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A gel that repairs your worn-out engine? Let me go have a look-see

Hi Baraza,

1) I have a Subaru WRX Impreza with a manual transmission that produces a buzzing noise in Gear 5. What could be the problem?

2) As you might have noticed, I am a diehard Subaru fan and I do not think much about your Evo reviews. I am a keen follower of the time trial competitions and was at the Murang’a TT. The Evos might have won the battle, but they are yet to win the war. I noticed that there were only two branded vehicles competing, one of them a Subaru Impreza N8 with the stickers of a revitalisant. What is that?
Subaru Diehard

Greetings, Subaru Diehard,

1. The buzzing noise is more like a continuous drone, especially at highway speeds, is it not? This sounds as if a synchroniser might be worn out or the gear itself might be chipped. The remedy in such a case is to open up your manual transmission and replace the offending component, be it the gear or synchroniser unit.

2. I did a little research and the results were… well, VERY interesting. This is what I learnt:

a) The manufacturers of the revitalisant have a whole line of products, most of which are in liquid and gel form. If there is a liquid that goes into the engine (oil, transmission fluids, power steering fluid etc), more likely than not, they have their version of it, save for petrol/diesel.

b) They also have other products that they call “revitalisants”, which in essence are “metal conditioners”. What these conditioners do is “heal” scarred metal, like your gear in 1 above. Scratched surfaces can be “revitalised” by the application of a “revitalising” product such as benzoyl peroxide in the control of acne or Candid B cream in getting rid of ringworms.

Now, here is where the plot thickens. Their own blurb says that the revitalising cream (it really is hard to think of it as anything else) will seep into the hairline fractures and scratches on any metal surface, sealing them completely.

It apparently forms a ceramic layer over old metal surfaces, rendering them “as good as new”. Since most metal surfaces damaged in this manner are part of a rubbing, friction-prone pair, the mode of the gel, it is claimed, is to form a kind of hard-pack cement the more heat and pressure is applied, and if it is heat and pressure you seek, you need not look further than the engine. The result is filler material and a coating that effectively restores the metal surface to its factory smoothness.

Derision was not far off. Real petrolheads are a discerning lot and are incredibly difficult to please and/or convince about certain matters. There were those who cried “Heresy!” and dismissed the metal conditioner as a marketing ploy for “magical cement” that has no place in the real world.

Further research reveals that this marketing ploy is nothing short of a cliché, seen before in a million other miracle cures that do not really work, preying on fear and gullibility to generate sales. Then there was the warning notice on the tubes of gel, which tend to come in threes (engine, transmission, and something else, I am not sure what): “Parts, if worn out, will still need replacing.”

Parts will still need replacing. The next question is fairly obvious: if these parts will still need replacing, what is the point of the conditioner?

It turns out that some people blew their engines, then applied the gel thinking that it would restore them. That is not how it works. It does not unblow your engine. It will not fuse broken metal pieces together, nor will it reduce the mileage covered. It repairs distressed surfaces.

The theory is embedded in nanotechnology, which I will not delve into right now for fear of making this column look like the introduction or research notes of a Michael Crichton novel. Nanotech is a field known to many but understood by few. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the manufacturers chose this word to sell their stuff.

A bit of their history (this should make good reading for Cold War pundits): The discovery of the active agent in their revitalisants came about from a mining operation in Russia in which the engineers noticed that the further down they dug, the “newer” their drill bits became, which was the exact opposite of what they expected.

Apparently, the drill bits were coated in a kind of ceramic material derived from the soil, which kept the bits in a shiny, new condition, whereas in normal digging, the drill bits get eaten away and need replacement every now and then.

This happened very many years ago and some Soviet scientists got interested and started poking into the soil around that particular mine shaft, conveniently located in or near Siberia, in what I believe was a government-sanctioned and KGB-protected undercover experiment lasting several years before the agent (still a secret, clearly, since it goes unnamed) was isolated and put to the test in industrial applications.

This sounds a bit like a flight of fancy, does it not? A legend created by the legend itself in the style of Verbal Kent/Kaiser Soze. Maybe, maybe not, but ask yourself this: Have you ever seen a Russian tank breaking down in any war theatre? Those things are more reliable than the rainfall in Kakamega. In fact, have you seen any old Russian tank? They are all new. There could be some truth to this.

Stepping out of the Ludlum novel and into the real world, the world of testimonies. Of course there are those who will dismiss the revitalisant as a joke, what with the crazy Russian story behind it, the incomprehensible nanotechnology explanation (I do not know if those scientists discovered a colony of nanobots living in the cold Siberian wilderness or what), and the fact that it is cheap for what it does.

Given how much income evangelists generate from mere prayers, imagine how much money Jesus would make if He came back and decided to charge people for resurrections. This is the logic here: If it is actually a miracle cure, why does it not cost more?

There is the flipside of the coin. I have colleagues who have dared to revitalise their engines with the gel and this is what they say. The first one declared “no noticeable difference” and described it as just another oil. Clearly, this person did not follow instructions. You are supposed to add the gel to the oil in your engine. He does not recall any gel, so he is out.

The second one said that his engine actually ran smoother after adding the gel; not just smoother, but noticeably smoother after a distance of about 500km. He is seconded by a third individual.

The fourth one says he, too, had a slightly noisy transmission (like yours in 1 above), with the added benefit of a notchy gear-shift action, but this has since improved dramatically after putting in the gel. There was one who suffered a seized engine following a crankshaft bearing failure, but he swore it had nothing to do with the gel.

I looked each of them straight in the eye for several seconds to determine whether brown Russian envelopes had changed hand, particularly in the case of the last guy. They all seemed legitimate and their claims seemed to hold water (I may have ridden in one or two of these “smoother” vehicles and they are not half bad), so this is where I will conclude my response: I, too, am taking the plunge in the name of research.

I am going to test the revitalisant first week of November. Not that my car actually needs it, though I might have started developing a “slightly notchy” gear-change too. My engine is perfect, if I may brag a little. If the nanotech is nonsense, as some people claim, then I would rather risk my gearbox, which is easier to fix, than my engine.

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Jambo Baraza,
In one of your articles you said: “Nobody ever supercharged a diesel engine.” You were wrong. Check the website Diesel Hub, Supercharged Diesel engines. Also, supercharged and turbocharged are two different things.
J. Jesse (Mzungu)

Yes, Mzungu, I know supercharged and turbocharged are two different things. I have explained this difference too many times for me to make an error in response.

