CAR CLINIC: I don’t love Subarus, I just need one

Wednesday December 12 2018

I don’t even love the Subaru brand itself. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

I don’t even love the Subaru brand itself. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BARAZA JM
By BARAZA JM
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Dear JM,

Your penmanship is without doubt equal to your knowledge and wisdom regarding automobiles. In these uncertain times, humanity really does need a gift and your articles are the package that good things come in. I have been following you keenly since I was in Form Two, not that I understood much but I did gain remarkable fluency in the Queen’s language since my vocabulary bank reported a double-digit increase.

Wednesday’s DN2 has been a joy to behold ever since.

Sales would plummet if you left your position. I hope your seniors and whoever is remunerating you appreciate your value.

Moving on, let us discuss Subaru. You came from the ropes swinging something like Ali in his prime. Journalists sit in precarious positions and I believe you are objective at least 99 per cent of the time and may sometimes be derailed by human weakness and your love for your Forester. It is quite understandable. Keep up the good work JM and keep dropping them punchlines like your favourite rapper does.

Kigera Dennis

 

Hallo Dennis,

Thanks for the kind words and flowery accolades. I am glad I reach more than one person out there.

I may not be objective 99 percent of the time (who is?) but then again as I stated, I don’t love the Forester.

I don’t even love the Subaru brand itself. My old man has been averse to the brand for over 30 years because he believes they are needlessly complicated — and rightly so; back when most cars powered only one axle, Subaru was dabbling in AWD; they sported frameless doors in four- and five-door form when this was the preserve of coupés and then along came the Leone with the spare tyre in the bonnet nestled atop the engine and the parking brake hooked to the front wheels and I think he could not deal. It was ridiculous.

There is crazy and then there is insane. Subaru was insane, and that was before they started “turbo-ing” their cars and winning rallies with them.

I repeat: I own a Subaru because I need one, not because I love the brand. I don’t love any automotive brand: there are those I respect (Porsche), there are those I admire (Toyota), there are those I sympathise with (anything French), there are those I am indifferent to (unnamed for security reasons) but there is none that I can claim to love.

I keep emotion distant from my work. It would be strange to love people you have never met; or love the things they make which boil down to two tonnes of metal, plastic, rubber and fluids.

How these people assemble these ingredients determines the kind of response they will get in this column.

 

Hallo Baraza,

I have heard of many people recommending removal of the thermostat from vehicles. In fact, I had mine removed a couple of weeks ago due to coolant spilling from the overflow bottle. I have noted that ever since, the temperature gauge rarely gets to optimum level.

My question is, should the thermostat be replaced or removed?

Are there any dangers of driving a vehicle without a thermostat? What is the recommended engine temperature?

David

Dear David,

The thermostat should be replaced when it goes offline, not removed. The risk of driving a vehicle without a thermostat is that it will take long to warm up since most removal procedures are accompanied by a direct connection of the cooling system to electrical power, meaning it is on full-time.

The risk of driving around with a cold engine is poor lubrication since the oil takes longer to warm up and stays viscous for longer, meaning it takes longer for it to reach vital components.

The thermostat should be replaced when it goes offline, not removed. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

The thermostat should be replaced when it goes offline, not removed. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Recommended engine temperature varies from one vehicle to the next, but should generally lie in the 90 - 100 degrees Celsius range; or just about the boiling point of water; though certain brands like Toyota believe 80 Celsius is a better threshold for longer engine life (and if there is a company that knows about engine life it’s Toyota).

Full disclosure: I have been building quite a garage and the latest entry is a W210 Mercedes-Benz E230. Normal running temperature is about 85 C. I don’t get why you removed the thermostat due to coolant spilling from the overflow bottle when you could have just drained some of it.

You most probably overfilled the bottle; leading to the spillage. When topping up your cooling system, don’t fill the overflow bottle to the brim; rather, fill the radiator itself and let the bottle be.

If there is still an overflow, then the problem is not the thermostat but a blockage in the cooling system somewhere downstream of the overflow bottle.

 

Racetracks are expensive to build, to maintain and don’t turn in profits

Greetings JM,

I commend you for your continued insights on all things motoring. Keep up the good work. Now onto the matter at hand, is it possible for all these motorsports associations in the country to come together and build a simple racetrack for the petrolheads to use? Wouldn't it be better than hiring airstrips? Besides, I think they would be creating an avenue for amateur motorsports to mature.

Regards, Clinton

 

Hi Clinton,

I'm glad you brought this up because there are some things that the ordinary individual does not know about racetracks.

Racetracks are simply expensive. They are expensive to build, they are expensive to maintain and their ROI (return on investment) index is negative. They will never turn a profit. If I built a racetrack now, my great-grandchildren's grandchildren will still not see a dime in profit.

Hi Clinton,

I'm glad you brought this up because there are some things that the ordinary individual does not know about racetracks.

Racetracks are simply expensive. They are expensive to build, they are expensive to maintain and their ROI (return on investment) index is negative.

They will never turn a profit. If I built a racetrack now, my great-grandchildren's grandchildren will still not see a dime in profit.

