Ask the Mechanic: Should I buy a Benz or Forester?

Hello Paul, I am torn between buying a Mercedes Benz C180 2003 model and a Subaru Forester 2003. What would be the best option in terms of fuel consumption, maintenance, durability and resale value?


Hello David, the Mercedes Benz C180 year 2003 (W203) and the Subaru Forester are superb products, both in quality and engine performance. However, they are different concepts. The Mercedes is a sedan saloon for comfortable on road travel while the Subaru Forester is a sporty station wagon for both on and light off road use.

The Forester has the benefit of multi-terrain capability with a sporty touch for a taste of thrilling performance driving. It boils down to whether you are looking for laid back, comfortable drive or a thrilling exciting drive, especially if you get one of those 2.0 litre  turbo charged Subarus.

The Forester offers an opportunity to explore the outdoor during camping expeditions if you are an outdoor person while the Mercedes offers you the opportunity to arrive in style with class.

When it comes to the crunch, the C180 will offer better fuel economy during combined highway and city driving. On the highway the 1.8 litre engine will be sluggish when you need to ‘giddy up’ or overtake.

High revs as you try to power the engine will make the small C180 engine uneconomical.  On the other hand, if you are a gear head and love to speed the Subaru, you will not enjoy fuel economy. So, economy is a tradeoff for the thrill.

Durability of the Mercedes and Subaru is assured if you buy used cars with a good maintenance record and maintain them with the recommended fully synthetic engine oil as well as fuel with differentiated petrol blended with cleaning detergent and efficiency enhancing additives.

The Subaru should be checked thoroughly as it tends to get abused by its previous owners. The Mercedes has a better maintenance ability because of availability of a strong dealership service parts support and independents.

Subaru’s dealership is limping but there are some few independents keeping the parts and service activity going.


Hello Paul, I recently switched to driving a Land Rover after driving the Toyota Prius for such a long time. However, because the Land Rover is such a heavy vehicle, I feel my driving confidence has gone down. Is there a technique for driving heavier cars?


Hello Terry, switching from a smaller and lower profile car such as the Toyota Prius to a bigger and higher SUV such as a Land Rover will take a lot of adaptation and reorientation of driving technique and skills. You may need to get professional assistance to improve your defensive driving skills such as observation and anticipation. This will help you to build confidence to drive the bigger Land Rover.

If your Land Rover is the bigger Defender, you have to put in more effort to adjust to the bigger wing panels, wider turning circle and truck-like handling as well as high seating position. You need to consciously adjust your driving style. When you brake, allow for longer brake distances given the weight and momentum of the bigger Land Rover.

Watch out for blind spots by paying more attention to the side mirrors, especially when turning off the road or changing lanes to overtake.

Be more cautious as you drive through sharp corners since the Land Rover is more top heavy than the Toyota Prius with a higher centre of gravity. You also need to be more careful as you drive through sharp bends and corners to avoid tipping over.


Hello Paul, why do modern cars have carpets of sponge and felt matting under their bonnet lids and over the engine compartment bulkhead? They trap water and dirt and often get shabby. I also think they are a fire hazard. Is it not better, therefore, to remove it altogether and just leave the painted metal hood (bonnet)?


Hello Ruben, do not remove the felt spongy mat fitted under the bonnet (hood) of your car. That material plays a big role as a heat and fire retardant material which repels most of the engine heat. This protects the bonnet from becoming too hot and damaging its paint or causing corrosion damage. The felt material under the bonnet also serves as an engine noise muffler. This reduces engine noise and vibration to allow passengers a more comfortable and quieter ride in your car.


Hello Paul, I have a 2.4 litre Toyota Harrier 2002 model which makes a rattling (almost grinding) noise when I accelerate. My mechanics have recently overhauled the engine but cannot explain the source of that noise. The engine seems to be under powered too. Please help. 


Hello Mugabi, your Toyota Harrier 2AZ-FE petrol engine has a timing chain kit and you must confirm if the timing kit (chain, plastic guides) is not the source of the rattling noise. If you run the engine and listen carefully, you should be able to distinguish whether the noise is from the timing chain system or the valve train.

It is recommended that during an engine overhaul procedure, the technician should consider replacing the timing chain and chain guides, especially if the mileage may be higher than 150,000Kms.

The plastic chain guides will become damaged overtime depending on the quality of lubrication.

The 2AZ-FE Toyota engine in the Harrier is built with a Variable Valve timing kit. It is important to ensure that the oil pump is not damaged and has sufficient oil flow pressure.

The engine oil helps to adjust valve lift profile for better air intake and engine performance. In the event that the oil pump fails, the valve train area will be insufficiently lubricated, leading to a rattling noise above the valve train.

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