Yes, supercharged diesel engines exist, but these are mostly 2-stroke engines, marine diesels and generators on oil rigs. Some of these engines are V12s with pistons boasting 8-inch bores — not the kind of engine you will find in any car. More importantly, how old are these engines anyway? Few, if any, of the current crop of modern diesel engines used in any application are supercharged.

Part of the logic is this: diesel engines use economy and efficiency as their main selling points. A turbocharger derives its functioning energy from what was otherwise dismissed as waste, increasing its efficiency rating by a wide margin.

A supercharger uses precious engine power to run, which would be self-defeating and in contravention of the conceptual purpose of a diesel engine: efficiency. While providing a substantial boost in power, superchargers are inherently inefficient, more so in comparison to turbos.

The beauty of a diesel engine is that it can take insane boost pressures in the turbochargers with little risk of getting wrecked. Generating more power from a turbocharged diesel engine is relatively simple: keep increasing the boost pressure in the turbo and tweak/replace the injectors with bigger ones.

If you hit a horsepower ceiling with the current set-up, get a bigger turbo, or a second one (or even third, if you are BMW), and even bigger injectors. To begin with, the robust nature of the diesel engine block means it can accommodate a massive horsepower jump with little need for strengthening.

This explains why BMW has an xDrivex30d and xDrivex40d in the X5/X6 line-up. It is the exact same 3.0 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, but in the x40d, it develops a lot more power with little modification.

With the supercharger rendered pointless (now that you can turbocharge the diesel engine endlessly), and it being wasteful in its own way, why would anyone in their right mind want to supercharge a diesel engine?

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Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you for your good advice to people. I want to buy my first car and am torn between a Toyota Premio, Wish, Voxy, and Nissan X-Trail.

I am an off-road guy who does a lot of travelling upcountry, so I would like a machine that is economically efficient in terms of both fuel and maintenance costs. Secondly, it should manage off-road trips and carry luggage because I am also a farmer. Kindly advise.

Bob

Interesting query we have here because you want to choose between a saloon car, a people carrier, a van, and a crossover, but what you actually need is a pick-up with 4WD. These are five different classes of vehicles.

The saloon car (Premio) will be cheapest to fuel and maintain. The crossover (X-Trail) has running costs not entirely dissimilar to that of a saloon car, itself being based on a saloon car (the Primera), and also has the added benefit of a modicum of off-road talent. Among the crossovers, the X-Trail is actually surprisingly adept at tackling the hard stuff.

None of these cars is exactly ideal for carrying a farmer’s “luggage” (your words, not mine), because in my mind, a farmer’s “luggage” would include tractor parts, ploughs, bags of seeds, fertiliser, animal feed, the animals themselves and/or plants, pesticides, acaricides, fungicides…

You need a pick-up for this kind of “luggage” because, who knows how many bags of seed you will be moving around? Who knows what tractor parts you might be carrying? A diff and a gearbox count as parts, don’t they?

For fuel efficiency, you will need a diesel pick-up. For lower maintenance costs, you will need a diesel pick-up without a turbocharger. For off-road purposes, this diesel pick-up will need to have at least good ground clearance, and possibly 4WD…

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

Hello Braza,

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

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

Please help, and God bless you.

Lisa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Luvembe

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Peter Wachira.

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

Many thanks,

Josh.

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Mutisya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

Thanks,

Zacheus Karimi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

Titus Musyoka

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

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

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

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

Posted on

For town service, the Premio will edge out the Noah

Hello Baraza,
Thank you for the good work; it is educating. I intend to buy a vehicle for an airport transfers contract and I am eyeing a Toyota Premio (1800cc), a Toyota Voxy, and a Toyota Noah, all 2005 or 2006 models.

From my research, I am likely to get both the Voxy and Noah cheaper by Sh250,000 in comparison with the Premio. I have received conflicting advice from two different mechanics on the Voxy.

I am made to understand that its 1AZ engine is actually a D4, which one of the mechanics says will have problems sooner rather than later, and that repairing it will bee too expensive, if possible at all.

The other mechanic says the engine should be okay for quite some time (I intend to dispose of the car and replace it with a “new” one after two years), but in case it starts having issues, usually related to overheating, I may have to throw away the engine. Both say a 3S engine would be a good replacement.

a) Comment on the performance and durability of the 1AZ engine in the Voxy and the Noah.

b) If the 3S engine is better, do they instal them any more in Noahs and Voxys?

c) Considering the purpose of the car, which one would you advise me to buy, with the resale value, durability, and cost of spares in mind? Fuel consumption is a non-issue in this case, and any of the cars will give exactly the same monthly income from the contract.Thank you, Samuel,

The fact that you are comparing a saloon car to a van means carrying capacity is a moot point. I will first ignore your questions and tell you this: Get the Premio. It makes much more sense, especially now that you are talking airports (which means you are also talking town driving somewhat).

The saloon is nippier, more versatile, and generally a better and more sensible prospect compared to a van, which is bulkier and wasteful.

Now to your questions:

a) Performance is good (for a van with a 2.0 litre engine, that is). Durability depends on how you use the engine and what you put into it.

b) Who said the 3S engine is better? The 1AZ is actually the successor of the S engines (of which the 3S is one), so it goes to reason that the later engine is a development of the previous. Hence the 1AZ is better.

Just because your mech friends cannot fix a D4 does not mean the engine is rubbish. And, no, they do not use the S engines is Voxies (Voxys?) anymore.

c) Resale value favours the Voxy/Noah. People have an undying thirst for these vans, for some reason, but market demand can be a fickle mistress; what is in demand now could be shunned like the plague in two years’ time.

Remember the Galant? Durability depends on usage, while costs of spares do not vary by much

I will be curt here; buy the Premio.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for enlightening us on car issues. I would like you to give me the pros and cons of the Mitsubishi Airtrek compared to the Nissan Teana. I am torn between buying the two.

Ian.

You cannot compare the two outright because they occupy different market niches and are targeted at different demographics. The Airtrek is a lifestyle vehicle whose sales quarry mostly includes yuppies and up-and-coming 20-somethings with plenty of out-of-town action, especially on weekends.

The Teana, on the other hand, is a middle-management executive’s car, not as lowly as the sales-rep’s Tiida/Almera and not as flashy as the Deputy CEO’s S320 Benz (or Fuga, if the said CEO is poorly paid or is a cheapskate).

So the question goes back to you: what do you expect from the car that you buy?

