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I don't need to break the bank to fuel my car, says Isaac Einau

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If you want to buy such a car, you must be disciplined with service, especially managing the mechanical condition of the turbo that runs the engine. PHOTO/ROLAND D NASASIRA

I meet Isaac Einau at a garage in Kyanja, a Kampala suburb, seated about three metres from his car. He is intently watching his mechanic fix a component on the front wheel system of his Mercedes Benz ML 320 CDI 4Matic W164. 

When it comes to this class of the Mercedes mid-size luxury sport utility vehicle, the figure 164, especially at the rear, means it is an automatic ML. And whenever you see W165, it means it is a Mercedes Bluetec, with the only difference being in the body shape.

Also, the technology in the ML is a little bit advanced in terms of the suspension, electronics and automated features such as automatic control of lights and the automatic dumping system. The engines, referred to as OM642 are almost the same. 

Mechanically, the difference is that the Bluetecs have a weakness in their shafts, one of the areas they tend to experience frequent mechanical issues. Dumping means the car automatically adjusts its height or ground clearance.  

A 2009 model by design, Einau has had his Mercedes for three years. Unlike most cars that are serviced after every 5,000km, Einau services his at 4,000km. 

“It is turbocharged. After every three upcountry trips, I replace the air filter. It (turbo) is key because the longer you keep the air filter, some of the dirt particles escape and end up in the turbo and damage it. When any dirt gets into the turbo, the least amount you spend is Shs3m to replace it. To keep the turbo and its systems running smoothly, I do not compromise on the air filter. It also helps control fuel consumption because the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve can function accurately to enable it to open and close the gases entering the engine,” Einau explains. 

The exhaust gas recirculation valves help pump back the exhaust gas into the engine to generate more energy and is the technology that gives most modern cars power. Some cars reuse the exhaust fumes by recapturing and sending them back into the car system, with the excess being released into the environment. 

Replacing the air filter keeps the turbo and the exhaust gas recirculation valves in the best functioning condition. 

Fuel consumption 
Running on a 3200cc diesel engine, on average, Einau spends Shs350,000 on fuel from Kampala to Soroti in Eastern Uganda, including a return journey. From Kampala to Mbarara in western Uganda, he spends Shs200,000, including a return journey. When driving in Kampala, one litre of fuel covers 10km and for highway drives, a litre covers 13km. This is, however, dependent on how soft or hard you are on the accelerator. 

Some of the features the 14-year-old car has include the voice recognition command. During my test drive of the car from Entebbe to Gayaza and back, when I connected my phone to the car system via Bluetooth, whenever I wanted to make a call, I would mention the name of the contact, it searches and dials automatically without me holding the phone. 

Performance-wise, being a heavy car, on the Entebbe Expressway after the Kajjansi Tollgate, it picked up speed from zero to 100km/hr in 8.4 seconds. While the seats warm automatically, they also adjust according to the body shape and weight of the driver, including the rear passenger seats.   

Safety features 
The standard antilock brake system (ABS), is another helpful feature that detects objects intelligently and stops itself from crashing into them without you stepping on the brake.
Einau notes that if you want to buy such a car, you must be disciplined with service, especially managing the mechanical condition of the turbo that runs the engine. In the morning before you set off, start the engine and let it warm up to the required temperatures. 

“These cars communicate mechanical faults on the dashboard. If any warning light shows up, have it fixed it immediately. If you do not, it will cause wear and tear of other parts. You have to replace the air filter or cleaner before the service mileage. The external body and the interior have to be waxed regularly to maintain the leather and body smooth,” Einau warns.      

The on and off-road performance of the Mercedes Benz ML 320 CDI 4Matic W164, Einau argues, is perfect. The secret is in the types of tyres used. Low-profile tyres are suitable for urban drives.

However, it is advisable to balance the thickness of the tyres for a better experience. The higher the tyre profile, the more driving comfort it will offer off-road. It is better to have the middle range of low and high-profile tyres that give you better performance on and off-road. 

“Off-road tyres do not give you good comfort because they have many big treads. They produce weird noises and are not comfortable on the road. It is advisable to get all-terrain tyres with small treads with a medium of low and high profile,” Einau advises. 

Service cost
On average, if you go to a high-end service garage, you will spend Shs1m to cater for engine oil, air cleaner, oil filter, brake pads and coolant, among other serviceable parts. If you use an average mechanic or garage, you will spend Shs700,000 to Shs800,000 on regular service. 
Car cost
The cost of these cars is determined by the year of manufacture and where you get it from. If you import, you have to spend about Shs80m to Shs90m. However, you can get a second-hand one at between Shs40m to Shs60m. The models after 2020 cost Shs100m and above.