Thinking of buying a unique car? Consider the Renault Megane

Wednesday July 10 2019

Renault Megane

Renault Megane. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

BARAZA JM
By BARAZA JM
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Dear Baraza,

My friend is shopping for a car in the UK on my behalf. I’ve been looking through a website and the cars I saw are unique makes that I hardly see on our Kenyan roads. These include: the Renault Megane 1.5 dCi, Dynamique Tom Tom EDC 5dr (Tom Tom), Chevrolet (I’ve seen a few), Vauxhall Corsa, Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and Chrysler Delta.

Is it advisable to buy such unique makes for the Kenyan roads? I’m a first-time potential car owner.

Thanks for being a great resource on all things cars.

Cheers!

Edith

Hi Edith,

You are right: the cars you list may occur with a bit of ubiquity over in the United Kingdom of Great Britain-land but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than three units locally, and as you may have suspected, this comes with a glaring attendant problem: a noticeable lack of support networks.

Be it skilled workmanship honed over years of familiarity with the marque or a line of outlets selling sundry parts and components thereof, a quick look around will reveal a dearth of both.

There is a Renault dealership to give you hope, but the Megane-with-a-lengthy-surname you list sounds suspiciously like a devourer of derv (dCi), which is a whole other problem in itself, and is not sold locally. Renault only sells the petrol-powered Megane here. It is a nice, well-priced alternative Corolla, for what that’s worth …

There was a Chevrolet dealership here under General Motors which was bought out by Isuzu EA, subsequently waving goodbye to the bow-tie brand when all things non-Isuzu were purged from the roster, so there goes that.

There was a Chrysler outlet within DT Dobie but they too realised some Yank brands are best left to the Yanks and divested themselves of that portfolio.

Vauxhall is also Chevrolet is also Holden is also General Motors, but the Corsa they sold here was a model conjured up during the Moi government, making it a largely irrelevant car to this discussion unless your list comprises of hardware from the mid-90s. Newer models have never seen a showroom floor in Kenya. The Citroens we remember are as old as we are.

QUIRKY FRENCH

You may be able to source for parts — that is what the internet is for anyway, shopping — but you still have to find someone brave (or foolish) enough to tinker with a quirky French car s/he has never seen before, and trust me, French cars are quirky. This usually marks the beginning of a long and depressing slide into the dark side of the moon that is lemon-flavoured motor vehicle ownership, which in turn leads you to cuss out various brands for their general s — yness. Sometimes this is deserved, sometimes it’s not really the brand’s fault that nobody knows how to repair their cars. The starting list you have is not a very encouraging one as far as reliability goes, especially Citroen and Chrysler; and while the former has little or no presence here in Kenya, the latter was quietly put out to pasture — neither circumstance is a good prognosis.

Your best choice there is the Megane, but please make it a petrol one and let the diesel one live out its life in the North Atlantic, where they are used to it. If not, play it safe and get a Japanese brand; there are a number of UK-assembled models to choose from, such as the Toyota Avensis and the Honda Accord, among others. Your friend should be able to provide you with a more exhaustive list. Also, avoid diesel engines for now.

The best German car

is a new one

Mr Baraza,

As always, your column dispenses quite a lot of useful information and the occasional comic relief in the neighbourhood of “ raised, wide tyred, heavy duty, masculine Demio!”. I hope my note will not try your patience further.

My car history is quite chequered. Renault 16TS, Peugeot 504 and 405, Mitsubishi Chariot, Hyundai Elantra, Subaru Forester, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and an Isuzu D-Max and Ford Ranger T6 for my farming misadventures.

As you can see, I‘ve had no brand loyalty. Now that I’m getting rather long in the tooth, I want to shift to something easier on my bones, and I’m looking at a 2015 Mercedes ML350 courtesy of Cars.co.za. The only acquaintance I’ve had with Mercs was as a passenger in my old lady’s 220S back in the 70s. So, ML350 … will it be a solid buy, or am I setting myself up for misery?

Patrick.

Hi Patrick,

I have to agree, yours IS quite the colourful automotive history … did I just see a Renault 16 in the line-up? And not one but two Peugeots? I admire the lack of brand loyalty; it is something a lot of people would do well to pick up from you. Brand loyalty tends to be an impediment to objectivity and critical analysis. Anyway …

The Benz ML350 is a bit comme çi comme ça, — ranked ninth in some American survey on a list of luxury SUVs, prestigious badge, crossover class, all that jazz — so I won’t dissuade you from getting one, but let us instead focus on the last word of your correspondence: “misery”.

I’m not saying misery awaits you; but then again I’m not saying it isn’t. This column once featured a complainant who did not have pleasant things to say about his experience trying to get a similar one repaired, but there was a caveat: his car was not new.

A 2015 car is relatively new, by comparison and also hopefully. Unknown provenance is a fickle and cruel master. This is where I pause things to ask you: Must the car come from South Africa? I noticed the “.co.za” suffix in the URL you provided; which means it is a South African website.

