In Summary

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

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?

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