Hi JM

I have owned and nicely maintained for five years a 1995 Toyota AE100 saloon. Lately, it seems to have lost power and the engine seems to howl during drives. This is despite changing the clutch kit and regular servicing, including trying out Iridium spark plugs (I hear they are not for old cars, but I was desperate).

Braking is also not up to scratch and the linings seem to lose friction almost immediately after adjustment. Kindly note I always buy genuine parts from Toyota Kenya. How can I rejuvenate this car that I am so attached to, or is it time to part ways?

Amos.

I really cannot say what is wrong with your 100, but I can tell you this: the only time I know of engines howling is when they are revved madly — nudging the red line — and the only cure for that is to ease off the accelerator pedal.

Power loss could come from insufficient electricity in the HT leads or bad plugs (usually accompanied by a distant smell of gasoline in the exhaust), compression leakage (too much blow-by), or slipping components in the transmission.

You may have to look at your clutch again. The only conjecture I can come up with to connect the howling with the loss of power is a slipping clutch, which allows your engine to rev up but the corresponding speed in the transmission (and hence the road wheels) is not proportional to the increase in engine revs.

As for the braking system, you just have to do an overhaul.

Hello Baraza,

I recently upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and I am confused by the new gear lever. I am used to the usual arrangement of P-R-D-2-L, but the Belta has P-R-D-B-S. What is the meaning of the B and S and how do they function? And, in your opinion, is the Belta better than the Vitz?Sarah.

The Belta should be a sort of Vitz sedan (remember the Toyota Echo concept car?) just like the now-defunct Platz. Actually, the Belta is the new Platz, the way the Allion replaced the Carina. Follow?

The only difference between the Vitz and the Belta could be that the Belta has a bigger boot. And is newer. On the gear lever, I have never seen or heard of a P-R-D-B-S arrangement in an autobox, so I have no idea what the B and the S stand for. As for now, just use P-R and D, the most essential gears.

Hi JM,

So many second-hand car imports come loaded with gizmos that add to the complexity of maintenance, increase weight, and result in poor fuel consumption. There is a move in the UK for “back-to-basics” cars:

small, simple, minimalist, and relatively cheap-to-run things. Examples are the Dacia Duster, the Citroen C1 VT, the Chevrolet Spark+1.0, the Suzuki Alto 1.0 VVT SZ, and the VW Take UP!

These all retail in the UK for less than £9,000 or about Sh1.2 million. No electric windows, mirrors, or seat adjustment, just simple, basic motoring.

I think such cars have great potential here. Chevrolet, Suzuki, and VW all have franchises here and I wonder why they do not bring such cars here. There are many, like me, who would welcome a no-frills car. My longest trips are Kilifi to Mombasa or Malindi, and such economical motoring is most attractive.

Tony Gee.

We do have such cars here, or at least one that I know of: the Ford Figo. Another one is coming, from China, to be sold by Simba Colt…. Go figure! Meanwhile, General Motors are dead on their feet.

I had to go to South Africa to try out their Chevrolet cars (nine of them, over three days!) which they do not even bother marketing (the 1.0 Spark is a feisty little fighter while the Lumina SS is a Corvette for introverts).

These cars make sense, especially in the city, due to their manoeuvrability and fuel economy. Doing 500km-plus in one hit in them, however, is another matter altogether. Let us hope our conversation here provokes the franchise holders into taking action.

Hey Baraza,

I am a big fan of your articles and I know that your advice has enlightened many Kenyans into making wise decisions when it comes to acquiring vehicles. Kudos! I would like you to assist me in getting something straight;

I like the Toyota Premio X Edition (1,800cc) because of its high performance and reliability, but I am a huge fan of the manual transmission, which I have not seen so far in these cars. Are there any Premios with manual transmission? If there are not, what is your take on modifying an automatic box into a manual one?

Ken.

Sadly, the Premios I have seen are all automatic. However, there were manual versions of the Corona Premio, or what people call “the old Premio”. There is nothing wrong with swapping the autobox for a conventional manual.

If anything, I would like to see someone do it. I have this idea of getting a 4WD Allion (Premio’s sister car) and fitting it with a manual gearbox, after which I will bolt on a TRD supercharger to the engine….

Hi Baraza,

I appreciate the good work that you are doing. I must say I am now well versed in cars because of your articles. I own a Toyota AE111 (1,600cc) with a manual transmission which has served me well for the past three years. I have the following queries;

1. Is it true that wheel alignment done on a car fitted with Yana tyres normally has issues? I have been told this by many people when doing alignment. What is your take?

2. Is it a fallacy that engine oil should always be changed every 5,000km. I service my car every 10,000km and have never noticed change in performance.

3. I intend to buy new 185/14’’ tyres to replace my current 175/14’’ ones. How will this affect my car? Thanks once again for the good work.

IM

1. Ahem… eerr… aah… I cannot comment on that just yet.

2. The 5,000km figure is what we call a “ball-park figure”, a general safe zone for changing oil considering all types of driving. It covers both sensible and unwise driving techniques.

With careful driving, you could easily triple or even quadruple that mileage, though this will be major gambling on your part. Manufacturers like Mercedes now make engines with service intervals on a needful basis, that is, the car will tell you when it wants a new shot of lubricant.

The three-pointed star claimed some of their engines could easily run to 22,000km before needing new oil. However, since your 111 does not have that tech, just stick to the 5,000km. A few quarts of oil will be cheaper in the long run than a new engine, which is what you will need if you lose the gamble.

3. You will be able to corner harder since your new tyres are wider than the previous set.

Hello Baraza,

I have a 2006 Pajero Exceed fitted with a 3,000cc petrol engine. I would like to customise it and add a turbo-charger, and my mechs tell me that it is possible, not possible, possible, not possible….

Research on the Net tells me that it is very much possible to do this, but I will have to change the exhaust manifold and also probably the pistons and the brakes. So tell me, is it possible to do it?

If yes, please explain briefly the “how” and the “who” that you recommend for such changes. I am also interested in its performance and would like to push its power to about 250+ horsepower.

Again, is it possible? Please note that I am aware that there are more powerful cars like the 2012 Nissan Patrol and the Toyota VX, but I would like to stick to my Pajero and make these changes. Peter.

Yes, it is possible to turbo-charge the Paj. As you mentioned, you have to change the manifolds (especially exhaust) to accommodate the presence of the blower.

A little mapping of the ECU will ensure smooth running of the “new” engine. It is advisable to instal an intercooler also to go with the turbo, as well as upgrading your cooling system (turbo engines tend to have a lot of heat).

