good mechanic and we are working on fixing it. But will I have to use a gasket to seal the sump to do away with the silicone business, or buy a new oil filter? I hope not. Basically, what do I do?

Please advise on what the problem could be. Thanks.

Gichuhi Waweru

Hello Waweru,

When your car says there is an “oil pressure error”, there is a problem with oil pressure. It could be too little, hence the need to check the oil levels (is there a leak? Is the car burning oil?) or condition of the oil pump (not pumping oil hard enough).

Then again, too much pressure is also a problem and will generate warnings. Maybe you were a little too generous with the plastic bottle at your last service. Maybe the oil filter is clogged, leading to a back-log in the flow of oil. Maybe some oil passages are blocked.

I didn’t get the silicone-strainer part. Was there silicone in the strainer, or was silicone used to seal the area around the strainer?

And the oil pressure error: are you sure it is not in reference to the oil for the turbo? You did say the error appears under high-load, high-rev conditions, didn’t you?

Get an OBD readout, complete with error code, to be sure of what it is, because you and your really good mechanic could quite easily be chasing clouds.

**********

Hallo,

I have a Toyota Corolla NZE 2005 model, X grade, 1390cc I’ve owned for one year now, first local owner. The fuel consumption has increased. I have not done the maths of late, but I have realised that when driving home from Mombasa (to Meru), this thing consumes a full tank way before the Machakos junction.

A tank used to take me to Thika road through the Cabanas bypass. I have also noticed that the engine oil level drops significantly way before it is time for service.

I change the oil every 5,000kms, sometimes having to add oil to keep the level high to the next oil change. Having ruled out any leakage, my mechanic says that some “rings” may be worn out.

I have used several oil brands, including Total’s Quartz 20W50, Shell’s Helix, and Mirr Alma, which are synthetic. What could be the cause of such high oil consumption? How repairable is it, at how much? Am I even using the right oil?

Nick Mwenda.

Your mechanic is referring to the piston rings (compressor and oil scraper rings), and he might be right. It would explain the increased fuel consumption and rapidly dipping oil levels.

Replacing the rings is not a very complicated matter if the mechanic is competent, but costs vary from one garage to another. Use recognised oil brands of the manufacturer’s recommendation and you will be fine.

Posted on

Has the gearbox of your VW Golf conked out? Join the club!

Dear Baraza,

I have been reading your column and find it quite interesting and informative.

I am a car importer specialising in Volkswagen Golfs. The past year has been tough for me as I imported three Golf vehicles from Japan and they have given me transmission problems since they landed in Mombasa. I find this quite unfair to importers and I know a number of people in Kenya who have had this problem.

I have not been able to sell any of them. I believe this touches on 30 per cent of the imported Golf MK Vs. Is there a way this can be sorted out and importers compensated and future importers protected?

These are the specifications of the vehicles:

Yr/Mo Registration: 2005

Make: VOLKSWAGEN—MK V

Model: GOLF

Grade: GLI/GT

Chassis No: WVWZZZ1K123456789

CC Rating: 2000

Engine Type: Petrol

Six-speed gear box, triptronic.

I personally know that this is a big story as it has touched quite a number of individuals. We have many dysfunctional Volkswagen vehicles in Kenya and I think the importers are to blame. I strongly believe that the suppliers of these cars know what they are doing.

I would be glad to share this information. Kindly advise me.

Robert Macharia.

When you say the importers are to blame, what exactly are they to blame for? Did they ruin the transmissions? Are they behind the research and development of those transmissions?
The reason people like me have a job is to tear these cars apart in every parameter, including reliability.

That is why we do road tests. And sometimes we take a lot of heat for our findings (trust me, I know), but then again sometimes it is us who dish out the heat, leading to things like pre-midlife model updates or worse yet, the bane of the industry: The motor vehicle recall.

So instead of blaming someone who may not even know how an automatic transmission works, how about doing a little research before dealing in a certain type of motor vehicle? Find out whether or not that particular model ever faced a recall in its life, and whether or not the particular vehicle you are selling was affected by the recall (these recalls are usually recorded using VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers).

Some cars get called back, some do not. Read car magazines and reviews: Some offer used car reviews that let you know the kinds of problems to expect from a vehicle model when it becomes “used”. Motor vehicle dealers in other countries do it, so why not you? That way you can simply avoid selling a troublesome car and blaming a hapless middleman for something that is not entirely his fault.

I once had this discussion with someone else about the exact same vehicle you are talking about and what we thought was this: The automatic gearbox (or parts thereof) has a certain lifespan (granted, it is much shorter in your case than it should be, but such is the way of life). By the time these vehicles reach the mileage at which the gearbox starts failing, they have already been shipped over this side.

