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Shopping for an SUV . . .

Jambo Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. On June 12, 2013, you wrote a piece about SUVs that was quite interesting. I am shopping for an SUV and will appreciate if you could split the Petrol versions of the Toyota Landcruiser VX, Range Rover Vouge, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo CX90 along the following lines: durability, build quality, comfort, luxury, performance, versatility (not too extreme ‘off-load’ adventures), safety standards and resale value.

On tarmac alone, which one would you endorse? Why do Kenyans seems to shy away from the Cayenne and the CX90? Both seem to me as equally good and serious machines. Kindly give your overall rating.

Eric.

These are the results in order of merit. To the left are the superior vehicles, then things get steadily worse down the list:
Durability: Landcruiser VX. Then we have a sizeable gap before we come to the Porsche, then the Volvo. Last is the Range Rover, but this one is hard to tell because, except the VX, all these others have had new versions come out recently, so time has not passed enough to tell who will fall by the wayside. That list is purely based on former models.

Build Quality: The Germans rule. Porsche leads the pack. Then the 2013 Range Rover (L405), which might not make much of a difference because the L322 was also very well built. The VX 200 is third and the Volvo last.

Comfort/Luxury: L405 Range Rover runs this, both in comfort and luxury. The Cayenne is more luxurious than comfortable. The Volvo is more comfortable than luxurious. The VX is a little less of both, unless you opt for the Lexus LX 570 version of this car, which pushes it all the way up to second place from last.

Performance: That Porsche is a killer, if you opt for the Turbo S model. Then comes the Range Rover Supercharged. Then maybe the V8 Volvo XC90, owing to its lower weight, smaller size and road-optimised suspension gubbins, pushing the VX into last position.

Versatility: Nothing beats the VX in terms of versatility, but you specified “not too extreme off-load adventures” (should be off-road, I guess, but then again maybe you did mean off-load, as in sans-luggage). In that case, maybe the XC90 wins it here owing to its seating capacity. The VX has more perches, yes, but there are places where it would look, well, out of place. Like at an inner city party for the well-off. It looks too rugged and too off-roadish. The rest would work too in almost any situation, but the Volvo has more seats

Safety standards: Volvos are the kings of safe. The VX would be most unsafe because it does not use a monocoque chassis like the others, and it is too tall, making it very easy to tip over.

Resale value: The VX retains most of its value over the years. The rest are a tough call to make, but of the lot, the Porsche loses most of its value over the years.

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If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?
Paul
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1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.

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Baraza,

I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?
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Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).

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Baraza,
I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?
Muteti
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I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.
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JM,
I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?
Osiro
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GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.
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Baraza,
I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?
Raphael
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Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.
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Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?
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I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.
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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.
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1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.
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Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.
Leah
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That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.
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Baraza,
I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?
Sam
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The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.
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Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?
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1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.

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If you drive an open double-cab, stay under 80kph or face the law

Dear Baraza,
In your column last week, you mentioned that the Nissan Pathfinder is a dressed-up Navara. I could not agree more, and this remark reminded me of an experience I had with traffic police officers out to nab motorists exceeding the speed limit just before Naivasha on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway a while back.

I was flagged down for doing 100 km/h in an Isuzu D-Max Turbo double-cab pickup. My argument that a double-cab with all the LS trimmings is really a passenger vehicle and well within the 100 km/h limit fell on deaf ears.

The officer, credit to him, was civil and countered my argument by leading me to the back of my vehicle to show me a round sticker with ‘80KPH’ printed on it. This, according to the law, classified the double-cab as a commercial vehicle.

In the end other offenders and I were hauled to a police station, locked up in a wire mesh cell, and taken to court five hours later, where we were fined Sh2,000.

But this was after a passionate lecture by the base commander on the ills of driving over the limit. Incidentally, as we waited by the roadside, double-cab pickups fitted with those sleek canopies cruised by. According to an officer, those were SUVs!

In this era of common platforms (Navara/Pathfinder, Hilux/Fortuna, Ranger/Explorer, Tougher/Frontier, etc), where SUVs are built on pickup chassis, should the KMI not lobby for the reclassification of double-cab pickups to the passenger vehicle category?

The double-cab pickup is undoubtedly one of the fastest selling group of vehicles in the country today. Indeed, the trim and comfort levels of the top-end models put most saloon cars to shame. What is your take on this?

Tom

The policeman who busted you is either the new Sang (traffic police hero) or he was really idle. I am going with the first presumption.

Motor vehicle manufacturing is a wide field. Actually, the Pathfinder is not built on the Navara chassis, it is the other way round; the Navara is built on a Pathfinder plinth. That is why it is so good and feels very car-like, unlike the other double-cabs, which are dedicated commercial vehicles.

Some time in 2010, I wrote an article in which I argued that our speed limits were outdated and needed refreshing. My argument did not register with anyone.

Although I will admit it was unfair for the canopied pickups to drive by while your open-backed unit got flagged down, I must tell you that the police were unwittingly right: the covered vehicles were actually more aerodynamically stable than the open ones.

That payload area at the back acts as an air scoop at speed, and given the lack of weight over the rear axle, oversteer and extreme yawing will finally get the better of your steering input, and you will crash.

KMI, KEBS, the Transport Ministry, and anybody else concerned should compile a comprehensive list of what qualifies as a car, a light commercial vehicle, and a heavy commercial vehicle.

Anything from a 14-seater matatu to a tiny Maruti van requires reflectors, chevrons, and the “80KPH” sticker, but none of the Noahs/Voxys I see on the road has them. Why? Just because they do not serve as public transport?