There are racetracks shutting down in Europe and America because they have become white elephants to their management services. Look at the Longhorn Speedway, Riverside International Raceway, North Wilkesboro and Altamont Motorsports Park.

The list could continue but it will involve names even more unfamiliar than the preceding quartet but how is this for attic salt: even the world-famous Nürburgring, The Green Hell — part racetrack, part toll way but touted as a motorsports complex — came to the brink of closure in recent times and its fate is still indeterminate. Keep in mind that Europe and America have their motorsports running at about 3,000 percent capacity of what we think we have here and even then, they still have to shut down non-performing arenas, the ones unable to recoup their operational costs; not even their initial cost of construction which runs into the billions of dollars if they were built from scratch.

Yes, not all racetracks were built from scratch. A vast majority of European racetracks originated from disused airfields that were a relic from the Second World War.

Unpleasant memories of the purpose those airfields served needed to be suppressed and what better way to transform the hangars of the harbingers of hell than into theatres of thoroughbred race cars dicing with each other? See the irony here?

The exact same airstrip you want us to distance ourselves from could in fact be the saving grace in our quest for a full-on racetrack, a quest that I will now bring to question.

As a petrolhead, enthusiast and former speed freak, I am all for a racetrack. First question is: To what end? I sincerely believe I personally know every single Kenyan individual who would be interested in using the track as it should. Those are countable people, and that is never a good thing for a billion-dollar enterprise looking at its client base. How is the track management going to recover money? You could charge the few people an exorbitant fee, but that will drive them away.

A visionary political figure mentioned Formula One somewhere, but that is a pipe dream; stop fantasising. We have neither the infrastructure nor the auxiliary support system to host the world's premier motorsports event (this will be a whole other article in itself).

SAFETY AND AUTONOMY

An option would be to build a simplistic track to start with then work our way up but how long will this last? If you build the track too far from civilisation, nobody will use it; too close and property development will make sure it will not live to see its sixth year of existence before that land will have to be put to more profitable use capitalistically. Six years are not enough.

That idea is dead on arrival. Real estate: unavailable.

Then there is the motor industry itself. First, the current focus is on safety: road safety; a project I am undertaking myself. Motorsports is the diametric opposite of road safety; so by focusing on safety, it therefore follows that competitive driving is out of the question. Case in point: count the number of manufacturers that used to take part in rallies, decade by decade. Draw a graph. Tell me that graph does not show a substantial decline. The technology in cars itself is also going against motorsports. Sure, cars today are faster overall than they ever were: a 2005 Honda Accord will outrun a 1986 Ferrari; but where exactly is the technology headed? Autonomy. Self-driving. The whole idea about sports is to idolise the godlike athletes who make it worth watching. Is anyone going to watch a bunch of robots take the same racing lines for several hours in the name of "Auto cross", with no human factor in it?

I know this response lacks depth and it needs a more complete disquisition. That analysis is coming — let's call it the opening article of 2019 — but the long and short of it is, we motorsports people are not entirely dissimilar to lovers of the manual transmission: we are a dying breed. Much as a I would love to see a racetrack in the country, I have come to accept that it either may never happen or even it does, it may not be worth it. You will allow me to clarify this further in the opening weeks of 2019.

 

Are Nissan NP200 spares available locally?

Dear JM,

I have been developing some interest in the Nissan NP200 for the last couple of months. Today I bumped into someone who owns it and I asked him some few things about it. Top on the list was “availability of spares”. He told me that they are a nightmare and any time he needs something like shocks, he has to order them from South Africa. Share your sentiments please.

Gachamba

I have been developing some interest in the Nissan NP200 for the last couple of months. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

I have been developing some interest in the Nissan NP200 for the last couple of months. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Hallo Gachamba,

This is an interesting development because the NP200 was (or maybe still is) sold locally, initially by DT Dobie while it held the Nissan brand; but I’m not very sure if Nissan Kenya — the inheritors of the franchise — still do.

That being said, spares should be available from either of the two dealerships. If they are not, then that is quite a poor show from them.

Shocks in particular are some of the most needed spare parts for a commercial vehicle, since these cars are specifically designed and bought to carry loads, and more often than not are used on less than impeccable roads by drivers who may not have felt the pinch of acquiring ownership and will thus not exercise due care when operating them.

[Update: I had a word with my moles at DT Dobie and they told me very interesting things. DT Dobie still offers support for vehicles they sold, of which the NP200 is one, but they also say Nissan Kenya should or does offer support for vehicles they sell or sold, of which again the NP200 is one. So where did your friend get his vehicle from? Nissan Kenya or DT Dobie? Even more interesting is the fact that now that DT Dobie surrendered the Nissan brand, it still offers support for Nissan cars they peddled. They have to source for parts from the prevailing distributor, who is Nissan Kenya. It turns out that Nissan Kenya won’t sell Dobie the parts directly anymore; but either way, they should at least import the parts on behalf of their clients. So I guess we all know in whose court the ball has fallen: Nissan Kenya.]

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