Travelling to upcountry in your car for Christmas? Read this first

2019 Subaru Forester luggage test. [Courtesy of Autoblog]

As the festive season kicks in, and upcountry trips become more commonplace, remember that a healthy car can not only save you several thousands of shillings, but also save your life.

Kenyans from different major towns such as Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret will be leaving for upcountry to spend the holidays with their loved ones after a difficult year for many.

Some, however, will be heading the opposite direction. For instance, Nairobi residents trooping to the coastal towns of Mombasa, Malindi and Diani for holidays.

As public service vehicle fare charges shoot through the roof, it would make sound economic sense for a car owner to use his or her vehicle for the holiday trips.

Let’s take an example of a family man with four grown-up children, maybe in their teens, who are heading to Migori County from Nairobi, a distance of 370 kilometres.

Bus tickets currently retail at between Sh1,700 and Sh,2000.

If this man wants to travel with his entire family to Migori, then he’ll need at least Sh24,000 to travel to and from Migori, with either trip costing Sh12,000 for the six members of his family – himself, his wife and their four children.

If this man had a car, let’s say a Toyota Noah or Voxy that sits seven people, he’ll spend less on transport.

The Toyota Voxy, if well driven on the highway, it returns up to 12 kilometres per litre.

Nairobi to Migori Town is 370 kilometres. That means that this motorist would need about 31 litres of fuel for this trip.

At the current petrol price in Nairobi (Sh177.30 per litre), this man would need between Sh5,500 to Sh6,000 to transport his entire family home, cutting the transport expenses by half.

For the car to return such good fuel consumption, however, the owner has to ensure that all components of the vehicle, including the engine, the gearbox, the braking system, the tyres, the suspension, the spark plugs, among others, are working optimally.

Documented studies indicate that without regular and proper maintenance, a vehicle can burn up to 30 per cent more fuel. That means that for every Sh100 spent on fuel, Sh30 worth of fuel goes to waste.

So, what should you do to ensure that your car serves you as desired?


It’s a capital offence in the motoring world to drive a vehicle whose service date has expired. You shouldn’t wait until the last kilometre of the service due-date to have your car checked.

This means that if you were to service your car, let’s say at the 85,000-kilometre mileage mark, have it done at the 84,000-kilometre mark.

The 1,000-kilometre gap ensures that the oil, air filter and other enablers that are already in use don’t get worn out to a point that you’ll need an overhaul of some extremely depleted parts. If this regular service pattern is considered, then chances are slim that your car would be troublesome.

It’s advisable that if you usually do the 10,000-kilometre service, have your car checked at the 9,000-kilometre mark, and if you usually do the 5,000-kilometre service, have the vehicle checked at the 4,000 to 4,300-kilometre mark.

Before you hop onto the car for the long journey to upcountry or the coastal part of Kenya, ensure that you do the following: flush the coolant, check the spark plugs, change air cabin filter, change engine air filter, lubricate the doors and hinges, check brakes and wheel bearings, inspect the steering and suspension.

Others include checking the oil level, the oil filter, battery cables, the power steering fluid and the automatic transmission fluid (ATF).

Before starting your journey, also ensure that the fan belt works well, the hose pipes (radiator, fuel and those supplying key components) don’t have cracks.

Like I said before, a healthy car can avert death on the road.

To ensure proper visibility in case of rain or darkness, check and clean the wiper blades, the windshield washer fluid, the headlights (both on bright and dim), the tyre pressure, tread and condition.

Uneven tyre pressure results in the car being unstable on the road and increases fuel consumption since the car drags.

What people tend to forget sometimes, are the indicator and brake light bulbs. These bulbs help you to communicate with other road users on the next move or direction you are about to take. It’s important to ensure they are all functioning.

The most important thing to arm yourself with is good driving habits. Be patient on the road, use signal lights, avoid driving under fatigue or the influence of alcohol, keep your phone away from the driver’s compartment, observe speed limits and ensure you have good road vision.

Light-footed drivers tend to have better fuel consumption. On this, try as much as a possible to accelerate and decelerate gradually and systematically. Instant acceleration and deceleration tend to waste fuel.

Also, using the air conditioner while on long trips, increases your fuel consumption, especially if you are driving a car with a relatively small engine – anything below 1,800cc. Use the AC only if it’s necessary. Studies show that travelling with the AC running increases fuel consumption by up to 20 per cent.

At the same time, driving with windows completely lowered, increases drag, and leads to higher fuel consumption as the car has to struggle against the wind resistance.

If possible, ensure you have the most minimal luggage you can carry. The heavier the car, the more fuel it needs to pull the weight.

Most cars, vans, pickup trucks and SUVs are most fuel-efficient when they’re moving between 60 kilometres per hour and 80 kilometres per hour. Above this speed zone, vehicles increasingly use more fuel. For example, at 120 kilometres per hour, a vehicle uses about 20 per cent more fuel than at 100 kilometres per hour.

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