Hi Baraza,
I am based in Western Kenya and own a 2005 4WD Toyota Premio, 1800cc. Sometime last year it developed Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) leakage and when I took it my mechanic he said there was a seal that needed replacement. However, a year later the problem is back.

1. What are the actual causes of ATF leakages

2. What could be the reason for the seal breaking so frequently?

3. From your experience, is this a common problem with Toyota Premios?

4. Is there a correlation between the seal giving way and my car being a four-wheel-drive? I have heard that it is a common problem with small 4WD cars.

5. Is there a permanent solution to this problem? If so, do you have any contacts of persons who can sort me out

6. Can I disengage the four-wheel-drive mechanism to front-wheel-drive? What will be the pros and cons of that?

7. Can those leakages and frequent opening of the gearbox kill the box and maybe engine in the long run?

8. What is your take on four-wheel-drives vs front-wheels?

9. What are your views on the Toyota Premio?


1. Er... broken seals? Holes in the transmission housing? Another obvious cause is failure to close the draining plug of the transmission.

2. Either the seal is of poor quality, or the transmission fluid (ATF) is too much, causing it to exert too much pressure on the plugs and seals and blowing them open. Also the surfaces that the seal is in contact with may have lost some of their integrit, meaning even replacing the seal does not guarantee a tight, leak-free fit.

3. Not really. The Premios I have driven did not leak fluids and I believe in the thousands of emails I have received, yours is the first one specifically about leaking transmission seals in a Toyota Premio.

4. It could be related. Which seal is this exactly that leaks repeatedly? If I know which particular seal it is then I can tell whether or not it is in any way involved with the 4WD.

5. The permanent solution is tied in to point number two above. Establish the exact cause of the leak and deal with it accordingly. Sadly for you I don’t do endorsements.... yet.

6. Yes. The pros are reduced weight, reduced rolling resistance which means improved performance (you will never notice the difference though, it will be too small) and marginally better fuel economy (you also might not notice any difference here).

The cons: you will have a warning light on the dashboard because as far as the car knows, there is a problem with the transmission since no power is being transmitted to the back wheels.

7. If you keep topping up the ATF, it won’t kill your gearbox. It might kill your wallet though. Without the frequent topping up, yes, your transmission will go, and it might take the engine with it (a bit unlikely though).

8. Depends. I prefer my Premios with 2WD, keeping things simple. I prefer my Mitsubishi Evos and STi Subarus with 4WD, because you need it when going hard into corners and when taking off under full power. The 2WDs have distinct handling characteristics, such as understeer for front-drive platforms and oversteer for rear-drive chasses.

The 4WDs are more or less neutral. They are harder to turn, but they turn properly without drama, except Subarus, which have a knack for understeering a little.

9. Good car, but too common. I wouldn’t buy one for that reason.

Hello Baraza,

Is it true that Ferrari engines are musically engineered to sound perfect by utilising third and sixth harmonics on the air intake, like a flute or organ? Or is that just a marketing claim from Ferrari themselves? Second, are there any other common cars that may lay claim to this feature?

Mwaura Wa Ngundi.

I know the engine sounds from Ferraris (and Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Chevrolet Lumina SS/Vauxhall Monaro VXR/ Holden Monaro, Audi RS4 and a few others) are contrived (mostly) by cleverly designed exhaust systems involving valves, some of which may be controllable by the driver.

Companies like BMW and Renault have gone a step further and pipe manufactured sounds through the car’s speakers. The new BMW M5’s engine has lost its characteristic bark because it is now turbocharged and turbo engines don’t wail as lustily as their naturally aspirated multi-cylinder counterparts.

So BMW manufactured a sound in the lab and plays this sound to remind you that you are in fact driving an M5, which is supposed to sound a certain way, but actually doesn’t. Think of it as a voice-over for a car.

Renault, on the other hand, lets you choose in your tiny hatchback what sound you want to hear. Among the choices in the menu is a Nissan GTR. I can’t think of the kinds of insults you will receive if you happen to have a person who owns a real Nissan GTR with many horsepowers as a passenger and you are playing HIS engine sounds through your speakers in your tiny hatchback with few horsepowers. Car manufacturers can be funny sometimes.

Dear Baraza,

I’m in the jua kali business and I supply building stones to sites. I would like to spend between Sh350,000 and Sh400,000 for a second-hand estate car. Kindly advise on the best car in terms of spares availability and durability. I would also like your opinion on the Toyota Corolla 100 as a taxi. I have been told it is the cheapest and best to start with.