Also, given how they spend a lot of time on the high seas (where no sort of maintenance or check-up is done), they could be leaking transmission fluid slowly over the several weeks they are afloat, then when they touch down in Mombasa, some excitable young drivers who get paid per vehicle delivery storm off towards Nairobi at 200 km/h without doing any checks. Another dead gearbox is in the offing.

I do not think the importers are to blame. These vehicles are inspected before they leave their country of origin. They should also be inspected upon arrival.

Then again, if a car is too much trouble, leave it and move to another model. Have you ever asked yourself why nobody imports Alfa Romeos? Or Fiats? Or Peugeots on a large scale? These cars have reputations, and when dealing with large sums  of money, there are some gambles you just do not make.

  
Dear Baraza,

I have purchased a tiny Daihatsu Charade G100s for work runs. Problem is, this car was built way back in 1989 and although the bodywork is still strong and reliable, the engine seems to be letting oil into the first cylinder. I have recently done exhaustive restoration, including body respray, an engine job, and replacing pistons. Re-boring cannot be done again.

This seems to be the only problem between a trouble-free run and myself.

I have been thinking about either:

1. Redoing the engine job to establish the cause of the leaks (badly placed oil seals or compression?) without reboring.

2. Replacing the engine with a reconditioned Toyota G100s engine.

3. Selling the car to Kariobangi as scrap since I would hate to see someone else mistreat it.

Does re-boring have to be done every time the engine is dismantled?

What would you advise since the bodywork is superb and the car, though a three-pot, is quite feisty when in a good mood. It is getting rather costly to constantly change the spark plugs from that cylinder when they clog with oil.

Edwin.

If the engine is admitting oil into the cylinders, then it is either through blow-by (either the piston rings do not fit well in the cylinder or the cylinder walls are not smooth) or through the valve-train (the valve seals are badly placed or need replacement). Re-boring is only necessary in the first circumstance. Are you sure the oil consumption is not via the cylinder head?

1. This sounds like a plan. It makes me wonder why you have not done it yet.

2. If the first step yields no positive results, then this is another way to go. A favourite engine swap for the Charade is installing the 5A-FE Toyota engine. It fits well and works just fine in the Daihatsu Charade.

3. I do not see why you would scrap a vehicle that only has an oil leak in one cylinder. I hate to sound like a miserly, penny-pinching Kenyan, but there are cars still running on our roads with far worse problems than that and nobody seems flustered. I would advise you take care of the leak and continue your relationship with the little chariot.

Re-boring is not always necessary every time the engine is opened up. A physical inspection will tell you whether the scouring on the cylinder walls demands a reboring or a few more kilometres can be eked out of that block before the grinding machine is unleashed.

For some engines, instead of reboring, one can buy cylinder sleeves that are replaceable, leaving the structural integrity of the engine block intact (too many rebores result in thin cylinder walls that can easily crack).

 

Hello Baraza,

I am the second owner of a Subaru Impreza hatchback, automatic transmission, 1998 model. Early this year, I started noticing that it jerks hard when going uphill. It also jerks hard on rapid acceleration on flat surfaces.

My mechanic has been telling me that it is normal for automatic cars to behave that way because they change gears “on their own”.

He once advised me to be driving at D3 to avoid the jerking, and went ahead to explain that placing the gear on ‘3’ while on the road “advances” the gear box and prevents the jerking.

Also, there is a green POWER message that is always blinking on the dashboard once the ignition is on, yet the power button on the gear lever is non-functional. What could be the problem since the Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) is at the correct level? I have never driven my car in any other position apart from “D” since I do not know the use of D3, D2, and D1.

Also, what is the use of the timing belt, how does a car behave when the timing belt is broken or loose, and what damage can it cause when it breaks when driving at high speed? I am naïve when it comes to cars and I hope your advice will help resolve the motoring problems that I have had since I bought this car two years ago.

Donboss, Kakamega.

That mechanic of yours: Jail sounds too good for him. If your child walked into the house limping in an unusual manner, then the doctor at the hospital tells you “there’s nothing wrong, children sometimes fool around. They are children, they limp for fun…” you would want to punch that person in the neck very hard, wouldn’t you?

Automatic cars do not “normally” change gear with any sort of violence. In fact, they are not supposed to. There is DEFINITELY a problem.

Another issue I have with your mechanic is the nonsense he is spewing about driving with the lever in ‘3’ instead of ‘D’. In other words, what he is asking you to do is to burn more fuel than is necessary and strain your engine by constantly driving at high engine speeds. And what, in the name of used transmission fluid, does “advancing the gearbox” mean anyway? I have never heard such rubbish.

