Ask the Mechanic: I need guidance on buying my first car

Hello, I am looking forward to buying my first one, but I am unable to choose from the Subaru Legacy car (fifth generation) non-turbo, Toyota Mark X 250G (second generation) and the Mazda Atenza, starting from the second generation. Please comment on reliability, maintenance costs, spare parts availability, performance, fuel consumption, comfortability and durability. The upper limit for the engine capacity is 2.5L. A suggestion of cars not on the list is welcome. Looking forward to hearing from you.


Hi Kevin,

The Legacy is the winner in this comparison, by the way, based solely on the fact that it is the only long roof in a contest of sedans, so practicality is superior by far.

Let us now dismiss the others:

Mark X: the braking issues that plagued the Mark 1 Mark X may have been solved with the second generation car but this Mark 2 model is showing signs of aging as milk. Sayonara!

Mazda Atenza: fine china this one. What does that mean? It is as pretty as it is delicate. Good to drive though, but I still hear lamentations about parts availability, a problem I never encountered back when I owned a Mazda, but that is mostly because my Mazda never broke down, ever. Not once.

Cars not on the list? Try a Mercedes-Benz C Class, W204, in a flashy colour such as bright red or something. Silver, black and white C Classes are all over the place, you do not want to lose your car in a parking lot, do you?

Now, your requirements:

Reliability: We could look at the Mark X here on the basis of brand alone (Toyota!), but it seems to wear out rather fast. The Subaru is a close second because of that silly electric steering that fails and needs a six-figure replacement.

One more thing: The fifth generation Legacy, the BM/BR platform, is chock-full of electronic nonsense that transforms simple operations such as wheel alignment into a Blackpool illuminations-type display in your instrument cluster as the sensors on the front axle go berserk wondering why the front wheels are pointing in different directions. They can be annoying.

Maintenance costs: The Mark X has six cylinders and flimsy panels, the Mazda’s parts are chicken teeth and the Subaru has that electric steering. Feel free to roll the dice on where your fate lies.

Spare parts availability: One is a Toyota (ubiquitous). One is a Subaru (common). One is a Mazda (go back one paragraph). The déjà vu is starting to come back, I am repeating myself here.

Performance: The Mark X may be slightly exciting to drive if it is your first foray into the world beyond four cylinders but that novelty wears out fast. The Atenza is an engaging car to drive but it is hardly fireworks. The Subaru is not turbocharged, why even bother? Interestingly enough, these cars have fire-breathing performance versions, the easiest to find, and probably the cheapest, being the Legacy GT.

Fuel consumption: The Mazda takes it. The Mark X can be thirsty, and so can the Subaru, especially in a greenhorn’s hands. Their automatics and CVTs do not help matters either. Save the manuals.

Comfortability: This is not a word, where did you learn it? You mean “comfort”. Corrections aside, perhaps the Mark X? It is bigger than the Mazda but the Mazda rides better and has a prettier interior.

Durability: Subaru.


I drive a first generation Nissan XTrail. I have noticed that as it approaches the mileage for oil service, the engine cuts power and misfires. Lately, this happens even earlier than the service due mileage. Is there a link between the oil age and engine misfire?

Muhammed Kafeero

Hello Muhammed,

There is a link between engine oil quality or quantity and the performance of any engine. This is primarily because engine oil lubricates fast moving parts and reduces friction, heat and potential sheer damage. In more modern post 2000 engines such as the one in your Nissan, engine oil quality and quantity is vital for the operation of the variable valve timing system, which relies on an oil driven solenoid valve to actuate the air intake valve lift adjustments.

This process regulates air intake according to engine demand. When oil pressure or lubrication is reduced or compromised, the VVTi system will not work well and this will cause reduced engine performance or misfire as well as poor fuel economy.

Factors that affect engine oil performance include: use of poor quality or wrong oil viscosity (ability to flow at certain temperatures), aged oil that is overdue for service, blocked or dirty oil filter, clogged oil pickup tube, a bad oil pump or low oil quantity due to internal or external engine leaks.

It is not surprising that your Nissan engine misfires as you approach your engine oil service due mileage. At this point, check the engine oil level just in case the level is low due to leaking outer seals or internal piston rings. This directly affects oil pressure.

Also make sure you use the recommended fully synthetic or semi synthetic engine oils which are blended with additives that help maintain the protective and performance enhancing roles of the engine oil over the drain period indicated. This is especially critical for the long life of the VVTi system and timing chain kit built in your engine.


Hello Paul, I own a Toyota Raum 2000 model and I like it a lot for its powerful yet small engine (1.5l). However, its spark plugs constantly have carbon build up, fuel consumption has doubled and there is smoke emission. Moreover, this is after the engine was rebuilt two years ago. I think my mechanic did not do a good job. What can be done to fix these issues?


Hello Brian, if your Toyota Raum spark plugs have black deposits and soot, it is a sign of carbon fouling. This condition is usually a result of a rich air fuel mixture, weak ignition or if the engine is operating below the normal heat range. Ordinarily, your car engine will experience poor performance and poor fuel economy. You will most likely see some black smoke caused by emission of unburnt fuel.

A rich air fuel mixture can be caused by poor operation of the engine management oxygen sensors or air flow sensors which ordinarily help the engine regulate fuel delivered.

Faulty sensors cause a rich fuel air mixture and unburnt fuel which fouls the spark plugs with black soot or deposits and causes some black smoke. The same effect will be experienced if the ignition system coils and wires are damaged. They will prevent firing of spark plugs and cause failure in burning delivered fuel.

Using counterfeit or poor quality spark plugs will lead to plug fouling as they fail to burn fuel efficiently. Spark plugs can be fouled with deposits if an engine operates below the recommended heat range. This happens if the engine is overcooled by a constantly running cooling fan or if the thermostat is removed and not replaced with a new one. Address the above engine issues .if found on your Raum engine and the fouling of spark plugs will be stopped.

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