Hybrid cars can be tricky, so  just stick with a normal one

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Thank you for the good work you are doing.

I would like some information on hybrid cars, specifically the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

Some of the issues I am not clear about are: 

1) Warranties for the batteries of these vehicles.

2 Their survival rate on Kenyan roads, considering they are already used.

3) Between the Prius and the Insight, which would you place your money on?

4) Considering fuel consumption, would it make any economic sense to buy one?

5) When it breaks down, can the batteries be replaced?

6) Compared with fully fuel-powered vehicles, is it advisable to buy one?

Hello Jamal,

1) The warranties depend on the manufacturers.

2) What about Kenyan roads makes them more or less likely to survive compared to non-Kenyan roads? Do our roads cause more battery drain or less? If they are already used, don’t expect much from them.

Battery longevity is measured by, among other things, the number of charge cycles they undergo before becoming totally useless, so the amount of life left in them depends on how many times they were charged by previous/current owners.

3) None of the above. Both look unpleasant, both are underpowered and both are bought by lightly informed people who think they are doing the Earth a favour when they really aren’t.

Also, both were conceived when both the electric and hybrid motive technologies were fledgling, and they show their pioneering roots. Would you buy a PlayStation One if you got it on sale? Or a laptop from the early ‘90s? I didn’t think so.

If I want to go electric, I will get something contemporary, interesting and powerful, like a Tesla. The Model 3 has only just come out, at a cost of $44,000 (Sh4,532,000), which is “affordable”, considering what its Model S and Model X predecessors cost.

If I want a hybrid, I’ll probably look at the Prius’ more attractive Lexus siblings like the CT200h.

4) This really depends on your mileage. Of course electricity is cheaper than fossil fuel but some things, such as convenience, cannot be quantified directly. Range anxiety and the current lack of support infrastructure will make ownership of these futuristic wheels a veritable cross to bear, so the gains made by not buying fuel can easily be washed away by the frustration of being one of a kind in an industry that favours safety in numbers.

5) I am pretty certain the batteries can be replaced.

6) This goes back to (iv) above. It boils down to whether or not you really want one. Will driving one give you peace of mind that you have moved along with technology into the future? Will it assuage your conscience that you are not (knowingly) polluting the atmosphere? Will it sate a burning desire not to use fossil fuels anymore? Then go ahead.

However, if your ultimate goal is to save money, whether short-term or long-term, stick to internal combustion for now.

There are cars that run on petrol/diesel that will still return broadly similar consumption figures as a Prius, an overpromised, heartstring-tugging, Venus consumer flytrap whose economy rating had been grossly overhyped from the outset.

Get a small saloon car, sub-1500cc and drive like you are going to meet a creditor or to the dentist; your economy figures will be surprisingly pleasant.

Dear Baraza,

Help me understand how a 1996 Toyota Landcruiser 80 Series model with 200,000 km on its odometer, converted into a manual, would retail at over $25,000 (Sh2,575,000)! Is it just me or is that an exaggeration on the part of the seller? Would such a car even qualify as a vintage or a collector’s item to command such a price? Even with the warped Toyota resale values in this peculiar country of ours, that does seem quite a stretch for a car more than two decades old.

Mwaura wa Ngundi

The laws of supply and demand create strange and sometimes unforeseeable outcomes in the marketplace. To these two parameters add desirability, which might or might not be influenced by street cred and you can see where this is going.

The 80 Series keeps appreciating by the day, which is a good thing because it has reached a point where the 100 Series is well-nigh cheaper than its predecessor, and the 100 Series is the one I truly like.

That means I can almost afford one before people wise up and shift their focus to it, driving its price up like the 80.

The 80 is highly capable but I am on your side here: I don’t understand why I’d pay that much to get one. The 100 looks better, is faster, more comfortable, more economical, handles better and is just as capable off-road as the bulbous 80 (Yes, Landcruiser fanatics, I said it! The 105, to be specific, is just as capable as any old 80. Sit down!)