Those positions you call D3, D2, and D1 (they are actually just plain 3,2, and 1; D is a separate, discrete selector position) are used to “lock” the gearbox. Being an automatic, the transmission will select gear for you depending on engine load and road speed.

However, a modicum of control can still be recovered by the driver somewhat using these selector positions.

When you slide the gear lever into 1 (or D1 as you call it), what you have done is “locked” the gearbox into first gear. It will not change up no matter how hard you rev, even when you hit the limiter. When the lever is in position 2 (D2), you have now given an allowance for the gearbox to go into second gear, but not beyond that.

It will only change between first and second gears, but not third. Position 3 allows it to go into third (and second and first) but no further than that.

So you can see my point. By driving in 3 (D3), your gearbox cannot go into fourth or top gear (if they are not one and the same). On an open road, you will be doing 100 km/h almost at the red line, heating up your engine, straining it also, and burning enough fuel to single-handedly create more wealth in the Middle East. And pedestrians will not appreciate the noise. You will look like a bum. That mechanic should be forced to foot your fuel bills for a month for even daring to suggest such madness.

When you say the Power button on the centre console is non-functional, what do you mean? This could be a contributing factor to the jerking (though even in Power mode the changes are not supposed to be rough). In that mode, the transmission changes up at higher RPM (revs per minute) and the clutch action is a bit more aggressive — faster disengaging and engaging if it is an electronic friction clutch, or full lockup control for a torque converter. The shift action is a bit more aggressive, but like I said, it is not supposed to be violent or rough.

Do this. There is such a thing as a transmission control module (TCM). In layman’s terms, it is the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) for the gearbox. Get a read-out from it with an error code, then send the error code to me (if you get one). From there, I will tell you the exact problem. It could be as simple as needing a new transmission filter or as bad as you needing a new transmission, but do not panic yet.

Timing belt: The timing belt is a belt (duh) that is turned by the crankshaft and is used to rotate the camshaft(s) in an engine with overhead valves. Since valve opening and closing is a very sensitive and keenly timed affair, there should be no slip whatsoever, otherwise disaster might result.

When broken or loose, the resulting catastrophe will depend on whether your engine is an interference engine or non-interference engine. The latter tends to have some substantial space between the valves and the pistons. A loose or broken timing belt will result in the engine stalling and no amount of effort will get it running again.

Things are much worse for interference engines. The space between the valves and the pistons is pretty small. A loose/broken timing belt will turn your engine into scrap, literally. This is because the relationship between piston motion and valve motion is put out of kilter, so at one point a piston moving upwards will meet a valve moving downwards with no buffer zone. The two will meet and mutual destruction will occur.

The engine will stall on the spot, just like with the non-interference type, the difference being this time round you will need a new engine. At high engine speeds, this destruction can be quite spectacular and noisy with it. Replace it before it is necessary. If the “T-BELT” light goes on on your dashboard, park the car and replace it (rather than tightening, unless you are in some remote area, in which case tightening might get you to the next garage where you can now replace it in peace).

Dear Baraza

Like many Kenyans, I have bought and driven second-hand Japanese cars for a couple of years now. Currently, I own a Toyota Gaia and I am tired of it. I have no intention of selling it but wish to get another minivan. Which way to go? Toyota Alphard or Toyota Estima (both 2007 or 2008). My main consideration would be service and comfort.

Mwangi Francis.

Well, there is no clear winner for you, according to your criteria. The Alphard is superior in comfort terms, far more superior than the Estima (this is the Previa, right?) but then again the Alphard is a highly engineered, overly elaborate piece of kit full of electronics everywhere, so repairs will  be a real headache, more so given the guesstimation, smart-Alec, hit-and-miss sort of approach Kenyan mechanics give to motor vehicle systems they do not fully understand.

So, decide. The Alphard is more comfortable. The Previa/Estima is easier to repair (but there is no guarantee, given what I have just said about most mechanics).

Posted on

Chevrolet Utility and Hino 500, the game has just changed

Chevrolet Utility half-tonne pick-up

What is it? This is General Motors’ smallest commercial vehicle on sale currently. It is a tiny little pick-up meant for small deliveries.

When I say small, I mean cargo not exceeding two metres in length, two metres wide and 500kg mass. It is a weird-looking thing, with an unusual face, sort of like what an E60 BMW 5 Series would get if it ever mated with a Chevy Silverado full-size truck, and the resultant offspring was severely malnourished. I know that description does not make sense, but I defy anyone to accurately describe that countenance.