The “who” is very simple. I have an acquaintance who does this kind of thing. Visit Auto Art K Ltd in Industrial Area, Gilgil Road, behind the Total petrol station. Ask to see Amit Mohamed.

On upping the horsepower, yes, it is possible, although I find it odd that you settled at exactly 250hp. Most people give a ball-park figure (“around 230 to 280, maybe 250”, is what a typical statement of request sounds like).

Getting the 250hp involves mapping the ECU and adjusting the boost pressure in your new turbo. However, you can still up the power levels by other tuning methods.

Mohamed can do the turbo adjustment, but I have yet another acquaintance who does ECU maps, a certain Amit Pandya of AMS Performance… no relation to Mohamed despite the similar first names

Posted on

Turbo engines not always better

Baraza,

I understand that turbo-charged cars perform better than naturally aspirated engine ones. So, what exactly is the effect of a turbocharger on a car? Does it increase the horsepower, stability, or pick-up speed? And does a turbo-charged Nissan B13 stand a chance against an NA Subaru Legacy?

And do tuned engines perform better than non-tuned ones? A friend told me that tuning my car would reduce its engine life, whether tuned professionally or unprofessionally, does that statement hold any water?

About turbo vs NA, the general rule is that turbo cars are much quicker, and yes, the turbo does increase the power output and also improves acceleration, but it does nothing for stability. If anything, it may compromise stability if the chassis is not designed for high horsepower applications, especially for FF (front engine, front wheel drive) platform cars by creating torque steer and push-under (power understeer).

The B13 vs Legacy fight depends on many things. If the B13 has a two-litre engine and is running 1.8 bar boost pressure in the turbo, against a 1.8-litre NA Legacy, the Legacy will see dust. However, a light pressure device in the B13, coupled with a 1.2 or 1.3-litre engine, pitted against a 2.5-litre NA Legacy will not change anything: the Legacy will still cane the Nissan.

The statement about the lifespan of tuned engines holds water. Tuned engines undergo more stress than the manufacturer intended, and even then, running those kinds of temperatures, pressures, and high-rpm inertia moments on rotating and reciprocating parts will ensure the early demise of any given engine. The best example is race cars. Some go through one engine per race.

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Baraza,

I have a Toyota 100 that I have fitted with Safari Rally tyres and I have been receiving negative comments from people on how they will affect the car. So, tell me, do these tyres affect:

1. Fuel consumption,

2. Stability of the car,

3. Engine life span,

4. Ball joints and bushes?

Also, is it true that speeds of 80-120 km/h improve fuel economy?

Lastly, the car wobbles when braking, especially at high speed. What could be the problem?

Alex

Before I answer, what Safari Rally tyres are those? Tarmac, gravel, or snow (they vary greatly in several parameters)? Anyway, here goes:

1. Yes, they do affect consumption, slightly, but noticeably over considerable distances.

2. Yes, the tyres will affect stability, a lot. If you use the wrong type of tyre for a given surface, the car will skid, slide, spin its tyres (or itself), and generally becomes impossible to drive, like using snow tyres on a tight tarmac course, or using racing slicks in the mud. This is for directional stability.

For gravitational stability, tyres with stiffer sidewalls (ideal for tarmac) will not work well in the soft mud, which usually requires one to deflate one’s tyres so as to collapse the tyre sidewalls and increase the “footprint” area to aid in buoyancy.

So it follows that conversely, soft sidewall mud tyres used in a tarmac situation that calls for hard cornering will see the sidewalls folding, bending, and/or stretching, making the car dangerously easy to tip over.

Just so you know, there is a calculation as to what point a car, any car, even a Ferrari, will roll or tip over on its side. And part of that calculation embodies the gripping tendencies of the tyres and the sidewall stiffness.

3. No, not really.

4. To some extent yes, depending on your cornering speeds.

About fuel economy, generally, yes but many other factors come into play.

The wobbling could be because of one of several factors. Either the ABS and/or EBD and/or stability control systems are working very hard to brake the car in a straight line or the braking forces on each wheel are not equal (for cars without the fancy electronics).

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Hi,

I am thinking of importing a seven-seater, like a Toyota Isis or Nissan Lafesta, which run on VVT-i and VVL, respectively. Please advise on the best option, seeing as we cannot all buy Toyota Wish, Noah, or Voxy.

Yes, it is true, we cannot all buy a Wish or a Voxy. Cars like Isis and Lafesta should broaden the scope. There is a risk to pioneering a model change like this, though, and that is the lack of support infrastructure. At the garage, the mechanics will tell you “We have never worked on such a thing before,” while at the spares shop the salesman will ask you whether you are sure the Isis is a Toyota or a Honda or even a Hyundai.

Cue the email asking for assistance.

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Hi Baraza,

There has been an increase of this weird black colour on cars, I think it is called matte. What does the law say on the changing of a car’s colour and what does this change mean when it comes to maintenance costs? Then, do some people not know that some cars should not be repainted? There are Touaregs and X6s with these colours!

Stevie

You seem to be really bothered by the matte paint. Unfortunately for you, I am a fan and will paint my car matte black first chance I get. Also when I have a car to paint.

The law was (and I am guessing still is) very clear on changing the colour of one’s car: Go ahead, nobody is stopping you. It is just that you have to let the registrar know that the previously white Volkswagen Touareg KBR *** S now looks like it fell into a tin of black shoe polish and was not wiped clean, so can I please have a new logbook reflecting these changes? And no, the vehicle is not stolen.

Matte paint has some downfalls, especially in terms of maintenance. For one, you cannot take it to those automated car wash setups, the ones with the rotating brushes, because it will ruin the matte effect. And once a bird relieves itself on the bonnet, it is back to the paint shop for a whole new coat.

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JM,

My car (a two-door, 2800cc Pajero) is having hiccups that are now beyond me. First, she started with shaking whenever I tried to start her up.

So I changed the fuel filter (several times now) and serviced her. She behaved for two days, then started acting up again.

I serviced the fuel injector and even cleaned the tank. She again behaved for only a week or so. It is now got to a point where she cuts fuel supply when going up a hill and stops.

When I prime her, she gets back on the road like there was no issue. The mechanics are pinning the problem to the fuel injector and the pump, which I have serviced. What do you think is causing all this?

Kenn

Quick question, do you have a girlfriend, and if yes, what is her take on your referring to your car in feminine third person singular pronouns?

