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Yes, a Forester XT can beat a Lamborghini in a race, but…

Hi Baraza,

One of my friends who owns a Forester XT claims that, if fully stocked, the car stands a chance against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-400 in a race. What’s your take on this?

Yes, there are races in which the Forester can beat a Lambo. Off-road races. Or a race to see who can carry the most people and the most luggage at a go without compromising on comfort.

Otherwise, if we are referring to racing as we know it, on tarmac and on a racetrack, or even a normal road, the Forester is a tree-stump compared to the Gallardo.

But the Forester, against its rivals (cross-over utilities), is a capable handler and is fast.

Hi Baraza,

I have always wanted to import a used car from the UK but friends have strongly discouraged me citing reliability issues. Is it true that cars from the UK are generally in poorer shape compared to their Japanese counterparts.

What I know is that it’s easier to get a manual transmission car from the UK — like the Mercedes C180 or Toyota RAV4 — which is my preferred choice of transmission unlike in Japan where most cars are autos nowadays. What’s your take on this?

The biggest problem with UK cars is rust. You see, way up in the North Atlantic where the UK lies, there is a part of the year that gets very cold.

Winter, it is called. The low temperatures create problems, especially for drivers. The snow on the ground creates a slippery surface on which it is extremely difficult to drive (unless your car is AWD).

Worse yet, something called black ice is created. Black ice is like wet glass.; it is a thin film of ice that forms on the road surface due to the freezing of the water on the surface (this does not even come from snow).

Here, not even AWD will help: if you try to drive on it you WILL crash. So how to deal with the black ice? Pour salt on it.

Salt is an impurity for water, so the freezing properties of water are disrupted, meaning that no matter how low the temperatures go, the water on the road will never freeze.

Having a salt solution covering the road surface makes the road more tractable, yes, but that salt solution sloshes into the various nooks and crannies underneath the car, and most of these gaps house iron or iron-based components.

Iron plus water equals rust, iron plus water plus salt equals rapid rust. Very rapid rusting. Need I continue?

Dear Baraza,

I just started reading your column a few weeks ago and I am wondering if you have compared the Nissan X-Trail to the Toyota Kluger 2.4S in the past editions. Which of these two SUVs would you prefer and why?

John

I prefer the X-Trail. It looks better, is more solid and feels robust, offers better space and you can buy a tropicalised version. Oh yeah, there is also a 280 hp GT.

Dear Baraza,

I am preparing to buy a Subaru Impreza. Could you please advise me on the advantages and differences of a Subaru Impreza 1500cc (2WD and 4WD) in terms of performance, durability, spares, and maintenance? What other alternatives should I consider?

There is no big difference between the two. Very small disparities exist in performance (the 4WD is marginally heavier, but you won’t notice), and maintenance, as far as the transmission is concerned, the 4WD is more complex to repair.

Alternatives are many: Toyota Corolla, Allion 1.5, Nissan B15, Bluebird, Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda Civic (if you can get one)… basically any small 1.5 litre saloon car fits the bill.

Hi Baraza,

There is this meter on the dashboard of my VW Polo that is scaled from 0 to 65 and is coloured red between 45 and 65. The needle moves as one accelerates and I always change gears before the needle reaches 30, which I presume is the middle. In the centre of the dial there is a scale which no one seems to understand; 1min/100. Please explain to me.

Karangi

That, sir, is called a tachometer, or a rev counter in simple terms, and it shows engine speed (the rate at which the engine crankshaft is spinning).

That is why the needle moves to higher numbers when you accelerate. Given the numbers you have quoted, I take it your car has a diesel engine (not that it matters here).

The label is actually 1/min X 100. So if the needle points to 30, it is 30/min X100, which comes to 3,000. So the engine is turning at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

The red zone should be avoided, because it is in this zone that engines blow, seize or start hydraulicking.

The tachometer is installed to help you avoid over-revving the engine, and in some instances to avoid straining it (when the revs dip too low). For professional or enthusiastic drivers, the tach’ is used to determine the maximum power and torque points of the engine speed and shift gears accordingly.

That is how race drivers set different “lap times” on tracks. The rest will be covered in something I am working on.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a Peugeot 406 that is currently consuming a lot of fuel. In addition, when driving in gear one, it makes jerking movements. The mechanic says that there is a fuel leak, that is, some gasket needs replacement. What are your thoughts?

Fuel leaks could explain the high consumption but not the jerking in first. Common causes of jerking in first gear (I take it the car has a manual transmission) are poor declutching technique, a worn out clutch kit and low fuel pressure in the injectors (first gear needs plenty of fuel), though the third option does not quite fit in here, it is just a theory.

Have the clutch system checked for fidelity in the release bearings.

Dear Baraza,

I want to upgrade my vehicle and I’m stuck on what to go for. I’m debating between 2005s BMW 530i, Audi A6 3.1-litre, Mercedes E320, the 2006 Lexus GS300 (Euro spec) or a Mark X with a 3-litre engine.

