CAR CLINIC: Try to avoid a pre-owned German car - Daily Nation

Get the Mazda; Try to avoid a German car that has been used

Wednesday June 27 2018

Mazda Atenza Estate feels as solid and classy as a Variant.

Mazda Atenza Estate feels as solid and classy as a Variant. PHOTO| FILE| NATION 

By Baraza JM
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I’m considering buying a VW Golf Variant due to its practicality and space.

So I’m torn between that and a Mazda Atenza Estate. I u­nderstand that there would be a price difference, but the Atenza is around 2.0 litres; what would you advise?

Levy Solonka

Since you are fiddling with used imports, then I daresay get the Mazda.

The Golf does feel premium, but remember what I said about pre-owned Germans: they are a minefield that is best navigated by those with, shall we say, sufficient pecuniary musculature?

The Variant really is a premium product; I recently had a stint in Tyrone's milky steed and I must confess I enjoyed driving it, however briefly, more than I probably should have.

I can see why he ditched the Forester. If it wasn't for my not-infrequent wanderings onto the unbeaten path, I would too, but as things stand, I need clearance and I need dependability so El Turbo stays.

Also, if I had a corporate salary with all the trappings of bonuses and whatnot for the day the turbo fails, I might just have dabbled in Germanic hedonism. Where is my lawyer, he should know a thing or two about troublesome turbos in tiny VWs...

Tyrone's Variant comes with an underdog 1.4 that has a tin snail strapped to its bow, after which it transforms into a 2.5. It pulls... and pulls... and pulls, all the way to seventh gear, by which time speed guns start blinking and the feds suddenly look up to see who's coming.

The driving feel is distinctly German, infused with a gravity that the Japanese can only dream about and a smoothness that is not entirely dissimilar to its more upper-crust Teutonic cousins at Stuttgart.

The doors are heavy and shut with finality like an expensive walk-in safe at a Swiss bank. The car settles on the road, isolates what needs to be isolated (road thumps) while transmitting what needs to be transmitted (feel and response). I liked it.

I'm yet to fiddle with an Atenza but if it is anything like the Mazda6 that one of CMC's former employees availed for a quick blat down to Machakos and back, then it is not half bad either, but it shows its cut-price Asiatic origins, more so with the grey monochrome interior and cheapish dashboard plastics that border on the scratchy.

It really isn't bad at all, but juxtaposed against a Variant, there is a clear loser and the Mazda is it. It just doesn't feel as solid or as classy, and it is nowhere near as quick or as authoritative in its acceleration.

The German U-boat trounces the Japanese flower on this one, but let me remind you where we started off from: buying a used German is like betting on a football game.

Nasty surprises are not unheard of and they carry a painful financial penalty with them.


I am a big fan of your column and read it regularly. It is quite a good learning experience each time I read your articles since I always learn a thing or two, something that helps me along my interest and involvement in the automotive industry.

I have had a lot of problems with Nissans. From suspension to the engine. From my experience the Nissan Wingroad, Y12, MR18 engine.

This car has really made me dig deep in my pockets to keep it on the road. From the bushes, arm bushes, which keep wearing off to the crossmember bush which was a common problem, as I came to find out across other Nissans (X-Trail, Serena, Tiida, Teana, Wingroad) and also issue about the check engine light.

Cleaning the throttle is quite expensive since the check engine light will go on, and I will have to part with Sh2,000 to get a machine to diagnose the problem.

The other big problem is in the paper gasket replacement. My mechanic has never got the drill of this. Every time he has had to replace the cylinder head gasket of any Nissan (with or without straightening the block) none of the cars ever returns to their good state and, therefore, the owner ends up buying a slim engine or a full engine (depending on the seller).

I am on my second engine now, same gasket problem though different causes. I have put this this car up for sale, after which I will buy a Toyota Fielder or Runx.

Now, is this a common problem with Nissans or is my mechanic not doing something right, bearing in mind that the Toyotas always come back to the road in good shape after gasket replacement?



Hello Bonny,

I will give a short answer to your long question, but first allow me to express my sympathy. When it rains, it pours, ey matey? Live and learn.

So now, the response to your question is "both". Yes, Nissans from a certain era were built by people who knew the end was nigh and it shows in the quality of materials they used (melting dashboards, anyone?).

We can, therefore, conclude that the cars are a bit poorly made. However, that bumbling incompetent who replaces gaskets without machining the heads is also a big contributor to your woes and needs to be tarred and feathered before being hung, drawn and quartered for his dodgy techniques.

Most mechanics I know will not agree to reassemble an engine after gasket replacement, unless and until the heads are ground straight. They would rather let you put your own engine back together yourself than take shortcuts like that. This cartoon of yours seems to prefer cutting corners and it has cost you (along with how many others?)

This is partly why Toyotas are so popular. Their dependability is legendary.


The Outback if marginally thirstier than the Forester


I would like your advice on the Hyundai C153, Subaru Outback and a Forester, all 2012, foreign used, in terms of reliability, safety and fuel consumption.

Mercy, What is a Hyundai C153?

The Outback is marginally thirstier than the Forester, but nothing that cannot be overcome with a little deft footwork and discretionary route selection.