Same to the pickups, more so the double-cabs; a good number of Navara and Vigo pickups do not have chevrons, and nobody seems to bother with them.

But try driving an ordinary NP300 or Hilux without them. Some of the SUVs we drive are actually heavier than the buses we (or our maidservants) use home, but the ordinary class E licence is good enough.

Hi,

I own a Toyota Corolla E98 with a 3E, 1469cc carburettor engine that has been leaking oil through one of the valves, but the mechanic insists that there is no problem.

The big blow came when it started mixing oil, fuel, and water. What is the main problem? I am thinking of changing the engine to EFI, so which will be the best for my car?

That aside, I have driven a Honda CRV Mugen and it is an amazing car in terms of comfort and fuel consumption. Which is the best Honda model in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, and maintenance costs?

Philip

That mechanic is a fraudster and knows not his trade. The problem is the valve seal of that particular valve — even an apprentice could tell you that.

The water could be from either a leaking gasket (replace) or one of the water jackets has cracked around the top, in which case a new engine block may be needed. The leaking water then mixes with the leaking oil, which in turn mixes with the intake charge to create the soup you describe there.

That Honda Mugen sounds like a real charmer, where can I find one for review?

Hello Baraza,
I have a question for you about Scania buses, since I use them to travel upcountry.

1. What makes them climb hills so fast (I am usually thrilled and fascinated when a bus shoots up with so much power that makes my whole body suddenly feel heavy and numb).

2. With this power, does it mean it can tackle any hill with varying angles/gradients easily?

3. If it is uses turbo, why does it change its sound when it begins to tackle a slope? The sound is like a continuous hiss and its engine generally does not sound like it is turbocharged.

4. Why do you never talk about nations that are leaders in auto engineering because Scania, which I heard is from Sweden, does not get highlighted and yet they have a good product?

1. Huge turbos and intercoolers boost the engine power and torque, the close-ratio short-geared transmission gives it good pulling power even on mountains, and variable valve timing and EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) improve combustion efficiency, give you lower fuel consumption, and reduce emissions.

Of course the engineers behind the engines are also the world’s best.

2. Err, not just any hill. But most of them, yes. It takes one roughly 15 minutes to go up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley (Salgaa-Mau Summit) in seventh and eighth gears (for the F330).

The Mitsubishis I see belonging to some bus company I will not mention take more than half an hour to cover the same distance, usually in third gear and making a lot of noise in the process.

3. The hissing (and for the old F94 HB, whistling or whining) sound you hear is the turbo spooling up and increasing boost pressure.

4. Sometimes I talk about these nations. Have you not heard me sing the praises of Germany more than once? Sweden is good in trucks — Volvo and Scania. Incidentally, the former bought out the latter from its parent company, Saab-Scania.

Their latest acquisition is Nissan Diesel UD commercial vehicles, so yes, even the UD buses are now relatives of their Scania competitors, by adoption.

Baraza,

Recently, you said that NZEs are a bit treacherous. Does the 1.8cc Toyota Luxel 16-valve VVT-i fall in that group too? If not, why? In terms of stability and reliability at speeds of around 120 km/h, how would you rank Toyota Allion A20, the new shape Premio, the new shape Caldina ZT, the Allex XS180, and the Luxel?

And what are the pros and cons of the 4WD types of the above mentioned cars?

Lastly, what are the pros and cons of having an auto or manual gear box in Toyota models, especially the saloons/sedans?

Fanon

Yes, the Luxel you describe is as treacherous — it is, after all, an NZE 120 (what we call NZE).

The Allion and Premio do not feel much different, but the Premio is smoother and quieter. The Caldina feels most planted (if it has a rear wing). The Luxel feels most dodgy, unsettled, and nervous (this is by comparison, it is not actually as bad as it sounds here), the Allex a little less so.

The pros of having 4WD models: good traction in the wet. The cons: increased weight and complexity of the transmission, hurts economy, and costs more to repair when damaged
Manual or auto?

Boils down to personal preference and proficiency with a clutch pedal. Some like manual transmissions (more control, fewer energy losses) while others prefer automatic (relaxing, any idiot can drive one).

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Cherry Tiggo vs the Land Rover vs the infamous Mahindra? There are plans by the Kenya Police to buy almost 800 of these vehicles (the Tiggo), can it withstand a beating like the Land Rover? I think the government is making yet another mistake on this procurement and someone needs to raise the alarm.

Ken

I would rather not delve into the procurement procedures of certain entities, least of all the police.

I know we do not live in the Nyayo era anymore, but I have a certain phobia for a white Land Rover parked outside my house at 2.30am with men in trench coats in my sitting room convincing me that a change in my career path would be most welcome for both the government and myself, or else…

Anyway, the Land Rover is the best of the three. The original police Mahindra is not even worth mentioning. The current Mahindra range’s performance and abilities are yet to be seen in hard use, but they are a damn sight better than the pioneers.

The Scorpio even looks like a Defender (if it is 2.30 in the morning and you have lost your spectacles, maybe to an angry man in a trench coat, and there are tears in your eyes…)

The Tiggo is a blatant RAV4 knock-off, but if other Chinese products are anything to go by, well, do not expect too much from it in terms of long service.

PS: The police thing is a joke, do not take it seriously. Nowadays, they visit people at 5 in the morning, not 2.30am.

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The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

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Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

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Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

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Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

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Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

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Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

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Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?

