Posted on 1 Comment

To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

Posted on

The Land Rover Discovery 1 is relatively cheap

Baraza,

Your columns are very enlightening. I am looking to owning an old school Land Rover and I am interested in the Land Rover Discovery 1.  I am inclined towards the Tdi of between 2500 and 3000cc. According to my research, I can get one that fits my budget of Sh500,000 to 1m.

I have realised most of them have a worn-out interior while the exterior is in most cases relatively intact, despite most having been manufactured in the early ’90s. The transmission varies; it’s good in some while in others it needs a lot of work.
Could you please provide more information on the good, the bad, and the ugly? Solomon

The Good: the car will most likely be cheap. It is also one of the most hardy and most capable off-road vehicles out there.

Repairs will be delightfully simple and the Discovery 1 responds well to bush remedies, especially now that it shares many parts with the Land Rover Defender and Range Rover Classic from the same period. Driving a Discovery also offers one a sense of occasion: there are not that many Disco 1s still running out there.

The Bad: you can’t win. The diesel-powered versions are dreadfully slow and sound like someone kicking a rusty can full of nails down a cobbled street, or like a very busy quarry.

Raucous is what I’d describe it as. The petrol-powered versions are marginally faster than the diesel units, but they are still slow. The engine won’t rev and, therefore, the car won’t accelerate. To compound matters is the fearsome thirst, courtesy of the ancient V8s under the bonnet. You can’t win.

The Ugly: Rust and handling. The Land Rovers of the ’80s and early ’90s were prone to rust, especially in and around the steel chassis. The handling was awful: cornering usually meant the door handles would scrape the tarmac. *Note: this is hyperbole, but to be honest, the body roll that the Discovery 1 and its sibling, the Range Rover Classic, suffered from was epic. It felt like a loaded trawler trying to survive a particularly nasty tempest in the open sea. To cap it all is the terrible interior space, especially around the driver’s quarters. You have to be really short to drive one comfortably.

Redemption: the 300Tdi is actually not so bad. Its performance is passable, its fuel economy is actually good and it doesn’t sound like a giant chewing magnets and large rocks. Handling can be improved with aftermarket suspension bits, but there is nothing you can do about the rust (except hope for the best) or the poor legroom (modify the driver’s seat and to Hades with whoever sits behind you).

Dear JM,
Allow me to appreciate your informative articles and opinions. I drive a Peugeot 406. Recently, the temperature gauge was indicating high engine temperatures.

The mechanic diagnosed it as a failed thermostat and went on to remove it. The problem has since been “cured”. He further advised that there is no need to install another one.

How important is the thermostat and is it safe to maintain a vehicle without one.

Secondly, I was being driven in a vehicle where the driver was extremely reluctant to use the AC despite the hot weather, arguing that it would lead to high fuel consumption. Kindly advise on the overall effect of AC on fuel consumption. Kind regards, Allan

The thermostat is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be installed in a vehicle, now, would it? However, you can still run your car without it.
The thermostat is a thermoregulator (controls temperature levels in the engine) that ensures the engine is always within the correct operating temperature range.

During cold starts, it will impede the operation of the water pump and fans, depriving the engine of coolant to facilitate rapid warm up. In hot conditions, the water pump and fans go into full operation to prevent overheating.

Many before you have removed the thermostats from their engines, and many after you will remove thermostats from their engines. However, to safeguard against overheating, the fans and water pump have to be connected directly to the electrical system, which means they are always running whenever the car is “On”.

On cold days, it takes much longer for the engine to warm up (increased fuel and oil consumption) and also the pump and fans sap power from the engine, but not so much that you’d notice. You might or might not want to reinstall the thermostat. It won’t kill your car to run without it, but it does have its advantages.

The use of AC increases fuel consumption, but the degree of increase differs from vehicle to vehicle, and it depends on the type of AC you are using and the engine size of the vehicle in question.

Cars with smaller engines suffer dramatic power losses and/or increased fuel consumption (up to 15 per cent in some cases) while vehicles with larger engines usually have so much power to spare that running the AC and other accessories has a very tiny effect on them. That is why you will find most cars with AC on the options list tend to have that option higher up in the range where the engines are bigger.

Choose.

You could increase your fuel consumption by less than 10 per cent (and counteract it by employing economy-biased driving techniques), or you could sweat it out (quite literally) in the name of saving fuel. I always use AC whenever the interior of the car feels like a sauna. Driving is supposed to be pleasurable, not punitive.

Dear Mr Baraza,

It’s always great to read your column on DN2.

I own a Subaru Impreza GG2, and intend to upgrade to a good, reliable, affordable and efficient 4×4 to run errands in Nairobi and, once a month, to make an off-road trip within the country.

For a long time I have admired the Subaru Tribeca B9 (talk of brand loyalty). Now, before I settle for B9, kindly expound on three specific 4x4s, that is, the Tribeca B9, BMW X5, and VW Tuareg (all at 3000cc).

And more specifically on the BMW X5, which is better, a petrol- or a diesel-powered engine?

Regards. Michael

Hello Michael,

Of the three cars, what more would you want to know? The VW is the most capable off-road machine of the lot (but this is not to say that the Touareg is the most capable 4×4 ever. It is beaten by many others). The BMW looks and feels the best to drive, and is the most technologically advanced. It is also the most comfortable and most economical. Affordability is relative.

The Tribeca will not go off-road. Have a look at its ground clearance and its subtle side-skirts then tell me how far off the beaten path you think it will go before running aground on a tree stump.

It also uses low profile road tyres compared with the chunky, all-terrain common to the German duo. At this point, brand loyalty will have to hit the back burner in favour of realism. If not, buy the Tribeca and a donkey with it, for you will need the animal to continue with your journey over some rough ground you will encounter.

The X5 diesel is quite good.

The X5 petrol is also quite good. The diesel offers economy, the petrol offers power. Once upon a time I was a diesel disciple whenever it came to SUVs, but I have started swaying towards petrol engines again (poweeeerrrr!). The diesel engine is a bit complicated, what with the turbos and intercoolers and DPFs, and common rails and injectors and God knows what else.

Dear Baraza,You have a totally exquisite article that I love to read once every issue is out. I wanted to know  if you have a special  blog page, Twitter account or website where I can be reading your articles  and learning many different things about automobiles. I would highly appreciate any information.Maxillian
Hello Maxillian,

Thank you for the compliment. I did have a blog once (www.motoringpressagency.com), then I had another one (www.autotalk.co.ke) but these have since become inactive for a variety of reasons that I would rather not get into right now.

I intend to create yet another one, an all-inclusive website with guest writers and videos and pictures and polls and all those features that make a website stand out from others. The original Motoring Press Agency website was like that, but the Autotalk one was a mite more bland.

I do have a Twitter handle: @BarazaJM. I also have a Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/barazajm. You can find some stuff there, but not much.

Hello Baraza,

I’m about to buy a station wagon and I still can’t make up my mind whether to go for a Honda Airwave, Toyota Fielder or Nissan Wingroad. Which one is the best in terms of reliability and durability. All of them at 1500cc.P. Kibaara

You have heard of the word “reputation”, right? Well, from reputation, there is a clear winner here, and that is the Toyota Fielder. From reputation, there is also a clear loser here: the Nissan Wingroad, with the additional non-bonus of being extremely hideous in its current form (what’s up with the rising roofline between the A and B pillars?)

The Honda Airwave falls dead centre, but by observation, either a) people don’t take good care of their Airwaves or b) the Airwave is as much of a sponge-cake as the Wingroad. These things don’t stick to their original shapes for long once they land here. Maybe they should cost more, and then people will value them more.

Posted on

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

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

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

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

Christopher

Hello Chris,

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear car doctor,

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

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

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Baraza,

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

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

Vincent

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

**********

Hi,

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

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

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

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

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Jim Baraza,

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

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Mark II, Verossa, Mark X and Camry: Same stuff

Hello Baraza,

I own a Toyota Premio, year 2000 model, and would like to upgrade to a Camry or Mark X. I do not do a lot of out-of-town driving — maybe three times a year to western Kenya and five times to Nakuru — so I need the cars mostly for town service.

I expect to get power and comfort from the car I buy. I want to do 160KPH comfortably on the Narok-Bomet road but still not feel like I am pushing the engine too hard.

So, between the two, which is better in terms of performance, reliability, durability, and maintenance, and which would you recommend?

Martin.

Those two, along with the Mark II and the Verossa, are what we call “sister cars”, offering similar amenities on similar platforms with one or two differences here and there.

It is in this vein that the question goes back to you: do you prefer a front-wheel drive car (Toyota Camry) or a rear-wheel drive one (Mark X)? The Mark X also has the option of 4WD, the Camry does not. Otherwise they are similar in so many other ways.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your continued assistance in car reviews and advice. I have been searching for a low-priced car and the Suzuki Aerio has caught my eye.

