Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Delhi to Jamshedpur in two days

Day-1 : Drove from West Delhi (Dwarka) to Kanpur – a distance of 502 km. Left Dwarka at 4.30 AM and reached Kanpur at 1 PM. Spent about 40 minutes at Faridabad to visit someone’s house in Faridabad soon after getting out of Delhi early in the morning. Made it a point to fill up my fuel tank at Faridabad (Haryana) where fuel in cheaper than Delhi, U.P., Bihar and Jharkhand.

Day-2 : Drove from Kanpur to Jamshedpur – a distance of 883 km. Incidentally, this is the maximum distance I have ever covered in a day, driving by myself.

During this return leg from Delhi I was careful not to repeat the mistake of missing the Allahabad bypass. The Allahabad bypass is a superb 4-lane dual carriageway, 82 km long, passing mostly through sparsely populated areas – I did not come across a single petrol pump on this stretch and hardly any dhabas. Toll collection has not yet started here as the road is not yet officially complete.

Car performance was superb throughout this trip. SVS / MIL light problem has gone after EGR valve cleaning. Roads being excellent, I could comfortably drive between 90-130 kmph.

Some statistics:
Total distance covered during Jamshedpur-Delhi-Jamshedpur trip: 3066 km
Jam to Delhi (Ashram chowk) driving thro’ Allahabad city : 1339 km
Delhi (Dwarka) to Jam via Kanpur city and Allahabad bypass: 1385 km
Overall mileage : ~ 21.80 KMPL (includes about 400 km city driving, ~ 70% AC, lots of driving over 100 kmph).

While going to Delhi from Jamshedpur:
Day 1 : 133 km (Jam-Ranchi)
Day 2 : 759 km (Ranchi-little beyond Kanpur)
Day 3 : 448 km

While returning to Jamshedpur from Delhi:
Day 1 : 502 km (Dwarka-Kanpur)
Day 2 : 883 km (Kanpur-Jam)

20,000 km maintenance routines (4th paid service) on my Swift VDi

During the EGR valve cleaning job my car had already clocked 19,800 km and I decided to get the scheduled maintenance routines due at 20,000 km carried out simultaneously. Some of the important routines were engine oil + filter change, transmission oil change, brake oil change, coolant change, fuel filter change, air filter change, tyre rotation, checking all underbody fasteners, etc.

Total expenses were Rs 4691 (EGR vv gaskets : Rs 53; air filter : Rs 259; fuel filter : Rs 1204; oil filter : Rs 376; Golden Cruiser coolant 3.0 lit : Rs 705; Golden Cruiser brake fluid 250 ml : Rs 155; Mobil Delvac engine oil 3.1 lit : Rs 720; Castrol EP90 gear oil 2.5 lit : Rs 495; Labour : Rs 703).

It would be seen that the costliest item to be replaced every 20,000 km is the diesel filter (Rs 1204). It is a particulate filter cum water separator manufactured by BOSCH in Spain. I wonder why this filter cannot be developed indigenously.

Isn't EGR valve malfunction covered under warranty?

My Swift comes with a 2-year warranty and I have additionally purchased extended warranty for 2 more years. Since my car has not even completed 2 years, I was surprised when M/s PEBCO, Jamshedpur (Maruti authorized service station) stated that my EGR valve problem would not be covered under warranty and would be carried out on chargeable basis.

I reasoned with PEBCO that EGR valve cleaning is scheduled (as per Swift’s maintenance schedule) only at 30,000 km and if it has got clogged prematurely at 19,000 km, there must be some design / manufacturing defect and so its rectification should be covered under warranty.

PEBCO officials told me (as a justification for not covering the problem under warranty) that adulteration of diesel is common in India and this leads to excessive carbon formation which clogs up the EGR valve prematurely. I informed PEBCO that I always bought diesel from a reputed petrol pump in Jamshedpur and challenged them to draw a fuel sample from my car’s tank and prove that it was adulterated.