Anyway, when you talk of priming, my mind goes to the fuel pump, so I am guessing that it is the culprit here. Maybe it is due for replacement? Another suspect might be the air filter. Check the element and make sure it is not clogged. Also confirm that the fuel lines are not blocked; you could be focusing on the major devices and yet a simple blockage is the source of all your woes.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a first time car seeker and interested in importing either a Toyota Avensis or Subaru Legacy. What are their estimated prices and the general cons and pros about these cars? Consider that I love going to see my parents near Mau once every two months and carry away about 50 kg of food. What other cars compare with these two?

Lastly, how can I know which Japanese dealers are reliable? Do these dealers tamper with cars’ mileage, the way some of the local dealers do?

Langat

The two cars are good and the price range hovers around a million shillings for both, give or take a hundred grand in either direction.

Pros: The Subaru is fast, looks good, is spacious, and its reliability has gone up several steps. You also get standard AWD and the option of a manumatic transmission, that is if you buy a tropicalised version. The Avensis offers even more space, is comfortable, has outstanding economy, is reliable, and has understated good looks.

Cons: The Subaru has poor ground clearance if you buy a Japan-spec version. It is also uncomfortable and crashes over road imperfections (worse with low profile tyres). The economy will go to the dogs if you step on it. The manumatic transmission is a four-speed and using it makes the driver feel the need for a fifth gear. A turbo version might put you in trouble if you are not experienced behind the wheel. The Avensis is plain and boring to drive, it lacks any sense of urgency or sporting feel. D4 engines might go pfft, especially the D4D.

Other cars to look at might be the old model Caldina, Mitsubishi Airtek, Primera estate (eugh!) or even the Mark II Blitz.

The reputation of dealers in Japan, I am sorry to say, is not my problem, at least not anymore. I tried to steer Kenyans away from the careless and thoughtless importation of cars from locations and individuals unknown, and got insulted in the process. So now I watch them suffer and wait for the inevitable email asking for help.

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The Freelander vs the two-door Pajero

Hi Baraza,

I am a bit of an old school guy who loves short wheel base 4X4’s because of the great ground clearance and ease of manoeuvring. I am really not into the comfort, speed, and style of modern saloons (power windows, automatic transmission, heating etc). I am more interested in strong vehicles with few electronics that can last for years, like the small Land Rover 90 and the two-door Land Cruisers; I have seen Series III Land Rovers from the 70s still on the road.

1. I am interested in the Land Rover Freelander, although I have heard that it has issues with heating, is this true? From what I have seen, a used one from about year 2000 is affordable and I can handle the 1800cc engine.

2. Another vehicle of interest is the Land Rover 90 TDI, my number one choice. But it is completely unaffordable, so let us not even discuss it.

3. Car number three is the two-door Mitsubishi Pajero from around 1997/98. I have seen and driven some pretty clean and affordable ones, although I have also heard that they may have some innate engine problems like heating and blown turbos, is this true? What are the disadvantages of this vehicle?

4. The last choice is the two-door short wheel base Land Cruiser, which is a second choice from the 90 TDI, although it is also a bit costly.

Now that you have got a feel of what vehicles I prefer, please compare between the Freelander and the Pajero, (advantages and disadvantages) since the Land Cruiser and the 90 TDI are out of my league for now.

Jon

The Pajero suffers from turbo and injection problems, which could sometimes lead it to smoke badly and lose power when driving. The turbos also fail with some regularity, but this I relate to the uninformed owners and sketchy development of early turbodiesel engines (they have since improved). Installing a turbo timer might alleviate this problem a bit longer.

The Freelander is pretty and is something of a lady’s car, but ignore that. The issue with the original versions was build quality, like heating vents covered in upholstery, so dealers were asked to apply a sharp knife to the suede so that the demister could work.

The manual gearbox was also popping out of gear in long left hand corners and the output shaft transfer case sheared, rendering the car 2WD, with the unsuspecting owner still thinking he had a 4WD car. The power steering pump also had problems.

These issues were exposed back in 2000 when internal Land Rover documents were leaked; the Freelander suffered from 136 faults. This does not even include poor torsional rigidity and unsatisfactory wheel articulation.

Both cars will go off road, but the Pajero will go farther off, ford deeper rivers, climb taller rocks, and plug the clag with more aplomb. The Freelander is more of a lifestyle car than a proper off-roader and will be better to drive on tarmac and murram roads.

Save a bit more and go for the “adults”, especially the Land Cruiser.

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The X3 vs the Tiguan

Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a comfortable, stable-to-manoeuvre-at-high-speed, 2500cc small classy 4WD (I do off road about 15 per cent of the time) car. Then, “when I grow up”, I will go for its bigger sibling, depending on the pick. In this regard, please compare and contrast the BMW X3 against the VW Tiguan and BMW X5 against the VW Touareg to help me decide.

Wekesa

I am only familiar with the first generation versions of the four vehicles. However, I will soon be able to report on the new lineup of BMW X cars. So my answer will be based on the old versions.

The X3

It did not look too good, its price was hard to justify (in other words not good value for money and felt cheap), it struggled in tough terrain, and was thus easily beaten by rivals as a sensible purchase. It was hard to find plus points on this car.

The Tiguan
Unfortunately lady-like, but again VW’s strengths appear in terms of refinement and build quality. Looks suspiciously inept if something worse than paved is thrown at it. A good looker but falls short in terms of sheer gravitas. Blame the badge on the bonnet.

The X5

The exact opposite of the X3’s shortfalls. It was and still is a worthy, or even better, alternative to the Range Rover.

The Touareg

Bland design, pointless V10 TDI engine option, the 3.2 V6 was thirsty and the gearbox operated on a glacial time scale. Also heavy, but it handled really well on road and the interior is typical VW: excellent build quality and feels robust and like it will last for ever.

Except for the Tiguan, there are new versions of all these other cars, sadly none of which I have had a chance to try yet. If and when I do, I will be glad to share.

Posted on

The Land Cruiser ‘VX’ beats the Prado on many fronts

Dear Baraza,
I have always wanted to know, what is the difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Land Cruiser VX based on the usual indicators, that is, on and off road prowess and stability, fuel consumption, availability of spares, purchase price, luggage room, comfort, and so on? Is the Toyota Fortuner and Kluger in the same class?

Mwenda

It is good to be specific, as in really specific, because the Prado also has a VX spec within its range. As does the RAV4. But by VX I take it you mean the full-size SUV flagship (the 100 or the current 200?)

