CAR CLINIC: What's the best way to protect my car on the road? - Daily Nation
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How do I keep my car out of harm’s way on the road?

Wednesday January 31 2018

The best protection for the vehicle’s body from other road users (including rampaging matatus) is acute situational awareness on the driver’s part. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

The best protection for the vehicle’s body from other road users (including rampaging matatus) is acute situational awareness on the driver’s part. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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What is the best way to protect my car from other vehicles, especially overlapping matatus?


The best protection for the vehicle’s body from other road users (including rampaging matatus) is acute situational awareness on the driver’s part.

You have to learn to read minds, anticipate the worst and have a plan B for the moment things go belly up courtesy of another driver’s lack of sensitivity. Learn to give space, especially to the clinically insane and/or psychopathic. This will go a long way in keeping you free of scrapes and dings but it is not a 100 per cent surefire technique, as I will shortly narrate.

One rainy night I was driving in Eastlands with a friend and we found ourselves in a traffic jam. There was a matatu behind me and without fail the driver proceeded to use whatever little pavement was available as an acceleration lane to ensure uninterrupted progress of his business.

I am proud of my own situational awareness, which is another way of saying I saw his thoughts long before he had even made his decision, and so I pulled forward ever so slightly to give room for his bus to go up the sidewalk  easily (please do not ever battle these people, you could die).

Well, anyone who has been in Nairobi’s traffic knows space is precious and lacking, so I didn’t have much room to manoeuvre anyway.

He still kept coming, though, now mere millimetres off my bodywork to the left and not quite parallel. I dropped the passenger window and asked my friend to raise the idiot on the gong and tell him to hold up a minute as I create an inch of daylight for him to proceed unfettered.

The response? Casual dismissal, not unlike one would in the face of petulant conversation. He revved his engine, dipped his clutch, ground his gears into position, declutched and the next thing El Turbo rocked violently along its roll axis.

I had been hit, right after warning the man that he was going to hit my car. This was beyond belief.

Handbrake up, hazards on, belt off, and I step out of the car, murder in my eyes; to hell with the light drizzle. That is when I found the present tense because Eastlands matatus have crews that outnumber paying passengers, and they have “logistical assistants” stationed everywhere along their routes, which is why it took less than five seconds to find myself surrounded by elements not entirely of good character. Hop out the four-door with a four-four it was one, two, three and four. They numbered five or six. My passenger was trapped in the car by the too-close-for-comfort matatu; he couldn’t open his door. It is at such moments that one’s throat closes up and one starts quickly looking for an exit plan.

“You best get back in your car and just keep on driving, son,” they made it clear. I looked from the logistical assistants, to the driver who just glared at me wordlessly, and back to the logistical assistants.

Back into the car, seat belt on, handbrake down, hazards off, and slowly creep forward deeper into the traffic jam, pondering how it might be time for me to log on to the dark side of the Internet in search of an unregistered weapon...


Which is the correct way to start an automatic hybrid car?

Dear J M,

Are there any hybrid vehicles that are manual (I haven’t seen any so far hence the question)?

What is the correct procedure for starting an automatic hybrid vehicle? (Press brake pedal and push the button - keyless (or turn the key) or just turn the key or press the start button without pressing the brake pedal?

Do hybrid vehicles need 30 seconds to 5 mins to warm up first, or can you just drive off immediately after starting the engine?

May Clarkson


Hello there,

Is your name actually May Clarkson or are you just a dedicated follower of British motoring TV shows? Anyway...

The original Honda Insight had an optional manual transmission is what some quick Google-Fu reveals. Apparently, the Civic Hybrid and CRZ too had manuals, but that is neither here nor there. Here is something a little more captivating to masticate on along those lines: someone transformed an open-top 1978 Ferrari 308 (ancestor of the current 488 GTB) into an electric car, which is interesting enough, but what really got me was the fact that it is equipped with a manual transmission. I won’t narrate here what driving it is like (Google-Fu, yo!) or why it even has a manual transmission in the first place, but it is something you definitely want to see.


*           *           *

I am guessing there will be some slight variations in starting procedures depending on manufacturer, but more likely than not, pressing the brake pedal is a prerequisite. It is in most (automatic) cars anyway, hybrid or not, so I wouldn’t expect any different from one car to the other.

Modern engines don’t really require a warm up period upon startup. Unless it is unusually cold, like below zero prevailing temps, you can safely crank your engine and drive off immediately without fatal consequences for the engine, but please respect chemistry and allow the oil to warm up a little (while pootling around at a gentle canter) before redlining the valves off that engine. It is only common sense.


I’m adding your articles to my website; what do you think about it?

Hi Baraza,

I read your column every week. I must say I am fascinated by your knowledge of motoring.

I have built a website ( and added some of your work. I built this website so that readers can get access to your previous work.  The website is still under development and I would like your views on this idea.


Well, well, well, what have we here?

On the one hand it is flattering that you have archived some of my work and I am actually a little rosy around the cheeks as I click through your website. On the other, it seems like your site is going to enjoy traffic from what is, for all intents and purposes, sweat and toil that have not been compensated by the user. I know the rules of the Internet demand that one credit borrowed content to the originator, but still... Let me explain why I might not be as excited about your site as you were hoping I would be.