Posted on

If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

————————

Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

————————

Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

————————

You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

————————

Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

————————

The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

Posted on

The Forester is okay off-road, just don’t follow a Defender

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a Toyota Allion A18 and would like to upgrade to a Forester X20, the non-turbo version. I would like you to compare the two in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption.

2. Cost of maintenance.

3. Resale value.

Lastly, how hardy is the Forester for off-road use in respect to ground clearance and performance?

Omondi

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1. The Allion is more economical. No contest.

2. Again, the Allion may be cheaper to maintain.

3. The Forester costs more when new and is a cross-over utility, so it has a higher resale value.

The Allion tends to depreciate badly if used hard.

Off-road, the Forester is good in those respects. Just don’t follow a Land Rover Defender everywhere, you might end up in the clag and unable to come out.

—————————————

Baraza,

Please tell me more about Suzukis, especially the Samurai and Jimny models, in terms of fuel efficiency, stability and off-road nature.

I am planning to buy one for use both at the office and managing businesses in the village.

—————————————

Samurai and Jimny are a pair of hard-to-love cars that are, frankly, pretty outdated.

Fuel efficiency is good, but could be better with improved aerodynamics. Stability is very poor in both; falling over is very easy.

They are mean off-roaders: back when the Porsche Cayenne was new, it got its face pushed in by a Jimny in a tough off-road challenge.

Bear in mind that one Cayenne, particularly the Turbo, will cost you almost 15 Jimnys.

Where in God’s name are your office and village businesses located to warrant the use of a Jimny?

It is like saying “I bought a Defender to take my kids to school”.

The natural reaction would be; “Do your kids go to school in the Grand Canyon or the middle of the Sahara?”

—————————————-

Hi,

I have a question that I hope you will address so as to bring some sanity in my home because, as it is now, my wife and I cannot agree on an issue that I consider light but which carries a lot of weight for her.

We have lived in Cyprus for close to 15 years and have decided to come back home.

For this reason, we are taking all our belongings with us apart from one, which is the bone of contention — my wife’s “Smart ForTwo” Cabrio road car.

Now, we happen to visit Nairobi once every year and, for close to ten years now, I have never seen this car on Kenyan roads.

The problem is that my wife seems to have bonded more with this car than she did with me.

She has driven both the first and second (newest) versions of the Smart car, and I must admit that it is a great car to drive.

It has a very light but compact chassis and it grips the road like a spider. It is very firm, spacious (in spite of it’s miniature size), comfortable, fast and very fuel efficient.

I do not know much about cars, but at least I know that the car is manufactured by Mercedes Benz and all parts and servicing is done by Mercedes Benz centres here in Lemesol and worldwide.

But the car is purely made for smooth-road driving and my fear is that it might not be able to handle the rough terrain that is characteristic of Kenyan roads.

I am also wary about the availability of spares and servicing at Mercedes centres in Nairobi. It is because of this that I am trying to convince my wife to sell it and get another car in Nairobi.

But she is adamant that she must have her two-seater toy in Nairobi. I am afraid that we will be looking for a scrap metal dealer soon after we arrive.

Please help, I need to know whether we should ship this car or whether we should just forget about it.

Joe

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Joe, you are right. It is unlikely that the Smart will survive the vagaries of driving on Kenyan roads.

And I seriously doubt if DT Dobie can handle its service and maintenance; it is built by Mercedes yes, but it is made by Swatch, the Swiss watch company.

I believe it uses a turbocharged 600cc three-cylinder engine, right? Where will the spares come from?

If you ding it in a parking lot, you will have to import the replacement panel, possibly from Smart themselves (the GRP bodywork cannot be panel-beaten).

And I doubt if Nairobians are as decent as Cypriots when it comes to driving, so believe me, dents are in the offing once you land here.

I have seen two Smart cars so far in Nairobi, though, but both were Smart ForFours.

——————————————

Jambo Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the usability or legal aspects of driving a left-hand vehicle in Kenya.

Mike

—————————————–

It turns out that importation of LHDs has been kiboshed by our dear government, which throws a spanner into my plans for importing a used Bugatti Veyron.

That is unless the vehicle in question is an “emergency vehicle” (police, fire engine or ambulance).

Maybe I should stick a blue light on the roof of that Veyron.

Legal aspects? None that I know of. I still see LHDs on the road and no one seems to be going after them with lawsuits or charges.

Overtaking on the highway could be a real exercise though, and joining an oblique junction that was made specifically for RHDs will test your skills to the limit.

—————————————-

JM,

I would like your opinion on something that has been disturbing me for a while now.

I imported a 2003 Toyota Voxy 2.0 two years ago and the car seems to be very thirsty.

1. I went to Mombasa once and used a full tank one way. Coming back, I used another full tank.

In Nairobi, I use Sh700 daily over a 24-kilometre distance, which translates to about 5kpl, yet I avoid traffic.

2. The engine and oil lights usually come on when I’m driving but later disappear.

3. The car is very uncomfortable; you can feel bumps and very small potholes.

I have driven a friend’s Fielder over the same road and it rides smoothly. Again, what could be the problem?

I installed heavy duty Monroe springs but not the shocks since I was told they were in good condition, but nothing changed.

4. The car is on 17 inch, low profile Pirelli tyres (it came with these); might these be affecting comfort?

And what’s the recommended tyre pressure? I use 30psi.

NB: The car does not carry heavy luggage.

Ian

—————————————

I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the consumption would be that high, given that you don’t encounter traffic.

Have you topped up the oil? Or replaced it? That should take care of the oil warning light.