On road: Both the 100 and 200 Series Land Cruisers are so much more stable on road than the Prado (all models from J90 to the current J150 have been wobbly and bouncy with a tendency to head for the bushes or lean dangerously with every small lapse of driver attention).

The VX, with its bigger engine, will also outrun the Prado by a very good margin.

Off-road: The Prado will venture further out owing to its more compact dimensions. The shorter overhangs and smaller wheelbase mean it can conquer obstacles more extreme than the 100/200 can handle. And it does have the full off-road kit and caboodle: low ranger gearbox, locking diffs and superior ground clearance.

Consumption: One has a 4.2-litre inline 6 turbo diesel, currently a 4.5 turbo diesel V8. The other has been hovering around the 3000cc 4-cylinder area since God was a boy. One is longer and wider and heavier than the other. I think the fuel economy argument is fairly obvious…

Availability of spares: Toyota were so concerned about readers repeatedly (and annoyingly) asking about spares and maintenance that they even opened another showroom in Westlands, which also doubles as a service centre.

How dare you question the availability of spares for one of the most popular and common Toyota models in the country today?

Purchase price: Really, you are asking me this? Between a Prado and a “VX” which one costs more? Honestly?

Luggage room: The “VX” has a bigger boot. If you are referring to human luggage, both will seat seven in comfort (for later models) or “relative” comfort for the earlier ones.

Comfort: Both are very comfortable, but if you are prone to motion sickness, the Prado will make you vomit like nobody’s business because of its marine-level pitching and wobble. Deep-sea sailors would be at home in one.

The Fortuner is one step below the Prado in this hierarchy, with the Kluger in turn looking up to the Fortuner. The “VX” occupies the top rank.

Baraza,

1. What factors should one consider when trying to make sure an old car (say a Peugeot 405 or 504) is as stable as possible, that is, apart from using a stiffer suspension, reduced ground clearance and low profile tyres?

2. What is the use of the front spoiler (the ones on the front bumpers, especially on Subaru’s) other than making the car look beautiful?

3. Apart from driving gently, is there anything one can do to reduce the fuel consumption of a carburettor car such as a Subaru Leone, or a Peugeot 405/504? Can one use the carburettor of a car with a smaller engine? Is this even possible?

1. Make sure the stiffer suspension is mounted or attached to a structurally sound vehicle body. There’s no point in having a fancy suspension system if the shocks are going to poke holes through the fenders. Reduction of ground clearance should also be done carefully: If you lower the front too much, the car will become nose heavy and understeer through corners, or even worse, oversteer at high speed turns due to lack of grip at the rear. If you lower the back too much, the front will suffer from vague and indirect steering, and a speed steering input could become compromised; not understeer exactly, but something very similar.

Finally, make sure the low profile tyres are well and evenly pumped with air. Varying pressures across and along axle lines will lead to wild and unpredictable cockroach-like darting on the road, especially under hard braking.

2. Spoilers create downforce and/or eliminate lift, the opposite of what an aircraft wing does. By pressing the front of the car downwards, cornering grip is improved, eliminating understeer and sharpening steering response. They also act as stabilisers at speed, along with the rear wing and diffuser where available.

3. You can use smaller carburettors but you will very quickly regret your decision. Lack of power does not even begin to describe the scope of your discomfort. I once told people that substituting the standard cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC units also works, but getting those heads is a bit of an issue. They were first used in 1975 and are unlikely to still be in existence. You could fashion one though, if you can get the schematics from somewhere, are good at crafts, have a smelter and a lathe at home and a lot of time on your hands.

Changing plugs and/or fuel pumps can also help, but they will create more problems than solve economy issues. You could switch the head to EFI, but you will find out in the process that it would have been a lot easier to just swap the whole engine.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Prado TZ and here are the issues I have had with it: 1. Since I purchased the car I have been experiencing brake disk jamming problems. I consulted a number of people but no one has been able to help me with this problem. I changed the brake pads and skimmed the brake disks but nothing changed. Another mechanic advised me to change the ball joints, which I did, but the problem persisted.

2. I was advised by one mechanic to install a turbo change-over switch so as to shift the turbo to ON when travelling long distance and OFF when using it locally. I didn’t agree with him. What is your advice on this; if I install it will it affect my engine in the long run?

PS: I totally agree with the point that the Prado is a bit wobbly car but it is a beast on the road.

1. The problem is called binding. Are the front discs or rear discs affected? If it is the rear, the tension in the hand brake cable could be too high and needs loosening a bit. For all brakes, another cure you could try is take the top off your fluid reservoir and make sure you have something to tap the fluid in then push the piston in the cylinder back in then pump it out not too far and push it back, repeat until it slides back easily.

2. That mechanic is just increasing your expenditure for no good reason. What good will the turbo do when off? If you don’t want to boost pressure acting in your engine just keep your engine revs low. Installing extra hardware is simply providing more scope for things to go wrong in your car.

JM,

I own a Toyota Ipsum 240i 2003 model. The car’s manual indicates a fuel consumption rate of 12 kpl but I have done several experiments and I have only managed to get between 10.3 – 10.6 kpl driving within Nairobi town. Do you think the car might have a problem? I’m a very gentle driver, driving at an average speed of 60 km/h. There are theories that speeds of between 90 to 120 km/h are fuel efficient and that below 90 and above 120, you are being fuel inefficient. What is your take on this?

How does this car compare to a Noah/Voxy and a Subaru Forester both non-turbo and turbo in terms of fuel consumption? What is your general view of this car?

Patrick

What the car’s manual refers to is called the “combined cycle”, that is, for both city and highway use. Your test was limited to town use only. The car does not have a problem, try it on the open road and you should see about 14 or even 15 kpl (at 100 km/h).

That speeds thing is not a theory, it is true. Most cars would comfortably do this speed in top gear, and top gear allows for maximum speed with minimum engine revs.

The actual figure varies between car models and could go as low as 60 km/h (for a Maruti Omni), but the common factor is that the transmission should be in top gear. Doing 90 km/h in second or 100 km/h in third is not efficient either.

Comparison with the Noah/Voxy and the Subaru Forester: It depends on how you drive, but the overall economy figure in litres per 100 km for the Ipsum should be lower than the figures for the other two (that is, it has better economy).

Generally, it is a good family car, but it shares one tendency with some Nissans (B15 and Wingroad) and the old Legacy B4 saloon: the car ages really fast if you are not gentle with it.

Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a 4WD car. I am not sure of the best bet between a Kluger, Tribeca, Vigo (Hilux double cab), an old Land Cruiser VX, and a Mitsubishi double cab. The vehicle is intended for family use’ like travelling upcountry, and carrying light luggage.

Njiru

For a large family, the VX will accommodate up to eight people. The rest can handle only five, except the Tribeca, which is second with seven available human-shaped slots.

Luggage capacity is a scrum between the double cabs, then (surprise, surprise) the Tribeca (with the seats lowered). This is because of the Land Cruiser’s eight seats, none completely disappear like they do in the Subaru, and the high loading level is cumbersome if you are dealing with something very heavy.

My pick would be the VX, but ignore this, it is not for any sensible reason; it is because I prefer its looks to the Tribeca, which is the wise man’s choice here.

Hi Baraza,

I am currently in the market for a car, my 1996 Primera, imported in 2003, has given me faithful service but I feel it is time to move on. I am currently looking at the Toyota Avensis for saloon duty and a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD for non-saloon duty (a bit of off road, not bundu bashing). And here I also include the Lexus RX300. Now to the questions.

1. Is there a major difference between the hatchback Avensis and the Sedan Avensis apart from the obvious shape thing?

2. I have been told that the 2.4-litre engines on the Avensis are unreliable is that true? A

3. Is there a big difference between a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD and a Lexus RX 300 4WD in terms of consumption? I know the trim is worlds apart, but someone told me that the 2.4-litre would consume more because it would strain to carry the weight of the car, is this true? And what is its average consumption? (I am not a pedal to the floor type of driver)

4. I saw some very good prices for the Discovery 3 in the UK and I am very tempted. It looks like a very beautiful car, but before I mortgage the wife and kids I would like to know if the reliability issues are true. I am talking about the 2.7-litre diesel.

James

1. No, there are no differences between the “hatchback” and the sedan. Any differences, such as practicality and available space, are directly tied to “the obvious shape thing”. And I think you mean “estate” or “station wagon” for the Avensis, not “hatchback”.

2. Maybe, but what I suspect is that people are afraid of the D4 technology and are trying to make others avoid it too. The Avensis is one of Toyota’s best built cars and has won several awards over the years.

3. 2400cc is capacity enough to handle the Harrier/RX300 body, so you won’t have to strain it to get a modicum of performance. 3000cc is for elitists (like me). Average consumption should be somewhere around 9-10 kpl, especially for calm and sober motorists like you.

4. The 2.7 diesel now suffers from what you have just described in your third question; it struggles to lug all that weight around. The Disco 3’s double chassis adds an elephant’s worth of weight to the car and the 2.7 needs a bit of wringing before it goes anywhere. Good engine though. Avoid the air suspension. Reliability in this day and age is a non-issue.

Hi Baraza,

Having owned a vehicle for a few months, I’d like to further understand a number of things. The vehicle is a 2004 Toyota Noah. I have been using the tyre pressure (~33 psi) as indicated on the passenger side door frame and noticed that the treads are wearing out evenly. In case I change the tyres with locally available ones of similar size, do I still maintain this pressure?

How does terrain and temperature affect the required pressure?

Secondly, I’ve never changed the suspension since the current ones seem serviceable. Considering the car is Japanese, is there cause to worry?

Lastly, on the engine block, there is a label: “Use Iridium spark plugs only”. Is there any benefit to this apart from longevity?

Keep using the 33 psi. Terrain does play a part (deflate the tyres to 15 psi when driving on soft sand, for example), but temperature differences do not affect the tyre pressure that much.

That 33 psi is the manufacturers optimum figure, and gives an allowance for expansion or contraction without adversely affecting tyre performance depending on ambient temperature.

About suspension, if the car does not track straight, wobbles a bit or feels unstable in any way, you can worry. If the vehicle’s stance/posture is even and driving it does not arouse suspicions, then you’re fine.

On the iridium spark plugs issue, there is also thermodynamic efficiency.

Hi JM,

I am planning to buy my first car and I have always loved Subarus. Would you advice me to go for a 4WD with a turbocharged engine? How is the fuel consumption for such a car? I have heard people say that turbocharged engines are delicate how true is this? Finally, what do spoilers and traction control help with?

David

4WD is advisable when you have high-pressure turbo performance at your disposal. It helps in directional stability. Of course the fuel consumption will be worse that NA (naturally aspirated) and 2WD equivalents, but the driving experience will be worth it (in my book). I myself have said that turbocharged engines require care.

Spoilers help with downforce, which eliminates lift and improves grip and traction. Downforce is the opposite of lift. Lift is the result of Bernoulli’s effect, which is what helps aircraft get off the ground, so reversing that lift creates downforce, which presses the car harder on the ground and makes the tyres grip the road surface better. The spoilers work best at high speed, which is when the ground effects are needed anyway.

Traction control eliminates wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or torque to a spinning wheel. This reduces the chances of wild oversteer and/or understeer, or spinning out. It also saves tyres from damage and in some cars, improves cornering performance. In others, turning the TC off improves lap times but only in the hands of experienced drivers.

 

Posted on

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.

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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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Jambo Baraza,

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

Mike

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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

If you want to save thousands in fuel costs, stay home

Hello Baraza.
Thanks so much for your help in your Wednesday column. I have a new shape Nissan B15 but its seems quite thirsty. Someone told me to change the plugs and buy original ones from dealers. Is this the solution, considering it never misses service? And if so, where do I get them? Is there any other way of economising on fuel? Finally, there is an ECO sign on the dashboard, what is it and what is its work?

Munene

Yours is a strange car. Or you are the strange one? On the one hand you say fuel economy has gone to the dogs and on the other hand the car tells you that you are outdoing yourself saving fuel (the ECO light on your dashboard) all in the same breath. Which is which?

Don’t rush to swap parts in your car just so that it can cost Sh200 less in terms of fuel driving from Nairobi to Nyeri.

What does the swap cost, and how many trips will you make, saving Sh200 every time, before you can recoup the money you spent changing plugs? And what if you change plugs and there is no difference?
Just how bad is the fuel consumption?

First, try changing your driving style and go for a gentle approach, then get rid of any clutter in your car that you do not really need.

And, once in a while, use a matatu, especially in very bad traffic, or cut down on the trips you make. And do you really have to drive to Kikopey for meat with your friends every weekend? Stay home if you can — you will save thousands every year.

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Hello Baraza

I am interested in buying a Toyota Mark X. From the people you have interacted with, what views have they had about this vehicle?

