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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Greetings, Subaru Diehard,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

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Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

Posted on

Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

Posted on

Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

Posted on

Buy Evoque if you want luxury, and Evo if you want to corner like a rat

Hi,

I drive a Mercedes E240 year 2003 model. Now I want to upgrade to a bigger car. I am thinking of an Audi Q7/Lexus RX/Evoque. I want comfort, luxury, looks, and speed in that order.

I do not expect to go offroad; it just needs to handle potholes and diversions (during road constructions). I live in Kericho and travel to Nairobi and Kisumu twice a month.

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

I would buy a Land Rover Discovery with that kind of money and your priorities, but since the Discovery is not on your list, let us just pretend you did not ask me what I would prefer.

Speed: This depends on which engine you have in your car, but I will not even go into details here because:

1. All these cars will top 200 km/h, which I strongly advise against anyway (what for?) and

2. The biggest differences come in acceleration, but again, how many people do you see taking part in a drag race with an Evoque or a Q7 or an RX Lexus? There are SUVs built for that kind of thing (SRT Jeeps, AMG ML Mercs, Porsche Cayenne Turbos, BMW X5M and such).

What is more important is in-gear acceleration, or in pedestrian parlance, overtaking power. The Evoque takes the cake here: With the new nine-speed gearbox (yes, nine) and those clever-clever trick turbos used in both the petrol and diesel versions (plus the Evoque’s lower GVW overall), the Range Rover will go “like a starved rat”, to quote someone.

Luxury goes to the Range Rover. Does it now? The four pillars of luxury are space, light, silence, and comfort. The baby Rangie is quiet (if you drive soberly) and well-lit, especially if you open up the roof: The extended sun-roof opens all the way back, a feat none of these other cars can claim.

Comfort is a 70-30 split affair: The magneto-rheological suspension is optimised more towards handling and response rather than wafting, which is best left to the daddy: The Vogue (also not on your list), but then again, that active suspension does make for a good ride when the going is soft.

Space is where we might have an argument. The Evoque is certainly superior to the Lexus when inside (the spaciousness, whether real or perceived, is certainly not the same), but what of the Q7? It is a bigger car, but do the exterior dimensions reflect on the inside too?

No. The inside of the Q7 may not exactly be a portable toilet — it is actually quite roomy — but some of those interior colours work against that effect. A Q7 with a dark interior feels a bit like being inside a hole, and anybody who has been in a hole will tell you that the roominess of the hole is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Well-built and elegant interior it is, though, one of the best in the world outside of a Bentley. So the Q7 drops back in light and perception of space… and comfort: The ride is a bit hard. Silence also suffers a little (the competition here is very stiff, in the form of a Range Rover and a Lexus, hence the harsh judgement). The Lexus… well, the Lexus is certainly quiet and comfortable, but it is not very roomy, nor is it exceptionally well-lit.

A good car, it is also slain by the same sword that fells the Q7: The third option is just too good. Oh, well….

Looks: This is highly subjective. I have always detested the Q7’s marine appearance (I once called it “The Prince of Whales”), and the Lexus looks really boring and just a little bit aloof, the kind of thing you would expect from someone in IT who earned billions for making an app before they turned 22.

They have not had enough time to fully develop tastes and preferences and priorities and have life experiences like sleeping in jail (or with a streetwalker) but because they are a genius, they come up with something that works really well but lacks sex appeal, passion, and character. It is just there, functional and neat. Exactly like his billion-dollar app. The Evoque, in my eyes, reeks of Victoria Beckham, which in turn brings to mind Victoria’s Secret and I think I need to stop now…. Where is that Discovery?

**************

Dear Baraza,

I hope you have been well. I am torn between the following vehicles and I just cannot make up my mind on which to go for. Please advise on which is the better option between the Mitsubishi Evo 10 and the Subaru N14 WRX STi hatchback in terms of performance (both in six-speed manual transmission).

I have owned Subarus and can confirm that getting parts in not a problem. How about the Evo? Will parts be readily available? Also, what reliability issues should I expect from these cars? Finally, which will cope better with enhancements to boost the horses?

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

Thank you for opening Pandora’s Box yet again. The last time I wrote extensively about the two cars — which people mistook for a consumer report based on a comparison even after I had specifically introduced my writing as not consumer advice, I mean, one car was from 1996, the other from 2004 — I almost got murdered by loyalists of The Blue Oval. I guess it is time I sought protection again… or maybe not.

This time I will answer your queries randomly (on purpose). Evo parts may or may not be readily available. This is mostly determined by what exact parts you want and what your idea of “readily available” is: Over-the-counter? A day’s delay? A month’s delay? Or can they be acquired at all? For a performance car (such as the Evo), a little wait for model-specific parts is not unusual.

Modification/tuning/enhancement of horsepower is a common practice in the world dominated by these two cars, but some characters in Japan, whom I follow with keen interest, claim that these two particular vehicles are not easy to tune.