The car looks good from the outside and the price is within my range. Following your advice that there may be better deals out there other than the conventional brands, I am tempted to risk buying this machine, only that I would highly appreciate your views on it beforehand.

It is almost the size of a Subaru Forester, and is a 1.5-litre two-wheel-drive (year 2005), so fuel consumption might not be an issue here.

My concern is availability of spare parts for this particular model because, unless I am wrong, it is a very rare piece. Also, is it reliable, though my use is the normal home-to-office run and an up-country visit over the weekend. In a nutshell, would it be suitable for a first-time car owner?

Regards,

Njomo JM

The Aerio has been accused of blandness in other markets, and from what I have seen, the estate version looks remarkably similar to a Toyota Spacio (another bland car).

Reliability does not seem problematic, nor is fuel economy, and in these days of the Internet, availability of spares is directly proportional to how badly you want a particular type of car.

Hi Baraza,

I am basically what you can refer to as a sufferer who loves speed and performance. In a profession which places a premium on appearances, and with a budget of between Sh600,000 and Sh700,000, I have my mind set on a Mercedes-Benz C Class, W202 or an E W124.

I, however, would like to get your two cents’ worth on maintenance, fuel consumption, and reliability of the two, bearing in mind that both have been used on Kenyan roads for over 10 years. In other words, which of the two would be a better buy?

Henry.

If keeping up appearances is a priority to you, then the three points you raise there are moot. Ask owners or drivers of the Range Rover P38A (what we use to call the “House”, the old 4.6 HSE) what I mean.

Ignore the tears streaming down their faces as they recall their ownership experiences and listen keenly to what they have to say as regards reliability, consumption, and maintenance.

In terms of common sense, the W202 wins on economy. Maintenance could also swing the 202 way because of the bigger service intervals. Reliability might favour the 124: those things simply do not break down.

Appearances turn the tables around. The 124 is a bigger car and looks more menacing. The 202 could be accused of looking a bit “lady-like”, and I know of people who consider the C Class as a beginner’s Benz (before the A Class was invented).

Hello,

Thanks for the great work you do. Yours is a very interesting read. I like your way with words; even novices can understand what you are talking about.

I own a Toyota Sprinter AE 114, manual transmission, full time 4WD. I have had problems with wheel alignment for a long time. Several mechanics have told me the alignment bushes on the arm have collapsed, and Toyota Kenya does not have the spares in stock.

Driving, even on a level highway, is a nightmare because I have to wrestle with the steering wheel. What can I do to remedy this?

Tiony AK.

I did not think I would ever say this to a reader, but it may be time for you to head “downtown” towards the infamous Kirinyaga Road. If the part is out of stock at Toyota Kenya, you might be lucky along that seedy avenue where cars are chopped and stripped of parts.

If I could find the fourth gear synchroniser unit for a manual transmission 1990 Peugeot 405 there, I am sure the steering system bushes of a more recent Toyota car can be found too.

Hello Baraza,

I bought a Toyota NZE 121, year 2005 model recently and there are two knobs that are confusing me. First, what is the work of the ‘Shift Lock’ button at the gear console?

And, second, on the gear lever are two knobs. What is the work of the smaller one? Please enlighten me because I have never touched them. The car is light, very fast, and pocket friendly. Kind regards,
JMM.

The ‘Shift Lock’ button, when pressed, allows the driver to change from ‘Park’ to ‘Neutral’ when the engine is off. You may have noticed that the gear lever will not move at all if the vehicle is off, and that might make towing a problem.

Now to the two buttons. The bigger one must be the one which is pressed when one of these is selected; ‘Park’ or ‘Reverse’.

This is a fail-safe feature to prevent the erroneous engagement of either of these selector positions, which would be detrimental to the gearbox if the vehicle is in forward motion. When pressed, at least that way the driver is sure of what he is doing.

The smaller button must be the ‘Overdrive’ switch. Keep the overdrive on, unless you are towing another vehicle or pulling a heavy load, in which case you can turn it off.

Hi Baraza,

We appreciate your help on motoring.

1. Recent high performance engines run best on high-octane fuels. What kind of fuel do Formula One monsters run on?

2. Does the same apply to super bikes?

3. What type of engine oil, transmission oil and lubricants do they use?

4. Could you demystify these Formula One cars for us?

Thank you,

Chris MM.

1. Formula One cars run on high octane fuels, as you may have already suspected.

2. Up to a point, yes. Though bikes can easily run on lower octane stuff without much risk of blowing an engine or pre-ignition.

3. F1 cars mostly use synthetic oils of the high performance variety. Stuff like Shell Helix (Ferrari) and Mobil 1 (McLaren, Mercedes).

4. Yes, it would be possible to demystify these things, but you see, I would need insider information, which is a closely guarded secret. The inner workings of naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine making 750hp is not something that is out there in the public.

All I know is that the power comes from the ability of those engines to rev to 15,000rpm or more, but that ability is what is kept mysterious to us lesser mortals. That is why you will never see a detailed photograph of anybody’s F1 engine: even mundane details like bolts sizes are kept away from the prying eye.

Dear Baraza,

I recently bought a Toyota Belta, 996cc engine, type 1KR-FE. The car is very nice for town service and fuel economy. A few questions though:

1: The engine vibrates a lot, especially at idling or when caught up in traffic and the air con is on. I have changed the plugs to manufacturer’s specs but there is no change. Is this vibration normal?

2: The ‘Check Engine’ and ‘ABS’ lights came on a while back and diagnosis has returned accelerator and front wheel ABS sensors. However, the parts are not available in Kenya and the local franchise is hopeless. Where can I get these?

3: What is the standard fuel consumption for this car? On the Net, some sites indicate 15KPL in town and 18KPL on the highway, while others talk of 12KPL in town and 15 on the open road. Mine consumes 11.5KPL in town and 15 on the highway.

Ken.

1. Vibration: It depends. How bad is the effect? It could be that the water pump/fan and/or the air-con are placing a huge load on the engine. Remember 996cc is not much to play with, so even a small peripheral accessory could have a significant effect on engine load. I once had a Toyota Starlet, EP82, 1300cc, and at night, when idling, if I put on the headlamps, I noticed the idling would change: the revs would dip slightly.

2. Buying sensors: You could always try the Internet. Search for the parts yourself or join a forum. There are always people selling stuff on those forums. If not, there might be someone with a car similar to yours who knows where to source these items.

3. Fuel economy: There is not such a thing as “exact fuel consumption”. The economy figure is highly dependent on several factors: Driving style. Driving environment (being stuck in traffic for three hours, for instance).

Gross Vehicle Weight. Aerodynamic profile. How much air-con is used. The figures quoted are a guideline; they are not set in stone. Different people will achieve different economy figures. Expect 12KPL in town and 15 on highway.

Hello,

I am looking for a vehicle, either a Toyota Corolla station wagon or a Nissan Wingroad. Please advise me on the following:

1: The resale value of each.

2: Which one can best withstand rough terrain?

3: Maintenance costs of each.

4: Availability of spare parts and their cost.

5: Is an automatic transmission as good as manual one, especially in old cars?

Finally, everyone in the rural areas is rushing for the Toyota Probox. What is so special about this car compared to other Toyota station wagons?

Thanks,

Lincoln S Njue.

1. Wingroads tend to age badly, so they do not hold their value well.

2. From 1 above, the Toyota could be a safer bet.

3. Sundry parts are the same: things like wiper blades, brake pads, oil… Model-specific spare parts should also not have too big a disparity in cost between the two cars.

4. See 3 above.

5. The automatic gearboxes in old cars were not too good. And manual transmissions offer better economy and accord the driver more control.

The Probox’s popularity comes from its cheapness and load capacity. Best in class.

Hello,

Thanks for your informative articles on cars. I always look forward to reading them. I drive a 2003 Subaru Legacy BL5, 2.0GT spec B, auto-manual that I would like to do Stage 2 tuning on. Where can I get such services in Nairobi?

Also, I changed my short block EJ20 and my car increased fuel consumption from 9.8KPL to 6.0KPL. Needless to say, I am suffering at the petrol pump. Even though my mechanic says most Subarus do 6.5KPL, what is the best solution to regain my 9.8KPL?

Regards,

Robertson Amalemba Lumasi.

I know of two places where you can get your car modified to Stage 2 level: Auto Art K Ltd, run by The Paji (Amir Mohamed), located behind Total Petrol Station, Gilgil Road, Industrial Area, and Unity Auto Garage, run by a man called Asjad, just a few metres away along Kampala Road.