I have read a lot of your articles and I am aware that the consumption will not be akin to that of a Premio.

No complaints so far, but give it time, they will surface eventually. And yes, the fuel consumption is not akin to that of a Premio, so start saving.

Join a chama if you can and every time your turn comes around, sink all that money into the gas tank… just kidding, the fuel consumption is not that bad, but it is higher than that of a Premio.

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Hi Baraza,

I am interested in purchasing a small 4×4 vehicle that I could use in my rural home as well as to ferry me to and from my office in town.

I have been thinking of any one of the following: Toyota Fielder/Kluger, Nissan X-Trail or Suzuki Vitara/Escudo (all second-hand).

Please advise me on the best in terms of price, fuel consumption, and maintenance.

M’Nchebere

For starters, the Fielder does not belong here, although it is the cheapest of the clique to buy and run. Whether it survives extended use off-road will depend on you, your mechanic, and how well roads are maintained in your home area.

As a general rule of thumb, from among the Kluger, X-Trail, and Vitara, the Kluger could be the priciest and the Vitara the cheapest.

Fuel consumption should not differ that much across the range (but approach the Kluger like a cat approaching a bath in this respect), so economy will be down to you driving like your grandma, shedding deadweight, keeping the windows shut, and the AC off.

From past experience, Vitaras have been hardy little things, so they will tolerate a lot more abuse before throwing in the towel compared to the rest.

Discovery (not the TV channel, but the court-like process) has led me to the knowledge that automatic X-Trails go through gearboxes with alarming speed, so you might want a manual on that front.

The Kluger does not seem cut out for hard use, but I cannot declare anything yet until I try one out.

For the second time:

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Hi Baraza,

My car is sucking wind from outside while at speeds above 50 km/h, producing a whistling sound from the AC vents on the dashboard.

The sound is always there irrespective of whether the vents are open or closed or whether the ventilation fan is on or off. It only stops when I reduce speed.

When I listen inside the engine compartment with the bonnet open when the car is standing still, there is no such noise at idle and/or when the engine is being revved.

Kindly advise me on what could be the problem as I have been unable to get a solution from the mechanics in my area.

What kind of car is it? Sometimes we motoring hacks talk about something called “build quality” and it entails, among other things, how long your car stays in one piece before panels and knobs start falling off, how easy it is to knock those parts off, panel gap tolerances and consistency, application of material (leather, aluminium, carbon-fibre, etc), and such other things.

It sounds like your car has issues with build quality. There is a leak somewhere, not that it is “sucking wind” as you so graciously put it; the weather is finding its way into your car. You may have to take it apart and patch up the leaks.

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Hi JM,
I am interested in importing a Toyota Corolla, Avensis, RAV4, or Previa from the UK with the D-4D engine. I am convinced that the fuel efficiency of the D-4D engine, being a common rail, should make it cheaper to run. What is your take on the aforementioned models and on availability of spare parts in Kenya?

The D-4D is quite economical, I agree, while at the same time imbuing some performance into the mix. That is the good part.

The bad part is that given the complexity of the kind of technology at work, and the size of some of the components at play (the fuel nozzles for starters), if and when the engine needs an overhaul you may have to buy a whole new engine because for the life of me I am yet to meet a single Kenyan who can fully service, strip, and reassemble a D-4. And that is what overhauling is all about.

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Hi Baraza,

I love Land Rover Freelanders and I want to own one soon. Please advise on its power, fuel consumption, efficiency and availability of spare parts. What is the major difference between the 2000cc and 1800cc, and which option is better, manual or auto?

Which Freelander in particular? Early versions of the first model had shortcomings in “build quality” and sometimes broke the 4WD transmission (the shaft to the rear axle sheared and rendered the car permanent FWD), among other things. It is a good car, though.

Performance can be lived with, economy is as expected from a car of this class, and there are enough Land Rover enthusiasts around to ensure that you will not be lacking spares any time soon. As for 1800cc vs 2000 cc, to be honest, there is not much difference in the real world, but generally, if you want economy, go 1.8, if you want power/performance, 2.0 is the way.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a 4WD Allion which has an “ECT snow” button. I have used it in mud, where the car responds slowly to throttle pressure and hence reduces skidding. Technically, how does it function and how different is it from “diff-lock”. Lastly, what are the pros and cons of the 4WD over the 2WD model in terms of performance, handling, thirst, and maintenance?

As I once explained, ECT is Electronically Controlled Transmission, but it is also tied in to some form of traction control. It is purely electronic and is actually some form of software that governs throttle response and gear shifts for the automatic transmission whereas diff-lock is mechanical and “locks” all the tyres so that they all rotate at the same speed with no slippage.

Now, 4WD vs 2WD. Performance-wise, it depends on a lot of things. The extra 4WD hardware might bog the car down with weight compared to the 2WD, but from a full-bore standing start, it has the advantage, seeing how torque is spread over four wheels instead of two, so wheel spin is minimised and traction is maximised.

4WDs are better for directional stability. This means that they are harder to turn and are sometimes prone to understeer.

But once they start turning, they turn better, owing to the grip levels available. Cars using advanced 4WD systems (like the Nissan GT-R and Lancer Evolution) use torque vectoring technology to achieve impossible cornering speeds and lateral G without understeer/oversteer/drift.

4WDs are marginally thirstier, again, because of weight. And they are harder to maintain because there are more things that can go wrong.

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Hi Baraza,

I am 21 years old and have a Nissan B15 auto (bought by my father in case you are wondering where I would get a car at this age).

My question is, what are the uses of gears 1 and 2 and when is the appropriate time to shift to these gears?

Felix

These gears are used when more power is needed, such as when overtaking. They can also be used in hill descent control when the foot brakes are not really needed.

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Hi,

I have used Subaru cars from Leon, Legacy, Impreza, and currently a Forester, since 2007.

I like everything about Subarus but I intend to change to a Toyota Noah or Voxy this festive season due to its space (but come January I will be back to Subarus).

My question is how, are these two models in terms of performance and fuel consumption compared to Subarus? Are there any other issues of concern in these models? Keep up the good work.

Gichovi

Why would you want to know about the performance of a van? How fast are you planning to drive it?

The consumption figures from Japanese test cycles are 10–15 kpl for the 3ZR engine vehicles.

Issues of concern? I don’t know of any but some of my acquaintances were lamenting about the diesel Voxy — they were not specific on just what exactly is wrong with it.