It is relevant to mention here that I had already discussed this issue with the petrol pump owner (who happens to be a qualified engineer) and he told me that some car service stations routinely raise the bogey of adulterated fuel to justify several problems in their respective cars and escape warranty liability. This petrol pump owner assured me that I could ask the diesel manufacturer (Indian Oil) for chemical analysis of the fuel sold in his petrol pump and defied any car service centre prove that his fuel was adulterated.

Despite all my reasoning, PEBCO refused to take a diesel sample from my car and stubbornly stuck to their decision not to cover my EGR valve problem under warranty.

Subsequently, I took up the matter with Maruti’s Regional Office at Ranchi. They agreed with my reasoning and directed PEBCO, Jamshedpur to rectify the defect in my car free of cost (under warranty). The matter was thus amicably resolved.

Problem with the EGR valve

The Multijet engine fitted in my diesel Swift has a cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system. The basic function of EGR is to reduce NOx emissions by recirculating small amounts of cooled exhaust gas into the engine's intake system when required.

The EGR Valve has an exhaust passage into it, and an intake passage from it. The valve is controlled by an electronic actuator. This electronic actuator is in turn controlled by the engine’s ECU (electronic control unit or on-board computer). Depending on parameters like engine RPM, coolant temperature, etc., the ECU sends commands to the electronic actuator to open (to varying degrees) at appropriate times, allowing exhaust gas to enter the intake system and reduce the oxygen content of the intake air.

A couple of months ago, with about 19,000 km on the odometer, I noticed that :
1) The SVS light was not going off after 4 seconds of turning on the ignition
2) The MIL light was not going off after starting the engine
3) There was no noticeable change in the car's performance

I took the car to Maruti Service where they connected their diagnostic device (called Tech-2) to my car’s ECU and found DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code) No. P0400, i.e., problem with EGR flow. According to the Swift workshop manual, DTC No. P0400 is detected if one of the following conditions is satisfied :
1) Difference between measured MAF (mass air flow) and reference MAF is out of specified range
2) EGR valve is stuck open

Maruti Service technician cancelled the DTC with Tech-2 and the warning lights (both SVS and MIL) returned to their normal states without carrying out any repairs to the engine. Thereafter, I used the car for over one month without any problem.

Again, about a month ago, the SVS and MIL lights warned me of some malfunction. Again, there was no noticeable change in the car's performance, i.e., there were no symptoms of any problem except the warning lights. I took the car to Maruti Service and they again found DTC No. P0400, i.e., problem with EGR flow. They correctly diagnosed the root cause of the problem as excessive carbon deposits inside the EGR valve making its operation sluggish / erratic.

The problem was satisfactorily rectified by dismantling and cleaning the EGR valve. The following pictures will give you an idea of the procedure.

View of engine compartment with battery and air filter removed. The EGR vv. assembly (with electronic actuator removed) is seen inside the red rectangle

The EGR valve assembly removed from engine

Note the carbon accumulation inside EGR valve

EGR valve after cleaning

This nozzle injects exhaust gas from EGR vv into intake manifold. Note the carbon deposits.

EGR cooler being cleaned

EGR cooler after cleaning
After the EGR valve cleaning I drove the car from Jamshedpur to Delhi and back (about 3000 km; doing speeds upto 130 kmph) and there were no warning indications.
My personal impression after examining the EGR valve after dismantling was that there were substantial carbon deposits but they could not be called excessive -- the gas passage through the valve was not blocked (I ascertained it by blowing thro' the valve with my mouth). Also, I could operate (open / close) the valve by pushing it with my fingers -- it was not jammed (but could be a bit sluggish under actual working conditions). It must be said to the credit of the Multijet engine that its sensors and on-board computer are sensitive enough to detect problems well before they start hampering the car's performance.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Great improvements in NH33

Much work has been done on the NH33 (Barhi - Hazaribagh - Ramgarh - Ranchi - Jamshedpur - Ghatshila - Bahragora - Chichira) over the last couple of years and the road is presently in a fairly good condition except for a few very short stretches between Bahragora and Chichira (Jharkhand / W.B. border).