They seem complicated, and they are, but that has not stopped people from tuning them anyway. The response to increased performance will depend on how the enhancement itself is done, but the fact that the Evo — and not the Subaru — is available with 440hp straight from the factory speaks a lot about the drivetrain and chassis’ receptiveness to extra horsepower. It seems to be better adapted to these power upgrades, or so Mitsubishi Motors would want us to believe.

Then again, those same Japanese that I follow pitted a tuned N14 (or N16, whatever) against a tuned R35 Nissan GTR in one of their hardcore showdowns, and not an Evo… this also tells a lot, seeing how an Evo X had dropped out of contention earlier, tournament-style. For now, I will call a draw and say they are both tunable with exceptional results, but only if done properly.

Discussion of reliability is where I will probably get myself killed. I am not saying that Subies are unreliable (twin turbo Subaru engines are unreliable, but the N14 does not have this).

However, from local observation, STis suffer more turbo and engine failures compared to Evos. And they crash more often — a lot, actually. This could boil down to the driver: Maybe Evo owners are more fastidious in car maintenance and are generally better drivers, or maybe, just maybe, Evos are better cars overall, I cannot say for sure (I need to stay alive long enough to provide next week’s Car Clinic, you know), but statistics say this is so.

And now to the can of worms: Performance. There are few rival cars as evenly matched as these two models. Their engines are of the same capacity, they develop similar power and torque (a kilowatt here and Newton-meter there do not make much difference), both use 4WD powertrains and when raced flat out, they will generally invade each other’s privacy in a battle for supremacy… until you get to a corner.

In stock form, the Evo will gracefully make short work of the turn and keep charging until the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. The Subaru will head for the nearest thicket, or tree, or ditch, or whatever obstacle will inflict the most pain and/or embarrassment on the hapless and helpless driver as the vehicle ignores all instructions to change direction and washes its nose wide in a humiliating, tyre-wasting phenomenon called understeer.

This is where the Blue Oval loyalists come out with their pitchforks and torches, so I have to run now. Goodbye!

*****************

Hello JM,I was pleasantly surprised to read my question to you about the Discovery 2.

Ever since, I have been looking at the Outback, Box Prado, and Toyota Surf (year 2002, 3000TD). I steered clear of the Outback after I found out it does not have protection on its underbelly. Good car all round, though, although on the online forums, there were many complaints. The Box Prado did not have airbags and ABS.

The Surf… many thumbs up online, so I have been taking a second look at it. What is your take on it? I am looking for a comfortable, powerful all-terrain car.

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

Glad I was of help. That is what I go for in this column. Now, the Surf fits the bill of “comfortable, powerful, all-terrain car”.

It is comfortable, at least a lot more comfortable than some SUVs on offer (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Fortuner, to name a few…). It actually feels a bit similar to the Prado, with less body roll on corners and oceanic wallow on undulating surfaces.

It is powerful… in a way, and if the power is not to your liking, it is nothing that a tweak to the turbo (for diesel engines), an addition of an intercooler, or an engine swap will not fix.

And it is all-terrain. It has the full off-road tackling gear: Good ground clearance, 4WD transfer box, low-range gearbox, and locking diffs. It also has airbags and ABS.

The Outback lacks clearance, low range and diff locks (alleviated by use of AWD rather than conventional 4WD), and the Box Prado, which I like very much (70 Series), has no ABS and airbags, as you say (are you very sure about this?) So, Surf it is. Problem solved, if you ask me.

************

Baraza,

With all due respect, you have all your facts wrong on the Toyota Prius. I have, for the third time, read your views on the Hybrid and decided that enough is enough.

You are either misadvised or too ignorant. I have been a driver for the past 26 years and, as you can imagine, have driven quite a number of vehicles, from the Mitsubishi Rosa that was popular on the Eastleigh Route, through to half-gear vehicles, trucks, pick-ups, station wagons, and saloons.

Now, let us get back to the Prius. We Prius lovers feel insulted by your continuous criticism. I have driven a Prius since 2008, when I imported the first-generation NHW11 and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am now driving a 2005 NHW20 and still have the older one.

My sister drives a 2004 NHW20 and I have two friends who drive the same. None has had any problem with the vehicles and their contacts are available, should you wish to clarify anything.

I have yet to drive a used import vehicle of the same capacity that picks and is as fuel-efficient as my Prius and I can challenge you to a drive down to Mombasa (never been more serious) if only to have you set the record straight on the Prius Hybrid (I am willing to fuel both vehicles).

I hope you will be bold enough to publish this and accept my challenge down to the coast. If you will not, please give Prius lovers a break!

Francis

Hello Sir,

I will start off by saying I will give Prius lovers a break, simply because this has been going on for far too long and needs to come to an end.

I also need to clarify a few things, the first being my criticism of the Prius. I have not declared it a mechanical fiend, nor have I called it problematic.

My biggest gripe with this car is that it is over-glorified. It does not live up to its name. Do not believe the hype. You and your friends might drive Prii — I finally confirmed it: Toyota says it is “Prii” and not “Pria” or “Priuses”— with the best of intentions: Saving the planet for capitalists who do not care and who compensate for your good deeds by driving Lamborghinis and pointless SUVs, but that Prius you are so proud of does not save the planet. This much I have repeated several times.