Yes, I know the Mark X feels out of place but I think its a very good looking car. What do you think is the best choice?

In addition, I’m trying to calculate the duty on these vehicles. Should I go with CRSP values or should I work with the conventional 76.5 per cent duty since the engines are quite huge?

In duty terms, either way the government will screw you. I cannot make a definite call on which one of the two calculations you should go for because I don’t know how much you have been asked for for these cars.

But know this: underquoting the vehicle’s price (CIF) will get you nowhere. The revenue authority has a minimum amount set for each class of car, so if you underquote, they will use their figure; if you overquote, well and good, they will still get your money anyways.

There is customs duty, excise duty, VAT (all these are calculated in compound form, one figure being used to derive the next) and some small amount for an IDF (Import Declaration Form).

Now to the cars: All the cars, except the A6, are available in RWD (an enthusiast’s dream). The Benz is classy, comfortable and handles well; the A6 has the best interior in the world but has a hard ride; the Lexus is a drug peddler’s transport and the detailing is a bit over-the-top (Lexus calls it good value for money, I call it vulgar); the BMW looks questionable but is best in performance; and the Mark X is cliche. Decide.

Hi JM,

I am in the UK and married to a Kenyan, so I am getting a Kenyan ID soon. I have been told I could import one vehicle into Kenya tax-free if it is for personal use. Is this correct?

Secondly, my cherished Mitsubishi Shogun is in tip top condition with everything working as it should, fully maintained and serviced to the highest degree, but it is a 1994 UK spec model.

Is there any way I could import this vehicle as I am aware there is a six-year block on imports, considering some of those I have seen are not as suitable for Kenyan roads as mine?

It is almost correct. You have to have owned the vehicle in question for a certain amount of time (grey area), then when selling it on, duty will have to be paid by the new owner.

The time cap is actually eight years, not six, but I think the above scenario (lengthy ownership in the land of emigration) also forms part of the list of exceptions.

This is a very grey area. I will have to consult with the relevant authorities for a concrete report, because all I have had are conflicting “expert” opinions from a variety of sources.

Hallo,

I was intrigued by your comment about the Prado being handful at 200km/h. Does it mean its very risky driving it at that speed or what? Please expound.

Samuel

Yes, that is what I meant. The Prado has an intrinsic instability courtesy of its off-road credentials (suspension and ride height), so winding one up to 200 km/h is gambling with the unforgiving laws of nature and physics.

Baraza,

Tell me, are there any advantages on fuel economy when driving a vehicle in tip-tronic mode?

Dr Ngure

There might be an advantage in fuel economy when driving in tip-tronic mode, courtesy of the ability to short-shift into a higher gear (shifting early, before the optimum rev level).

However, some tip-tronic systems override the driver’s instructions if the computer thinks it is wiser than him. Tip-tronic is mostly for performance driving. Switching from full automatic to tip-tronic can be done at will, even with the car in motion, after which, tapping the lever towards the plus sign (or using the steering mounted buttons) changes up while tapping it towards the minus sign changes down.

Mr Baraza,

I own a Toyota Vista 2000 model 1800cc. Recently, I noticed something peculiar on the fuel gauge; after I put in fuel worth Sh2,000, the gauge still read empty.

After driving to and from the office and while I was parking the car, the gauge suddenly shot to quarter tank. This has happened on a number of occasions.

I spoke to a mechanic who told me the gadget that measures the fuel level could be worn out and needs replacement. Kindly advise.

That is not a problem, it is a peculiarity with the Vista. I noted (and stated) this when I reviewed the Vista back in 2010 (check the archives for more on this car). One way of coping with it is turning off the car, waiting a full minute and then starting it again.

It should show an increase. No car will show an instantaneous increase in fuel levels on the gauge. This is because the fuel tank is slatted and thus the fuel takes time (and a bit of splashing) to spread itself evenly enough around the tank for the gauge sensor to get an accurate reading. Stop worrying.

Hello Baraza,
I’m a fan of diesel engines, and that’s why I bought a Mercedes Benz C220 CDI. What are the weaknesses of diesel engines compared to petrol ones?

I thought (hence the reason for liking diesel engines) that diesel engines have more power, especially in common rail versions. Is this true or should I be worried about my Merc?

Actually, petrol engines develop more power because they rev higher, though diesel engines are fast catching up owing to turbo-charger technology. What diesel engines have, in large amounts, is torque.

They are heavier than petrol engines and require more frequent servicing. Also, the injectors operate at very high pressure, so while in a petrol engine car running out of fuel simply means adding more and getting on your way, when the diesel injectors have no diesel to pump they are very easily damaged.

Staying on the same, diesel engines also need bleeding to be done before setting off to remove any air bubbles (vapour lock) in the fuel lines, which could also lead to injector damage.

The economy figures for a diesel engine are outstanding, though.

Posted on

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

Dear Sir,

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

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

Mak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Opondo

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

Keziah

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JM.

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

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

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

Kefa

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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