The way most highways are maintained in India, the newly laid surfaces usually last just a couple of years. In Jharkhand, the posts of the minister and babus in-charge of road construction are highly coveted because much money can be made in this dept. So though I am happy about the present condition of NH33, I'm not sure how long this happiness will last!

But I am making hay while the sun shines. I have stopped using trains for visiting Kolkata and always use my Swift. In the last one month alone I drove to Kolkata twice for attending some weddings. It takes about 5 hours to reach Kolkata from Jamshedpur and driving is quite enjoyable.

Highway dust on my car

I usually start early in the morning, around 5AM. Till Bahragora (100 km) I can comfortably do 80-90 kmph. The bad stretches between Bahragora and the West Bengal border (Chichira) slows one down but after crossing into W.B. the road (NH6) is once again good and 80-90 kmph can be maintained till Kharagpur.

The real driving fun starts at Kharagpur where the excellent 6-lane dual carriageway (part of the Golden Quadrilateral) to Kolkata starts. On this stretch my Swift effortlessly reaches upto 130 kmph. The only reason why I don't usually exceed 120-130 kmph is because most Indian drivers (bloody junglees) have not yet learnt how to use multi-lane carriageways and one often finds the slowest moving trucks and other vehicles coolly hogging the fast lane. Though most truckwallahs let you pass (however grudgingly or slowly), most buses and cars apparently feel offended when you want to overtake them and so one has no choice but to slow down and overtake from the left when the opportunity arises.

On the whole, with the present condition of NH33 and NH6, I quite enjoyed my recent drives from Jamshedpur to Kolkata and back. Apart from the thrill of some high speed driving, having the car at our disposal at Kolkata is a big convenience. The Swift VDi continues to perform admirably without any problem. I get a mileage of around 22 kmpl during these drives. I use only non-premium diesel.

The Swift has clocked 19,000 km. Most of it was obviously on the highways because my driving around in Jamshedpur is minimal due to my retired life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jamshedpur to Kathmandu and back

The Swift somewhere in the Terai region of Nepal

Since the long drives to Delhi and Bombay in late 2007, I did several road trips to nearby places like Kolkata, Ranchi, Bokaro, etc. in 2008. But both the car and I were getting restless for another proper L O N G drive. So when a neighbour in Jamshedpur returned from a drive to Kathmandu and shared his experience with me I decided to do this route too – Jaya and I had never been to Nepal before and as the route passed very close to Bettiah (a small town in North Bihar near the Nepal border) Jaya was very excited as she had spent many memorable years of her childhood with her grandparents there.

Major Amitava Ghosh (retd), a childhood friend of mine from Ranchi decided to join us for this trip and since the route passes through Ranchi we could conveniently pick him up from his house and drop him on our return leg.

A brief account of the drive is given below :

Day 1 (07.01.09)

Jaya and I drove to Ranchi (132 km) in the evening and spent the night at Amitava’s place.

Day 2

The three of us drove to Motihari (489 km) via Barhi, Nawada, Bakhtiarpur, Hajipur and Muzaffarpur. We wanted to reach Motihari by sunset but our plans went awry as the highway between Muzaffarpur and Motihari was blocked by a Muharram procession and we were forced to take a long detour through village roads which were very narrow and broken. We reached Motihari at around 8 PM and put up in a hotel.

Day 3

Drove to Bettiah (47 km) and spent the day sightseeing at Bettiah. Spent the night with relatives there.

Day 4

Drove to Kurintar (234 km) in Nepal via Raxaul (India), Birganj (Nepal), Hetauda, Narayanghat and Mugling.

We started early in the morning from Bettiah and had to drive very slowly due to dense fog. To make matters worse, about 40 km of the road before Raxaul is in totally dilapidated condition. The car’s suspension performed admirably. After entering Nepal (at Birganj) we had to get the car permit (called ‘Bhansar’) made before proceeding further.