The second problem comes with Prius owners: Self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou.

The salt of the earth, while the rest of us petrolheads are the bane of human existence who should be banished to a world where we will be forced to ride bicycles for the rest of our lives as penitence for taking too much pleasure in big-bore throttle bodies and Stage 2 Supercharger kits.

Owning a Prius was fast-approaching religious fanaticism, the kind of zealotic snobbishness that eventually leads to fundamentalism: “I am right and you are wrong and if you don’t agree with me I have some sticks of dynamite under my shirt that will convince you otherwise”.

Prii are good, but so are other cars. Also, Prii, like other cars, are fallible. The kind of pomp and circumstance that accompanied the vehicle’s entry into this world did nothing but set it up for backlash from the likes of yours truly. If you claim to be a horse, someone will pull down your trousers to confirm it.

The Prius is no horse.

Posted on

The non-turbo Impreza is easier to maintain and uses less fuel

 Hello Mr Baraza, I’m interested in buying a Subaru Impreza but there are some things I don’t understand, so I need some clarification: 1. What’s the difference between an Impreza plain, Impreza WRX and an Impreza WRX STi? 2. What are the pros and cons of a non-turbo Impreza and one with a turbo with regard to fuel consumption efficiency, speed and general maintenance?Please highlight any other aspect(s) in relation to the models, their effectiveness, efficiency and engine details.Eric Karani

Hi.

1. The difference could be as much as 150bhp. The regular Impreza is good for about 150bhp, the Impreza WRX makes roughly 230bhp while various forms of the WRX STi (JDM, factory-spec) develop anything between 276bhp and 320bhp. The Impreza “plain” is naturally aspirated, while the WRXes have turbos and intercoolers. They also have body kits, alloy rims and various addenda, which get less and less subtle the higher you go up the power scale.

2. The naturally aspirated “non-turbo” Impreza is far better where maintenance and fuel consumption are concerned. The turbo cars, not so much. However, if it is speed you want, you can never go wrong with the STi. De-limited, it will clock 260 km/h.

Effectiveness: The STi is very effective at what it does, which is going fast and cornering quickly, hence it’s rally heritage.

Engine details: the 2.0 litre cars all have EJ20 modular engines. With a turbo attached, the engine code is EJ20T.

Dear Baraza, Thanks for the great work you are doing. As a young hustler in Kisumu, I am thinking of getting a Mazda Familia (2000-2003) as my first car. I would appreciate your view on this car in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption, spare parts; in short, I’m interested in the economics of owning one. Regards. Andy

The economics of owning one are good. The car was cheap when new, so it will be cheap used. It uses a variety of puny powerplants, so no worries on the fuel economy front. Just make sure the unit you acquire is in a sound mechanical state. The vehicle is low maintenance (it is Japanese, you know, and small) and spare parts should not be a problem to obtain and/or buy.

Hi Baraza,

I am one of those people the government, and in particular the traffic police, are looking for because of using a Probox as matatu.

I use a 1400cc Probox to transport passengers from one town to another in a rural area  and it has been a very profitable business for a long time because on a normal day, I pocket between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500. That is more than a 14- seater makes, given that a Probox doesn’t have very my expenses because it requires only private insurance.

My question is, what makes the Probox a donkey that never gets tired because I overload it all the time and I have never replaced any part of the engine and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking down soon. I carry 10 to 14 passengers per trip and sometimes even 18, not counting kids, plus luggage like potatoes.

Now, what amazed me was the speed, because the traffic police chased me using their 110 Defender for an hour but didn’t catch me; I had 18 passengers and it was on a rough road. What’s more, it is a hilly village, so I became the village star.

How strong and durable is the 1400cc Probox engine, considering that I have had it for three years, I bought it second hand, and it doesn’t have any mechanical problem.

Gabu

Interesting confession, this. Also, one that is difficult to believe. If you earn Sh3,500 per day, which is more than that made by a 14-seater, exactly how much does a 14-seater make daily? I expect it to be more. But I don’t own a 14-seater matatu, so I wouldn’t know.

Cars don’t get “tired”. They are not living organisms, least of all donkeys, which is what you describe your Probox as. Provided they have fuel in them, motor vehicles will run endlessly until certain parts break/explode/shatter/disintegrate/fall off. Cars only suffer wear and tear.

So you carry between 14 and 18 passengers in your illegal PSV, plus luggage? How do they all fit in? Please, send in a picture of the 1.4 litre donkey in action. I have seen videos of similar vehicles used to smuggle would-be terrorists… sorry, illegal immigrants – from our unstable neighbour in the north-east into the country and the best they did was 12 (not counting driver and “conductor”). How to fit in six more people yet the ones already inside don’t even have breathing room?

