Embarrassing Moments are Made of These

When you are driving, what is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to you? Right, your vehicle stalling in traffic. And maybe it’s at night, on a road filled with traffic like Uhuru Highway. To make matters worse, it’s raining. And you’re from a date with a girl and you were hoping to score .  You are causing more traffic, other drivers are hooting at you, so you have to push it off the road, with the assistance of your date who is not amused to be a) pushing a vehicle and breaking her precious nails, and b) getting her expensive weave rained on.

I have observed many guys in the above situation (car stalling in traffic) and hoped such an embarrassing day will never come to pass. Part of the reason why you don’t buy a 3rd-hand or nth-hand vehicle that’s generations old. And you regularly service your car.

Now yesterday morning as I surfed on my phone waiting for traffic to move at Nyayo, the ‘check engine light’ came on on the dashboard and the car jerked forward a bit. I kind of ignored it, because previously when it came on, it went away on its own. (Palmface)

The check engine light on a dashboard

The check engine light on a dashboard

However, movement afterwards was a bit jerky and there wasn’t much thrust forward no matter how hard I stepped on the accelerator. With my heart beating fast, and hands starting to get clammy, I switched on the hazards and made it to the parking in one piece. Only to find the parking space had been demolished to pave way for another concrete monster in Upperhill. I finally found a place to park, and left for a busy day (Mondays, huh?)

On coming back in the evening, I was to give a colleague a lift to the Kenyatta Bus Stop, then make my way to Mombasa road via Mbagathi Way. So when we arrive at the parking, I pop open the hood and ‘look around’, not sure for what. I check the coolant and there is the right amount. I don’t heck the engine oil because I had just serviced it exactly one week ago. It doesn’t make sense for me to check it, yet it is supposed to last 5,000 Kms and I’ve only done about 200 Km or so since service. So I just hope the problem of the engine light had gone away, like the last time. Big mistake.

I get in with my colleague getting into the passenger side. I switch on the engine, it’s vibrating crazily. We make our way past the Hospital Road which has been under construction ever since the wheel was invented. And it’s the road that leads to the biggest referral hospital in East and Central Africa. Oh the shame. When we finally get to Ngong Road, the engine vibrations are so loud, people are looking at us funny. So I switch to neutral and all is cool. But then traffic starts to move and when I switch to drive, the car goes off. I don’t panic, I switch it on again but when I move the car into drive, again it goes off.

We are next to a cop directing traffic and I switch on my hazard lights. We are on Ngong road, at the turn off to Ralph Bunche road (the one that goes to Nairobi Hospital). On our left, is a traffic cop station.

The cop notices we are not moving and comes over.

“Nini mbaya? Hamna mafuta?” – You have no fuel?

“No, niko na mafuta” – I have fuel. True, I never let my car go below 2 bars on the indicator. Right now it’s showing 2 bars. That’s enough to get me home and back to work. I have a 990 cc car.

“Basi tuisukume” – Let’s push it off the road.

He looks over to Josephine, my colleague and tells her “wewe, toka tuisukume”.

I can tell she is embarrassed haha.. having to get out and push the car. She will probably never accept a ride from me ever again. Luckily, no one is hooting at us. I remain inside directing it for a few meters till we are out of the road. Then I also have to get out and push, as one guy (there are always these ‘hangers-on’ who materialize out of nowhere when one is stranded) pushes with the door open so he can direct the steering wheel.  (This could have been us below. Oh wait, this was us yesterday)

Four people pushing car on road

Four people pushing car on road


We finally get the car to a safe spot about 20 meters from the road, just in front of the cop station. The cop had already left us a while back to go direct traffic. So it is me, Josephine my colleague, and two other random guys who are now offering to diagnose the issue.

I pop open the hood and they check the engine oil. It’s dry, as in the stick comes out totally dry. I can’t believe it! I had only just serviced it!

“Madam, haukuwekewa oil, hiyo walikudanganya” – They probably drained all the oil but didn’t replace it, is the general consensus.

Luckily, I have some two vibuyus (jerricans) each having about 1 liter of engine oil left over from previous services. We pour these two liters in and when we switch on the car, the ‘check engine’ light is off. Next, when we put it in drive, the car doesn’t go off but operates as normal. So clearly, oil was the issue, but what could have happened?

Did the guys at the Shell Petrol Station where I did the service really con me? (Which is a big problem) Does the car have a leakage? (Which is an even bigger problem) How come I have never noticed? (When I hadn’t checked oil levels in a week!)