If you did so recently, then the oil pressure may be too high.

The ‘check engine’ light might suggest weakening plugs (unlikely) or a faulty MAF sensor that is causing the abnormal consumption, but this would normally show in a diagnosis.

Maybe the ECU cable is loose (I’ve been there before, and somehow this also increased the consumption on my little Starlet to a highly abnormal 6kpl on the highway.

The low profile running gear and heavy duty shocks are responsible for the uncomfortable ride. Live with it or revert to default settings.

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Hi Baraza,

I overhauled my Toyota Surf 3L engine, replacing everything including the pistons, but the vehicle is still over heating.

My mechanic seems to have given up and now suspects that the cylinder head might have a crack or something.

The money I have spent so far is enough to buy a new engine, so I will greatly appreciate your help.

—————————————–

What kind of overhaul was that in which the mechanic did not notice the cylinder head was cracked?

I am not a mechanic, but I have once overhauled an engine (believe it).

To check for hairline fractures, cracks or fissures, wash or douse the affected part in fine oil (like the type used in old typewriters or sewing machines), wipe it clean with a rag then dust it with French chalk.

The cracks and fissures will stain the chalk owing to the oil still in the cracks. Simple.

Was the head gasket replaced? Are the radiator hoses intact? Does the water pump work? The fans?

Check all these out and therein you will find your answer.

—————————————–

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your excellent motoring articles. Always a good read. Now, I drive a diesel 2002 Isuzu TFR54 pickup (local).

It was previously company branded, and most likely the limited slip differential label at the back has been painted over.

1. So, how do I tell if it has limited slip differential, and what are its benefits over an open diff?

2. I had the engine rebuilt and my conservative calculations indicate 13 kpl.

Is this possible with a 2.5-litre diesel engine? I live 30 km out of town and use it as my daily commute.

3. Is it true that after an engine rebuild it will take time (for lack of a better term) to “open up” and increase in speed and efficiency, could this also be described as a breaking-in period?

Vic

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1. The best way to tell if it has an LSD (not to be confused with the drug) is to try and drift it, but don’t do this, you will roll over and hurt yourself if you have not mastered the art.

And pickups don’t drift easily. Just ask the former owner for the handbook of that particular car. Benefits of an LSD over an open diff include better traction on treacherous surfaces with minimum waste of torque through one tyre spinning.

2. A consumption of 13 kpl is just fine, if anything, you should be proud of it.

3. Yes. The phrase you are looking for is not “open up” but “bedding in”, and yes, this is the breaking in period. It is usually 1,000 km for most Isuzu KB pickups ever since the days of Chev-Luv.

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Baraza,

There is something that has bothered me for a while but the mechanics I have spoken to haven’t been of much help.

The question is: Doesn’t the size of the tyres affect the accuracy of the odometer reading?

Allow me to explain. How does a car measure distance travelled?

I assume that it does this by “counting” the number of tyre revolutions (presumably somewhere around the differential or gearbox).

For instance, if you jack up the car and engage the gear, one of the drive wheels starts spinning and the odometer continues reading mileage “travelled”.

If this is so, then when you change the tyres (for example moving from say 13” to 14” tyres, or from normal to thin-profile tyres of the same radius) then the odometer reading can no longer be accurate since the car does “not know” that you have changed the tyre size.

Since I changed the tyres on my Starlet to bigger ones, I have found that the mileage seems to be understated. For example, a 100km distance now shows, say, 95 km. Am I making any sense?

Karani

——————————————

You are making sense, apart from the part where you say different profile tyres of the same radius will give different odometer readings.

Same radius equals same circumference, therefore one tyre revolution will cover the same distance, whether on low profile or high profile tyres, provided the wheel diameter is the same.

And, believe it or not, cars nowadays are so clever they can tell when you are being dodgy.

A tale has it that someone imported an E60 BMW M5 and tried to swap the low profiles (stock on the M5) with “ordinary” high profile tyres suitable for Kenyan roads, and the car simply would not start.

Changing them back put the car back in a good mood and away he went. Interesting.

—————————————-

Dear Mr Baraza,

Your advice is succinct, your wit unmatched, and you’re quite entertaining. Thank you.

Now, there is something that has baffled me for a while now: Why is it so expensive to import cars into Kenya?

I know that the Government has set the import and excise duties and associated fees… but why so expensive?

It costs twice as much its value to import a car into Kenya. Even second hand cars are double the cost!

Cars in the US and UK are shipped (from Japan, Germany etc) just as cars are shipped to Kenya, yet cars in Kenya cost twice as much the cars in the two countries and many others.

I have tried in vain to contact KRA with this inquiry.

Paul

————————————-

Paul, If it is only now that you realise governments tend to rob their people, some more than others, then you have been asleep.

The tax I pay for educating my readers every week was doubled during the last budget; I almost packed up and left for Uganda where I am sure they have no Car Clinic (of this magnitude at least).

I, too, have no idea why we have to pay through our noses for things that have already been used by other people.

I am sure if you asked the economic czars (as cliche-spewing journalism dropouts are wont to call them) like the Finance Minister and Commissioner General of KRA for answers, they will reply with a maze of figures and a verbal soup of phrases that come straight out of a first-year economics lecture.

The end result will be that you will still give unto Caesar what belongs to the Revenue Authority.

————————————

Hi Baraza,

You recently did a great piece on the Peugeot, thank you for that.

I am in love with the Peugeot 407 coupe and I am planning to buy one from the UK. This could be a 2700cc diesel or a 3000cc petrol 2007 automatic.