Why would you buy a passenger car if you intend to carry rocks in it? By “passenger”, the word is usually taken to mean people (human beings) and not pieces of the landscape. For that money you can get a Datsun 1100 pickup (aka Datsun Debe, but now called a Nissan) which will bear the rocks much better than an estate car. The Corolla 100 is a good car to run as a taxi. Just take care of it doesn’t get stolen by a business rival.

Hi Baraza,

My sister is interested in buying a car and after doing some research we found a seller. We soon realised that the car we had identified is gold-coloured yet the seller told us the car is white. The seller also wants us to pay hard cash and not deposit money in his account. I find this a bit fishy.

What do you think? He says that KRA always makes mistakes concerning the colour of vehicles, among other things. Should we go ahead with the purchase?


I don’t need to tell you this, but you are dealing with a criminal element. Run, and run fast.

Hi Baraza,

Recently, I was arguing with a friend about the Nissan Bluebird 1.8vi. Could you please explain what 1.8vi means? My friend argues that the car requires 1.8 litres of fuel to start, which I doubt.

Second, could you explain if there is a difference between brake horsepower and horsepower? Finally, I am thinking of buying a truck for carrying goods along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway; whats your take on the Scania, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, and the new Volkswagen in terms of durability, fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

1. That friend of yours deserves to be tarred and feathered. The “1.8 litre” means the engine capacity — the total volume of all the cylinders in the engine. If a car requires 1.8 litres of fuel to start, what kind of fuel would it burn at high speed?

A typical combustion engine is made up of the cylinder head, engine block and crank-case. In this case it is the engine block we are interested in. Within the block are cylinders, which vary in number (anything from a single one all the way to sixteen) and arrangement (could be in-line, could be arranged in a V or could be horizontally opposed). Within these cylinders are pistons, which are attached to the crankshaft.

When fuel is burnt in the cylinders, the force of the explosions impel the pistons to move up and down and thus turn the crankshaft in a rotary manner.

Those cylinders, being cylinders, occupy space (volume). The volume of a cylinder, from primary school maths, is got from the base area multiplied by the height; the base area being the area of a circle (pi multiplied by the square of the radius).

The radius of a circle is half the diameter. The diameter of a cylinder in an engine is called the bore, while the height of the cylinder is called the stroke.

In the case of the Bluebird, we know it has a four-cylinder engine. Therefore, the total volume of the cylinders (derived by pi times the square of the bore divide by four, and multiplied by the stroke, then all that times the number of cylinders) give 1,800cc (give or take). Since there are 1,000 cubic centimeters in a litre, this figure can also be expressed as 1.8 litres.

2. Horse power is just a general term, but where it is used, it is taken to mean brake horsepower. In other instances, the variable will be defined; wheel horsepower (the power after transmission losses have been factored in), or horsepower at the flywheel (raw engine power, without any losses).

3. All these trucks have different models within their lineups. I wish you would be a bit more specific, especially seeing how different models will have different consumption figures and different costs of parts.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 1990 Toyota Hiace (body type RZH), with a 2RZE engine (2.4l EFI petrol). I have owned this vehicle for the last 10 years and despite the fact that it has aged, it has given me very trouble-free service. I have never been stuck on the roadside with a problem, (if you discount the few times I’ve ran out of fuel.

There is no warning light on the fuel gauge). Since last year, though, I have noticed a gradual loss of power. For instance, with the vehicle empty, I would comfortably start off in gear two but nowadays it has become a struggle.

Similarly, when cruising along with a load of 10 passengers, inclines I could easily tackle on gear five now call for gear three and four. I have visited several mechanics (Toyota Kenya said they don’t handle this particular model), and gotten different pieces of advice, some of them conflicting.

The van has been serviced regularly and a while back, one of the mechanics suggested that we change the spark plugs from the short ones to longer ones. None of these efforts have been fruitful. I have also noticed that of late, the engine seems to be “drinking” radiator water, that is I have to top up the radiator after a few hours of regular driving with no apparent leak.

Another fact to consider is that despite being a little more than 20 years old, the van has clocked up 170,000km, which I think is modest for that age. Also, the EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) computer seems to be working well.

I would appreciate your advice on these points;

1. What is/are the likely causes of power loss and how do I remedy it?

2. What is the correct spark plug type for this engine ?

3. The fuel consumption is about 7.5 km/l for mainly highway driving. Is that normal for this model?

4. The van has a very soft suspension — torsion bar upfront and coil-springs rear. This is very comfortable when lightly-loaded and on smooth roads but it bottoms out when loaded or when too much tilting is done at corners. Would it be advisable to install stiffer coils at the back? If so, suggest someone who can.