I have to tip the guys who have helped us out, and then I drive on to the Total Petrol Station nearby to buy more oil. It takes 2 more liters for the oil to get up to the maximum acceptable level. My goodness, my engine could have knocked!

Josephine gets off at the petrol station to make her way home. This is quite easily her most adventurous ride in Kenya (she’s mostly lived in the States). Many thanks for helping push the car!

At the petrol station, I discover that the it’s true, the oil is leaking. Oh no, this is the problem of driving a low – clearance car on our awful roads.

So you have a luxury sports car, eh? Don't bring it to Kenya! Don't bring it to Africa!

So you have a luxury sports car, eh? Don’t bring it to Kenya! Don’t bring it to Africa! See the road pictured above, that’s the norm.


This morning, I dropped it off at the garage where I learned a new part of a car, the sump. It looks like a stone did it in. They should make these things out of hard metal, like the stuff the black box is made out of (RIP those aboard the Malaysian MH-370).

Lesson learned: always check your oil, coolant/water and ATF levels before leaving the house. Every day.

Also, it helps to have a colleague in the passenger side to help in pushing 😛

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18 Responses to Embarrassing Moments are Made of These

  1. woolie says:

    Pole Savvy….with these modern cars the engine maintenance light is extremely important. We ignore at our peril. The upshot is that they have the systems so integrated now that the car will fail and thus prevent further damage. In an older vehicle one could drive until the engine “knocked”…which would not just be embarrassing but costly too.

    Happy and safe motoring 🙂


    • savvykenya says:

      Yeah, glad these modern cars can detect problems and switch the engine off or warn you in advance..

      Thanks, I think I am getting better at this motoring thing, learning new lessons as I go


  2. Owaahh says:

    Hahaha, woi. Nothing matches the experience of a car stalling. I hit the wall at Globe last week on my way to town to look for food at 2 am, pranged the ATF pump. I parked outside the Equity and noticed the ATF leaking, freaked the fuck out. Long story short, I left it there. The samp guard is very very important though (a 990 cc automobile should not be using 4 wheels *runs and hides*).


    • savvykenya says:

      You hit a wall at 2am? I’m going out on a limb to state that had Alcoblow been around the corner, ungelala ndani!

      Hehe, I love my small car. And for politically correct reasons, it’s 1,000 cc.


      • Owaahh says:

        Cough*** whatchu talmbout? I be a law abiding citizen all the time, even at 2 am. Hahaha, 1, 000 cc, I am jealous at your fuel consumption. Green with envy.


      • savvykenya says:

        Don’t be envious until you’ve tried to overtake other vehicles only for your car to be slower than your mind..!


  3. Alex says:

    The joys of driving in this city. Pole Ms Savvy, but now you know the first rule, dont trust that the mechanics have done what they say they’ve done, buggers will lie to you, and it doesnt matter how fancy the garage is. Rule number two, always have a loose 100 bob or two in the car, for the ‘helpful’ guys who sort you out (where do they come from? Ha!).

    Happy trails. 🙂


  4. Mackel9 says:

    It’s a good thing you had an extra person, I used to wonder why my uncle used to give people lifts when we were going to the bundus, when the car got stuck the extras would push without complaining foresight ey? Two weeks ago the same happened I was given a lift only for the timing belt of a borrowed car to break in the middle of nowhere… I think now I will go back to the basic mechanics class I skived, apparently I know squat when a bonnet is opened and it needs diagnosis.


    • savvykenya says:

      There is a basics mechanics class? In my driving school, the ‘basic mechanics class’ involved checking the oil and water levels and that was that. I’ve been finding out stuff as I go along. The good thing with modern cars is they are self diagnosing, mostly, and will have an array of warning lights on the dashboard that come on at the first sign of trouble. If there is a problem with the engine or transmission, you can take it for computer diagnostics, no need for old school tinkling any more!


      • Mackel9 says:

        Some of us may have to start with a jalopy where the scene you described above may be probable… wait I may be warding off my future girlfriends, let me keep my mouth shut ha


      • savvykenya says:

        If she pushes the car with you and comes out smiling, then she’s the one 🙂 This could be a test


      • Mackel9 says:

        Yaaaaaay :-), I am feeling all Ted Mosby n’shit right now, I should try this test, however, it will be told to our grandchildren and anyone who cares to listen yes? Like it was some sort of conquest?


      • savvykenya says:

        Perfect! I will listen 🙂


  5. Abraham says:

    I should post my Car Trouble III(?) article 🙂


  6. Pingback: Car Trouble 3 | Baba Amor's Thoughts

  7. Pingback: Got a Petrol Engine? Try the Total Quartz Engine Oil | Savvy Kenya In Japan

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