To regain your previous economy figures, the simple straight answer is to revert to your old EJ20 engine. I do not know what you changed it to, so I cannot tell what exactly led to your high consumption.

What I can tell you is this: if fuel economy is a pain right now, you will be in tears once your car gets to Stage 2 status. Those things can be very thirsty, especially when thrashed.

Posted on

Here’s why some predated Mercs are making a comeback

There is a sudden spurt in the number of 190E Mercs on Nairobi roads. Kindly offer your thoughts on why this is so and review the car for safety, reliability, performance and maintenance.
Pete

The car is obsolete, very much so, seeing how it pre-dates and precedes the current line of C-Class Mercs. As such, against the current crop of cars, it will score poorly on all fronts.

Even in its heyday, the “performance” version, the 190E 2.3 16V Cosworth, was too slow, and the dog-leg first gear confused the unwary.

The proliferation of 190Es may be due to the fact that they were built in the Era of the Over-Engineered Benz (124s and 126s), cars that will simply never break down unless you ram a tree, or a wall, so their reputation has gone up. And they can now be had for as little as 300K. And they are fun to drive.

My crystal ball tells me 200Es (whatever happened to the old Mercedes Kenatco taxi cabs of old, I wonder? And the Presidential Escort vehicles…) and 280 SEs are following suit.

This crystal ball has been mostly right over the years (one or two misfires), so let me wait and see how it pans out.

—————-

Hi Mr Baraza,

I have just acquired a new-model Caldina ZT, D4 engine, 4WD, with low profile tyres. I wish to know the following:

1. I have installed two-inch spacers but I feel the car has become a bit wobbly on uneven tarmac. How can I enhance stability on the road? Would things like wider tyres do?

2. As for the low profile tyres, some friends tell me they are not reliable in rough areas, is this true?

3. How best can I maintain the engine since I hear it is a bit sensitive? I am a careful driver, but at times I do about 150kph on the Thika Highway.

4. Any other tips in ensuring long service from this newly found love?
Silvester

1. Lose the spacers and fit taller springs/shocks and bigger tyres (try not to go beyond 17 inches). You could widen the track, but while this reduces the wobbliness, it also corrupts the steering geometry if not done with a lot of maths and could make your car handle funny.

2. Yes, this is true.

3. Being a direct injection petrol engine, run on V-Power as much as you can afford and use fuel from reputable stations when V-Power is a bit too much to run on daily.

There is nothing wrong with driving at 150kph, except, perhaps, for the fact that you are breaking the law. But don’t do 150kph in low gears.

4. Just treat it the way you would want to be treated if you were a car and your owner loved you.

——————–

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car with a budget not exceeding Sh600,000. I am torn between buying a locally used but well maintained Mitsubishi Galant and a Peugeot 406, both of which can fit my budget. My considerations for the two cars are:

1. Good safety record

2. Ride quality and comfort

3. Maintenance and availability of spares

4. Fuel consumption

5. Speed and stability

I know that both cars have low resale value. Please advise on the best choice.

Safety record: The 406.

Ride quality: I’d say Galant, but that’s from the driver’s perspective; passengers will prefer the 406.

Comfort: 406.

Maintenance: Hard to tell. Peugeots are reputably unreliable, and after Marshalls lost the franchise, one cannot say with any amount of confidence that the new company will service old models.

However, Peugeot owners tend to be fastidious about caring for their vehicles (because of the reputation?) so, most likely, whichever one you buy will have been well maintained.

The Galant, on the other hand, is Japanese. It will still go bang once in a while, but spares should not be too hard to find, or too costly to buy.

However, VR-G and VR-M models tended to be bought by boy-racer types, either as first or second owners, so most of the cars on sale tend to be knackered.

Consumption: Depends on how you drive. If you can get a 406 diesel, with a manual gearbox (don’t!), 20kpl is less of theory and more of reality.

Speed and stability: The Galant. A VR-4 with a boot spoiler and front-splitter is the fastest and most stable car in your chosen bracket. But remember it has a turbo and is 2500cc, so….

——————–

Hi Mr Baraza,

I own a Nissan Wingroad and I need your expert advise on the following:

1. Which is the right plug for the Wingroad; NGK BKR 6e or BKR 5e, and what gap should I keep?

2. The car is 1500cc twin-cam. What is the advantage/disadvantage of twin-cam? It gives me 8km per litre yet the exhaust is clean and clear.

3. When doing the diagnostics, what readings should I get for the injectors?

4. Can I change the injectors to give 1300cc instead of 1500cc? Do Wingroads have VVT-i engines? How can I improve on the fuel consumption?

5. Can the display monitor on the dashboard be changed to English? It is in Japanese presently.

Kasmani

1. To be honest, I have no idea. You have now gone into the details of brand marketing and nomenclature, which I rarely pay attention to. You may have to refer to the NGK website for details on which plug is used where.

2. Twin-cam makes it easier to control the camshafts; very handy when you have variable valve timing.

3. Readings of what? Nozzle clearance? Injection pulses?

4. You can fit smaller injectors but I am not sure how wise that is. I know the 1.6- and 2.0-litre Wingroads have a form of Variable Valve Timing (and DOHC for the 1600), but not sure about the 1.5. Now that you raise the issue of injectors: has your car been tuned?

Does it perform unusually well? If so, then that explains your poor economy. If not, then a change of driving style and/or environment will change your consumption figures.

5. It can be translated, that I believe; I am just waiting for someone really clever to step up to the challenge.

——————–

Hi,
Last year, I wrote in and asked for your advice on my Allion, whose ground clearance was troubling me. Well, a year down the line, the car is still fine and I no longer have issues with ground clearance, even when fully loaded.

Now, I service the car after every 4,000km to 5,000km but I’d like to know whether I can change the engine plugs from the current Denso one-pin plugs to the Denso iridium one-pin plugs.

I wanted to change to the Denso iridium but my mechanic insisted that they are very powerful and can damage some electrical parts of the car.

1. Compare the general performance of the Denso iridium plugs to that of ordinary Ddenso plugs.

2. How real is my mechanic’s argument, and is it applicable to all cars that don’t come with the iridium plugs?

3. Is it true that Denso iridium plugs are more effective than ordinary plugs in terms of power, fuel consumption and maintenance costs, which are my reasons for wanting to install them?

1. Iridium plugs generally last longer and are reputed to perform better, but seeing how their only job is to throw a spark, it is hard to tell whether they indeed fire better than other brands like Champion and NGK (originals; fake plugs will always fail soon after installation), if they still exist.

2. The most important aspects of a spark plug, in order of priority, are: whether or not they fit into your particular engine block, whether they are genuine or fakes, and heat range.

Plugs don’t have “power”, they are merely wires with a gap at one end through which a spark flies. The “power” you speak of is determined by the ignition coil, the integrity of the HT leads and the condition of the plugs themselves.

3. The power delivery of the engine (as determined by combustion efficiency) as well as fuel economy, is, again, determined by whether or not the plugs are fake (most genuine single-pin plugs perform the same) and the number of ground electrodes in the spark plug. Plugs with twin electrodes (what mechanics call “pembe mbili”) are better, but they cost more.

——————–

Mr Baraza,

I wish to get a second-hand car from Japan and I am considering the Passo or the FunCargo. A friend tells me the FunCargo tends to overheat, particularly when on high speed.

Is this true and does the same apply to the Passo given that it is 1000cc? What speed is comfortable driving for these kinds of cars?

Which would you advice me to buy? I am looking for an automatic.

Joan

The Passo is still too new in the (second-hand) market for me to make any substantive statements about it.

What I know is that the FunCargo is fairly crap, what with the overheating and unreliable 4WD transmission in the versions so equipped. Sometimes, the fuel consumption goes up on its own.

Not to mention the car is hideous and lacks a proper boot (the headroom and leg room are both impressive, though).

——————–

Hi Baraza,
I have a 2005 Toyota Fortuner in which I got a slight accident last year. Before the accident, it used to consume about 8km/l.

After the repairs — replacing all the damaged parts and doing a ‘red’ service including fuel filter and mass airflow filter — the consumption is terrible, with an average of 4.5km/l. In fact when driving uphill, it soars to even 1km/l!

In addition, the exhaust is producing a lot of soot, meaning the combustion is not very efficient. Mechanics have tried resolving the problem but all has been in vain. What is your advice?

I blame the MAF sensor; it is misreading the flow of air and making your car burn an extremely rich mixture, hence the sooty exhaust (poor combustion) and high fuel consumption. Either the sensor that was put in is faulty, or is the wrong type (verifiable by remapping the ECU to adapt to the new sensor “type”).

——————–

Dear Baraza,

Following last week’s column, in my view, the problem with electric cars is that they take too long to charge, compared to filling up a conventional car at the petrol station.