It is new in our market, as was evidenced by the incessant gawps and stares I received as I did my rounds around town in typical stop-start Nairobi traffic.

The quirks do not end there: unlike most other commercial vehicles where the payload area is massive and the driver cabin small (like a regular pickup or a lorry), this one is the other way round: most of the vehicle consists of the bonnet and passenger cell. The load bay looks like it was added to accommodate the rear axle, if nothing else. It actually reminds me of those tuk-tuk pickups that nobody ever buys. It is not so bad though.

I’m a businessman, let’s talk money: This car will cost you Sh1.8 million.

What do I get for my investment? For your outlay, you end up with a half-tonne pick-up that is surprisingly fun to drive. The handling is (almost) secure in spite of the crude suspension (leaf springs, anyone?).

There is understeer when you turn in hard, oversteer when you lift off mid-corner and circus-like body roll when you decide to do a slalom (zig-zag to avoid obstacles).

The long-travel suspension struggles to cope but if you try hard enough, you could get one rear wheel wiggling in the air for a moment or so.

You might be wondering why I am talking about the driving characteristics of a vehicle in a niche where handling rarely matters. Well, you see, for a car this size, you will most likely be doing small town-bound deliveries, some of them urgent; like office supplies, delivering perishables, aka food (one can only imagine the kind of party where a large amount of food is put away by the guests) or rapid parcel drop-offs. So that means some manoeuvering “a-la-emergency vehicle” might be in the books.

I took the Utility hard through a roundabout, countersteering on the exit and it danced like a badly set up enthusiast’s project. It was hilarious.

The interior is basic and feels cheap. Nothing is powered, except for the steering. The windows are wind-up affairs, as are the mirrors, the A/C does not work properly (but at least it’s there), you only get two seats, and in between them are three stalks.

Two of them are the receptacles for the metal tongues on the seat belts. The third one is the handbrake. The gear lever is fore of the handbrake….

About that gear lever: reverse is up and to the right, next to first gear. This might sound like a recipe for a big mistake, especially on a hill-start, but there is a small party piece to mitigate disaster. Subaru Boys, where are you? The gear lever is equipped with a “switch” of sorts, which you have to tug upwards and hold in place for the lever to slide into reverse. Just like an Impreza STi. Huh.

About that reverse: It adds to the cheap feel of the car. To save money (my own guess), reverse gear is not synchronised (this I am sure). Cue some grating noises at the office car park when executing an egress from a parking space. Cue some nosy watchman walking up to the car and asking if you have stepped on the clutch pedal all the way. Cue some nasty, “do-I-look-like-a-child” looks from yours truly.

It requires patience and deftness of palm to get into reverse; you can’t just slam the lever into position and shoot off backwards. Not a good getaway vehicle then…

To make the delivery driver’s life easier, there is a radio. By radio, I mean a thumping stereo with impressive sound. I’d give it a rating of three-and-a-half speakers out of six, where the 2013 Range Rover and its otherworldly sound system scores six out of six. Compare, and go figure.

This radio has the best functionality I have ever come across and always look for in a car: USB connection (in my line of work, I travel the world collecting flash drives, which I proceed to fill with music. In the course of collecting these memory sticks, I sometimes do a test-drive). The radio is also labelled “Bluetooth”, but ignore this. It is the same thing as me wearing a T-shirt labeled “World’s Sexiest Man”. We all know it’s not true, in spite of the misleading script. There is no Bluetooth.

You have not answered my question: The question being, is this car a worthy buy? Hell yeah! For two main reasons: the first being it is in a class of two.

The second is that being a General Motors product, we know the engineering behind it is focused. It is made as a commercial vehicle, and it will therefore serve its purpose.

The simplistic and elementary build also means there is little to go wrong, it will be easy to clean and repair and the car is both rugged and robust. The ground clearance is massive, but one let-down is that it is front-wheel drive. Traction will be an issue when fully loaded and driving uphill. I still give it a thumbs up though, unreservedly.

Class of two? Yep. There is only one known rival, the Nissan NP200. Once upon a time there were a lot more: Opels, Ford Bantams/Mazda Drifters, Datsun 1200s and Volkswagen Caddies, but not anymore. Only the Nissan is left. That being said, I did espy an Opel half-ton pickup at the self-same General Motors premises where I picked this car up. Are they planning to sell the Opel too? I don’t know.

Fun fact: General Motors know what a real road test is. I was given this vehicle for FIVE days. It is still parked outside my house at the time of writing.

