CAR CLINIC: Spot lamps will get you in trouble with police - Daily Nation

Spot lamps will get you in trouble with police

Wednesday July 11 2018

Some modifications to your car come with risks. PHOTO | FILE

Some modifications to your car come with risks. PHOTO | FILE 

Hi Baraza,
I have been driving at night for some time now, and I can no longer tolerate the glare from all sorts of contraptions, add-ons and LED light bars that have suddenly found themselves on just about every car on Kenyan roads. So I have decided “dawa ya moto ni moto (to fight fire with fire)”. I want to dump my halogens for either LED or xenon, but I can’t understand all the terms being thrown around like lumens/watts/temperature/heat sinks/ ballast, etc. Could you shed some light on this and also advise on their legality?


Police will give you grief for your enhanced front-end wattage. PHOTO | FILE

Police will give you grief for your enhanced front-end wattage. PHOTO | FILE

Let’s start with the legality (or the lack thereof) of installing military-grade searchlights on your car.

Unless you roll up in one of those high-end tractors gleaming with intimidatory menace designed for dictators and arrogant, hell-raising celebrity types — instruments such as over-chromed, oversized and overpriced SUVs or battleship-length luxury limos, then perhaps you are better off straining your eyes to see better in the dark, or trying not to drive at night. The police will give you grief for your enhanced front-end wattage. Yes, there are two sets of laws for humankind, and both sets read exactly the same, the difference being that these laws are optional for one lot — the shiny 1 per cent — and compulsory for thinner cattle like us, who form the majority. Spot lamps, particularly of the eye-searing LED kind, are verboten by law.

I’ll start with the second-to-last term: the heat sink. It is simply an element made from a good heat conductor for the purpose of cooling the lamp. These lamps, to generate that kind of luminosity, heat up quite a lot — to the extent that they can cause serious burns if mishandled — and, therefore, need to be cooled down lest they melt or evaporate their componentry. Having a dedicated cooling system for your lamps is the kind of stuff that shoots car prices skywards and increase potential trouble spots as far as maintenance goes, so the most cost-effective method is by using a heat sink, which is nothing more than a sheet of metal.

Ballast:this is a type of resistor that limits the amount of electrical current in a circuit. As stated above, high currents have heating effects so one way to control this — besides the obvious cooling — is to place a bottleneck on the flow of current in the circuit.

Temperature: this is an interesting concept of light that might not be directly connected to heat by use of example but is actually connected to heat by means of calculation. Ignore that sentence if it doesn’t quite add up in your head and read the next one instead: Temperature is essentially the combination of colour and brightness of visible light, in layman’s terms. Cool lights have colour temperatures above 5000K (kelvin), while warm lights fall in the 2700-3000K range. Categories fall between the orange flame of a matchstick at 1,700K and the blue polar sky at 27000K. If I go any deeper, we will require a lot more pages than I am currently allocated.

Lumens:this is a unit expressing the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source. Yes, someone somewhere thought they can measure the amount of light coming out of a source.

Watt:unit of power; 746 of them add up to one horsepower, but this being an electrical discussion, I don’t think my example is pertinent.



Adding LCD screens, a sound system and loud exhaust comes with some risks


Hello JM,

First, I would like to commend you for your excellent work. I always look forward to your column and have learnt a lot. God bless you.

I have decided to buy a Toyota Fielder X202 and I would like to make some modifications and fit it with a nice sound system, three small LCD screens (one on the dashboard and the other two behind the front seats) and finally, a medium-loud exhaust pipe.

With this, I feel it will be fit for me as a lad in my mid-twenties. I have already identified one garage that does such pimping work nicely from references.

My concern is what dangers this poses to my car, bearing in mind that in one of your recent columns, you said that tampering with the exhaust can harm the engine. And what are the measures to prevent it? Also, what should I be prepared for in terms of service as far as the engine and the battery are concerned?

The car will cover about 20km a day and, occasionally, 160km to from up-country.

Lastly what are the differences between the 2010 & 2011 model of the same.


LCD screens might be an unnecessary distraction while driving and at night, depending on placement, can hamper your vision. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

LCD screens might be an unnecessary distraction while driving and at night, depending on placement, can hamper your vision. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

We seem to be having a modification theme going today.

Now, I won’t judge your tastes but I find them questionable anyway. Three screens? What on earth for?

The dangers your intended mods pose to your vehicle are not limited to the exhaust. Let’s start with the audio kit and the three screens. These will attract ‘TWOCcing’ (Taking Without Owner’s Consent). The screens might also be an unnecessary distraction while driving and at night, depending on placement, can hamper your vision. Also, if you go heavy on the sound system, then it’s true you might need a supplementary battery, which adds weight and complexity and is a fire hazard due to the high-tension wiring.

Then there is the pipe. A loud pipe that was not engineered for that car is just noise, it is not charismatic. It is extremely annoying.

There are also the pitfalls I brought up some weeks ago that come with undoing what millions spent in R & D tried to establish at the hands of highly educated engineers. Expect a drop in performance and a rise in consumption. There is a risk of burning the valves as well.

The difference between a 2010 and a 2011 X202 is that the latter was manufactured after the former. That’s it.


A loud pipe that was not engineered for that car is just noise, it is not charismatic. It is extremely annoying. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

A loud pipe that was not engineered for that car is just noise, it is not charismatic. It is extremely annoying. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

Used cars built in western Europe are not the best buys

Hi Baraza,

You receive more than enough accolades for your articles every week, so I’ll skip those and take the plunge.