The least credible part of your story is the point where you say a police Defender 110 pursued your overloaded (18-deep plus luggage) donkey over rough ground and lost. Either your Probox is not really a Probox, or the ground was not rough, or you didn’t have 18 people on board, or maybe even the pursuit didn’t happen.

Whichever of these factors applies, there is one undisputable fact glaring through this seemingly tall tale: you have cast aspersions upon the abilities of police drivers, and I don’t know what the boys in blue have to make of this. You will not outrun a Land Rover Defender 110 over “rough ground” if the helmsman of the said Land Rover is even remotely capable of driving. If this gets published, I guess it is “Goodbye Probox”, not just to yours, but also to all others operating in shadowy ways like yours.

To conclude: much as the veracity and quality of your email is in question, this I can say with confidence: The Probox is not built out of titanium or granite. It will give in eventually if you continue using it like that. There is nothing special about its construction or its engine, it is just a cheap car which is easier to drive flat out compared to something costlier.

Hello JM, Towards the end of last year, the motor vehicle enthusiasts’ fraternity and the fans of the series Fast and Furious suffered a tragic loss following an accident that occurred somewhere in the US.

It cost the life of one Paul Walker (RIP) and a colleague of his. More importantly though, is that he and his colleague were driving a Porsche Carrera GT, V10 engine capable of churning out around 600hp even though it is a 2005 model.

I have read some reviews online and some imply that the vehicle is quite aggressive and would require expert skill and experience. Do you have any idea what it feels like sitting behind the wheel of such a beautiful monster, plus I thought these kinds of vehicles (really powerful vehicles since there were those who believe that the particular Porsche in this case was modified to produce more power) have magnificent braking systems?

Regards.

RM

Hello,

Paul Walker’s demise was a shock to many, yours truly included, and very untimely: it came while filming of the seventh Fast and Furious movie was still under way. It is particularly galling, given that Paul Walker was a real-life motoring and racing enthusiast who owned a selection of potent and interesting motor vehicles, up to and including, but not limited to, a BNR34 Nissan Skyline GTR (the exact same car used in the 2 Fast 2 Furious film opening sequence) and a V8-powered Volvo station wagon.

The car that killed him is aggressive and difficult to drive. It takes a lot of skill to push it, and not many people can get anywhere near its limits. Theories abound as to what actually happened, and they vary from speeding (widely dismissed by on-the-ground witnesses), to street racing (also widely dismissed, though there was a yellow Honda S2000 on the scene immediately after the crash, the occupants of the Honda say they were going about their own business and were there to rescue any survivors), to avoidance of yet another accident, to the most absurd-sounding: that the man was murdered. I am not a CSI agent, so let us leave it at that.

I have sat behind the wheel of similar fare, literally sitting, but when it comes to driving, the farthest up the ladder I have reached is a 2012 R35 Nissan GTR. Its performance parameters compare thus to the Carrera GT’s: Power is 542bhp compared to the Porsche’s 620. Acceleration: the Nissan takes an otherworldly 2.8 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest, while the Porsche takes about 3.5. Top speed of the Nissan is about 318 km/h, the Porsche pushes matters to the scary side of 330 km/h.

Whether or not the red Carrera GT was modified is moot: even in stock, factory-spec condition, that car tries the abilities of anyone who dares drive it. The Nissan’s abilities look quite similar (and superior in some cases) on paper, but the Nissan is harder to crash because it uses many computers to achieve stability and it has a very complicated 4WD system.

The Porsche is RWD and the last of the purpose-built no-frills supercars. The chips in the Nissan will intervene in the event of loss of directional stability, but even before that, they ensure that loss of grip does not occur in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Porsche will show you up for the driver you are, and the outcome is you will see God. Even BBC Top Gear’s anonymous race driver (The Stig), arguably one of the world’s most capable drivers, spun the Carrera GT several times before completing a full lap in it. That is how “dangerous” the Carrera GT can get.

The Porsche can get dangerous, but it is not dangerous. Advanced aerodynamics (including the deployment of the rear wing once a certain speed-110 km/h- is reached), a very low centre of gravity, even weight distribution, top-tier braking ability (100 km/h – 0 in 31m only) and fat tyres make for a stable and very fast car in the right hands.

The question is: was Paul Walker’s friend and business partner that much less of a driver? No. He and Walker both had racing experience, and their joint business interest dealt in vehicles of that calibre. Clearly, they knew how to drive these vehicles, and doing abnormally high speeds in a restricted zone in a flashy car would just be asking for unwanted attention from the authorities. Were they speeding? I don’t know. Does the Carrera GT require advanced driving skills to push hard? Yes. Is the Carrera GT dangerous? No.

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a Japanese import car to buy. I have a question, though. How do I know if the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with? I learnt from a car importer that odometeters are tampered with in Mombasa, then the vehicles are advertised as having low milage. Is there a definitive way to tell what the actual mileage is? Thanks

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

1. Examine the odometer. Cars do an average of 20,000km per year. Use that against the age of the car. If the figure comes up short, get suspicious. Look closely at the numbers in cluster. For some analogue systems, a white space instead of a black space between the digits means the system has been tampered with. For some digital systems, interference with the mileage causes an asterisk to appear next to the readout.