Realistic facts: This is not the first time I have driven this car. I drove what I can only describe as the prototype in South Africa last year. The previous car felt truck-like in operation: it was a bit unrefined and felt agricultural. Then again, it was a demo vehicle, maybe it had seen some hard use.

Also, I maxed out the earlier car at 175 km/h. This car I am (still) driving does 100 km/h at 4,000 rpm in fifth gear, and the red line is at 6,500 rpm, so this means our version will not top 165 km/h. I got it to 150 then eased off, because we have speed cameras nowadays.

On to Hino 500 9.9-tonne GVW truck

Unlike GM who give their car a realistic name (Chevrolet Utility is actually a utility), Hino calls their truck the 500. What does the 500 stand for anyway? It is not engine capacity, it is not power output, it is not load capacity… what does the 500 mean? Anyway, that aside, let us have a look at it.

What is it? It is an opportunist, that is what it is. The 9.9-tonne truck class has proved to be the most lucrative commercial vehicle segment in Kenya, both in terms of sales and end user application. You didn’t think Toyota was going to miss out on this, did you? “Toyota?” you ask. Yes, Toyota’s truck division is Hino.

Cash? It will cost as much as three Chevy Utilities. However, Hino claims that you can acquire these vehicles on a zero per cent deposit finance package. It may be true, but I doubt if it applies to everybody; if it did I’d be having a fleet of 10 right now, then I’d try and work out how they will pay for themselves. I think the zero per cent deposit works on the same principles as those of bank loans: to qualify for it, you must first prove that you don’t need it.

What do I get for my investment? What you get is Kenya’s newest non-Chinese commercial vehicle, with backing from the most reliable car company in the world. It is also (allegedly) the best-selling truck in Japan, but this is not Japan. Around here we have the Mitsubishi FH as the best-seller. Go to Machakos and see what I’m talking about.

The truck looks funny from outside. The indicators are bigger than the headlamps, which leaves critical minds like mine asking: what the hell for? The headlamps themselves are set in the bumper, which is usually the part of a truck/bus/matatu that experiences the most beating within the first three months of operation. In bus form, you get a massive logo at the back just to remind those who are about to overtake you that you are, in fact, driving a Hino.

Even if you are overtaken, you will not be frustrated. The driver area is modern and well thought out. The truck is easy to drive, and everything is intuitive, especially if you have driven trucks before. The only problem is that this is not a vehicle you will enjoy driving when empty (no fault of Hino’s, all its rivals also suffer the same difficulties).

Unladen, it is hard and bouncy, especially over bumps. At 100 km/h, crosswinds are going to give you hell. You have to keep sawing away at the wheel just to stay on the road.

Being new, it is hard to say exactly what it’s strong points are… or rather, its weaknesses (these lorries are almost all the same). I know those of its rivals. The Mitsubishi FH 215 is on high demand, so it is a bit hard to come by a good unit at a fair price. Also, it has been with us unchanged for 17 years… those are two life cycles in automobile years; surely an update is long overdue?

The Nissan Diesel UD MKB 210 is noisy, and falls apart a bit quickly. The Isuzu FRR has a massive engine (8,200cc) with no discernible power or torque gains on the competition (all of which have sub-7,000cc engines); and this huge engine makes it costly to buy. Anything Chinese will get you laughed at. The Mercedes Atego is… well, it’s a Benz. Enough said. And I think it is time these vehicles got turbocharged, none of them has a boosted engine. Not even Hino.

Hino claims the 500 will return 5kpl to 6 kpl of on-the-road operation, so they keep chanting about “fuel economy”. I don’t know what to say to this.

So, should I buy one?

If you can qualify for that zero per cent deposit thing, then sure, why not? Sounds like a plan. Other than that, its rivals seem to have cemented their status in this market. The FH has the truck class firmly in its grip, while the FRR and the MKB210 are sharing what I call the “bus-truck” segment: bus bodies mounted on truck chasses, like City Hoppa vehicles and those gaudily decorated Githurai PSVs. Toyota and/or Hino have their work cut out penetrating this market.

Fun Fact: My friend, The Jaw, does not know how to use the exhaust brake on a truck. I almost choked on my sugarcane stifling laughter when he kept asking why the exhaust brake was not activating in spite of him stirring and twirling the column-mounted stalk every which way. Take your foot off the clutch, you clown, and release the accelerator pedal completely. Ha-ha!

Conclusion: Both these cars are new in the market. Only time will tell how the public reacts to them, but from my end, they get a recommendation, especially the little Chevy. For full spec sheets and finance packages available on purchasing, please contact the manufacturers… or your bank manager.