You really seem to love that Hiace. From what you have described, I think your engine has compression leakage, more so around the cylinder head gasket.

Compression leakage always leads to power loss, and depending on where it is occurring, other symptoms may vary. Now that you say coolant levels drop alarmingly, I’d say you have a leaking head gasket and you may not be too far from blowing it altogether. The leaking head gasket may also explain the loss of coolant, which may be finding its way into the cylinders through the head gasket.

Check for white or light grey smoke coming out of the exhaust if your engine is not cooled by pure water (if you use industrial coolant). The remedy would be to replace the gasket and possible hone the mating surface on the cylinder head to ensure a tight fit.

As for the spark plugs, Toyota recommends NGK. I contacted NGK but they wouldn’t specify the physical aspects of the plugs used in a 2RZE engine such as the thread length, heat range or size of the ground electrode, all they did was give me a picture of an NGK single-electrode spark plug with the caption “actual spark plug may vary”, along with installation instructions.

However, they also gave me a part number in case I wanted to place an order: NGK Part Number BPR5EP-11-2787. There you go.

Seven and half kpl for a petrol-powered 2.4 litre van is not bad. It sounds just about right.

Only install stiffer coils if the bottoming out is very serious. Sometimes going for a stiffer suspension makes the vehicle “lively” or “tail-happy” when unladen.

This is a common occurrence with high-powered vans and pickups. The body roll is to be expected from a van, so don’t corner too hard in it, especially if you go for the harder setup. You will eliminate the body roll, yes, but you will also end up drifting. It’s not easy drifting in a van.

Dear Baraza,

My mother would like to upgrade from a Lancaster Outback to one of the following: A BMW E60 M5 300i, a Mercedes w211 E Class and an Audi A6 Quattro. I’m partial to the BMW because of its sporty look and comfort levels. What’s your take between the three in performance and after-market tuning?
Tyson Misiko.

Before I answer your question, I will ask one of my own: what is an M5 300i? I know of an M5, but I have never heard of a BMW 300i (the 3 would make it a 3 series, and the 00 means there is no engine in it).

Second, this may have nothing to do with motoring, and it is a bit personal, but why would your mum want to drive an M5? The E60 M5 is a 507hp beast that slaughters Ferraris and bursts its diffs once in a while when driven hard. You also mention “performance” and “after-market tuning”. Really? You want to tune an M5? To what level? And where do you expect your mum to drive it after that?

If you wanted to compare like-for-like, then I’m guessing the Mercedes W211 E Class you want is the E63 AMG. This is the only E Class that can come close to the M5 in terms of performance. The Audi you want also is the RS6, with 572hp, the exact same power that the Lamborghini Murcielago had when it first came out.

Anyway, in terms of performance, the Audi RS6 is insane. With the astronomical power and Quattro 4WD system, it will outhandle the other two as well as outrun them straight. Both the Audi and the BMW have v10 engines. The Benz has a V8, and its lower power output and larger mass means the BMW outmanoeuvres it into second place.

After-market tuning: For this you will have to go for custom cars from companies like BRABUS who tune Mercedes’ to impossible-to-believe levels of power and torque. If you want the ultimate M5, buy the 800hp G Power Hurricane.

At one point it held the world record for the fastest saloon car on the planet, having been clocked speeds close to 380km/h. I am not so sure about Audi tuners. Anyway, if you want more than 572hp from a four-door saloon/estate, then I am not the right person to be talking to.


I own a 1998 Daihatsu Feroza that does 8kpl, which I feel is on the higher side. What can I do to improve on this since it has no other problem? Second, what other new model engine can fit in its bay without losing it four-wheel-drive functionality?

Tony K.

There is no cause for alarm, sir. One of the Daihatsu Feroza’s weak points was the fuel consumption, which was a bit too high for a car of that size with an engine of that capacity (1.6 litres). The only way to “improve” on this kind of consumption may be to either change your driving style (keep the engine speed below 2,500 rpm as much as possible) and/or circumstances (avoid traffic jams at all costs, and rough roads where you drive in low gear all the time).

Luckily for you, Daihatsu is owned by Toyota and engine swaps are always easy to do. My guess, with a high degree of certainty, is that one of the many 1.6 litre 4-cylinder Toyota engines could fit in the Feroza engine bay.

You may also need to change the gearbox, because it was a contributing factor to the high fuel consumption (the vehicle was low geared overall, making it boomy and revvy even in highway applications). Fortunately, this does not affect the 4WD system.

Having car trouble? Send your motoring questions to [email protected]

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