2. Ask for FSH (full service history). Use the number of services against the service intervals to calculate a ballpark figure of the vehicle’s actual mileage.

3. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.

4. Check the pedals and floor mats. If they are shiny and/or worn out, that is a car that has seen many miles.

5. Inspect the vehicle for wear and tear. It should be consistent with the alleged mileage.

6. Check the tyre tread depth. Some people may roll back the od,o but their subterfuge may not be elaborate enough to get rid of such telltale evidence. Or the tyres might be too new for the indicated mileage, while the indicated mileage, might not being high enough to warrant a change of tyres.

Dear Baraza,I have a Nissan Navara  DCI D40 model Ex UK year 2006 and would like your professional opinion on what engine oil I should use. Currently, it is being serviced at D T DOBIE  and they are using normal oil 15w 40 but a friend of mine recently advised me to switch to full synthetic oil 5w 40 if I want a longer engine life for this vehicle. What’s your take on this?Kind Regards, Appi

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

Tell your friend to sod off. Unless the oil s/he is talking about is cheaper than yours, then s/he doesn’t have a valid point to make. The 15W 40 oil means the viscosity index is 40 for normal conditions, and 15 for winter conditions. The 5W 40 means a VI of 40 for normal conditions and 5 for winter.

We don’t have any winter here, do we? No. So we have no interest in the winter rating for the oil. It follows that the two of you are discussing the same bloody oil: one with a viscosity index of 40. If, for the sake of argument, we had winter, then “your” oil would be better than “theirs” due to the higher winter VI. So, again, tell your friend to sod off.

Mr Baraza JM,

I wish to thank you for the good work you are doing, educating us on various issues touching on different types of motor vehicles and motoring in general every Wednesday. I would like you to compare and guide me on which the better vehicle is between a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Rav 4, each of 2400cc or thereabouts in terms of:

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

I wish you had been more specific about the vintage of the vehicles in question. Factors like safety ratings and fuel economy tend to vary quite a lot from generation to generation. For your query, I will assume a 2007 car.

1. Passenger Safety: Interesting result here. The RAV4 scores 4 stars out of 5 for the UCSR (Used Car Safety Rating) while the Outlander scores the full 5 out of 5.

2. Fuel Economy: Again another interesting result. The RAV4 does 9.3 km/l while the Outlander out-teetotals it at 10.5km/l.

3. Spares: these vary widely in availability and cost, depending on where you look and who you ask. But trust Toyota parts to be widespread, though they may not necessarily be “cheap”
Comfort: broadly similar all round.

Posted on

Let’s clear the air on these noisy Subarus

Hi Baraza,
I have this weird obsession with tuned WRX /STi monsters but every time I praise them near my ‘ethical’ and ‘professional’ friends, they dismiss the cars as anti-social and ‘bad boy’ rides.

What’s even worse is that many of my friends deem the cars as the Number One killer on our roads, and that owning one is embarking on the pathway to your grave. What’s your take on these observations? Once you are done with that, please tell me:

What’s the difference between a Blow Off Valve and Anti-lag and N2O? What negative implications have they on the engine and a car’s life span?, and has NEMA raised (or likely is it likely to raise soon) any concerns about turbo loud exhausts?

Steven Maina.

When they say “anti-social” and “bad-boy”, are they actually talking about the car or do they really mean the owners/drivers? There’s nothing wrong with the WRX Subaru (this cannot be said for some owners of these cars though).

It is a mighty fine car, affordable performance in a compact, user-friendly package, but unfortunately it has attracted a client base that, the less talked about, the better. You would not believe the things a section of this “client base” said about me the day I declared that I enjoyed driving an Evolution more than I did an STi.

Those friends that allege the WRX is the No. 1 killer on our roads: ask them for proof. Where are they getting their figures from? And if this was true, then was I being insulted by ghosts a few weeks ago?

Logic demands that most of those WRX owners would have been a goner by now. Getting an STi is not a short-cut to an early grave, unless of course a person’s driving skills are worse than terrible, in which case any car will kill that person, not necessarily a Subaru.

The BOV is used to “dump” compressed air into the atmosphere (hence its other name — dump valve) when the throttle is closed. This prevents compressor surge, which could damage the turbo.

Compressor surge occurs like this: when the throttle butterfly valve is closed, this traps incoming air, which is under high pressure (it is coming from the turbo). Back pressure is created as the air tries to expand backwards into the turbocharger, and this can slow down the compressor wheel to undesirably low rpm, or even cause it to stall, creating a lot of stress in the turbo.

The disadvantage with having a BOV located after the MAF sensor in the air channel is that every time the BOV dumps air, the car will run rich since the compressed air has already been accounted for by the ECU (which receives instructions from the MAF sensor) and fuel dispensed accordingly.

Plug fouling and clogging of catalytic converters are the more immediate outcomes of this. A cure for this is placing the MAF between the intercooler (if so equipped) and the throttle body.

