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I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

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Toyota beats them all when it comes to reliability in the 4X4 category

Hello,

I work and live in the rural area, so I deal with a lot of rough roads, especially during the wet season.

Please recommend a good 4WD with a VVTi engine (diesel or petrol) and has good clearance. Other than Prados, what other makes would you recommend?

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Hi,

The moment you say VVTi, you limit yourself to Toyotas. But, anyway, any fully-fledged 4WD SUV will do the job.

I’m guessing you do not want a full-size SUV (Landcruiser 100 or 200, the “VX” or a Nissan Patrol), so you can have a Nissan Terrano, a Mitsubishi Pajero (a good choice, actually, in terms of comfort and ability), maybe a Land Rover Defender if you do not mind the hedonism of an Eastern European prison cell, a Land Rover Discovery if your pockets go deeper than mine, Isuzu Trooper… the list is endless.

I would, however, advise you to stick to Toyotas, especially if you can get your hands on one made in the mid to late 1990s.

I assume now that you operate from the backwoods, reliability and ease of repair should be top on your list after the very obvious off-road capability.

If you have, say, a Discovery, what would you do when the air-suspension goes phut and you are a million miles from anywhere?
Try the J70 Toyota.

It might be a bit too geometrical in shape, and carrying milk in it might see you change your business to sales of cheese and ghee, but, as cars go, it is unbreakable and will go anywhere.

The J90 Prado is also an option, with a bit more comfort added to the equation, but anything newer than that and you will be gambling with expensive repair jobs.

Choose wisely.

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Hello Baraza,

My car smells of petrol after going six kilometres. What could be the problem? I service the car regularly.

Lorine

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Hi Lorine,

Maybe you have a petrol can inside the car with you? What happens beyond six kilometers?

Anyway, it could be one of many problems: leaking fuel lines, a loose air cleaner connection, a loose fuel filter, plugs that are not firing properly…. I need more symptoms for a more definite answer.

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No, I do not keep containers in the car. Three days ago, it stalled. I thought the battery was down so we ‘jacked’ the car.

It went for about two metres then stopped, showing the battery, engine and ABS signs on the dashboard.

The mechanic seems not to know what the problem is. The petrol fumes are now so strong that you can smell them from outside.

The car is a Toyota Vista with a D4 engine, which people have been telling me is problematic.

Please elaborate on the engine and its maintenance.

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Lorine,

You jacked the car? Do you realise that you have just told me that you stole the car? Did you mean you jacked it up, or jump-started it?

Displaying all those notifications on the dashborad is normal. When starting a car, the moment the key reaches the “ON” position, all the dashboard graphics come on.

They then go off when the key reaches “START” and stay off when the engine is running (unless the car really has all those problems).

When a car stalls, all those lights come on (because the key is in the “ON” position but the engine is off).

I think I can now presume what your problem is. One of your fuel connections is leaking badly, as I had approximated earlier.

The only marriage between a strong petrol smell and a stalling car is a compromised/breached fuel system: you are fuelling the car, but the fossil fuels seem to go back to the ground rather than finding their way into your cylinders.

I cannot say for sure that this problem is connected to the D4 characteristic, but I do know D4s have problems.

Tell your mechanics to check the connections between the fuel lines feeding the fuel filter, the ones from the filter to the throttle body and at the throttle body itself.

If they don’t know what a throttle body is, it is the chunk of metal at the top of the engine into which air is fed from the air cleaner, and the origin of the injectors.

All the best.

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Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota FunCargo, 2003 model and thus relatively new. Every time I drive on a highway and do above 100km/h, it starts vibrating, literally affecting the entire car.

I have not sought advice from a mechanic because I wanted to consult a specialist first.

Please advise.

Regards,

Edwin M Kihara.

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Hello Edwin,

Your FunCargo could be suffering from one of these: the wheels need balancing or one of them is loose and needs tightening. Check the alignment also, but I doubt if this is it.

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Hi Baraza,

I have recently imported a Toyota Wish, manufactured in 2004, and just want to know if there is anything in particular to look out for with this model.

Also, mine does not come with a CD-DVD player/TV (as is usual with the more recent models), and would like to know if you can suggest a good and honest person who can install these for me at a pocket-friendly price.

I am also on the quest for a good and honest mechanic based in Nairobi. Female car owners out there know what I’m talking about.

We are charged double or triple the price for some of the services provided to us by unscrupulous and unprofessional mechanics.

Pamela,
Nairobi.

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Hello Pamela,

About your Wish lacking CD/DVD, maybe the very first owner (the one who bought it in 2004) did not specify these on his/her vehicle.

But in case they did, these things get stolen at the port in Mombasa. A while back, it was almost impossible to get a second-hand import with the stereo/TV intact.

