CAR CLINIC: When a car keeps jerking, only a proper diagnosis can determine the real cause

I got a Honda Fit and from the word go it would jerk. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

What you need to know:

  • Having driven a manual Subaru for close to 10 years, I was done with it because of crazy breakdowns.
  • I got a Honda Fit and from the word go it would jerk.

Hallo JM,

Good wishes to you for 2019. I trust this year we will get to read of the defensive driving classes you promised last year to keep us driving safely.

Having driven a manual Subaru for close to 10 years, I was done with it because of crazy breakdowns. My husband got me a Honda Fit and kept the Subaru, which is like his first love, literally. (He now plans to dispose of it and replace it with another.)

From the word go, after he got me the Fit, I noted sometimes she (yes, she) would jerk; mostly when I am in low gear and then after driving at a steady speed it would stabilise and the jerking would stop. I thought since I was used to a manual car, maybe there was something I was not doing right with this automatic car, hence this annoying occurrence. I mentioned it to my husband and asked him to drive the car and have a feel of it and indeed, he experienced the jerking too.

He took the car to the Honda service centre on Mombasa Road where they did a diagnostic check, gave it a comprehensive service; changed things but said the plugs, which everyone had suspected were the cause of the jerking, were in good condition. For this service he parted with Sh75,000. He returned the car to me and lo and behold, after a day or two I realised the problem was still persistent. Of course my husband was not amused, but the other day, he drove it and confirmed that the problem was still there.

So what could be wrong? It’s not a continuous problem but who wants to live with an issue whose consequence on the vehicle they are not sure about? What could this jerking do to my car? My brother says I just burn more fuel or something. What do they need to look out for next time I visit a mechanic? Help a sister resolve this and maintain peace in the house. The year is still young for conflict.

By the way, I checked out the road adventure by a guy with his Subbie 'Sylvester' to Cape Town and I was blown away; indeed, your praise of the car is not in vain.

Alice Wambua


Hello Alice,

Thank you for your good wishes. But you of course know that our national road safety woes will not be solved by defensive driving classes alone. There is a lot more involved in it; defensive driving is just but one bristle in the massive broom with which I aspire to drive this republic of ours towards reduced road traffic injuries/deaths and closer to the global Vision Zero ideology where nobody has to lose their life on the road anymore.

Interesting car, the Leone. I have talked about it and its idiosyncrasies here before so no need to repeat myself; but I am a little curious as to what these crazy breakdowns you refer to were exactly. I keep saying Subarus are harder to kill than cockroaches on steroids; more so the earlier pre-Legacy versions — essentially the Leone all the way from the blobby original to the boxy ruler-and-compass-only swansong that paved the way for the Legacy. With rugged build quality, giraffe-like ground clearance and 4WD (selectable), these really were the farmer's friend, engineered to attain V-max through a vegetable patch in a flurried fog of flat-four flatulence without a single tone of abashment in that chlorophyll-infused and octane-stained agricultural symphony. How soon does Mr Alice plan to sell off the car? I may have an idea where it can go.

The Fit is a modern car. When a modern car jerks, however sporadically, it could be literally anything out of a million possible causes. It could be a fuel issue. It could be an electrical issue. It could be a sensor issue — these in particular are the bane of motorists from the pre-owned classes of today. It could be a transmission issue — either mechanical or electrical or electronic. Don't blame your driving, more so coming from an ageing battle axe fitted with a manual transmission such as the Leone — in an automatic all you have to do is throttle on and throttle off. If the car jerks from your driving style (are you tap dancing on the pedals or what?) then you would never have managed a manual in the first place.

What did the diagnostic report on Mombasa Road say and what "things" did they change with the exception of the plugs and how did this invoice reach a whopping Sh75,000? That’s enough money for a replacement engine and/or gearbox, not a fix for low-speed jerking that you could apparently live with. It is even worse considering that two days later your car was back to where it was pre-repair.

Your brother is right, such driving characteristics tend to be heavy on fuel as the engine defaults to worst-case-scenario mode but that may be the least of your worries the day the vehicle stalls on you at an inopportune moment and exposing you to great risk (such as being rear-ended if on a highway, or crashing when the brakes and steering assistance go offline, or being relieved of your belongings by unsavoury opportunists if it happens in lonely locales out of sight of immediate help).

I am not sure what other consequences you may be looking at because a few paragraphs earlier I laid bare the breadth of possibilities behind the fault. Each possible cause comes with its own attendant list of risk factors due to inaction. I am not going to go into that. All I can say is I know how unpleasant it is to drive a vehicle that won't operate smoothly (and worse yet you don't know why) and how much more unpleasant it is to pay for work that yields absolutely zero results.

You could go back to the Mombasa Road people with your receipts and leave them the car, promising not to pick it unless and until the problem is resolved. This time round let them tell you exactly what they do to the car.

