Friday, May 9, 2008

Multicabs Demystified

Maybe you have seen them and did not know what they were. There are many now in Dumaguete, brightly colored little trucks and vans, micro sized and perfect for the narrow streets of Dumaguete. They look like toy cars, and in many ways they are. The Volkswagen of the Philippines, they offer automotive transport at an economical price for Filipinos and expats alike. They are the Suzuki, Scrum, mini trucks often called Multicabs.

Multicab is a trade name coined by Norkis Manufacturing for their version of the Suzuki 660cc micro trucks they first imported from Japan. The name has stuck and almost everyone calls them this as a generic reference. The trucks were originally brought in as surplus, meaning they were free of excessive duty thus making them inexpensive. The chassis of these vehicles are cut in half either lengthwise or crosswise to conform to the law about importing scrap or junk vehicles.

The concept was first to replace the polluting tricycles choking the streets of Cebu. Norkis worked with some government agencies in order to introduce the Easy Ride as a small economical passenger van for commercial use. The Easy Ride was essentially a Multicab pick up with an open jeepney type body from the cab rearward. The Easyride has replaced the tricycle in downtown Cebu and has reduced pollution from two stroke motorcycle engines. Its introduction also decreased the number of vehicles clogging the streets of Cebu at the time.

To get back to the process of remanufacturing these trucks, after they are imported in pieces, then they are essentially welded back together, painted and repaired to almost new condition. The difficulty when it comes to buying one off a lot is that you have no idea of how many kilometers are on the motor or chassis, how much body filler is holding the paint on, and whether or not the car was wrecked before they remade it. Careful examination is very important. Or better yet have someone you know who works in one of the shops pick one out for you before it is made pretty. Some shops like Phil Trucks will let you pick out your vehicle pre repair so at least you know what you started with. Even others offer the “bare” rebuilds sans body work and paint for a substantial discount.

The engines are sometimes rebuilt, but are often left as is. A test drive is a must to determine at least if the water pump and cooling system is working well. Some dealers will offer a short warranty period, often only one week, sometimes 30 days. In any event these vehicles are cheap to operate and repair. A total engine replacement is about 18,000 Pesos, a tune up 300, and a yearly replacement of all hoses, belts, and brakes etc about 1000 P.

The basic types are as follows:

· Multicab- small pick up truck
· Multivan- Microvan, also called carry alls
· Easy Ride- pick up cab with passenger body on rear, similar to a Jeepney
· Hybrid- half truck, half van
· Countless other aberrations

The motors come either 6 valve or twelve valve, the twelve valve being the better choice for power. The engines are three cylinder overhead valve water cooled. Transmission choices are 4 speed or 5 speed manual shift. Top speed is for practical purposes about 80 KPH, the 5 speed is a good choice if your going to drive any distance.

Generally the trucks and vans come in three trim levels new rebuilt.

· Rebuilt not painted
· Rebuilt painted, with standard tires steel rims, and no air conditioning
· Or with two tone paint, air conditioning, wide low profile tires and alloy rims

Power steering is not required on these although I have seen it on a few. The wide tubeless tires and alloy rims look cool, but they are eaten up quickly here on the rough roads. The tubeless tires tend to leak because of low pressure and small size. The steering has to be converted from right hand in Japan to left in the Philippines, so alignment is an issue that will plague those with the wide tires. Aircon is nice, but realize it will sap the power from the tiny engine and reduce fuel economy.

Both the Multicabs and the Multivans are available in 4 wheel drive. Unless you plan on traveling frequently to the mountains, these can be problematic as well. Maintenance is more expensive, cvc joints wear out and only surplus parts are available. Again fuel economy and power will suffer with a 4x4. The Multicabs are also available with three sizes of canopies to cover the back, often in combination with bench seats to accommodate rear passengers.
The two wheel drive multicabs are mostly mid/front engine, while the vans are rear engine rear wheel drive, better for traction up muddy roads.

Relative prices new rebuilt.

4x4 PICKUP type:
without CANOPY: PHP155,000
(w/ accessories)without CANOPY: PHP135,000
(w/o accessories)with CANOPY: PHP180,000
(w/ accessories)with CANOPY: PHP160,000 (w/o accessories)

Easy Ride type:
Passenger OPEN: PHP150,000
FB (closed): PHP165,000

5th speed transmission= 6,000
4X4 (front drive/4WD) = 12,000
Airconditioning = 12,000

170,000 190,000


Proudly Canadian said...

I am from Canada, and when I was in Dumaguete in jan 09, i noticed alot of these trucks, and i want to buy one, i am thankful for the background info, it amazing how pinoy culture can overcome any obstacle and make a very econimical truck, of course they are not a ford but they do seem to withstand the harsh roads of the philippines, and that is all i need to worry about, I can wait to get one.

Sand, Wind & Stars said...

Thank you for explaining multicabs. I was in Panglao recently and an American ex-pat recommended a multi cab. It's worth looking at if or when I decide to move to the Philippines. Excellent article.