Can you please give me your take on the pros and cons. I have not seen many on the roads in Nairobi. Are spares readily available?

Philip

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The 406 was a pretty car, and the 406 coupe took the prettiness a step further in a refinement of Pinifarina’s design.

But I am sorry to say the 407 coupe failed to follow this script: while the saloon is a looker, the coupe turned out to be somewhat humdrum.

The reason we buy coupes is that they look good and they make us look good, right?

Performance has also flagged owing to the increased weight from the 406. So buying the diesel is making worse an already bad situation.

———————————-

Hi,

I am planning to buy a used 1999 Volvo S80 sedan. What is its fuel consumption and what do you think of its performance based on the fact that it has covered more that 200,000 km so far?

———————————

If you are buying an S80, then fuel consumption should not be one of your worries, otherwise you don’t belong in the premium compact saloon clique.

But it is not bad, if that is what you are asking. Performance will depend on how well taken care of it has been.

———————————–

Dear Baraza,

I would like some advice on the Toyota Starlet. I am planning to buy one because of my constrained budget — I only have 250K.

I understand there are two types with different engine types, so which is the best and is it a car with low maintenance costs?

Antony

———————————–

What do you mean by different engine types? Diesel vs petrol? Otto cycle vs Miller’s cycle? Reciprocating vs rotary? Two-stroke vs four-stroke?

If it is the internal codes used by Toyota (2ZZ against 4GE and 1JZ or 1KZ and what not) then that depends: Which model of Starlet are you seeking?

I once had a red EP82 with a 4EF engine, which was carried over to the swansong 90 series. Unless you want a 1N diesel (don’t).

Maintenance costs are similar to those of a wheel barrow… it is dirt cheap to run.

Posted on

An SUV for less than a million? You are fishing for trouble

Dear Sir,

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla 110 that I love so much since it’s my first car, but everyone else thinks that’s wasted love — especially my mum and my girlfriend — so I want to sell it and buy a used SUV.

Considering the local roads, what should I go for on a tight budget below one mili, never mind fuel consumption and spare parts.

Mak

——————

A used SUV for less than a million? Hmm… I know of two or three Range Rovers (3.5-litre V8, 3-door, carburettors, from 1978) that are going for about 400K apiece.

Jokes aside, getting an SUV for less than a million is like buying meat at Sh40 a kilo — it could be from Naivasha and might not even be beef (maybe donkey).

In other words, if you want a big car, then you have to pay big money. An SUV for less than Sh1 million means a knackered example; the engine could be mere inches away from complete failure, the 4WD transmission could be dysfunctional or missing entirely and it might be having only one seat. Not to mention a family of rats living inside it.

Sh1.5 million is a better bet, and could net you the Prado Box (J70) or a V46 Pajero, the best bets so far and in good condition. An old Land Rover Discovery could also fall here, but running it might be beyond your means.

The same Sh1.5 million can also get you any number of 4WD double-cabs, also in good condition.

That is unless you land yourself a deal, following the advice I gave some time back on how to get the most out of your money when buying a car.

——————

Dear Baraza,

Many thanks for your very educative column. I want to buy a car that can accommodate a family of three soon.

Please assist me in choosing from the following in regard to maintenance, spares, fuel consumption and reliability: Mazda 2 (or is it Demio?) with a DHOC VVT engine, Nissan FB15, or a used 1998 Mercedes Benz C200.

Also, is it true that the bodywork of some of these cars degenerates faster than others even with proper care? And lastly, what is the difference between a four-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Joe

——————

Demio vs B15 vs Mercedes? Quite a diverse selection, I must say! If it was up to me, I would buy the Benz and live on greens for six months, but anyway, here goes.

Maintenance: The Mercedes should be the easiest to maintain, seeing as to how they don’t break down easily.

And in the late 90s, Daimler introduced this technology that informed the driver exactly when to service the vehicle, as opposed to after a given time or distance.

So, when properly handled, the Benz can go almost double the typical distance before its service is due.

The B15 might cause you a spot of bother given what I have gathered from readers, and the Demio might be a better bet between the two lowly Japs.

Spares: Of course you will sell your kidneys once the Merc’s bits start demanding replacement. Not so the Demio and B15.

And I don’t know if this still holds true, but once upon a time, whenever a busted headlamp or indicator lamp on a Benz wanted replacement, you had to buy an entire set of lights, not just the affected one.

The logic given was that if one shoe goes bust, it is atypical to walk into a shoe store and demand to buy one shoe; you normally just buy another pair.

Fuel consumption: Drive soberly and maturely and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. And yes, this includes the Merc! In C180 or C200 form, it will still do 16kpl. along with the other two.

Reliability: Benz is best, then Demio, then the silly B15. 4WD vs AWD: Here’s a quick differentiation; 4WD implies switchable 4WD (that is, can shuffle between 2WD and 4WD).

AWD, on the other hand, is a form of full-time 4WD, the difference with full-time 4WD being the use of viscous diffs to distribute torque (automatically) between axles fore and aft, and between sides, starboard and port.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I am planing to buy a VW Polo Classic 98, manual, with a 1600cc petrol engine and I will be the fifth owner.

That’s all I know about it. This is going to be my first car and I intend to use it within Nairobi and occasionally go with it upcountry.

My mechanic has convinced me to buy it, so what is your take on it?

Opondo

——————

Merits: It’s a Volkswagen, so bullet-proof build quality and good fuel economy.

Demerits: It is tiny. And it is a Volkswagen, so beware of costs. You are the fifth owner, which is never a good thing.