I think the solution to this problem lies in changing the whole recharging philosophy.

What if there was a battery that is recharged by replacing the electrolyte? The ordinary lead-acid and lithium ion don’t like electrolyte replacement at all.

That’s why they say DO NOT ADD ACID. But there is a new technology known as “flow batteries”, which have separate electrolyte storage tanks and a reactor chamber.

The electrolyte flows to the reactor, produces electricity and moves out to a second “used” tank.

With this kind of battery, the electric car just needs to pull up at a “petrol” station (okay, electrolyte station), off-load the used electrolyte and replenish it with a charged one.

The beauty of it is that the station can then use grid electricity to recharge the used electrolyte and fill it in the next car.

This type of system can use the existing petrol stations; they only need to add new electrolyte tanks and a charger. I think this is where the future of electric motoring lies.
Mungai Kihanya

Well, with the lead-acid accumulator, not only does the electrolyte get degraded, but the electrodes do too (eroding at one end and getting a metal coating at the other, for a simple electrolytic cell).

So along with the electrolyte, you also need to replace the electrodes. A cheap plastic container is worth about Sh50 to Sh100. Electrodes + Electrolyte + Plastic shell (of negligible cost) = A new accumulator!

Now the questions:

1. Instead of having an electrolyte station, why not just use the shops we already have?

2. How much for a new charge of electrolyte? (and possibly electrodes?) Compare this with the price of petrol and/or hydrogen, and divide by the range provided by each. Cars will be limited to the same group that buys business jets at the moment.

3. A petrol station selling electrolytes is not a bad idea. But charging that electrolyte too? Electrical activity (such as charging) is normally associated with “sparks”, or arcing: a spark + a 10,000-litre tank of unleaded premium = BOOM!

Posted on

Take note, Shell V-Power won’t turn your Vitz into a Ferrari

Hello Baraza,

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the ordinary super petrol and the V-Power fuel sold by Shell. I drive a supercharged Vitz — RS 1600cc — and have tried using both fuel types and experienced no difference at all in terms of speed, performance and kilometres per litre. Let me hear from you on this.

Nawaz Omar.

Shell were very careful when pointing this out. Much as the ads starred a Ferrari road car (and an F1 racer too, if I recall), it did not mean that putting V-Power in a Vitz will turn it into a 458 Italia. Nor did it mean that the fuel economy of a small car will be changed from the incredible to the scarcely believable.

Shell V-Power contains extra cleaning agents that will wipe away all the dirty sins, sorry, dirty deposits from your engine and fuel system, just like Christians insist Jesus will if you call out to Him.

Even more importantly (for those of us who love performance engines), it also contains octane levels high enough to allow high compression engines to run on it: engines such as those with forced induction (turbocharged/supercharged) or even… yes, a Ferrari F1 racer.

So Nawaz, take note: V-Power will clean the engine of your Vitz, not transform it.

Hi Baraza,

I enjoy reading your column every week. Good work! I would like to know the relationship between engine size and fuel consumption. Basically, what is the relationship between the fuel injected into the combustion chamber and engine size?
Thank you,
Kiama.

If we were in the year 1930, there would be a clear-cut answer to your question, but it is 2012 and we have with us technologies like Variable Valve Timing and Direct Injection which make things very hard to explain without pictures.

Anyway, I will try to make things as simple as possible, and, before I start, I hope you know the basic physiology of an engine.

For normal running, we have what we call the stoichiometric intake charge ratio, which is simply referred to as air-fuel ratio, and stands at 14.7:1. If it goes lower, it is called a rich mixture (such as 10:1 or 5:1). If it goes higher, it is called a lean mixture.

Now, if it was the year 1930, the calculation would be simple: for every 15 metric units of air sucked into the engine, the fuel levels would drop by just a shade more than 1 metric unit.

So for a 2.0 litre engine operating at a constant 1,500rpm, you have four cylinders, which go through 1500 revolutions in one minute, consuming fuel in one stroke out of every four, and two strokes make one revolution (0.5×1500=750 fuel-intensive strokes). Since the cylinders occupy 2,000cc, 750 strokes of 2,000cc would be 1,500,000cc worth of intake charge.

I talked about metric units, and it is here that you have to pay attention because it ties in with all the economy advise I give people about filling up early in the morning.

While at the dispenser down at the petrol station you will buy fuel by VOLUME, the injection system of a car measures it by MASS for the intake charge ratio.

The density of air at 25 degrees Celcius (RTP — room temperature and pressure) is about 1.2 kg/cubic metre. So 1.5 cubic metres (1,500,000cc) will weigh 3.6 kg, which constitutes 14.7/15.7 (93.6%) of the intake charge, with fuel covering the remaining 1/15.7 (6.4%), which by simple arithmetic translates to about 0.25 kg of fuel.

Fuel has a density of 0.74 kg/L, so 0.25 kg of petrol will translate to roughly 338 ml of the stuff, or about 1/3 of a litre.

This is for the 2.0 litre engine running at a steady 1,500rpm for exactly one minute under the stoichiometric intake charge ratio. In the year 1930.

Nowadays, with electronic engine management, direct injection and variable valve timing, the cars can run lean and the effective volume of the cylinder changed in real time, so it is not that easy to calculate the consumption by hand like I just did.

Hello JM,
I drive the new-model Caldina and whenever I encounter dusty roads or wade through muddy waters, the brakes become a gamble. Recently, I noticed the same on my friend’s Subaru Outback. Is it a manufacturer’s error or just the pads? I almost rammed another car because of this.
Sam.

No, Sam, that is not a manufacturers’ mistake. It is your mistake. What you are telling me is: “Look, I drove over a police spike strip and now all my tyres are flat. The manufacturer must be really useless.”

When wet or dirty, brakes don’t work as well as they should because the foreign material interferes with the friction surfaces that convert your kinetic energy into heat energy; and that is why at the driving school they told you to increase your braking distance by at least half if you are driving on a wet surface.

Just to prove my point, tell me, honestly, really truthfully, with a straight face: When clean and dry, the brakes work fine, don’t they?

Hi Baraza,

I imported a Subaru Imprezza GG2, 2004 model late last year and the mileage on the odometer at the time was around 82,000km. I had a small accident with it along Valley Road, Nairobi a month ago and the insurance company fixed the car, but since then there’s a “wheezing” sound that comes from the back as I drive.

Two mechanics have independently confirmed to me that the rear right bearing is the source of the noise and that, for this particular model, the bearing and the hub are sold together as one component. Could you confirm this? What would be the risk of driving it that way before I get it fixed? Can the rear right wheel come off as I’m driving?

Secondly, having done that mileage, what particular parts or components should I replace? Do I need to change the timing belt or any other particular thing? Kindly advise.

You could go to a shop and ask to buy a bearing. If they tell you that it sold with the hub as a unit, then there’s your answer.

I went through a similar case with a Peugeot 405 I had: the fourth gear synchroniser unit was damaged, and when I went to buy a new one, they handed over the unit, to which was attached a gear, and they quoted an unfriendly price. Told them the gear in my car was fine: lose the cog and drop the price. Can’t do, they said; the synchro is the one that costs that much, the gear is actually free. I wanted to weep.

The rear wheel will not necessarily come off, at first, but the bearing could collapse and this might lead to the studs in the hub breaking when the wheel wobbles. Then the wheel will come off.

You could pre-empt breakages by replacing parts such as the timing belt, but the Kenyan way is to drive a car until it stalls, right at the moment when you are at the front of a queue in a heavy traffic jam and the lights turn green or a traffic policeman waves you off.

A physical check will let you know what to replace before your dashboard lights up like a gaudy neon sign, but look at tyres, brakes, the timing belt and the transmission. The suspension too, the shocks especially.

Hi Baraza,

On a trip abroad I had a taste of the great Lexus LS400 and the Chevrolet Lumina SS, though I fell in love with the Lexus as it had a huge, all-leather interior and that ‘cruise feeling’ to it.

You wouldn’t want to go to work in that car, it makes you feel rich and lazy. The consumption, I was told, is on the higher side, but wouldn’t that depend on how heavy your foot is?

Then came the Lumina. She is a beauty, though fitted with plastic interior. I couldn’t help but feel the car had that ‘I’m gonna fall apart soon’ look. I mean, it looks like it wouldn’t survive a head-on with a Vitz. Fuel consumption was much the same.
Considering I can afford the two cars, which one would you suggest I go for?

Wilson.

Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

The SS is not meant for driving to the office through heavy traffic (the Lexus will shine here), it is meant to go through corners while facing the wrong way, executing massive powerslides and doing great big drifts in the process. It is a car for having fun in.

