Get proper diagnosis for car problems

Thursday December 12 2019



Alice Wambua has driven a manual Subaru for close to 10 years. She eventually decided to give it up because of constant breakdowns.Her husband got her 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.)

Constant car trouble
“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,” she narrates.

Wambua’s husband took the car to a Honda service centre 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.

“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. I wonder what the problem could be?” She asks.

I am a little curious as to what these crazy breakdowns Wambua refers 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 Wambua’s husband plan to sell off the car? I may have an idea where it can go.

The Fit
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 say and what “things” did they change with the exception of the plugs? Whatever you spent is 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.

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 Wambua 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 repair shop 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.

This article was first published in Daily Nation