——————

Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a Suzuki Jimny. Could you please give me the pros and cons of this type of car in terms of spare parts availability, fuel consumption, engine problems?

Keziah

——————

I don’t like the Jimny, at all, but that is besides the point. The spares are available, second-hand or from CMC Motors, so no problems there.

The fuel consumption is manageable (1300cc) but could be a bit compromised by the breeze-block aerodynamics.

I do not know of any engine problems it suffers, but given how basic the power unit is, it is unlikely that anything would go wrong.

And in answering questions that you did not ask: The car is an off-road maestro, yes, but it is punishment on road.

The ride is hard and bouncy, the engine is noisy at cruising speed, the puny dimensions means you will not be spending a lot of time inside it and that tall ride height means you should take corners like a true Christian, lest you roll over.

——————

Hi,

How good is the 2000cc Avensis and what other cars does it compare to? Also, please comment on its fuel efficiency, D4 VVT-i engine and general handling.

——————

The Avensis is very good and compares to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and, in some cases, the entry level BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, so an Audi A4 also.

You could slot in the Volvo S40 too, and maybe the Jaguar X-Type; that Toyota is that upmarket. Fuel efficiency is at an optimum, what with D4 and VVT-i, and D4 does what D4 does.

Feed it the right fuel and treat it like you would your son and it should not present problems, at least not anytime soon.

Handling? Not bad, but nothing to keep your wife awake at night gabbling about. It is not, unlike the European competition, a sporting vehicle, so it will not tickle your fancy when driven in anger.

Genteel is more like it. It is an old man’s car, so drive like an old man if you want to enjoy it.

——————

Hi Baraza

I have a Toyota AE 111 assembled in South Africa and which I bought from one lady owner.

The car has given me good service for the last one year, but of late I have been experiencing problems with power steering oil leaking from the rack.

One mechanic told me nothing can fix the problem except a new replacement. Which is the best option?

——————

Did the mechanic make a roadside declaration like a past president of ours or did he crawl under the car and try to find the leak?

It could be a broken hose or bad seals causing the leakage, which would cost less that Sh1,500 to fix and replace.

What he is suggesting is much more costly; an appraisal on my own 24-year-old Peugeot lies somewhere in the region of 60K (replacing the entire power steering system).

The Corolla’s may be cheaper, but you can see where I am going… first make sure that it is not something fixable before opting for replacement.

——————

Hi,

I have a budget of 550K to buy a car, so would you advise that I go for a Kenyan used car or a new imported car like the Platz, Alto and such?

——————

Kenyan used, definitely. FSH and tropicalised, you can never go wrong. And more likely than not the franchise that sold it still exists, unless you buy something obscure like a Daewoo Cielo.

——————

Hi,

I own a VW Golf MK 3 ABD. For the last six months, it has developed poor combustion, producing sooty exhaust fumes and carrying a strong smell of petrol.

It has stalled in the jam a few times and then restarted after like 15 minutes. I actually suspect the previous owner may have sold it for the earlier versions of this problem.

But I believe I may have my finger on the problem. Being a single-point petrol injection arrangement, it is flooding the intake manifold at idling and intermediate engine speeds, though this seems to happen consecutively nowadays, with high speed running.

I suspect any of the relays/actuators/switches and/or sensors around the injector are faulty but the problem is that this model (1994) does not have a port for the diagnostic equipment to confirm or rule out my diagnosis. Any help out there?
Maringa

——————

It has sensors but no OBD port? Are you sure it has no port or it is you who cannot find the port?

Are the plugs fine? It is very rare for a fuel injected vehicle to flood; it used to happen back in the days of carburettors.

Find the port because all cars since 1991 have them, most of them at least (I doubt if crap like Mahindras and UAZ jeeps have them).

But the Golf should, even if it is OBD I (as from 1994 all cars conformed to the OBD II standard). And check the plugs because I suspect they may have reached the end of their lives.

JM.

——————
I intend to buy a car (my first car ever) for use upcountry and I’m split between a Nissan B15 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, both manufactured in 1999.

Please help me make a decision by highlighting the merits and demerits of each, including such things as fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, is there any other alternative in terms of acquiring, maintenance and running costs?

Kefa

——————

Lancer, any day. It is prettier, and I get more complaints about the B15 than I do the Lancer.

It is also a touch smoother: the shift shock I experienced the first time I drove a B15 as I switched from P through to D informed me that I was in a low quality product. The Lancer has a better interior too, only just.

Consumption is low for both (average of 12–16kpl) and spares are available at reasonable prices. The Lancer’s GDI engine, however, needs a bit more care. Alternative? Corolla NZE, or Honda Fit sedan.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I am considering buying either a 2005 Mazda RX8 or a 2004 Forester XT and I am mostly after speed, safety and at least 10 kpl in traffic. Oh, and I do not want to get stuck in mud, I find that embarrassing. So, of the two, which is the better bet?

——————

Of course the Forester. It is fast and won’t get stuck in mud. But forget about 10kpl in traffic — it will not happen. Consumption and power aside, there is one very BIG reason not to buy an RX-8, and that is the engine.

It is what we call a Wankel (the RX-8 was nicknamed the Wankel Wunderkind) and is not what you normally find under most bonnets.

Ordinary piston engines are what we call “reciprocating” engines, and have circular pistons that pump up and down and the crankshaft is below the engine.

The Wankel engine is a rotary engine; the pistons are triangular and go round and round, and the crankshaft runs through the middle of the engine.