Your wife will not take it kindly if you show up one day exclaiming: “Honey, we are broke, but at least we have a 6.0 litre V8 car to show why.” The massive spoiler, fat tyres and unsubtle body kits will not tickle her fancy as it would yours. The SS is a sports car. Buy the Lexus.

Hi Baraza,

The ‘check engine’ light on my Nissan Wingroad 2001 model is permanently on. I did an OBD and the fault detected was the primary ignition coil, which I replaced. The plugs were also checked and found sound and of correct specification, but the engine light has refused to go off. I have tried four other OBDs and the result is the same. My mechanic is advising that I change the computer unit. Are the units repairable? Kindly advise.

Isaac.

You should have flushed the ECU after replacing the coil, especially if that cured the problem. It has to be done to most cars. The recommended method is using the same OBD scanner or a PC with the appropriate software and hardware links. Another method is to disconnect the battery overnight.

Dear Baraza,

I drive a 2002 Toyota Corolla station wagon EE103, 1490cc. It has served me diligently, but I would like to sell it to another financially challenged Kenyan and upgrade myself. I like fancy cars but I’m afraid of the cost implications.

I have made many visits to garages manned by thieving mechanics and would like my next car to guarantee me few mechanical breakdowns.

So help me make the big leap. Of the following, which one should I go for: Toyota Mark X, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Wingroad or Toyota Wish? If I remember, you likened the Wish to a bicycle, but still….

Hassan Mahat

The only fancy cars in that list are the Mark X (lovely machine) and the Diamante (dodgy ancestry — Diamantes of old were unreliable). The rest are common fare, especially among the “financially challenged”.

The Wingroad feels — and is — cheap, and ages fast. The Lancer is pretty but suffers from wonky powertrains, especially as an auto. The Wish is aimed at those who have little interest in cars (and from the seating capacity, little control over their loins too).

Hi Baraza

I am 29 and want to buy my first car. I have sampled what’s on offer and this is the fare that has caught my attention: VW Golf, VW Polo, Toyota RunX, Mazda Demio, Toyota Cami, Toyota Opa, Suzuki Maruti and Suzuki Swift.

I’m looking for a second-hand car priced between Sh500,000 and Sh750,000, a car that can do long-distance drives twice a month (Nairobi-Mombasa), a car that is not a ‘Kenyan uniform’ and would still have a good resale value after four or five years. What should I go for?

Second, where is the best place to buy a car? Is it okay to trawl through the classifieds?

Job. 

Job, maintenance and consumption aside, what you want is the Golf if you are serious about doing the Nairobi-Mombasa run once in a while. The rest of the cars will prove to be a heavy cross to bear. For economy, get a diesel Golf.

On where to get it, cars can be bought from anywhere, but do not commit yourself to anything until you see the car itself. I know of some people who have been sold non-existent vehicles after following newspaper and Internet ads.

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a car for the first time and I’m so much interested in the Subaru Forester. But after enquiring about it from various people, I’m beginning to get confused. Those who own it swear it’s the best car on Kenyan roads today, while those who don’t feel nothing for it. Kindly tell me more about this car, especially the 2000cc model.

Also, between the turbo-charged and non-turbo, 4WD and 2WD, which one is better in terms of fuel consumption, availability of spare parts, durability and performance.

In addition, what is the difference between these two Foresters: the 2.0XT and the 2.0XS?

Thank you.

I had no idea 2WD Foresters existed, but if they do, then they should have lower consumption but lose out on performance to their 4WD compadres. Turbo cars are faster, thirstier, harder to repair and a touch fragile compared to NA versions of the same vehicle. Generally.

The XS model is naturally aspirated (non-turbo) and has auto levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, climate control and a CD Stacker (six-disc in-dash).

The XT is turbocharged and shares features with the the XS, but additionally, also has 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a Momo steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo.

Hi Baraza,
1. I recently came across and advertisement for a motorcycle that can do 70 kilometres per litre. Is this practical?

2. VW have developing a car called the 1L and claim it can do 100 kilometres per litre, thus 10 litres will take you from Nairobi to Mombasa and back. Kindly shed more light on this.

Chris.

1. Yes, especially if it’s engine is of 50cc or less.

2. The reality remains to be seen, because the self-same Volkswagen had a “three-litre car” (3L/100km) which I have  discussed before, the Lupo/SEAT Arosa/Audi A2. It might have done the 33kpl, but not exactly daily. Our roads, diesel quality and traffic conditions may hamper drivers from easily attaining this kind of mileage.

Practicality will depend on the intensity of engineering genius behind it: how many passengers, how much luggage, whether or not it can sustain highway speeds, how easy it is to live with, and so on.

Posted on

When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

Posted on

Other than looks, the X6 doesn’t have much to offer

Hi JM,

I recently rolled over at a corner in a Nissan X-Trail but survived… with great lessons. Now I know that speed that thrills can kill. Also, I have developed a great fear for this car because I have comfortably done the same corner at a higher speed in a BMW 318.

Speaking of BMWs brings me to my question: I have driven an X6 from Thika to Gertrude’s Hospital in Muthaiga and back (the child’s father was too anxious to drive) and did not see any major issues with this car.

In fact, I outdid most cars with ease. I relish motoring, although I am not an expert, so I think you should have this car for a day, try it out, and write a review.

And, by the way, why is it that nowadays you do not have proper reviews anymore and have instead resorted to answering questions only. I used to find the articles comprehensive, and thus more educative.

Do not blame the car for the accident. How fast were you going when you took the bend? And a 3-Series is very different from an X-Trail in terms of handling. I am sorry about your accident, but you need to be more careful and sensible on the road.

About the X6, I know it is good in its own way, but a man running alone thinks he runs fastest. Pit the X6 against rivals (including its own brother, the X5) and it is shown up for the pretender that it is.

Pointless, heavy, ponderous, not as good on road as its looks would suggest, totally useless off-road due to the absence of ride height control, locking diffs and low range transmission, poor rear head room compared to the others… and just what in God’s name is a “Sports Activity Coupe” or whatever BMW calls it?

What they did was graft Beyonce Knowles’ beautiful upper body to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heavily muscled running gear in the hope that the resultant chimaera would appeal to a wider demographic. Instead, they made those of us with a sense of taste throw up at the sight of it.

The reviews? Editorial policy is driven by consumer demand, or so I guess. Somehow, people prefer the heavily summarised responses I give to their questions rather than the more elaborate reviews, so we had to abide by the adage “the customer is always right” (this also explains the X6: some customers actually wanted such a thing). I still write long articles, though.

Hi Baraza.

I would to like to have your opinion about speed cameras. I believe that the police want to install some more to add to the lone camera along Thika Road. Every year — or rather, week — we hear the traffic police blame speeding as the major cause of accidents on our roads. Please answer these questions for me:

1. Is putting up speed cameras a waste of money, considering they are expensive to install and run? I read somewhere that they require around Sh5 million to operate.

2. Does it mean that if you pass the limit they have been set, you have a 99 per cent chance to cause an accident?

3. What criteria is used to determine the maximum speed that one should drive on our roads?

4. Are there any cheaper methods to prevent accidents since, according to me, these cameras are expensive for nothing?

5. Why do your readers not ask you about car safety levels and features despite the high number of road accidents on our roads? I ask this because many of the accidents that occur are not necessarily due to speeding.

Lastly, I would like to go to a driving school, and I am torn between going to a school and learning at “home” because I do not think the schools offer anything more than a driving licence. What do you think?

Walkins
1. Yes, it will be a waste of money. Motor vehicle registration in Kenya is sketchy compared to other countries with speed camera technology — offenders are normally traced and subsequently arrested or given citations using their car number plates.

Most of us drive hired (or even stolen) vehicles, meaning a photo of your car committing a traffic infraction is all the police will end up with, rather than the offender himself.

Still, even with the vehicle owner’s information, tracing them will be difficult owing to lack of manpower and the frequency with which people change rental houses. It will not work.

2. That is nonsense. If that were true, the only people still alive would be the chaps in rural areas who have never boarded a motor vehicle all their lives (our population figure would be hovering around the 1.5 to 2 million mark, rather than nudging 40 million, as the government alleges). The police blame speeding for fatalities in road accidents because they have nothing clever to say about the whole road safety issue.

3. On our roads, no idea. On roads in other countries, factors like long range visibility, size, type and condition of the road (and the road surface), the presence of junctions, acceleration lanes, climbing lanes, hard shoulders, runoff areas, social amenities such as schools and churches, traffic density (average), and the layout of the road (whether it is dead straight like in America or has twisty and curvy switchbacks like in the French Alps) are some of the things considered.

4. Yes. Give a bonus to traffic policemen for every offender they rope in. The police are our last hope in forcing people to behave well on the road.