But the 80’s price remains high. There is the belief that this is the last of the truly analogue full-size 4x4s, which is true, so this little facet lends it the aura of collectability.

The car will also not break; it will run indefinitely year on year, which justifies its desirability for those who actually use them as they should: for unforgiving off-road adventures. But $25,000 (Sh2,575,000)? Really? I can find me a nice V8 Cygnus with similar mileage for that outlay…

There is another Toyota 80 that also commands high mark-ups on the used market for unmolested examples and has officially attained collector status, and that is the Toyota Supra RZ, the famous twin turbo “Mk IV” torque monster that, alongside the Nissan Skyline GTR, Honda NSX and Mazda RX7 FD3, had Europe rethinking their standing as sole purveyors of wedge-shaped time-warping road-going equipment.

The JZA80 Supra clocked 100km/h from standstill in four-and-a-half seconds and thundered on to a top speed of 285km/h… and that was in 1993. This easily placed it within Porsche and Ferrari territory, for the time. Toyota has not built anything as quick or as seminal since then; for that you have to look at its ritzy Lexus glitz department, and even then, it more likely than not will have an F in its name for it to qualify for membership into that rarefied atmosphere.

Given that the Supra suddenly found itself as a hot enhancement favourite courtesy of the joint pop culture influences of Need For Speed video games and the Fast and Furious movie franchise, you have a higher chance of being struck by a meteorite than you do getting a clean, stock example today.

It is highly desirable — the one and only Toyota to perform like an exotic is definitely something worth finding and keeping — and the numbers of uncrashed and unmodified cars are dwindling. As a result, just like its off-roading numerical namesake, punters are charging ridiculous amounts for well-kept samples – as high as $100,000 (Sh10.3 million), which is just insane. But unlike the bulbous truck, the Supra might well be worth the money, say Sh2,575,000, just not Sh10.3 million).

Hi Baraza, 

Good job on your articles, very informative. I wanted to inquire on the validity of an article  in the Daily Nation of June 20, which said one Shailesh Chandaria had driven from Nairobi to Naivasha on 3.4 litres of fuel in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

How does one go about achieving this?

Well, the article is valid, for two reasons:

1. It is written in the same publication I write for, so… yeah.

2. It is possible, but it calls for several things, the most important of which is you have to know what you are doing. Not just anyone will clock 28km/l in a four-door Italian saloon car.

The technique is called hypermiling and it is a combination of physics, automotive understanding, patience, excellent muscle control and plenty of risk. Squeezing the maximum number of kilometres from the minimum number of litres of fuel demands strenuous brainwork, which is why doubting Thomases like you question its veracity.

These are some of the tricks to help you on your way to “three litre” driving (three litres of fuel per 100km):

Lose weight: shed as much weight as you sensibly can. However, these contests have rules and regulations that might not allow participants to drive vehicles that are not “stock”, e.g. you are not allowed to remove the backseat or the windows, or the spare tyre.

Aerodynamics: keep the shape of the car as slippery smooth as you can. That means starting off with a pointy car that will slice through the air as effortlessly as possible, but aerodynamics is not determined by ogling: do your research, get those coefficients of drag figures and compare them. You’ll be surprised that some wedge-shaped cars are not as aerodynamic as they look while some “blocky” ones have shockingly low Cd numbers.

Once you have your vehicle, delete any wind-blocking features such as body kits and wings. You can tape up the seams and panel gaps as well, for that extra .01 of mileage you might get.

Rolling resistance: overinflate your tyres. Underinflated tyres have high rolling resistance that increases consumption. While still on tyres, use skinny eco-friendly affairs. You will not be doing full bore standing starts or tickling the outer edges of the performance and handling envelopes on an economy run, so you do not need 285s or their ilk.