The anti-lag system is used to eliminate turbo lag, the instance where there is a flat spot before the turbo starts spooling. It does this by allowing an air-fuel mix to be in the exhaust manifold (when the throttle is closed) outside the engine block but before the turbo fan vanes.

The heat in the exhaust manifold ignites this charge and the resulting explosion forces air into the turbo, keeping it spinning even when the throttle is closed. When the throttle is opened, the turbo will still be spooling, so lag will have been eliminated.

The biggest disadvantage of ALS is shortened engine and turbo life because the force of the explosion in the exhaust duct is extremely large and places a lot of stress on nearby components.

To close it off: if NEMA enforces drive-by noise laws, all I can say is good luck to them as they try to catch the perps. I see them using DMAX pickups which, everybody will agree, is no match for an STi under full power, BOV hissing and ALS popping….

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your advice and informative read. I own a Subaru Impreza 2004 GG2 a with manual transmission. I have a problem when it comes to taking steep inclines from stop.

I have changed the clutch and pressure plate (all original parts) as recommended by mechanics but the problem still persists. I have now been told that the problems is because the car uses a Cable Clutch System and not the Hydraulic System. Is there a solution to my problem? What is the difference between these two systems?

Simon

You do realise that you have not told me what this “problem” is. You just said you have a stick shift Scooby and you “have a problem” with hills. Describe the problem. The cable setup is used in mostly old school vehicles, and a cable is used to connect the clutch pedal and the release forks within the clutch mechanism.

With a hydraulic clutch, a fluid and lines (small-bore pipes) are used to transmit foot power to the release forks without losses, since the hydraulic fluid used cannot be compressed, so it does not absorb energy (hence the name hydraulic).

The cable setup is prone to cable snags (jamming) and snaps (breaking), while the hydraulic system is susceptible to leaks and air locks (air is compressible).

Thank you for your informative column. I own a 2002 Toyota Fielder 4WD that I crashed months ago and since then I have been struggling to restore it to its pre-accident condition. So far I have solved a lot of the issues that developed after the accident but a few major ones still remain. They include:

1. The CHECK ENGINE light stays on throughout. One electrician once checked it and in fact it disappeared for a few days, but was back on when I next started the car.

I sought clarification and he sent me somewhere to do “re-programming” which worked, but with a similar result. Now they advise me to replace certain sensors which do not come cheap. Do you agree with this prognosis?

2. The AIRBAGS CHECK light stays on throughout. Is there a chance I’m driving a car without air bags or is it just a case of wrong fitting? (NB: The dashboard was changed after the crash).

3. The car is awful on the road. Occasionally it performs just well, but most times (especially in the morning) the car lacks power so much that even Vitz’s pass me.

This is worse when climbing a hill. I have tried to observe the car keenly and I realise that (a) The REV GAUGE on the dashboard is almost always beyond 3,000rpm. (b) The SPEEDOMETER CLOCK on the dashboard does not go beyond 80KPH.

(c) The car emits an unusually loud roar when running and even when idling (the windows rattle when it’s idling). (d) On the times when it emits the loudest roar when running, I realise that there is no shifting that takes place in the transmission. The rpm at such times also goes beyond 3,000 which I think is unusual.

Sir, what is wrong with my ride? Could it be the gear box, or do I just need a throttle service as one mech told me? (He claimed the problem is that the engine cannot pull in enough air, thus is underfed of oxygen). Please help. I am desperate.

Maurice

1. First, find out what that Check Engine light is all about. Don’t cure the symptom, find the problem and solve it. I cannot “agree” or “disagree” on whether or not you need to buy “sensors” (which sensors are these anyway?) until I know what the engine is complaining about. Come back with a code, then we’ll take it from there (including the flush, or “reprogramming” as you call it).

2. Yes, there is a strong likelihood that the airbags may be dysfunctional, or missing, or simply were not connected when the new dash was installed.

All these will make your car tell you, via those tiny bright instrument lights, that your airbags need looking into.

3. See 1 above. I believe the two are connected somehow.

Hi Baraza,

Most people recommend Robs Magic spring coils and Monroe shock absorbers, but would you recommend the non-branded heavy duty Chinese coils and shocks, especially for the rough Kenyan roads? What advantage do the branded spring coils

involving steel. Also, of late the steering wheel of my car is stiff to turn when driving. I have had wheel alignment and balancing and the tire pressure is okay. Could this be connected to worn out shocks?
Regards,

John.

There is a lot more to coils than meets the eye. It may just be a foot-long bit of twisted metal, but the processes involved in “smithing” that metal is what makes the difference.

I remember an ad for the second generation Land Rover Discovery that alleged the metal in their coil springs underwent tensile stretching and compression 10,000 times, was alternately chilled and superheated for a week (or something) and finally blasted with millions of tiny little balls non-stop before being forged into a Discovery coil spring.

Obviously not everybody does that, and there must have been a reason for Land Rover to brag about doing it. So a coil spring is not always the same as the next coil spring, in spite of appearances. I will not dabble in brand names just yet, but yes, different brands have different qualities, the most important being brittleness, energy storage (spring rates and stroke room) and life-span.