A small campaign could run in print and electronic media telling people how to avoid the traffic policeman’s lasso around the neck: respect the rule of law and drive like you were taught at the driving school, not as you think you should.

Punitive measures against offenders should include confiscation of both driving licence and motor vehicle, and hefty fines, with a possibility of a total driving ban for repeat offenders.

5. The nature of Kenyans is such that they would rather die and save money than stay in one piece and have less money than the Joneses.

That explains why halves of vehicles written off in accidents get welded onto halves of other cars and put back on the road. And the furore when the late John Michuki made us strap on safety belts in PSVs.

And why some of us would flog a car to such a point that it is held together by bits of paint and rust rather than conceding that our trusty vehicle has reached the end of its usefulness and is due for euthanasia.

I agree with you, and thank you for raising the issue. I did discuss safety at the end of 2010, but my writing went largely ignored. The best way out is to follow in the late Michuki’s footsteps and come down hard on those who think rules were made for wimps and sissies.

Hi Baraza,
I drive a 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser. Lately I have been feeling like upgrading into something more classy but still reliable, that is, a Range Rover Sport or an Audi Q7 since I travel to my rural home at least twice a year and the roads there are non-existent. In your opinion, which among the two is more reliable?

Reliability issues among these huge SUVs tend not to be publicised too much, and anyway, repairs should not worry you who can afford them. The inconvenience of the car breaking down, though, can be frustrating.

The Range Rover Sport is what I would vouch for, and for a very strange reason. You see, the Q7 was not built as well as it could have been; I am not saying that it is bad, it is actually quite good, but it could have been better.

It was built to a price and targeted at Americans for whom size means everything, so Audi avoided the typical aluminium diet and went for crude steel. The interior is still world class, though, and the Germans have a reputation for building solid, bullet proof (not literally, but meaning free of holes or weaknesses) machines.

The Range Rover Sport, on the other hand, has enthusiasm behind it. It was built with passion by engineers who only wanted the very best, and this shows in the execution.

It is ultimately better to drive and will go further off-road owing to its shorter wheelbase and overhangs and its Discovery-derived double chassis. The Q7 is based on a Touareg/Cayenne, which is not very off-roadish.

Hello Baraza,

I thought Nissans were inferior to the Toyotas (please correct me if I am wrong), and during the weekend I had a chance to drive a 1500cc Wingroad — its comfort as well as pick up speed was nowhere close to the Toyota Allion 1500cc.

You have praised the Nissan X-Trail (280hp) GT and rated it above the Toyota Kluger and the RAV4. Is the pick up speed of the X-Trail GT faster than that of the two Toyotas? What about the ‘comfortability’ and off-road performance?

Please do not create words (comfortability) — only I am allowed to do so. Moving on. The X-Trail GT is bloody fast, 280hp is not a joke.

It will blow your Klugers and RAV4 out of the water any day. However, that turbocharged engine requires handling with kid gloves, the fuel economy will not befriend environmentalists, and one of my mechanics claims it eats ignition coils for breakfast and lunch.

Naturally, hard springing and competition shocks make for a hard ride, and I am not sure you want to take a car with this kind of performance off-road…

Nissan vehicles are not always inferior to Toyotas; it depends on which model you are talking about. For further reference, drive a Navara back-to-back against a Hilux double-cab, then document your findings.

Hi Baraza,
I was wondering which car, between a Forester XT 2003 model and the Mercedes C180 Kompressor (supercharged), would win in a five-kilometre drag, a sharp-cornered circuit, and a sprint from Nairobi to Nakuru, and why?

The outcome of such a trio of races would boil down to the skills of the drivers of the two cars, though in a five-kilometre drag with simple pedal-to-the-metal action, the Benz would take it (260 km/h).

The circuit might favour the Forester (smaller mass and 4WD torque distribution) but a Nairobi-Nakuru blitzkrieg would favour the Benz (this, again, goes down to whichever driver has the biggest cojones).

Hi,
I am planning to get my first car soon. Kindly advise on which of these cars, the old-shape Premio and the Carina, is better in terms of performance, spares, engine output, and durability. Also, is there much difference in terms of fuel consumption between 1800cc and 1500cc models of these cars? Lastly, what is the difference between EFI and VVT-i, and does it influence engine reliability?
Mutuku

For the same engine size, the two cars are essentially the same in almost all aspects, with the Carina being a touch sportier (and thus fathered the Allion). The difference in fuel economy between 1.5- and 1.8-litre engines is not big, especially with careful driving. The kpl achieved will depend on how you drive. Expect 10–15 kpl.

EFI is electronic fuel injection, and it is a precise and computerised method of delivering fuel from the fuel lines into the engine. VVT-i is variable valve timing with intelligence, and it is a system by which valve lag and valve lead (delaying of the opening and closing of valves) are computer-controlled to optimise performance and reduce emissions.

Yes, it influences engine reliability. The more complex an engine, the bigger the likelihood that things will fail, and the harder it is to fix the problems when they arise.

Baraza,

I am thinking of buying a car soon and I am in a dilemma about the car to invest in. I have these saloon options: a BMW 318i, a Subaru WRX Impreza, and a Toyota Avensis.

According to you, which of the three cars is ideal for a young man who is struggling in this Kenyan economy, especially bearing in mind high fuel prices, maintenance, and repairs?

Which of the three cars performs well on Kenyan roads and can handle rough terrain as well?

Which of the three is cheap to maintain and service?

Davy

For fuel economy, get a D4 Avensis. The 3-Series is also a sipper when driven soberly. The WRX will bite your wallet.

Maintenance and repairs: The BMW will take longest before it breaks, but when it does it will cost the rest of your life savings to get it running again. The Toyota is also reliable, but the D4, like BMW, will cost you if it goes bang.

The WRX should not cost much to maintain, that is until you overload the turbo and it goes boom, then you will really know hardship.

Normal, sane driving and regular checks and servicing should give you satisfactory ownership from all three cars. The 3-Series will cost the most to service and the Toyota the least.

The WRX is the handler and performer of the three, but stiff suspension and low profile tyres are not for rough terrain. The BMW’s minimal ground clearance also rules it out of any rough stuff, but it also handles, and performs. The Avensis is the easiest to take on unpaved roads.

Posted on

Fuel tablets do not improve consumption

Hi,

I had a 1982 Toyota DX-KE70 model that had a 1300cc carburettor for five years. The car was lovely, extremely hardy and very reliable.

It used to do 10kpl but I used to buy fuel tablets, which I would put in the fuel tank — one tablet for every 30 litres or as recommended — and that would improve fuel consumption to 13 kpl.

I sold the car eight months ago and replaced it with a 1995 1500cc Toyota AE100 LX model with an EFI engine that does 15.4 kpl.

I decided to try the fuel tablets on it but there is no significant change; the best it can do with or without the tablets is 16 kpl at an average speed of 100 km/h, which I do on the Nairobi-Embu highway.

I thought that with the tablets and the EFI engine, I would get better results, like 18 kpl. Why is this not the case? Please advise.

Phil

Fuel tablets belong in the same category as snake oil and Father Christmas; they are best left as bedtime stories. They NEVER work, much in the same way that Santa Claus will never show up at anyone’s house at Christmas time.

If you achieved a lower consumption with your E70, then the tablets had a psychological effect on you and turned you into a gentler driver, hence the improved economy. In simple terms, you have been buying a placebo.

Hey,

I have a Forester and I’m now thinking of buying a Wingroad for the sole reason that the price is fair and the interior does not look too bad.

Kindly tell me what I will be getting myself into with this car and if you think I should put out this fire. Thank you.

Flo

From a “personal friend” point of view, I’d ask you to “put out this fire”. But if you owed me money, I’d say ditch the Forester, get a Wingroad and pay me sooner than immediately.

As it is, it is entirely up to you. I don’t entirely agree with your judgment of the Wingroad’s interior, but this is an apple juice-lemon juice sort of thing, so I will not dictate matters of taste.

Beware of the car’s flimsiness and watch out for various electronics, especially the dashboard lights. They may light up like a Christmas tree once in a while.

Stick to proper roads if a suspension overhaul is not on your budget in the near future. Fuel is not a problem, nor is the asking price.

Hello,

I will be a first car owner very soon and need your advice. I am thinking of getting one of these Japanese “econoboxes”; FunCargo, Passo, Vitz or a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. If you were in my situation, what would you go for?

Sandra

If I was in that position I would go for a Vitz, but not for the reasons you might think. It turns out that when a Vitz is supercharged, it becomes a pint-sized Bugatti Veyron for those living close to the poverty line.

What do you expect from these cars? Forget any sort of performance (you could supercharge a Vitz though) and forget space. If it is economy you are after, any of these cars will do, but the Pajero Mini is not a very smart choice.