Most aftermarket tuners/modifiers install these entertainment kits. The most experienced are of course the ones who do matatus, but they might charge you matatu prices and you might have to join a queue.

One way of ensuring honesty might be a bit tiresome: buy the kit yourself and then ask what the installation labour cost is. Theft and dishonesty typically occur at the point of purchase of the kits you seek.

As for the mechanics, there are no guarantees unless you enter yourself into a crash course in motor vehicle basics.

For now, find a trustworthy male friend who knows one or two things about cars and have him accompany you to the garage, or better yet, let him take the car to the mechanics. Several of my lady friends do this with me, and I think it works.

All the best.

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Hello,

I drive a Toyota Mark II Regalia, old model (KAY XXX). I took it for an engine wash and it appears some sensitive sensors got in contact with water because it is now too slow to accelerate.

My question is: are there known dangers associated with engine washes? If yes, how can they be avoided? Thanks a lot for the informative column.

Jackson,
Mombasa.

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To be honest, Sir, I think this is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, because similar complaints are coming thick and fast from other readers.

Yes, water might have got into the electronics. And yes, it is rectifiable either lizard-style or hairdresser-style.

The lizard style involves parking your car in the sun with the bonnet open for some hours (not 100 per cent effective, bad for your paint job and the car will be uncomfortable inside when you finally pick it up).

The hairdresser style involves getting a blow drier and applying it to the areas you suspect the water might have got into (logistically tricky: most blow dries have short cords, and it is also embarrassing for a man to be seen using a typically female electronic device on his car).

Do this: Perform the engine wash yourself, because it seems like most car wash outfits out there are putting drivers into difficulties.

Engine wash is not the same as body wash where copious volumes of water and detergent are needed to acquire a gleam.

A wet rag, meticulously used, should clean your engine and spare your car future hiccups.

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Dear Baraza,

I drive a Nissan Sunny B15, 2001 model, that I imported three years ago. My agony started when the original front shocks got worn out.

All other shocks I have fitted hardly last three months. We even replaced the front coil springs with “tougher” ones but this has made little difference in prolonging the lifespan. The bushes are alright.

The car is only driven by me, covers a distance of six kilometres daily (Ngara to Parklands) and occasional trips upcountry.

It covers on average 600 kilometres a month and is carefully driven. The rest of the systems are okay (engine, electrical, steering, braking, transmission etc).

Is this a common problem with this model? What would you recommend?

Sincerely,
Daniel.

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One common mistake people make is replacing the springs and shocks but forgetting to change the mounts too.

This tends to be counterproductive: it is like washing one sleeve of a dirty shirt, or replacing one worn out shoe in a pair.

The suspension problem could be typical of B15, but I do not see how a drive from Ngara to Parklands and back would warrant a suspension change. Maybe the mechanics are short-changing you; I don’t know.

My advice towards addressing this problem will sound harsh and generate heat among some circles: maybe it’s time we started paying more attention to locally franchised cars, even when buying second-hand.

They have the advantage of having dealer support and in some cases you might even get a car with an outstanding warranty, which will be a relief to you, your bank manager and your dependants.

When I discussed tropicalisation, I was disparaged as a minion for the local outlets, but now it seems a good number of readers are facing complications from “new” imports.

Maybe the chicken have come home to roost?

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Hello Mr Baraza,

My Nissan Sylphy N16 does not engage the reverse gear after travelling for a distance.

It however has no problem in the morning or after parking for more than two hours. What could be the problem?

Thanks, Isaac.

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Hello Sir,

Is it manual or auto? Either way, it looks like you will have to face the music and have the gearbox dropped to the ground for further investigation. Take it from me, it is not an experience you will enjoy.

Have them check the linkage (on either transmission type) first before disassembling the gearbox.

If the linkage is intact, for the automatic have the electrical systems also checked (with the manual just go straight to disassembly). If the electricals are fine, well, take the bull by the horns.

Just so you know, you might have to buy a new gearbox… or learn how to make three right turns in order to go backwards.

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Hello Baraza,

I have a Toyota Duet (YOM 2000) which was a perfect car until some time last year when it stalled on the road.

When the car was fixed by the mechanic, it started vibrating. He told me the mountings needed to be changed, which I authorised and the work was carried out.

Several months later, despite numerous visits to the mechanic, the vibrations have not stopped.

This problem is more pronounced when in traffic jams and the car is in gear. I have now changed all the mountings and I’m wondering what is next.

I love the car and its fuel efficiency. It normally does not give me any other problems as I take it for service regularly when it is due (every 5,000 km).

Alfred Njau.

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I strongly suspect you changed the mounts for nothing. I think the first mechanic messed up the idling settings on your car, so have the idle checked (at the throttle body), before you commit yourself to more expensive measures.

Let me know how this goes and we will take it up from there.