Reliability is what it is, they're Subarus so they won't break unless you determinedly ignore preventative maintenance. Safety? It begins with you.

Try not to have an accident and you'll be fine for the most part. In case you do, the two Subies offer broadly similar protection but it might be preferable to be rear-ended (or rear end others) in the Outback than the Forester because, well, it has more metal, which means extra crumple zones for better energy absorption.

It keeps you a long way away from the zone of impact, but this is not exactly a scientific way of looking at things.

he Outback is thirstier than the Forester.

The Outback is thirstier than the Forester. PHOTO| FILE| NATION

For real though, what on earth is a Hyundai C153?

GD engines offer better output than KDs


I'm forever grateful for the trouble you save Kenyan motorists, with me being on top on the list. You wrote about the Toyota Hilux with the GD engine, can you kindly explain in simple terms how it's different from its predecessor and how it works? That might inform its reliability.

Secondly, what are pros and cons of free hubs vs locked/traction control in 4WDs? This is because I once got stuck in a 4WD pickup and annoyingly, the wheels on one side and in the ditch were spinning while the wheels that had grip were not.

Kenneth Murithi


Hi Kenneth,

I believe I outlined the differences (or should we call them improvements) of the GD engine family over the KD series it replaces.

The basics boil down to higher outputs (by a small fraction), better economy and a wider environmental range to sandbox in: 15 per cent better efficiency (14km/l compared to the KD's 12), 30 per cent drop in cubic capacity and 25 per cent hike in power and torque are what they claim, which kind of makes sense.

The engine is still new so we cannot say much about long-term use but again, this is Toyota, with an engine they use in SUVs and commercial vehicles.

The last time they made an iffy engine was probably the 2L back in the 20th Century, and the GD is no 2L. My own exposure to the GD family (readable as recent reviews of the latest Fortuner and Hilux double cab) left me suitably impressed.

Free hubs offer a better driving experience. They lower fuel consumption. They allow the vehicle to turn. Locked hubs ensure you do not get stuck, but it sucks to drive around with the hubs locked and the attendant lack of mechanical sympathy will soon have consequences, when you get transmission windup and snap a driveshaft.

That is why all locked hubs can also be unlocked — and they are actually called locking or lockable hubs, not locked — though not all free hubs can be locked. You only use the locking hubs when you need to, such as the time you were spinning the tyres on one side of the car; the rest of the time, leave the axle "open".

Traction control is an electronic feature (unlike the other two mechanical gubbins) that prevents loss of grip by cutting power — or even braking— where and when it is being wasted - again, such as spinning.

In overpowered road cars, it prevents the unskilled from killing themselves — and others along with them — which may also apply in SUVs, but I daresay I'd have more success offroading an SUV without traction control than one with it.

This is because in mud and sand, traction control is your enemy. It will cut power at the exact moment you need gobs of it, which means it will throw you under the bus at the most critical of times.

Dune bashing in the Namib Desert with the current Isuzu DMAX called for it to be turned off, as did a recent adventure at the top of Ngong Hills in the updated Volkswagen Amarok. Sometimes you need wheelspin to liberate yourself from nature's sticky maw.

The faulty idling has nothing to do with the battery


I have owned a Mercedes WDB202 model, yom 1994 for nine years trouble-free. I recently changed the car battery for a new one and the idling went off would come back occasionally.

I live in a rural area and my mechanic advised me to have it checked in Nairobi, which I rarely visit. Kindly advise me where I can have the idling reset, or what could the problem be?



Hi Peter,

Yours sounds like an issue that started after the battery was replaced purely by coincidence; I don't think the two are related.

All pointers indicate a misfire, if by "idling went off" you mean that the idling became erratic. If by "went off" you mean that the engine stalls, then these should be the things to check:

1. Idle air bypass valve: the engine should run fine if you open the throttle slightly.

2. Cold start valve: the stalling occurs only when the engine is cold.


I'm purchasing a Daihatsu station wagon 2008 make registered in Kenya in 2015. It looks pretty okay. I had it valued and I'm okay. I want to use it as a school transport van in my estate. It has a 650cc engine.

My question is, are the parts locally available and where exactly? I need a response before I commit the remaining 50 per cent. - Oscar


If you have already committed 50 per cent, then it is a bit late to back out now, as a decent human being. It wouldn't be fair to the seller.

That being said, you have absolutely nothing to worry about parts. For starters, at 650cc, just how many parts exactly does this engine have? Two? 12? 30?

There is precious little to go wrong, and if it does, the engine is so simplistic that any replacement parts can be easily fabricated by one of your passengers in their next art and craft class (if such a class still exists in the curriculum) or more realistically, can be found in less than three clicks on the interweb worldwide net.

Secondly, your charges are schoolgoing children and both the law and morality dictate that you take it easy when chauffeuring them. Try not to set any lap records or explore the outer reaches of the performance envelope with a school van.

This, by consequence, means school vans live unstressed, low mileage lives which are very conducive to longevity and reliability.

Pay the remaining 50 per cent and get yourself a Daihatsu but next time please ask first before leaving any deposits.


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