It is a very smart choice, however, if light off-roading forms part of your weekend activities.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes A160, a 2000 model, which is a beautiful little car. But a year ago I blew up the sump pan after hitting a stone while driving on a rough road.

This damaged the gear box and it cost me almost another car to fix.

During my time at the garage, I learnt that these cars are poorly designed and heard that almost all of them experience a gearbox failure in their lifetime. Others say that the Mitsubishi Cedia also suffers from the same illness.

In summary, these small cars tend to have a problem with the gearbox design.

I’m now scared of these small cars and have lost faith in them. What do you have to say about them?

Small cars are awful, and you get what you pay for. You see, small cars exist so that the not-so-well-to-do can also experience the world of motoring, but these cars are half-baked lest the not-so-well-to-do forget their station in life and think they are now haves and have-mores.

Truth is, for small cars to be as cheap as they usually are, R&D costs have to be minimised, and cheap, fragile materials used to build them. Learn to accept this.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Nissan B15 and it recently developed a fuel pump problem. I changed the pump but the new one is now producing some funny noise when I start the car or when moving.

The mechanic tells me that new pumps behave that way and that the noise will go away in time. What do you think? The car is also consuming more fuel than before.

Your mechanic seems to think every component of a car needs a bedding-in period to work properly, but this is not always the case.

What is the noise like? It may be that you are running on low fuel and the pump is sucking a mixture of fuel and air (and sometimes just the scent of fuel) hence making a buzzing noise.

Or maybe you have sludge in your tank and it is getting into your pump, in which case the new pump will go the way of the old one. Check these two theories out, if it is none of the above, get back to me.

Hello Baraza,

Do you have any experience with the Citroen C3 Super Mini, specifically the 1.4-litre petrol model in the Kenyan market?

I understand that, in accordance with its manufacturer’s (PSA Group) policy, the C3’s chassis was used for the Peugeot 1007 and 207, and that many of its components are the same as those of the 206. Is this true? You have written of your experience with Peugeot models, so I am hoping you can advise me on this.

Also, I would like to hear your thoughts on why the Citroen WRC team tends to excel consistently with their range of Citroen racing cars. I thought that, on this basis alone, people would be buying this make, but you can hardly sport a modern-day Citroen on our roads.

Mwaura

I have not had much experience with Citroens, new or old, nor have I had much experience with the new crop of Peugeots. The newest I’ve tried is the 307, I think, which is currently obsolete anyway.

It is true that some Citroen cars share platforms and components with Peugeot products. Whether or not the franchise will take this into consideration is a matter of conjecture.

Citroen’s WRC success comes from a variety of factors, some of which include a strong team and the withdrawal of past supremos like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Also, the Citroen WRC is not on sale as is, while back in the day, the Impreza WRC, Lancer Evo, and even Group B monstrosities like Lancia’s Delta HF and Stratos could be bought in a spec very close to that of the competition car.

Kenya’s taste in cars is an odd one. Citroen cars in Europe enjoy a huge market, especially with the successful DS3 (a new car), but here in Kenya, if the car is not Japanese, then it had better be cheap to buy, cheap to run and its spares readily available for plucking from the nearest tree.

Hi Baraza,

Why do you say the B14 belongs to the gutter when I was thinking of getting one? Second, what would you say of the Mazda Familia in terms of fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, what would be a good car in the rural area where I work and operate a chemist? And would you recommend a second-hand auto or manual?

Eliud

Drive the B14’s main competitor, the Corolla 110, and you will see where Nissan went wrong. Check power, suspension and build quality especially. The Mazda Familia is an OK car on both fronts.

What exactly will this rural-based car you seek do? And how is the infrastructure in that rural zone? These two questions will decide the type of car to buy. Auto or manual is entirely up to you. Which one do you prefer?

Hello,

My friend bought some Tata 407 trucks in a public auction by a parastatal and wants to sell one of these to me. Please advice on cost, maintenance and fuel consumption. Do you think it would be a wise investment?

Given what it is, it cannot cost much. Given that it is sold locally, maintenance should not be too difficult. And given that it is diesel-powered, fuel consumption should not be too high.

Whether or not it is a wise investment, hmmm… I find it crude and badly built at best, with poorly contained NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and unresolved design. So many of these that I see on the road smoke harder than wet firewood. You decide.

Hey Baraza,

I own a 1977 Range Rover Classic three-door model with an original 3528cc petrol engine. My mechanic proposes that we fit it with a TD27 power plant for better fuel economy.

He further proposes that we retain its original four-speed gearbox. Please advise on the merits and demerits of this move.

Macharia

Die-hard Land Rover lovers like me will deride you for installing the engine of a Japanese commercial vehicle into something as regal as a Range Rover Classic.
More importantly, how does your mechanic know that the engine will fit? The 3.5 was a V8, the TD27 is an in-line four. And then the gear ratios may not be appropriate.

Baraza,

I want to buy my first car, which must be either a Toyota NZE or a Premio, and there are some issues I would like you to advise me on.

1. Is it true that a 1800cc Premio has a fuel consumption similar to that of a 1500cc NZE?

2. What is the meaning of the alphabet letters at the end of the model name, like Premio G, and Corolla X?

3. How can a 1200cc Datsun have a speedometer reading a top speed of 200 km/h and a 3000cc Prado have one ending at 180km/h?

4. If an 1800cc Premio and a 3000cc Prado are driven on a straight 20-kilometre stretch, both at a speed of 120km/h, which car will reach the end before the other?

1. Depends on very many things. How and where are they driven? How loaded are they? Their aerodynamic profiles? The 1800 might be more economical at highway speeds but thirstier in town, though by a very small difference, if everything else is kept constant.

2. It is what we call spec levels, or trim levels: cloth vs leather seats, wood vs aluminium trim and such. These letters differentiate the various spec levels.

3. It is mostly because at the factory, the 1200 was given a 200 km/h speedo while the Prado was given one maxed at 180 km/h. Actually, the Prado is most likely ex-Japan while the 1200 isn’t. In Japan, there was a gentleman’s agreement that all cars made in Japan will have a power cap at 280 hp and will be limited to 180 km/h. Finally, a 1200cc at 200 km/h is drivable. A Prado at 200 km/h (if it can even get there) is a handful.
4. This is not a very well thought out question. Read it again. Which one do you think will get to the other end first?

Dear Baraza,

What is the fuel consumption of a 1000cc Toyota Platz? Can this car be driven for over 500 km? Does it have a problem in climbing a road that is steep?

If I take a Platz on an economy run on the highway, I can clock 22kpl. I have managed that in an EP 82 Starlet. I have a friend, though, who I am sure will do no better than 8kpl.

The difference between us is body mass (I am a bean pole) and driving style (when the mood takes me I can be ridiculously snail-like in pace). Go figure.

About the driving distance, yes it can. Surely, there would be no Platzes (Platices?) on our roads if they could only drive 500km or less (other cars get to hundreds of thousands of kilometres before dying).

If you are asking whether it can do 500km in one shot, then the answer is maybe. I wouldn’t risk it though, one or two stops in between are advisable.

How steep is the road? If the slope has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or what we call a 50 per cent incline (forgive the jargon, this simply means the slope is at 45 degrees off the horizontal), then no. But a Land Cruiser can. Much gentler slopes can be tackled in a Platz, though.

Baraza,

We all know that Kenyan number plates are some of the ugliest in the East African region. As a result, many owners, especially of high-end cars, are getting customised plastic plates with all types of artistic fonts and customisation.

What is the rule on such plates? Are they illegal and can one be arrested for having them? Does KRA issue customised number plates, and how does this work?

Moses

As far as I recall, custom plates were and are still illegal. This includes funny fonts and personalised plates, like BARAZA 1. One can be arrested for having them.

Thing is, these are mostly found on high-end cars, and there is no telling who is being transported inside that car. I doubt if there is a traffic police officer willing to risk his employment just because he pulled over the “clandestine arrangement” of a high-ranking individual for having illegal plates.
JM,

I came across an article about the CVT transmission (specifically in Honda cars) and was amazed that they perform way better than all others in terms of fuel economy and power output.

Yet we Kenyans remain stuck with the Toyota mentality. Now I think I know why you were quite positive about Honda cars, though a select few. Maybe you could tell folks around here to look at that brand.

Yes, it’s true, CVTs are close to sorcery in operation and efficiency. Don’t be so quick to deride Toyotas though, they do have CVTs also (Allion, Wish…), but not all. Some are just regular automatics.

And no, that is not why I rave about Hondas. I like Hondas chiefly because of the high-revving, dual-natured VTEC engines (where available) and the trick helical differentials that make the front-wheel-drive variants such sweet cars to drive and corner with.