From Birganj we proceeded to Hetauda which is a major junction point of several roads. Our plan was to go to Pokhara but luckily we learnt through a Nepali news bulletin on the car radio that hotel staff at Pokhara had gone on strike. So we decided to proceed towards KTM. Someone at Hetauda told us that there are as many as 3 roads leading from there to Kathmandu but 2 of them are very steep with broken surface and therefore not advisable for small cars. The best (and longest) road is through Mugling and we proceeded to Mugling.

Mugling is a small town where the highway forks left (west) to Pokhara and right (east) to KTM. We turned towards KTM and stopped at Kurintar (just 6 km from Mugling) to take the awesome ropeway to Manakamana. This ropeway elevated us by 1.044 km (took us to an altitude of 1302 m from 258 m) over a distance of 3.02 km in 10 minutes. It was quite cold at Manakamana. This place has a temple and great views of some Himalayan peaks. For our return cable car ride from Manakamana we had to stand in a queue for more than an hour and by the time we returned to Kurintar it was getting dark. So we spent the night in a hotel at Kurintar.

View of Himalayan peaks from Manakamana

Day 5

Drove from Kurintar to KTM (108 km) via Naubise. This road is quite scenic and there are lots and lots of ghat (hill) stretches. As I have reported before, the Swift Multijet diesel engine is a great one for hill climbing as peak torque of 190 Nm comes at a low 2000 RPM.

While entering the capital city of Kathmandu we had to stop to show our papers (Bhansar) and pay municipal tax at a checkpost. Some guides / hotel agents are always hanging around the checkpost to catch tourists. I identified one smart guide-cum-agent who sat with us in the car and guided us through the crowded streets of KTM to a nice hotel at Thamel (a prime central location for hotels and shopping). It being off-season, we got big discounts on the hotel tariff.

After settling down in the hotel (around 11 AM) we left for KTM sightseeing and also booked our tickets for a mountain flight. We saw the Royal Palace (from outside), Rani Pokhri, Durbar Square, etc.

Day 6

We drove from the hotel to Tribhuvan International Airport early in the morning to take our mountain flight. We flew Yeti Airlines in a Jetstream 41 turboprop aircraft. The aircraft flew eastwards along the Himalayas to Mount Everest and we saw many awesome peaks on the way. It was a great thrill to see Mt Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali). We flew beyond Everest to Makalu and then the plane took a U-turn and headed west towards KTM. As we were approaching KTM, the Captain announced that we could not land at KTM due to sudden bad weather and we were going to land at Pokhara. All the passengers were delighted with this sudden development as Pokhara lies west of KTM and going to Pokhara meant an opportunity to see the Annapurna range in addition to the peaks we had already seen – that too free of cost! The plane landed in Pokhara and after about 45 mins of waiting there we flew back to KTM. It was an awesome experience – our total flying time was about 100 minutes and we were enjoying the view of the majestic Himalayas almost throughout. 

View of Mount Everest from the Mountain Flight

Check out more pics taken from the aircraft at http://picasaweb.google.com/debashis1/MountainFlightFromKathmandu#

After returning to KTM airport we went sightseeing to Pashupatinath temple and Boudhnath – it was nice to have our own car for moving around and sightseeing in KTM. I had collected a KTM road map from the hotel and that helped me to navigate through the city.

After returning to the hotel and having lunch we left the car at the hotel and went sightseeing / shopping by foot and riksha. Jaya and I again spent some time at the Durbar Square which we found to be the number one worth seeing site at Kathmandu with all its ancient temples and palaces – quintessentially Nepali. We were lucky to see the little living goddess appearing briefly at her viewing balcony at the Kumari Temple. She appeared to be about 5-6 years old, a cute little thing all decked up in colourful clothes – she seemed to enjoy all the adulation and attention while waving playfully from her first floor balcony to the audience below.

Day 7

Drove from KTM to Saura (170 km) on the outskirts of Royal Chitwan National Park. To go to Saura we turned left from Mugling towards Narayanghat (also called Narayangarh). At the Narayanghat intersection we turned left towards Tandi which is 13 km from the intersection. At Tandi we turned right into a narrow and potholed village road and reached Saura after 7 km.

