car engine

A mechanic washes a car engine.

| Pool

How often should I wash my car engine and how should I do it?

What you need to know:

  • The question is not mundane, it was a major sticking point once upon a time during the formative years of this column.
  • Engine washing elicited a sizeable bag of words as the conversation revolved around the necessity (yes) and technique of embarking on this undertaking. 

 Hi Mr Barasa,

I am a new car enthusiast, religiously following your column now for two years now. I am a new car owner, advise me, how often should a car engine be cleaned, every fortnight? Monthly? What detergent does one use? I have been advised not to do it frequently but I feel that I need to take care of my car. Forgive my mundane question.

Regards, Toro

Hello Toro,

Well, it’s not cast in stone that a car engine should be cleaned, but it is in your best interests to do so if you own a car. With that as a preamble, it follows that the cleansing regime is not necessarily strict nor routine-based, it is mostly done on demand. Take a garner at your engine bay and break out the warm rag and degreaser at any signs of filth that causes you discomfort. If the engine bay is not dirty enough to risk your knuckle skin on, leave well enough alone.

The question is not mundane, it was a major sticking point once upon a time during the formative years of this column. Engine washing elicited a sizeable bag of words as the conversation revolved around the necessity (yes) and technique of embarking on this undertaking. The agreement was a dirty engine carries a few downsides such as the gunk creating hotspots that could affect performance (both electrical and mechanical) and the grime concealing other problems such as leaks, as well as aging and eating into some plastics such as covers and insulation which creates repair bills down the road, so, really, you actually should wash your engine when the need arises.

So how do you wash your engine? The first method is by driving through a puddle at high speed to cause a sizeable splash, but this is foolish and dangerous. Don’t do it, because nobody else does.

The second method is a technique frequently observed at car wash stations whereby a high pressure jet is aimed at the engine bay with pickney-esque glee. Invariably, the drivers who have their engines washed in this manner send me an email to the tune of the vehicle either underperformed following a car wash, or plain refused to start. This is because the high pressure water jet is strong enough to break things or disconnect connections or even enter where water should not enter. Don’t do this, despite the fact that many other people do.

What you need to do is get a rag and bucket of warm, soapy water. The soap should be strong enough to remove grease, but not so strong that it carries your epidermis along with the grease. If so, use gloves. Apply the rag strategically to the filth and with a smallest possible deluge of accompanying water. It is time-consuming and requires deftness of the digits, but it yields the best and safest results of all three methods.

Happy cleaning!



Photo credit: Pool

Why do the tyres of my Vitz start vibrating when I hit 100km/hr?

To Baraza JM,

Upon accelerating my car, a Vitz 1300cc, the wheels begin to vibrate once it hits 100km/hr.

I sent my first lady to get it wheel balanced and aligned, and upon checking, they said the sealant inside the tyres is not recommended since it affects wheel balance.

Please shed some light as to the cause of this anomaly as well as the veracity of the unsolicited advice?

Yours PW

Hi PW,

There is some element of truth to this, but it begs the question: how much sealant did they use anyway? It has to be gobs of it for it to unbalance the tyre noticeably.

With that as a working theory, there is only one way to test the veracity of this claim: change the tyre with the sealant then drive up to 100 and see if the vibration comes back. If it doesn’t (or of it does at a different speed), then the sealant is the problem. If there is no change, then the sealant is not to blame. Check for something else.

The other possibilities are a bent rim, worn out bushes and/or tie-rod ends. Have these checked once you confirm it’s not the tyre causing the vibration.

I want to buy my first car, which do I go for? The Honda Fit, Nissan March, Toyota Vitz or Nissan Note?

Choices, choices  I see you are interested in the hatchback segment, what the English motoring press refers to as “superminis” though I don’t get what is so super about them. I’ll suggest an uncreative choice...

Toyota Vitz

Toyota Vitz

Photo credit: Pool

Dear JM Baraza,

I was never interested in cars until I started reading your articles. You have a fun way of making motor issues seem so easy and the boring stuff about motor vehicles become interesting.

I got lucky with a good job and I need to buy my first car. I have zero clues on what I need to look for in a car, the internet has so much information such that it is hard to keep up with what’s true and not. Kindly help me choose from the Honda Fit, Nissan March, Toyota Vitz and Nissan Note. My budget is Sh700,000. Your advice will give me the confidence in making the right choice.



I see you are interested in the hatchback segment, what the English motoring press refers to as “superminis” though I don’t get what is so super about them. Anyway...

Honda Fit: once the thinking person’s Toyota alternative, the bullet-proof engines have been Honda’s strong point, but routine maintenance can be a pinch once you realise the costs involved when changing the spark plugs. Also, the past two or so years have seen a litany of complaints against the dependability of the automatic transmission crop up with alarming frequency. Perhaps you should get a manual?