Posted on

There is more to a car than fuel consumption and parts

Hi Baraza,
There is a car that I do not think I have read about in the recent past in your column; the Pajero iO. I would be really grateful if you can let me know its merits/demerits as a 4WD, its fuel consumption, durability and maintenance (are the spares readily available and cost effective).

Joan

First, I have to chastise you for falling into that clique of money-minded Kenyans who ask the wrong questions about motor vehicle ownership. Are you sure you do not want to hear about stability issues at highway speeds? Or the fact that space is not one of the iO’s strongest points? Or even that it is not that comfortable?

Anyway, to your questions. As a 4WD it is not half bad, but it is not that good either. It is easily beaten by the RAV-4 and the Nissan X-Trail, though the short overhangs provide it with goat-like manoeuvrability in tight nooks. In some trim levels, it comes with over-the-top body addenda that could hamper extreme off-road progress.

The same goes for fuel consumption: the fact that GDI technology is used under the bonnet still does not make this the epitome of fuel economy. Imported versions, like almost all other imported cars, suffer under our Third World infrastructure, so durability is also a non-starter.

Maintenance will depend on how badly you treat the car, but take comfort from the fact that spares are there and engine swaps are easy… if you can find a Galant engine lying around.

Hi JM,

I have a BMW 320i which is due for service shortly. I have used synthetic oil on all the cars I have used before.

Now, the company that services the car is a BMW centre, and the mechanics there have told me that, going by BMW guidelines, I should use regular motor oil for the 2003 model and stay away from the synthetic stuff. I’m now confused because I assumed synthetic oil beats regular oil any day.

Is the mechanic right or should I insist on synthetic oil?

While still on the same topic, which brand of synthetic oil is the best in the market and ideal for a performance car, if at all I am right in my choice of oil?

Robert

By regular oil, I’m guessing you mean mineral oil. That mechanic of yours should be hung, drawn and quartered; how dare he?

Synthetic oils are the best, period. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with a blend, but I still maintain, there is nothing wrong with synthetic oils. If anything, they are the best for the highly developed European engines such as BMWs.

Read the handbook/manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations, it will clear the air. The mechanic does not work for BMW, I doubt if he’s even been to Germany.

Now, it is not my place to recommend one oil type over another one, but there have been some which have not only been proven in motorsport, but are actually recommended by manufacturers for their vehicles, so go on and do a bit of research.

Hi JM,

I’ve been doing some research on the BMW 3 Series and keeping an eye out for the same on our roads. One particular YouTube clip by ‘Top Gear’ totally dismissed the 318i, which is the most common on Kenyan roads.

My preference is for a 2001–2005, 328i E46. How would you compare the 318i, 330, 328i and 330i in terms of fuel consumption, performance, cost, usability on Kenyan roads, and so on?

Evans

Except applicability, all the characteristics you mention increase in magnitude with increasing engine capacity or degree of tune.

Of the various 3-Series, the best, discounting the M3, is the 330i with M Sport Pack for outright performance, or the 330d with its massive diesel torque, making for entertaining wheelspin and tail-wagging action — on a track, don’t try it on public roads.

Applicability? One day, take a drive from Nairobi to Sotik through Narok and Bomet, and you will discover a playground where you can wind your BMW up to top speed without running the risk of driving into someone you “did not see”. But if you get arrested for speeding, remember, I had nothing to do with it.

Baraza,

I drive a B14 which I bought from its second owner and, of late, the engine won’t start when cold unless I floor the fuel pedal. When it finally starts, it makes a noise and vibrates like a diesel motor for a few seconds before it starts running smoothly, but it still produces a lot of white smoke from the exhaust.

I did a diagnosis, tuned the engine, and changed the plugs, air filter, engine oil and oil filter as well as the auto gearbox oil, but the problem persisted. When I went back to the mechanic, he asked me to change the idle control unit.

So I decided to go to another garage for a second opinion and was told that the idle control unit sensor and cold start sensor switches were okay. He even swapped the ECU from another B14 engine, but there was no change. He then told me to have the engine overhauled, suspecting that the valves were faulty.

I did a cylinder head carbon cleaning and put a petrol booster/cleaner and injector cleaner in the tank but there were still no changes.

The auto tranny also jerks on second gear, I think, because it happens after the speed reaches 20 kph, and when shifting from P to R. Please advice.

That is one problematic car you have there. I must add that the B14 has fans that are few and far between, if they even exist.

From what you describe, you replaced almost the entire engine short of the engine block itself. Funny that you did not check the entire electrical system, though faults here should have shown up on the diagnosis screen.

A common cause of hard starts is a faulty starter or weak battery. The shaking and shuddering, and diesel-like roaring, suggest an engine knock, or even worse, imminent seizure, but let’s not go there yet.

This is my theory: maybe the transmission line is vibrating against the block. Fitting a spacer clip between the line and the block might help cure the problem. This situation might also explain the white smoke (burning ATF) and the badly behaving transmission (low ATF levels due to combustion of the same).

Hi Baraza,

Between a Nissan Tiida (hatchback, 2005 model), and a Honda Fit, which car would you advise a lady to buy? Is a Toyota iST any better than the two, even though its shape completely turns me off?

Kate

A very close call, this one, I might have to say go with either. The cars are similar in a lot of ways, right down to appearance. If you are into tuning or modifications, go for the Honda; it responds better to modification.

The iST may not be as good. I have driven one a bit and I was not very impressed with the weighting of the steering or the visibility out. But it is a feisty little performer. The central instrument stack also puts me off, but that is a personal thing.

Oh, and the fuel gauge in the iST has a non-linear movement, so you need a keen eye and presence of mind to avoid an embarrassing episode.

Baraza,

I have a 2002 Nissan Hi-Rider pickup, 2400cc with a petrol engine. Recently, I sought a mechanic’s opinion on transforming it to diesel and was advised to try a Nissan TD27 engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of this move.

Also, I have been having challenges with its carburettor system and consistent faults with the spark plugs.

The TD27 is in use within the current Hardbody/NP300 range, so my bet would be it would fit into the Hi-Rider’s engine bay without any modifications. The issue is this: Diesel engines develop a lot of torque and as such they are built with heavy duty drivetrain components compared to petrol engines.

I cannot say with much confidence how long your current drive shafts/prop shafts will last under the twisting torque that is the TD27’s forte. Maybe they too should be replaced.

The gearbox: petrol engines develop smaller torque and rev higher than diesel equivalents, so, again, that too may need swapping.

Otherwise, the Nissan TD is a good powerplant. It has seen service in many 14-seater matatus, besides the Hardbody pickups, where it has shown a tendency to develop cooling problems.

This could be a difficulty unique to the vans, though; Hardbody owners don’t seem to suffer this affliction.

Hi Baraza,

I am a big admirer of the Nissan Skyline series, specifically the GTR R34, which is my dream car. I am, however, skeptical about how this vehicle will cope in Kenya.

I haven’t seen many of them on Kenyan roads and only have information from the Internet. Could you check up on this car and give me your take on it, especially how well it would cope here?

I’m a huge fan of Godzilla too (the R34) and there are quite a number in the country, including even the Nismo Beast and a Mine’s tuned R34 GT-T.

If you buy one, it will be no different from getting a Lancer Evolution or Impreza STi: your biggest problem will be finding a road big enough to accommodate this car’s monster performance.

And where do you plan to buy one? The car went out of production in 2002, so it is outside the taxman’s eight-year importation bracket.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a station wagon buff, so, with that in mind, what information can you give me on the Nissan Wingroad regarding fuel consumption, suitability to the local rough conditions, suspension system, among others?

The 1300cc Wingroad has outstanding fuel economy (you can wind one up to 16 or 17 kpl without using any tricks or special techniques). However, these are non-tropicalised ex-Japan cars, and from what I see on the roads, they get out of shape pretty fast, aging gracelessly and really quickly.

The Probox may be a better bet… or even the AD Van, which is a more basic form of the Wingroad and a commercial vehicle, and thus a bit more robust.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Mazda Demio 2004 model. The only problem I have is with its consumption, which is about 12 kpl. I replaced the usual plugs to iridium platinum NGK plugs, but it only improved slightly, by 1kpl. What might be the issue? I never miss servicing it after 5,000 km.

Edwin

At 12 kpl, what more do you want from your Demio? How much did the plugs cost you, and how long will it take to recover the money, basing your maths on the improved economy figure? There’s nothing wrong with your car.

If you want a better figure, stop driving in town and stick on the highways, don’t carry anyone else in your car, and drift as many other cars as you can to minimise drag. In other words, improving on that 12 kpl will call for some extremist manoeuvres; be happy with it as it is.