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Why Small-Engine Cars Are Addictingly Popular in Kenya
Why Small-Engine Cars Are Addictingly Popular in Kenya
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Why Small-Engine Cars Are Addictingly Popular in Kenya

Eddy Mwanza
October 7, 2022

More and more Kenyans have been making the shift to small-engine cars and hybrids over the last couple of years.

According to an August 2022 report published by the Business Daily, second-hand car dealers who were interviewed said that they had registered a huge spike in demand for such cars since the first quarter of 2020.

The report cited the steady rise in fuel prices as well as financial hardship as the key reason behind the new trend in Kenya. However, there are various other reasons that could explain it.

When it comes to buying that first car, practicality is the name of the game and Kenyans are fast realizing that this should be the key consideration.

Read Also: Hybrid Cars in Kenya: Should You Buy One?

Why Are Kenyans Making the Switch?

For one, it makes financial sense to buy an economical car during lean financial times. The cost of living in Kenya has been on a steady upward trajectory over the last decade.

This has been heavily felt by car owners when it comes to the cost of fuel. In December 2013, a litre of super petrol was going for Ksh108.87 in Nairobi.

The same amount of super petrol is now retailing at Ksh179.30, marking a Ksh70.43 rise. This means it costs more to fuel any given car to cover the same mileage compared to 2013.

Kenyans have realized this and in a bid to save more during the challenging economic times, switching to small-engine cars makes sense.

For example, a Toyota Prado will burn through a litre of petrol every 8.5km on average. This would mean that driving from Nairobi to Mombasa (488kms) would need about 57.4 litres of fuel. Using the current fuel prices in Kenya, this then translates to Ksh10,291.

On the other hand, a Toyota Vitz burns through a litre of petrol every 16.5kms on average. To travel the same distance highlighted above, this small engine car would need about 29.5 litres of fuel, costing Ksh5,289.

The difference between the two cars in terms of the cost of fuel for that particular trip is Ksh5,002, enough to take the Vitz on a round trip. Kenyans are now going into such details when it comes to picking a car, which could explain why the ‘small’ cars are gaining popularity rapidly.

Read Also: Smart Ways to Cut Down Car Costs

More Affordable in Terms of Financing

If taking up a car loan is the preferred financing method, then small cars are ideal as one ends up paying less interest compared to someone who goes in to finance the purchase of a fuel guzzler.

The reasoning behind it is that when you borrow less money, you could pay less in interest when the loan repayment period is shorter.

Once the real cost of a car loan is factored in prior to deciding on which car to buy, then one easily avoids turning the whole experience into a financial burden.

Calculating what loan payments are affordable and within a given budget more often than not leads to small-engine cars with very high fuel efficiency.

Read Also: 10 Questions to Ask Your Lender Before Getting a Car Loan in Kenya

The Insurance Question

Is it cheaper to insure a small-engine car as compared to a bigger counterpart in terms of engine capacity?

According to – a trusted car rating website, going for a small-engine car costs less in terms of insurance.

Insurance cost is one of the most significant annual expenses for car owners, so it makes sense to go for a car that can bring this cost down to a manageable figure.

When it comes to tabulating insurance costs, things that are considered include power output, the value of the car, the cost of parts when repairs are needed, and engine capacity among others.

It is important to note that some insurance firms also consider the likelihood of theft as a key factor when considering the total cost. This is where the small-engine cars could prove costly, however, compared to their larger counterparts, they would still fetch cheaper rates.

While large-engine cars such as the Range Rover fetch lower premium rates (3% on average) compared to small-engine cars (3.8% - 4.5% on average), it still costs more to insure the Range Rover.

Large cars attract less premium rates due to the less risk involved in terms of accidents and theft. 

This could explain why finding an insurer willing to cover a car that costs less than Ksh500,000 is proving to be a hard task in Kenya at the moment. Some firms actually don’t do it and prefer to recommend such car owners to alternative underwriters.

Read Also: Money and Me: Insurance, a True Life Saver

Day to Day Running Costs 

Buying your first car is straightforward and easy if all your finances are in order. However, there are several hidden costs that come along with the purchase that tend to mount up if tabulated over a long period of time.

For example, having the car cleaned regularly would cost more if you own a Toyota V8 land cruiser, compared to a Suzuki Alto owner.

The guards and parking assistants at your regular spots tend to refer to you as ‘bazu or mkubwa’ if you drive in with a fuel guzzler in a bid to secure larger tips, it comes with the territory.

A Ksh200 tip may not seem like much but if done 5 days a week it translates to Ksh52,000 at the end of the year. On the other hand, drive in with a Suzuki Alto and the ‘mkubwa’ moniker and tip expectation is lowered instantly.

Read Also: Can you Maintain a Car While Living on A Budget?

Maintenance Costs

The bigger the car in terms of engine capacity and power output, the more expensive it is when servicing it regularly, it’s that simple.

For instance, a Kenyan car owner caused a stir on social media when he revealed that it cost him over Ksh50,000 to replace the battery in his Audi A4.

Compared to the average price (Ksh7,500) of a battery that can be fitted in a Toyota Vitz and you get why more and more Kenyans are making the switch to small-engine cars.

It simply costs less to not only buy this type of car, but they are also considerably cheaper to maintain as compared to their larger counterparts.

Read Also: Why Leaving Your Car at The Mechanics is a Bad Idea


Save the planet – small cars are good in terms of fuel emissions compared to traditional fuel guzzlers. This means by opting for a smaller car, you would be playing a small role in ensuring the planet remains habitable for a long time to come.

This could also explain why hybrids are now popping up all over Kenya as owners looking for even more ways to bring the cost of ownership further down.


Why spend millions on a guzzler if the reason behind buying a car is to cater to your daily job runs? The purpose of buying a car should be at the very top of the list when it comes to deciding on which car to buy.

Big-engine cars may be the ultimate dream as they ooze prestige, offer unmatched comfort, and tend to make a statement even before you utter a word. However, before getting one, maybe ask yourself the most important question – why are you getting the car in the first place?

If you make a regular trip to your upcountry farm, then a Demio or Suzuki Alto would not be the ideal choice. As a rule of thumb, the choice of car should fit the purpose.

Eddy Mwanza is Creative Consultant living and working in Nairobi, Kenya. His areas of focus are Content Creation, Creative Writing, Research and Photography. When he is not writing in his favorite coffee shop, Eddy spends most of his time reading, cooking, and traveling. He is also a sports fanatic. Connect with Eddy on LinkedIn.

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