At Saura we put up in a resort with independent cottages. While Jaya and I chose to just relax, my friend Amitava went for an elephant ride to see some deer and a couple of domesticated rhinos in a zoo-like enclosure and came back with body-ache! I would not recommend Saura to any serious nature lover. I was told that to actually see animals in the wild one has to go deep inside the Chitwan National Park.

Day 8

Drove from Saura (Nepal) to Hajipur (India) – a distance of 320 km. One good thing about spending our last night in Nepal at Saura was that we were quite close (just 128 km) to the Indian border at Raxaul. We started early in the morning at 5 AM from Saura and though I had to drive through light fog in some places, we managed to get out of Nepal by about 8 AM without being bothered by the pesky traffic checkposts which I had found quite annoying while driving inside Nepal. After entering India at Raxaul I again had to drive through the painful cratered stretch of road to Motihari. The fog was also dense in this part even at 9 AM. After Motihari the drive to Hajipur was quite smooth. We put up in a hotel at Hajipur for the night.

Day 9

Drove from Hajipur to Jamshedpur (472 km). Dropped off Amitava at Ranchi en route. The roads on this route are quite good – both in Bihar and Jharkhand – and so we made good progress and reached Jamshedpur well before it got dark.

Car’s performance

I have already talked about the hill climbing ability and good suspension of my Swift Vdi. The handling and steering of the car at the countless hairpin bends in Nepal as well as in Jharkhand was very satisfactory. Over the entire distance of 2000 km I got a mileage of almost 24 km per litre of diesel which is very good considering the numerous ghat (hill) sections, a few bad stretches and dense fog in some areas requiring driving slowly in 2nd / 3rd gear. The use of air-conditioner was negligible.

The main negative aspect is the low ground clearance (17 cm) of the car despite its 165/80 R14 tyres. The front bumper tends to scrape the ground while driving through craters. Those are times when I wish I had a SUV with large ground clearance. Then I remind myself about the much higher fuel consumption of the SUV’s and the thought quickly passes!

Some hints and tips for tourists visiting Nepal

  • Indian currency is readily accepted all over Nepal, in big as well as small establishments (including roadside dhabas). The present exchange rate is 100 Indian Rupees = 160 Nepali Rupees. Everyone knows the exchange rate and adheres to it religiously (no commission for exchanging Indian Rupees to Nepali and vice versa).
  • The above notwithstanding, Indian currency in denominations of INR 500 and INR 1000 are usually not accepted. We had been warned about this and therefore carried only INR 100 notes.
  • Excessive bargaining is required for everything as prices quoted to tourists is usually highly inflated. My wife bought some trinkets for NC (Nepali Currency) 100 where the initial price quoted was NC 900!
  • Hotels are plentiful as the economy is tourist driven. So one can get big discounts, especially during off-season. It is advisable to look for hotels after reaching your destination in Nepal rather than booking in advance. You are likely to be fleeced if you book in advance through the internet or travel agents. We stayed in a 2-star rated hotel in Thamel (one of the ‘posh’est tourist districts in Kathmandu) for INR 450 (including tax) per night.
  • There are numerous traffic checkposts and municipal tax / toll collection points along the highways where they often try to fleece the tourists by overcharging or harassing on some pretext or the other. One must insist on seeing the tax / toll token (where the required amount is printed) before paying.
  • There are different tariffs (entry tickets, toll, airport tax, etc.) for locals and foreigners. The tariffs for Indian nationals are usually the same as for locals.
  • Nepal is going through a politically volatile and turbulent period after the abolition of monarchy. ‘Bandhs’ and road blockades are not uncommon. We were stuck in one such road blockade set up by some young political activists but were allowed to proceed after we identified ourselves as tourists.
  • There is acute shortage of electricity in Nepal. Even in the capital city of Kathmandu, power is available only for 8 hrs in 24 hrs. In other places, the situation is even worse. It is important, therefore, to ascertain beforehand whether your hotel has adequate back-up systems for electricity and hot water.
Check out some of the pics I took in Nepal at http://picasaweb.google.com/debashis1/NepalTripByCar#