There is a closely guarded secret that DT Dobie may or may not be pleased with me revealing, but, as hard to believe as it may sound, it is true: brand-new Mercedes-Benz cars are not as expensive as people think they are.

SH 37 MILLION

I’m not referring to the recently launched G63 AMG urban assault war machine: that one costs 37 million shillings and is clearly meant for the heavily privileged who also buy ships and aircraft — I’m referring to more “normal” Mercs: they really are not that expensive. Darken the doorway of your nearest DT Dobie branch and ask for a price list of Mercedes-Benz cars, then get your socks knocked off when you realise a GLS500 costs Sh4 million LESS than a Toyota Land Cruiser VX. Whaaaat? And that is not the only example …

There is a reason I’m asking you to look closer home. First, you could land yourself a certified pre-owned ML350 (later renamed “GLE350”), which means a dealer-maintained or at least dealer-approved vehicle that will be niggle-free for the most part. They dare not sell you a ramshackle. You can’t get this kind of certainty from an offshore import.

The dealer may even accept a trade-in if your cash reserves don’t quite meet their asking price for a new-ish ML/GLE, again another benefit the South Africans don’t and/or won’t offer. If a trade-in is not in the offing, there could be a financing option — but you say you are getting on in years, so having you repaying a car loan at this stage in life may not make much sense.

I don’t know how much you have saved for your prospective ML/GLE, but if you could stretch a bit further, who is to say you can’t get a brand-new one? It comes with a warranty, which is the best insurance a car-shopper can hope for against future maintenance-related headaches.

I once said in this column that the best German car is a new one; once the problems start, bitter tears follow shortly. Minimise the risk by buying something you can vet before forking out your hard-earned money.

 

Do I need to replace my car’s thermostat?

The debate on not or whether to remove the thermostat from the engine has been mind-boggling to me. I drive a Toyota and recently had trouble with its thermostat, which was “evacuated”. The car drives smoothly, but are there any long-term implications?

I used to do up to 18km to 19km per litre. This has dropped to 14 to 15, so does it have implications on consumption?

Where can I find one, as it has been a pretty difficult affair looking for one in Kisumu.

Fellow brother,

Baraza

 

Hi Baraza (Wait, who?),

You didn’t specify what Toyota you drive, but anyway … I’m surprised you can’t find a thermostat for it. That is very odd.

The advice most “experts” give for a failed thermostat is to replace, not evacuate. Those that recommend evacuation or go ahead and actually do it are bush mechanics with no sense of responsibility and believe in curing symptoms rather than the actual problem. It may be time to divorce yourself from them.

Cars will run just fine without thermostats, but there are long-term implications, which, “punnily”, are mostly centred around shortened engine life. This is most severely exacerbated during cold starts and this is what happens:



Thermostat.

Thermostat.

In a normal engine, the cooling system is kept offline during a cold start to allow the engine to warm up faster. This is combined with a slightly higher idling speed to get the temperatures up to normal in as little time as possible. Once the temperatures optimise, any further fluctuations are handled by the cooling system going on and off via the actions of the water pump, the cooling fans and whatever else you have doing the cooling for you. If temperatures drop, the cooling system shuts down. If the temperatures rise, the cooling system comes back to life. This on-and-off action is controlled by the thermostat.

COOLING SYSTEM

Now, take an engine that has undergone a thermostat-ectomy. The cooling system has no control switch, which means at one point it is going to steam itself like a chunky lobster only that instead of a tasty entrée following, it will be a stall and a massive repair bill. So how is this handled? Since there is no switch, the cooling system can only assume one position: fully on or fully off.

Fully off leads to the lobster situation, which is undesirable, so it has to be fully on. That means everything controlled by the thermostat is wired directly to the car’s electrical system. This in turn means the cooling fans and water pump come on at full blast the moment the key is turned.

During a cold start, you do not want this, because now the engine will fight a civil war against itself and its satellite accessory states: the idling runs high to try and warm up the engine as fast as it can while the cooling system on the other hand is doing its damnedest to provide maximum chilling effect to that same engine.

This may explain why your fuel consumption has gone up, but that is mostly conjecture, there are worse problems awaiting.

WARM UP

An engine running cold will run rich to warm up. An engine running cold also means oil temperatures are low, which in turn means oil viscosity is high, which further implies the oil takes a lot longer to reach where it is needed and the engine is very slowly cannibalising itself from a lack of lubrication in crucial parts. What makes things worse is the running rich.

Fuel is a solvent and will wash oil off the cylinder walls when given a chance. So what you have is cold oil that is struggling to flow through the engine and the little that manages to flow around immediately gets washed off by a rich intake charge from an engine trying to warm itself up while its own cooling system won’t let that happen.

I hope you see the picture I am painting here. Replace the thermostat, don’t “evacuate” it.

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