Honda Fit

Nissan March: it’s biggest claim to fame was when a blue example lay waste to a black W124 generation Mercedes-Benz E320 in a drag race I had organised at Masinga airstrip. It was the kind of sight one doesn’t get to witness too often and should therefore come with a disclaimer: drivers of Nissans March should not take this as a cue to hunt down E320s, I cannot guarantee a repeat result. Other than that, niggling faults are unheard of generally, despite the car being built in an era when Nissan was not quite its former self. The car is small, very small, smaller than anything else on this list, so take that as you will.

Toyota Vitz: the default choice. Ubiquitous, reliable, dependable, cheap to run and maintain, the Toyota is what one buys when they have no access to Car Clinic and want to hedge their bets by playing it safe. You cannot go wrong with a Vitz.

Nissan Note

Nissan Note.

Photo credit: Pool

Nissan Note: the super Uber. This too was built when Nissan was on the back foot and it shows, unlike the March which hid the corporate shortcomings fairly convincingly. Frequent random bouts of malaise and its rampant use as an Uber taxi means that you will never truly be happy owning one, even if you practice preventative maintenance to keep the problems at bay. Image problems are not so easily cured. So now? I will do the boring thing and ask you to go for the uncreative choice. Get the Vitz.

Nissan March

Nissan March

Photo credit: Pool

Forget it, the Audi RS3 is not a downgrade, go for the Peugeot 208 GTI

Hello Baraza.

Aleki Subaru is my name. I was here a long time ago and you advised me then on what’s best for my thrill and foot. Allow me to request for a review of the AudiA3 RS and Peugeot208 GTI. As my name suggests, I am partial to the Subaru, and loved my Subaru WRX with all my heart but I moved to the Mercedes E300 which is relatively giving me the same speed and thrill with a bit of stability. But owing to economic constraints, I am looking to downgrade to a smaller car that is pocket friendly, but with the speed and thrill.


Aleki (Subaru)

Hi Aleki (Subaru),

I think what you are calling an A3 RS is actually an RS3 (correct label). I doubt an E300 is giving you the same speed and thrill as a WRX. You may get even more speed with the Mercedes, but thrill? Come on, let’s be honest with each other here. One is a large, lumpen, heavily damped luxo-barge, the other is a rumbly, compact, jumped-up son-of-a-rally-car. It’s obvious which has more thrills. Also, try not to thrash the Benz around too hard, it is big and heavy and can be unwieldy, especially if graduating from an Impreza WRX...

The RS3 is not cheaper to buy or run or maintain compared to the WRX and the Mercedes, so let’s not use “pocket-friendly” and “economic constraints” as excuses to get one. That car is for the thrill-seeker seeking premium quality to go with it. The GTI can’t match the Audi in terms of refinement.

It also won’t match the Audi in terms of sheer go. The RS3 is a class leader in performance and handling. Very few vehicles can even come close straight out of the factory. You will need an STI to match the RS3, the WRX won’t cut it. You will need an AMG Mercedes to match the RS3, the E300 simply cannot. The 208? It can only watch from the sidelines as Vorsprung Durch Technik shows its mettle. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The RS3 comes with a hefty price tag, which is why, based on your financial woes, the 208GTI simply wins on no other merits other than buying price... and running costs... and maintenance costs. Money. The GTI wins on money.

Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger.

Photo credit: Pool

A Ford Ranger with recurrent clutch and pressure plates problems

Hi Baraza,

I applaud your exceptional knowledge and experience/expertise with cars. You are on another level. Much appreciated and looking forward to reading your articles for the next couple of decades. Now, I drive a 3.2l 6speed manual Ford Ranger Limited,diesel, YOM 2014, ex UK. I was the first local user, I imported it late 2018. Two years later, it ‘fried’ the clutch and pressure plate. Mechanics blamed this on a broken cylinder. We replaced the three and all was well for a few months then same problem recurred. This time, the clutch was messed but the pressure plate was okay. We replaced them both. And so far so good. At some point, the mechanics blamed the clutch ‘ridding’ or clutch balancing especially for long periods as happens in traffic snarl ups .

My questions:

# What factors are responsible/associated with clutch failures all else like maintenance and clutch fluids being okay?

# Is clutch riding /balancing that detrimental to the clutch?


Hello Mr CK,

Clutch failures are primarily from two causes:

1.Age/ extent of use: after all, the plates are friction surfaces and there are a finite number of times the friction surfaces can be engaged before they’re worn smooth

2.Use and abuse: how those friction surfaces are engaged and disengaged plays a big role in how long they will last. This not only includes wrongful balancing and frequent riding, it also covers up the issue of overloading and using the wrong gears for a given situation.

So the answer to your second hash tag is “Yes”. Riding/balancing is detrimental to the clutch. When riding or balancing the clutch, the plates are not fully engaged, they are sliding against each other, what we call “slip”. This sliding creates a lot of friction which both heats up the clutch (that’s why you can smell the clutch when it’s burning) and wears out the friction surfaces, reducing their efficiency. Eventually you will wear those surfaces smooth and render them useless if you keep up the destructive habit.


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