Ask the Mechanic

Thursday April 15 2021
By Paul Kaganzi

Which is better between European and Japanese vehicles?

Hello Paul, I am torn between buying a European or Japanese car. I am told European cars are stronger and faster but Japanese cars are more reliable and easier to repair. Kindly share your technical perspective to help me resolve this dilemma.


Hello Dennis, it is not true today that European cars are stronger and faster than Japanese cars or Japanese cars are more reliable and easier to repair. What is true, however, is the fact that between the 1970s and 2000, European car manufacturers led the race to roll out faster, more efficient and better handling cars with newer safety technology.

An introduction of new efficiency and performance enhancing technology such as electronic fuel injection (Bosch Mercedes) turbocharging (Fiat/ Mercedes), common rail diesel delivery or fuel stratified direct fuel injection and the anti-lock braking system - ABS/ESP/TC (Ford, Mercedes/BMW etc) seemed to put European cars in the innovation lead. However, this also paused reliability challenges for European cars when maintenance parts and repair skill set were in short supply.

During that time, Japanese car manufacturers were in tow and equally busy developing more efficiency and performance enhancing engine technology (Variable Valve Timing and Fuel stratified injection (Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota), handling and safety technology ABS/TC/SRS. The Japanese manufacturers seemed to roll out the technology slowly, so their older cars were simpler and less reliable with maintenance challenges. This left a lasting impression that Japanese cars are more reliable and easier to repair.


However, today, European, Japanese, Korean or American vehicles share similar engine, suspension, safety and comfort technology. Performance, efficiency, handling and safety levels are neck to neck. Equally, the maintenance challenges and opportunities are the same. On the Ugandan scene, availability of after sales - spare parts dealers and repair skill sets/ tooling is crucial so when you decide to buy a European or Japanese car product, make sure the product can be supported comfortably.

If you go for a product that is not well supported such as Peugeot or Daihatsu, you will struggle to get it maintained.


Why do my engine cooling fans roar?

Hello Paul, I have a 2003 Toyota Wish. For a few months now, my car makes a roaring sound in the engine hood when I drive with the AC switched on. This is especially when I slow down on a bad road. Although the mechanic has replaced the engine mountings, the problem persists. Please help.


Hello Rashid, bad engine mountings (insulators) tend to cause excessive vibration during idle or engine movement and impact noise when you suddenly accelerate. Even if mechanic chose to replace the worn out engine mountings, bad engine mountings do not cause engine roaring when you switch on the air conditioning (AC). Ordinarily, when you switch on the air conditioning the AC compressor, which pumps AC coolant, adds a load to the engine which responds by increasing the engine revolutions to match the additional load. This will also demand that the engine cooling fans run faster to maintain appropriate engine temperatures.

This will sound like the ‘roar’ you described. When you are driving faster on a highway, the wind currents will tend to cool your engine. As a result, the temperature sensitive engine fan control system will switch off the fans or run them at a quieter, slower speed. When you slow down in traffic or on a bad road, the fan control system will run the fans faster (louder) to make up for absent cooling wind currents, to maintain normal engine running temperature.

Occasionally, a faulty car engine cooling system can cause the cooling fans to overwork without altering performance. An inspection or diagnosis of the system will help to establish if there is a genuine concern.


Why is my car misfiring?

Hello Paul, my Mercedes Benz E320 is faltering and misfiring when I accelerate. Recently, I could not drive fast or overtake on the highway from Mbale as it kept shaking and failing to accelerate. My mechanic checked the spark plugs but they are okay. What could be the problem?


Hello Masaba, your Mercedes Benz could be experiencing multiple cylinder misfire. An engine misfire is when insufficient fuel is burnt in a cylinder. Efficient burning of fuel in an engine requires ample supply of fuel, air and spark. This is crucial for optimum combustion and good engine performance. When one or more engine cylinders misfire, the dashboard will display the check engine light while the engine shakes, jerks and runs rough.

You may experience a smell of unburnt fuel coupled with poor engine performance. Engine misfire can result from a breakdown of the ignition system (coils, tension leads or spark plugs), fuel system (pump, filter, injectors) air intake system (air filter, intake tunnel/vacuum leak, throttle body or intake valves). Persistent and unattended to engine misfire can cause serious mechanical damage in the long run. A full diagnosis is required to find which system or component failure is causing your car to misfire.

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