About a month ago, my renowned VW Golf Mk 6 TSI misbehaved — badly. It embarrassed me in a way words cannot explain. Right in the middle of heavy Toyota traffic, the gear indicator started blinking, and no gear would engage. I tried switching everything off and on again, but the car wouldn’t move, even though the engine was running fine and there were no warning signs on the dashboard other than the blinking of P, R, N, D, S, depending on the position of the shift stick.
A scan revealed that, in my ex DT Dobie mech’s words, “The mechatronic is kaput”. As one might expect, I have been given so many theories about how the mechatronics was faulty from the factory and can’t be repaired, and that I have to order another one from Germany at a cost of Sh250,000 (this shook my marriage to the core, by the way). The unit gets here, installation and coding is done, adaptability test is conducted, car is shifting well up to the 7th gear and back, but the damn blinking of the gear indicators is still there.

What do you know about mechatronics and why don’t we have automotive engineers who can sort them out, despite there being such a course at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)?

James W. Wambugu

A Volkswagen Golf MkVI. PHOTO | COURTESY

A Volkswagen Golf MkVI. PHOTO | COURTESY

Ah, we have another victim of the infamous German gremlin, and more so in a Volkswagen, complete with a Christmas tree for a dashboard. This is the kind of thing I’m always talking about week in, week out: the fickle nature of not-so-new cars built in Western Europe. Well, well, well …

What on earth is “mechatronic”?

As far as I know, it is the most difficult engineering degree course at JKUAT (as you have also indicated), a fact driven home by two pieces of evidence: I did not qualify to pursue it — I was off the mark by one measly point — and I had friends who did pursue it and the looks on their faces every time they left the exam room were a clear indication that many of them would have preferred to follow a different path in life, perhaps as Sagem and Alcatel salesmen, because these were all the rage back then, when a Motorola brick cellular phone with a two-colour display in which text messages were side scrolled cost about as much as a second-hand air-to-air intercooler. We have come from very dark times …

Anyway, mechatronics is a course in JKUAT, and I’m not one to berate the curriculum, given that I am one of its success stories, but I don’t think they ever specialised in VWs at JKUAT … or at any other Kenyan university crazy enough to offer mechatronic engineering. I don’t even remember seeing any VWs at JKUAT. I remember seeing a Galant, though, but it belonged to a student.

You could do an automotive engineering course, but that doesn’t mean you are ready upon graduation to map ECUs or restitch frayed CAN bus infrastructure or revamp the collapsed air suspension of a first-generation Range Rover Sport that has been sitting at the airport for too long.

Technology is the same all round, but most manufacturers dabble in proprietary hardware and software to either outshine the competition, or befuddle the annoying Chinese who shamelessly plagiarise anything unfortunate enough to fall in the firing line of their indiscriminate camera lens.

So, different car makers have different ways of going about the same things, which is why, as my compatriots in the industry will tell you, the first thing you do as soon as you are added to a name brand’s payroll by the HR people is go for training.

They have to teach you how to open the engine cover of an Mk 7 Golf GTI because it requires a special set of Allen keys and not a 10mm socket — or pliers. They also have to teach you how to spew PR gunk and downspeak the competition, right down to counting airbags, if need be. Image is everything. Obey your thirst … for a payslip from a Fortune 500 car manufacturer.

I’m with your wife. I don’t mean it that way; I mean: I agree with her. Spending a quarter of a million on a tiny car over some unclear, nebulous problem nobody has ever heard of is just begging for a steaming, hot cooking stick applied with great force to the cheekbones as a reminder that in a marriage, there are more important things to spend astronomical sums on than a dashboard warning light.

Proverbs about stones, glass houses and people without sin spring to mind at this point, because I, too, have been known to spend astronomical sums just to keep myself borne aloft on four wheels, but the difference is, I wisely kept my mouth shut. We might have fought over 99 problems, but car repair bills were not one of them.

Snide commentary aside, your situation brings to the fore a sticking point in the Kenyan motor industry: the grey import market. On the one hand it helped mobilise the aspirational middle class (I can own a car? At my age? Mama, I made it!), but on the other it damn near destroyed the local manufacturing industry and franchised dealer networks. Let’s not even talk about the environment and the proliferation of unbaked greenhorns with their gross ineptitude jeopardising my son’s life every time he goes to school. I have seen madness out there, and it stems from the ease with which one can acquire a car nowadays.

The grey import market saw an influx of car models, most of which were never intended to hit these shores, at least not as throwaway hand-me-downs by countries trying to keep themselves clean at the expense of the Tribes of Ham.

The real problem arose from these aforementioned, single-car middle class households driving their vehicles into the ground because warranties are stickers they see on a receipt for a Phillips iron box bought at the supermarket and not a pacifying, first-responder insurance against the horrors that typify motor vehicle maintenance.

They believe they do not need that extra cost, but in nature there must be balance. You cannot have your cake and eat it. You buy a used car from foreign lands, you end up with a Sh250,000 invoice for a new transmission, if a new transmission is what you people call “mechatronics”.

Training people takes money, so it behoves the finance departments of name brand manufacturers to be more circumspect and discretionary with the purse strings they are charged with being the gatekeepers of.

These people will not bother training personnel to repair vehicles they do not sell, and which might disappear from the market at any moment. The used car market is extremely volatile as far as brand longevity goes: today everybody wants a Premio, tomorrow they will all migrate to Sylphys or E90s or Jukes. Which dealership is going to keep up with this game of automotive musical chairs? And if you are always training your people, when will they work?

This is exactly why there was nobody to fix your “mechatronic” (for real, though; what the hell is this? A gearbox? A control module? A solenoid? What?). It is extremely likely no one was trained for that kind of thing and nobody is born with motoring knowledge pre-programmed into his head. It has to be taught, and it has to be learnt, not just as an extremely difficult course in campus, but also as a training programme at DT Dobie or Piston Heads or whichever other garage dabbles with Volkswagen cars.

Having car trouble? Write to [email protected] for free advice.