Thursday April 3 2014

Which cars have ‘disappeared’ from the radar?

The Toyota Vista Ardeo is a fine car.

The Toyota Vista Ardeo is a fine car. But it is one of those cars whose value went down due to speculation from some dealers about its D4 engine. Misleading information also “kills” off some car brands. FILE PHOTO 

By Mustafa Ziraba, Jude Katende and Paul Kaganzi

In soccer speak, it is called a dip in form. This is when a once waltzing star player on the pitch is now on the subsitute’s bench and has few match appearances. Some cars become very popular but for some reasons, interest in them wanes.

Jude: There are some car brands that have somehow lost ground in the used car market and as such, no longer command the respect they held in the past. These include the VW Golf Mk4, Subaru Legacy B4, Mitsubishi Pajero V60 (the one nicknamed Bitama), the first generation Subaru Forester, Toyota Vista Ardeo and the BMW 3 series, E36.

Mustafa: Is that the Dolphin BMW? It is a popular car that one. But the popularity is going down.

Jude: Yes, that one. But what could be the issue with these fine cars?

Mustafa: There was a time when I was getting into the market for a used car and I strongly admired the B4. It came with nice sports rims, the turbo charger, I liked its two stage twin turbo which means it is a sequential turbo. One engages a certain RPM and the other maybe at 3,000 but at 5,000 the other one engages so you have a two stage power boost. Really cool stuff, but today they are nowhere.

Jude: Do you mean they have disappeared? I see them.

Mustafa: But not as much as the case was in the past.

Jude: I actually fancy the station wagon Legacy but I know someone who doesn’t like it.

Paul: We need to look at the issues people have with these cars. One issue is parts. Some people don’t think of the afterlife of the cars they have bought. Progressively, they realise they bought a used car and not a new car. So he drives it and life is good and after a few months, he will need to replace the filters and lubricants. Progressively, it becomes an issue of suspensions because of our bad roads. Some forget that they bought a car that was over 100,000km. That sort of car has experienced a lot of wear and tear. But on good roads in Japan even at 100,000km, this wear and tear won’t come out as fast as it does here. So when subjected to some of our bad roads, the suspension begins to break down. It now becomes an issue of not regular maintenance but repair. So this person goes to town looking for the suspension parts of his B4 and doesn’t get them. When he goes to the Subaru dealer, he doesn’t get the parts because his car is a grey import (not meant for this market). He only has filters, he may not have tie rod ends, rack ends, and probably the dealer may have shock absorbers. So when the owner wants to sell off the car, people want to buy it for a song. He cannot get something worthy out of it so the popularity goes down.

Jude: So many issues!

Paul: You mentioned the Vista Ardeo. It is a very good car because the fuel filter is in the tank and not every average technician can replace that or even realise that at 100,000km you need to replace the fuel filter or buy a genuine one from the main local Toyota dealer. Its D4 engine is very sensitive to the quality of oil. If you use adulterated fuel, that will affect its performance because it is very sensitive to its octane rating of fuel. You must in fact use specific oils. Most D4s have a variable valve timing intelligent system which depends a lot on the quality of oil. The VVTi system works well with a high quality of oil. If the oil is not good, the system will be affected or damaged and the damage is very expensive. Because parts are not available at Toyota Uganda, you end up buying another D4 engine at Shs6m.

Jude: So is this car’s issue with the D4 engine or our mechanics not knowing much about the maintenance of the D4 engine?

Paul: Partly, the skills level of our vehicle repair industry has been developed. Five years ago, if you had a car with a D4 engine, the mechanic would tell you to remove it and put an ordinary engine. Today, the skills situation has improved but not the parts issue. Now people are realising that most cars coming in now have D4 engines, so what are they going to do? Before we get to the point that people are comfortable with these engines, the car’s value starts to dip.

Mustafa: What you mention is very important but for me the issue is why aren’t these cars as popular say three years ago? I can understand the technical aspect, that some had bad engines or mechanics just failed to fix them and parts cannot be seen, but why isn’t this happening to other cars? Other cars are resilient.

Jude: Why don’t we break it down to particular cars? Let’s start with the Golf 4.

Paul: Itis a very fantastic car when it is running well and a big problem when it is not running well. People who buy it may get it from the internet or from the local bonds. They look for a good deal and ignore the mileage of the car. So when they get the car, it won’t take long before the gearbox needs service. And when they ignore servicing thinking that they bought a new car, the gearbox breaks down or there are expensive suspension parts to replace. Remember he has got a good deal off the net but with high mileage and he ignores routine maintenance, that’s part of the problem.

Mustafa: Can I laser focus and say the reason it has dipped in popularity is because people don’t know how to look after it?

Paul: Largely. Cars like the Golf Mk4 and others have been failed by people who repair them and to some extent the owners who forget they bought used cars and need to replace parts from time to time or the cars are failed because owners cannot get the parts.

Mustafa: But you now present another dimension. I will give you an example of a similar car, the Mercedes Benz C-Class W202. It is a lot more resilient than the Golf Mk4. If we put the Golf person and he abuses the car and we get the same person with the same habits but now in the W202, the latter car will pull through.

Paul: The W202 has a slight design advantage over the Golf. The Mercedes build quality is not necessarily better than Volkswagen’s. I am not talking about quality but design.The Golf’s ground clearance is poor. When driving over humps, their oil sumps usually get damaged. Most of the Golf 4 drivers who come to me for repairs, usually have a leaking oil sump. The W202 doesn’t have this problem. The parts availability from non-mainstream Mercedes dealers is pretty good. You cannot compare these two cars. Secondly, the Golf4 is a slightly “newer” generation than the W202. So this generation has lots of sensors, electrics and plastics. I would compare it better with the W203 which suffers similar problems.

Mustafa: Many times people fail the cars because of the environment they are in among other issues. Maybe the car fails the person. You cannot separate that from this conversation. There are some usual suspects.

Paul: Like the overheating Land Rover Freelander?

Jude: What of the Range Rover P38, Bafudde which when parked under a mast has its electronics interfered with.

Mustafa: The BMW Dolphin has a similar problem.

Paul: The Bafudde has a problem with its security system. When it is parked near a telephone pole and you try to disarm the security system the radio waves from your remote will be affected. The issue is simple-push it away from that spot for about 100 metres, the car will start.

Mustafa: Maybe the designers at Land Rover at that time are to blame.

Paul: I visited Land Rover where this Bafudde was built from and I witnessed what goes on there. You see, it may not be Land Rover designers but other manufacturers. Car manufacturers outsource parts a lot. The electronics could have been outsourced.

Jude: Going forward, who are we blaming for some cars’ value to dipping. Is it us who don’t maintain them well or a lack of parts?

Mustafa: Three things. One, our maintenance culture is sort of lacking. We fail our cars. Secondly, the environment. For instance, dust. Parts of the BMW Dolphin are rare. The hub alone. Where are you going to get it from?

Paul: The hub is affected by potholes.

Mustafa: The third issue, maybe the cars just fail us. I may have a Toyota Premio and hit potholes three times and it still pulls through and then there are cars that will hit the same potholes twice and they are greatly affected.

Paul: There are variables here, Mustafa. If someone buys off the internet and he hits potholes with it and does not maintain it well, what do you expect? It will fall apart. Parts like the suspension, ball joints and wheel hubs, are affected when you hit potholes.