The engine itself is the size of a good watermelon. I can’t wait to see the look on your mechanic’s face when you present one to him for overhauling!

The problems with the RX-8’s engine in particular, and rotary engines in general, are thus: they develop very poor torque, are quite thirsty, they consume oil heavily and the rotor (triangular piston) tips get fried every few kilometres, calling for an expensive overhaul every now and then.

That is why Mazda are the only ones dabbling in that technology. There is one good point behind the poor torque: to develop any semblance of power, the engine has to have the nuts revved off it, and the RX-8’s engine is redlined at a heady 9500 rpm. Yikes!

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Hello,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I have read reviews, especially on ex-UK vehicles ( VW Jetta and Toyota Avensis) using D4-D engines.

Would I be putting my money in the right place if I bought any of the above vehicles?

And which is better than the other? Do we have enough know-how on these engines in Kenya?

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Buying any of the two would be money well wasted, but the Avensis is a safer bet if only because Toyota is familiar to us and you can always swap the engine for an ordinary petrol unit once the diesel goes bang.

And, no, I am not too confident about our ability to handle this degree of boffinry just yet.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a 2001 Toyota Prius 1500cc/Electric. The car is good, powerful for its class and fuel efficient (16km/l). On the flip side, the shape is whack and it’s ugly.

I want to ditch the Prius for the 2005 Honda Accord 2.0EL (2WD) saloon. I have seen other Hondas on the road but the Accord is rare, any particular reason?

The other option is a 2000cc VW Golf wagon. I’m worried about two things though: fuel economy and, more so, availability of spare parts for both cars.

The Accord has an auto/manual transmission, any problems with these types of transmissions? I am not worried about resale value, what I want is a comfortable and reliable ride.

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The Accord is fast becoming popular, just so you know. If I get a Type R, I will not hesitate to buy one.

Fuel economy is nothing to worry about with these cars. Or any other for that matter; in this era where a 4.4-litre V8 Range Rover returns 10 kpl at 140 km/h on the highway, I wish people would just buy new cars and stop asking about fuel economy.

(The Range Rover is the new TDV8 though, a diesel). Spares are readily available for both, and no, there is nothing wrong with the “manumatic” transmission in the EL, that is why almost every new car has such.

I prefer the Accord on looks, handling and weight. The Golf would beat the Honda on build quality and maybe, just maybe, ride comfort. And carrying capacity; it is, after all, an estate.

Posted on

Overdrive: Keep it off when overtaking or lugging loads

If there is one thing any columnist tries to avoid, it is repeating oneself. Unfortunately, I will have to do just that this week.

I had talked about overdrive earlier, but reader feedback suggests I left a lot of unsatisfied curiosities out there, so we will have to put aside the happy-go-lucky merry-making of test drives and racing this week and step back into the lecture theatre.

Class is now in session, and the topic today is automotive transmission characteristics in general and two things in particular: the overdrive unit and Continuously Variable Transmissions — close relatives of the typical automatic gearbox.

The Overdrive Unit

This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of automotive transmission systems, especially when coupled to an auto-box.

Let us start with the overdrive unit in a manual transmission car as it is easier to explain away. In some instances, it is used as a standalone gear, just after top (1-2-3-4-O/D).

In such a case, the top gear of a car channels power directly from the clutch past the gearbox to the differential unit, with no gear reduction whatsoever.

With overdrive, what you have is a gear taller than top, in a reverse situation where, instead of gearing down, now the unit gears up the entire powertrain.

The overdrive unit/gear gives the gearbox a higher output speed than input speed (in top gear, both input and output speeds are the same).

It is usually used for cruising in low load situations because it keeps engine speeds low thus saves fuel and reduces wear and tear on the engine.

The other type, used in old British sports cars was the type you engaged or disengaged at will. It provided intermediate gears for the manual transmission, such as third-and-a-half (taller than third but just below fourth).

In those days three-speed and four-speed boxes were all the rage, so the gearing was interstellar at best to cover the high-torque, low-speed demands met by the lower gears and still provide power-sensitive top end zoom in the higher gears.

For the sake of example, let us use third and fourth. Shifting up and down between third and fourth is not only annoying for the driver, but it also impedes smooth progress and affects fuel economy.

An intermediate gear becomes necessary, let us call it third-and-a-half. The only way of getting this gear 3½ without changing your entire gearbox is to use an overdrive for the third gear, giving the intermediate ratio.

This overdrive could also be used for the other gears, even reverse. Nowadays most manual transmissions are six-speed, so the overdrive gear has been rendered unnecessary.

In automatic powertrains, the overdrive unit is a bit more complex. Long ago, it was a selectable position in the auto-stick, P-R-N-D-O, but nowadays, it is electrically activated by a push-button, commonly found on the gear lever itself. For practical purposes, we will look at the overdrive unit in a Volvo car:

The overdrive unit uses an epicyclic gear set, which is in essence a set of gears, one nestled inside the other, almost concentrically, if you will.

It is not entirely dissimilar to the planetary gear set used in most auto-box transmissions, except that it is not so far-reaching and versatile.

When engaged, the driveshaft connects to the carrier gear, the outermost gear set of the epicyclic arrangement.

When the carrier gear turns, the internal gears rotate slightly faster. The innermost gear set is called the sun gear, and it rotates much faster than the outer planetary gears courtesy of the diverse ratios.

The sun gear is the one connected to the drive axles, which turn the wheels of the car. In a nutshell, the sun gear (output) rotates much faster, at higher rpm, than the carrier gear (input).