The hard steering is not necessarily down to bad shocks. Maybe your power steering fluid has run low. Or there is a problem in the steering box, or the steering geometry is off…

Bwana Baraza,

Thanks for your good advice. I read you regularly. Most of the cars imported into this market years ago had manual gearboxes and were carburetor injected. However, with the advent of EFi and VVT-i

technology, these cars have been very hard to re-sell, with a lot of people preferring the EFi technology. What are the advantages of either technology over the other?

Salim.

In this day and age, there is hardly any vehicle still being manufactured with a carb-fed engine. EFi is better than carburetor-injection for many reasons, chief among which are improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

Carburetor engines are also much harder to tune (the carbs themselves actually, not the whole engine), more so when it comes to altitude compensation.

Then there is a tendency of carb-fed engines not to rev smoothly throughout the entire rev range (a common affliction in performance cars); more often than not there is a “dead” spot somewhere (usually in the mid-range or towards the top).

Posted on

The Avensis is just another bland Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I have shipped in a Toyota Avensis from the UK and have been told of certain concerns regarding the car:

1. That parts are not locally available; I will have to get some spares, such as suspensions and ball joints, from Dubai.

2. That body parts can only be found upon placing a special order to the auto spares dealer shops along Kirinyaga Road. Are these concerns real?

Also, please comment on the performance, maintenance, as well as the merits and demerits. It is a 1.8-litre automatic model.

John

1. Visit Toyota Kenya and ask if they have the parts you seek. They sold the car under franchise, they should be able to offer support for that model.

2. I repeat, visit Toyota Kenya and ask.

The performance of this car is not exciting, maintenance is typical of pseudo-executive Toyota saloons and, being a Toyota, it is hard to come up with legitimate demerits without resorting to nit-picking.

Also, being a Toyota from the early 21st century, it is hard to come up with particular strong points that stand out versus other vehicles (maybe fuel economy in the D4-D diesel version).

In other words, it is just another bland Toyota that will do everything a family saloon is supposed to. That is why I have never reviewed it; there is nothing to say without boring the hell out of my readers.

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Hi Baraza,

What is the difference between a restricted and unrestricted exhaust system in a car and how do the systems affect performance and fuel consumption?

Also, what are the pros and cons of low-profile tyres? Do they make a car more stable as compared to the “normal” tyres?

Restricted exhausts are what you would find in any normal car, complete with catalytic converters, back boxes, silencers and such.

Unrestricted exhausts have all these removed and are just one straight pipe from manifold to tip (hence the name straight-thru exhaust), which, more often than not, is of a larger diameter than stock (factory spec).

The effect is to improve performance, but you will not make your car faster by removing the silencer and the cat, you also have to map the ECU, in effect telling the engine that there is lower back pressure as compared to before, so adjust your timing accordingly.

Also, the real purpose of straight-thru exhaust comes after engine modifications are done; such modifications will make the engine rev higher, faster and with greater volume/mass of intake charge/exhaust products, such as by forced induction or using bigger and highly polished intakes.

The exhaust is rarely, if ever, Step 1 in making a car go faster.

About low-profile tyres; Pros: better handling since most low-profile tyres are also wide-section and offer better grip. Also, the thinner side walls are stiffer and so reduce body roll and the tendency to flip over.

Cons: They are expensive, and they make the car uncomfortable. They also are unsuitable for less-than-perfect road conditions as the impact from constant bumping makes them swell.

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JM,

What would be your advice in regard to driving on roads that have been damaged by heavy trailers such as the section near Eldoret?

Is there any damage to the wheels/suspension if one drives on the raised “rails” now that this seems to be the only way out for low cars (else their under-carriage will scrape the road)?

I know the place you are referring to: not too far from the Equator crossing and just next to the turn-off into Kapsabet, right?

The trick is to keep the tyres on either side of the car on top of the bumps (or “rails” as you call them).

Avoid slipping into the troughs as you might bend your steering arms, scrape off the sump or even knock out the diff in a rear-drive car if it is low enough. Keep your speed low to guarantee control and avoid skidding under hard braking (downhill plus slippery road surface).

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Baraza,

I previously owned a Toyota 110 but recently disposed of it. I now want to buy another car and, owing to the market prices, I have decided to go for a Subaru Impreza.

I would like to know the consumption of this car verses Toyotas of the same engine capacity (1500cc) and why people don’t like Subarus as much as they do Toyotas.

Njoroge.

The fuel economy figures for Subarus and Toyotas should not be too disparate, if we keep turbos out of the picture.

The Subs may be a touch thirstier owing to the AWD transmission, but this is not something you cannot recover with a little common sense.

After all, Subarus are built and developed by Toyota (in a way).

The disregard for Subaru cars stems from several avenues.

First, are the turbocharged versions; they are thirsty, especially when pushed, so people generally assume (after buying the wrong Subaru once) that all Subs are dipsomaniacs.