P. S: I told you Subarus are the knees of the bee.



Hello JM,

I am an alumnus of JKUAT, a big fan of the DN column and Subaru Legacy owner.

I’m seriously considering acquiring either the XC60 or Freelander 2, 2014 preferably. I can tell from your past articles you’re not a big fan of Freelander 1 and my research reveals Volvo’s scanty support in Kenya.

Which one of the two would you recommend as a family SUV/a mid-thirties guy car all things considered? Your recommendation will operate within town and a regular dash to the off-roads in the village.



Hi Ken,

I see we have a lot in common, what with the alma mater and personal mobility solutions matching on both sides of the fence. However, I think that is where our commonality ends. I’m a big fan of powerful wagons and don’t care much for crossovers. You are right, I’m not a big fan of the first Freelander. Like a lightly educated first child, it wound up as a half-baked disappointment whose conception had nothing but good intentions. It could have been better. It should have been better.

You are also right about Volvo not having much support in the country, “outside of the truck business”, you should have added. Once upon a time these were sold by Amazon Motors, if I’m not wrong, but like a lot of other ambitious but hopeless franchises, it slowly faded from the public eye. That has not stopped people from importing their own Swedish chariots over though. The safety-conscious among you have not been backward about coming forward with Volvo imports.

I have spotted the newest XC90 roaming somewhere in Nairobi, and I must say I was impressed.

I like the Freelander 2, but don’t take this to mean that it is a better car than the Volvo. It probably isn’t, if your commute does not involve some roughhousing. There is something about it — I like to think it has that rugged, butch Defender DNA somewhere in it. It is comfortable, powerful and luxurious. I had one demonstrator some years back that I ended up putting 900km on, to the consternation of the local dealer. It really is a good car.

It is a good car when it’s working. Chances of it not working are worryingly high and this may be a sore point in your family’s driving life. It will get worse when you discover that repairs are neither cheap nor infrequent, so perhaps one child will have to surrender their opportunity at quality education in a private school just so you can keep the Land Rover on the road.

The XC60 is a lot softer than the Freelander in light of your regular provincial pilgrimage, but as a plus to your family (you do have a family, no?) it is as safe as safe gets. Volvo lately has been bragging about the near-zero deaths from road accidents in their cars and I must say as a family man myself that is exactly the kind of heavily padded auto-motor that I’d love my most precious to be driving around in. Don’t ask why I don’t have one, this is not about me.

I think it is fairly obvious: On the one hand you have a handsome money pit that can plough the mud like a tractor, and on the other you have a stylish bank vault that has no local dealer support. Get the Volvo.




Hi Baraza,

I am in the process of searching for a vehicle for a lady driver. Her preference is a vehicle that will last long without her thinking of a replacement or upgrade in the next 10 years. Reliability, comfort and safety are also of great importance as well as consumption and spare parts. I am getting recommendations of the Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Dualis, while I think the Mazda CX 5 got the looks but the cost is away from my budget. Which mid-size crossover would you recommend from the above or another to suit the requirements?



Hello Ephie,

Ten years is a long time to plan to own a car. Economic situations change, and so does automotive technology. I am also guessing the shopping is for a used car, which means at the end of the decade she could be having the automotive equivalent of a legally recognisable adult human living with her and festooning her parking space. As cars age they become fickle and unreliable. In that vein, I don’t have high hopes for either the Nissan or the Mitsubishi. By sheer force of brand reputation, I don’t see either of them lasting that long. There is such a thing as planned obsolescence, something I explained here in a previous article whereby manufacturers guarantee return business by building products that fail after a certain time, forcing you to buy a replacement. This planned obsolescence is very rampant in the electronics industry and the automotive industry, which makes heavy use of the aforementioned electronics. Long story short: just don’t plan on owning a vehicle for 10 years. You will hate it towards the end of that decade. Buy a car for your immediate needs and see where fate takes you from there.

So, what are these immediate needs? Reliability, comfort and safety, you say. Well, reliability will not be very good as I have just pointed out, especially towards the tail end of that ownership period. Comfort is fairly even but the Mazda has a much nicer interior than the other two, with the Nissan having the most underwhelming ambience steeped in blandness.

For safety, I consulted my good friends at the IIHS, which I visited in Arlington, Virginia, last year, and this is what they had to say:

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (a.k.a the RVR): The score is “good” for most crash impacts and roof strength but “acceptable” for the driver in an offset frontal crash. It gets a score of 9.0.

Nissan Dualis: This wasn’t tested, but its sibling, the Rogue, was tested and scored “good” all through on its way to a silver “2015 Top Safety Pick” accolade.

Mazda CX5: This too scored “good” in almost all categories, outshining the Nissan as far as the ease of use of child seat anchors is concerned. This one got a gold “2015 Top Safety Pick” star.

[The vehicles are all 2015 models because soon that is what will be allowed for importation.]