Pressing the O/D button on the gear lever (turning it on, in this case) sends an electronic signal to a switch located within the transmission that engages the overdrive gear.

The end result is reduced engine speed for a given road speed, which in turn means improved fuel economy and less engine strain. For cars with high torque outputs, this could also mean a higher top speed.

So when to use it? I’ll tell you when NOT to use it. Leave it off when lugging heavy payloads, when going up steep hills, when overtaking or accelerating hard and when off-roading.

In other words, where high torque application is necessary, using overdrive is self-defeating. Also, do not use overdrive when going downhill and depending on engine braking to keep your speed in check.

Engaging it will allow the car to “run away”, seeing that the rev range necessary to provide sufficient compression resistance to slow the car down might correspond to much higher road speeds than anticipated.

Leave it on during ordinary driving, though. The benefits are enormous. However, some people claim that using overdrive when passing slower traffic may boost your speed, but this is only applicable in cars with high torque outputs.

Try that in a Vitz, on a small hill, and you will see dust.

Continuously Variable Transmissions

This is an adaptation of a typical automatic gearbox, and some of you may have across it. Have you ever driven a car with what looks like an auto-box, but vehicular acceleration is not at par with engine revs?

The car may accelerate rapidly but the engine revs stay constant, and those who are keen may have asked: what the…?

No need to curse, it is called a continuously variable transmission, and is the only gearbox you will ever find anywhere with an infinite number of gears.

Such are common in Euro-spec and JDM Nissan road cars: it debuted in the second-generation Primera saloon, and has seen action in the minuscule Micra and of late, the second-generation X-Trail crossover.

Even some Toyota Opa cars have this type of gearbox, and most interestingly, those silly go-karts that scared me half to death in South Africa’s Cape Province depend on this type of transmission too.

This is how it works: Unlike your typical gearbox which sports distinct toothed wheels (cogs or, better yet, actual gears) the CVT setup uses belts and pulleys that vary ratios infinitely between low (first gear, for maximum torque) and high (top gear, for maximum speed) and everything in between, all steplessly, hence the claim of having an infinite number of gears.

The most common type of CVT (and the one we will dwell on today) is the belt-and pulley system. This setup uses two opposing cone-shaped variable-diameter pulleys connected by a chain or metal belt.

One pulley is mated to the engine (input shaft) while the other is attached to the wheels via the driveshaft. Each pulley is made of movable halves.

When the halves move apart, the pulley diameter reduces as the belt slides down the cone faces, and the belt is forced to ride lower.

When the halves move closer, the belt slides up the tapered cones and the pulley diameter increases.

Changing the diameter of the pulleys can be done in indistinct steps, and this varies the transmission’s ratios, i.e. the ratio of the rpm of the input shaft to that of the output shaft, which in essence is what a typical gearbox does.

The only difference is in the other transmission types, this is done in distinct steps: the gears themselves. Think of the CVT the same way as a 10-speed bicycle directs the chain over a number of smaller gears to multiply torque.

To maintain the tension in the belt, as one pulley reduces its diameter, the other increases its own, and all this juggling is what creates the infinite gear ratios.

Making the input shaft pulley diameter as small as possible and the driveshaft pulley as big as possible gives “first gear”: maximum engine revs giving minimum road speed.

With acceleration, the pulleys vary their diameters to optimise the engine speed/road speed relationship, up to a point where the input pulley is big and the output pulley small for lower engine speeds and higher road speeds: that is “top gear plus overdrive”.

All this is made possible through sensors and microprocessors. The CVT, however, sounds odd; if anything, the noises coming from under the hood would suggest a transmission failure of some sort in other powertrain configurations, but it is perfectly normal for a CVT.

Also, the seamless power delivery would give a feeling of lethargy from behind the wheel when in actual fact the CVT can outperform other conventional transmission types. As such, CVT cars are still struggling to find acceptance in society.

To counter this, car manufacturers have had to inculcate some features that are in direct contrast to CVT characteristics, such as the creep feature like you would find in a normal automatic, and “gear simulation”, distinct steps in the transmission progression.

Driving a car with a CVT is a bit disconcerting. Even before the unusual acceleration at constant engine speed, stomping the throttle at take off makes the car sound as though the clutch is slipping or the automatic gearbox is failing: there is more noise than movement as the car adjusts the engine speed and road speed for the most appropriate relationship.

The reliability of CVTs has also been brought into question as they are delicate by nature. However, more robust construction has made them able to handle more powerful engines.

Initially, the CVTs used earlier could not handle more than 100 hp, but the current ones are capable of channelling up to 290 hp (Nissan Altima) to the tyres form the engine.

Just how good is this type of transmission? For starters, it was banned in Formula 1 because it was making the cars too fast(!).

It is also used widely in farm machinery, from tiny garden John Deere tractors to full-scale combine harvesters.

The benefits of a CVT are more usable power, a smoother drive and better fuel economy; though how this works out I don’t know.

The Gen-II Nissan Primera with a CVT returned a mere 23 mpg (7 kpl) from a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine. Maybe the economy figures have improved since then.

There are other forms of CVT, such as toroidal, hydrostatic, ratcheting and infinitely variable transmissions, but I doubt if I want to get into all that here and now. Maybe later.

Fun fact: The great scientist Leonardo Da Vinci actually invented the CVT back in 1490. Daf (from the Netherlands) put the first CVT into automobile application in 1958, and only in 1989 did the first US-sold production car have a CVT: the Subaru Justy GL hatchback.