Second, is the STi clique, the Impreza WRX fan club.

While not all of them exhibit anti-social behaviour on the roads, there are one or two bad cards that will overtake you while driving on the pavement or wake you up at 3am as they pass outside your bedroom window in a car equipped with an aftermarket exhaust system and ALS (anti-lag system), sounding like a small army is invading your neighbourhood with automatic weapons.

But they are not all evil, sleep-depriving, rule-flouting louts in the STi club. Just as not all Subarus are turbocharged, and so not all will deplete your disposable income. Feel free to get an Impreza, even an STi if you are up to the task, but please don’t drive like an idiot.

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JM,

My friend and I are re-engineering the petrol engine of a saloon car so that it uses hydrogen; don’t be bewildered, great inventions come from mundane ideas.

We have built a hydrogen cell that uses water and electric current to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen, we presume, can be combusted to produce the driving power to the pistons. The hydrogen cell is already working and the hydrogen being produced is igniting.

Now, what are the challenges we may face in using hydrogen as a fuel? By the way, hydrogen burns at much lower temperatures than fossil fuels, and the by-product is water only, so we save on the environment. Do you think we are headed anywhere?

I hope we live through the process to enjoy the car. If we succeed, we will bring you the car for a road test… if the oil multinationals don’t smoke us out.

Harold.

You have managed to isolate hydrogen gas from water? At what cost?

Anyway, I am glad the cell is working, and yes, hydrogen does combust (with a “pop” sound, according to our Chemistry teachers; in reality, it burns with a loud bang/explosion, as the operators of air-ships will tearfully testify). The question is: how does it burn in the engine?

How are you storing it in the car? What injection system will you use? Will it have to be first liquefied? Have you studied the combustion properties of hydrogen? This will assist in variable valve timing and direct injection.

What of additives? If the by-product is water (which it is), and there is a bit of blow-by in the cylinders (which there will be), water will get into the sump and mix with the oil, forming sludge.

Exhaust gas re-circulation? Will you re-circulate steam into the engine? How much energy will the combustion process release? If the explosion is too violent, how will you control it? Is there stratified intake charge combustion? Will the engine block and heads need bolstering to prevent pre-mature failures?

I am not watering down your hard work, these are just guidelines on areas to pay attention to. You may be on to something here, who knows?

What you need is funding for feasibility studies of your project, because I have not even started on infrastructure: plants and factories for extracting hydrogen, storage facilities, dispensers…

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Hi Baraza,

I am a physically challenged person (paraplegic) who is planning to buy a second-hand car. My budget is between Sh300,000 and Sh400,000. Kindly advice on the following:

1. Type i.e. Toyota, Nissan, etc.

2. To import or buy locally assembled.

3. If it is to import, the right/proper procedure of doing it. Please note that I am tax-exempted.

4. Where can I learn to drive the same?

Mwangi.

1. This mostly depends on personal taste, though for that kind of money, a Nissan may be a better bet. The demand for Toyotas rarely wanes, so getting a good one that cheap is not easy.

2. For reliability, a locally assembled version is the smarter choice. Also, the car can be modified for use by paraplegics by the same people who sold it.

3. I have never known the exact procedure that will ensure you get the car you want without risking theft, fraud or short-selling.

4. The AA, or any reputable driving school, should be able to help you out. First of all, the car has to be modified to transfer the foot controls (pedals and parking for some models) from the floor and site them within arms reach. From there, it is just practice.

I know of someone who has had his Caldina modified with a “foot-free” kit, so to speak. He, like you, is paraplegic.

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Hi JM,

Thanks for your article on the Scania (DN2, July 25, 2012). I have driven the Scania 380 once and for sure it’s a good machine. I would like you to help me out on these two questions:

1. What brings about the “big” difference in speed between the Scania and the Mercedes Actros? That is, the Scania outdoes the Benz when climbing a hill, but when cruising on flat/level ground, the Scania is outdone.

2. Why do truck drivers raise the wheels that are just before the rear driving wheels. That is, those that have no torque?

1. The amazing climbing power comes from the incredible torque that the engine develops (about 2500 Nm in the R420).

This torque in itself comes from the turbocharger, intercooler, intelligent engine programming, and of course the turbocompound setup, which acts as a complement to the turbocharger (it increases the speed of exhaust gases going through the exhaust turbine in the turbo).

The lower speed on flat ground stems from the fact that Scanias are programmed (and built) to last and offer good performance (in lugging loads) while returning good fuel economy, so their close-ratio gearboxes are not engineered for outright top speed.

The presence of a retarder along the drive-line also makes high speeds hard to achieve. And lastly, they come fitted with speed governors.

2. The raising of the tag axle (that is what it is called) is sometimes automatic, when the vehicle senses the load does not warrant the use of the extra axle.

It can also be raised manually, if the vehicle is so equipped.

It is usually raised to save the tyres: if the tag axle is not needed, you can save tyres (and money) by getting the two tyres off the ground, at which point they are essentially spare wheels.