Fuel very early in the morning: fuel is sold per litre (by volume) at the pump, but fuel is consumed per kilogramme (by mass) in the engine. That means you want the highest number of kilogrammes of fuel per shilling spent, which also translates to per litre dispensed, which in turn means you want the highest density fuel possible. Density of fluids increases with decrease in temperature. If temperatures ever dropped to sub-zero, that would be the best time for fuelling; for now we have to make do with gassing up at dawn.

So now, you have the hardware in place. Next is to deal with the software, the programming, the operating system that runs in your brain and controls your actions:

(Parental Advisory: Some of the techniques described herein are borderline illegal and some are downright dangerous. Do not try this at home):

Drafting: taking shameless advantage of the laws of fluid dynamics to let someone else spend the effort of cutting through the air for you. Tailgating is not only risky but also extremely irritating to the victim and has on more than one occasion led to road rage. If the vehicle you are drafting off of chooses to brake-check you, things will go south faster than your fuel level with a leaking tank.

No braking: braking wastes energy in the form of heat and kills momentum that was otherwise acquired by accelerating, which in itself burns fuel. It, therefore, follows that minimal braking boosts your economy, while not braking at all takes that concept and cranks it up to 11. Driving without braking calls for some unwise and high adrenaline sort of manoeuvring such as dangerous overtaking to avoid crashing, it need not be said. 

Power down, coast up: now this is an interesting one. Most people engage neutral (Blegh!) when going downhill under gravity then get back on the power as they start ascending again. Ha! Novices! Newbies! Greenskins! Have you never heard of a load sensor?

You want to save even more fuel? Listen here, because this is just about as counterintuitive as it gets. Power up when going downhill, but not on full throttle. Just accelerate towards the centre of the earth at whatever speed you can attain – the higher, the better.

Once you have crossed the perigee of whatever landscape curvature you are traversing, throw the transmission into neutral (or turn the engine off if you think you are Chuck Norris). Use that momentum to coast as far up the incline as you can.

If you start running out of kinetic energy halfway up, restart or re-engage gear and gently feed in the power.

Think I’m talking out the side of my neck? This is the logic: since the load is minimal or nearly non-existent when accelerating at 9.8 metres per square second like Newton’s apple, the ECU will deliver very little fuel into the cylinders since the engine is barely doing any work besides piling on the momentum that gravity is largely taking care of.

Going uphill, on the other hand, tasks the ECU to manage the torque requirements for ascent, a task that involves burning extra fuel.

So it only makes sense that you should use fuel when it is least needed since very little of it, if any, is required and use no fuel when it is needed most: going up a mountain. Bend the rulebook. Use Mother Nature against herself. Geophysics for what?

Engine off: in extreme cases, one can shut their engine off on long downhill stretches such as the descents on either escarpment into the floor of the Rift Valley.

Just keep in mind that with the engine off, braking and steering become effort-intensive and lack the proper reactionary alacrity required to stay sharp on public roads.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr Chandaria dabbled in quasi-legal driving practices or endangered himself and others on the road (but then again I’m also not saying he did not), but if you want those interstellar mileage figures on mere whiffs of petrol, then this is the way to do it.

However, I seriously advise against it, unless you are competing. None of it can be considered as “driving”; it is more of a black art.

Dear Baraza,

I bought a Honda Fit 2009 model in January but due to its low clearance, I changed the coil springs to ex Japan and the clearance improved.

However, trouble started because when I drive past 80km/hthe vehicle starts wobbling but past 80 it settles down. I have tried wheel balancing, alignment and even gone further and bought new tyres — (145/R16/55)  to 205/R16/55 — since the old ones were low profile  but the problem has  become even worse.

Please Advise.

This is definitely a balancing issue. Try both static and dynamic balancing to factor in all possibilities.

The advantage of dynamic, wheels-on balancing is that it takes into consideration the effects of brake discs/drums on the wheel balance while static wheels-off balancing does not.

One of your rims could be out of round and needs replacement.

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