Now, several times before I have decried the repetitive nature of Car Clinic. It really does get under one’s skin when one is asked the  same question in the  same grammar using the exact same vocabulary used by someone else a week earlier. What is this, a personalised answering service? I think not. I have a solution: I’ll do my own archiving, in hard copy format, and sell it as an annual automotive almanac. So those that didn’t pay attention the first time round will have to pay something else to get their issues addressed (again). This should kill the instant replay scenario that has persisted in my weekly correspondence; and it should have the added bonus of lining my uncomfortably shallow pockets. Just to spice things up, I intend to archive the raw, unedited versions of my write-ups just to justify the sales and not make it too punitive for the unwittingly forgetful or the willfully aloof.

You can, therefore, see that your site creates a conflict of interest to my own agenda. You are essentially providing remedial lessons for free and this is what inculcates a sense of entitlement in the willfully aloof. They assume it is their right. That aside, there is a standing agreement between the Nation Media Group (NMG) and myself concerning the copyrights to my work, and for it to be reproduced elsewhere will need carte blanche from both parties. I don’t recall you asking for such a go-ahead and I don’t think my Editorin-in-Chief got the same request either. See where this is going?

Anyway, I wouldn’t want to be a dog in a manger so here is the deal: go ahead with the archiving, it’s not actually hurting anybody and it only serves to optimise search engine results whenever someone Googles “Baraza JM motoring”. There are two requirements, however:  1. The insertion of hyperlinks into your own text that sends the browser back to my website to “view more content like this”. I, like you, am after clicks and views as well for my own portal. 2. Written permission from the Editor-in-Chief because the legal eagles at NMG say what you are doing might land you in hot water with them. Sorry.

I checked out your website and have a few pointers. Give it a “Home City” feel, a sense of belonging. Apart from what are clearly copy-pasted Car Clinic entries, there is no sense of root to the content on your site. Is it a Kenyan site? American? Or is the content mixed and matched to give it a global feel? That last part is risky because by trying to belong to too many things at once you end up belonging to none (see my comments on the BMW X6 as an analogy of this fallacy of composition).

Give it a “national” identity and then you’ll be heading somewhere as well as have focus. Step one to giving it identity is to get rid of impertinent content.

Sure, a Rolls Royce Phantom is an interesting vehicle but if I find your site placing too much energy on it, I will assume the content generators are the type who have their heads in the clouds and chase dreams and, therefore, have nothing substantial to offer besides an impossible wish list accessible only by the 1 per cent. Savvy?

All the best with your new ambition as curator of online automotive content. The more of us there are, the better it is for the industry.


Subaru STi vs Toyota Crown? It’s a matter of perspective

Hello Baraza,

I’m planning to reward myself with a car mid this year, but I can’t choose between a Subaru STi and a  Toyota Crown; which one should I go for? I need something fast, powerful and easy to maintain.



Hello Malcolm (in the Middle?)

Strange query this one, because it all boils down to something I call “perspective”. The Crown is not a slow car; it could comfortably be branded as “fast”, but guess what? The STi is even faster. Doesn’t matter which STi we are referring to; Impreza, Forester or even the new Levorg. This is the point where pedants walk in with theories about “fast vs. quick” and “top end” and whatnot, but at the end of the day, whatever iteration of STi you are driving will always outrun a Crown, irrespective of the cylinder count beneath the Toyota’s bonnet (Yea, I said it!). Size matters. So does weight.

(Disclaimer: there is one Crown though, the Majesta, that has the 1UR-FSE engine as an option. This is a 4.6-litre V8 with direct injection and electrically controlled, intelligent variable valve timing, giving it lung power somewhere just a little shy of 400 donkey-strengths. If you chase the Majesta with an STi and get your tail handed to you, please do not quote Car Clinic as saying otherwise. You have been warned)

Power: The six- and eight-cylinder versions of the Crown have higher outputs compared to whichever STi you might pick, but this is on paper. Drive them, however, and the STIs feel more powerful. The operative word here is “feel”. The Crown is essentially a bare-bones Lexus and it, therefore, has a magic carpet ride quality about it. You might not even hear your own engine. STis are blunt,  loud, unsubtle, and gear shifts are always accompanied by head-nodding like you are bumping along to a catchy hip hop track (Give it away, give it away, give it away now!). So, is it actual power you are after, or is it the sensation of power?

Maintenance: Walk away if this is going to be a problem. Your choices are limited to a high-strung, turbocharged 4-cylinder with the pistons facing the wrong way (even simply changing the plugs on a Subaru engine quickly becomes an exercise in determining who has the most agile chopstick fingers); or a massive mill with double the number of cylinders coupled with Toyota’s sometimes notoriously overwrought “gizmology” (D4 and VVT-iE). You need a strong stomach and a proper understanding of engines if you want drama-free operation of either car; if you intend to use them like I think you do, because run them hard and things will start to give, that is a given.

Long story short? You want an STi.