Real Wheels Live

Aug 05, 2011

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

My '99 Acura CL has logged 153,000 miles and has had a few minor problems during the past year. It will need new tires in 6-8 months and the clutch may go out (has never been replaced). I am seriously considering a Miata because I have had a thing for roadsters since I was in diapers (well, almost) and at mid-life it's about time I got one. Should I keep my old Acura as a back-up / larger-capacity / bad weather car or just let it go and have only the tiny Miata? I live in the Southwest and snow is not a big issue but I'd rather have the Acura on stormy days. Thank you.

Roadsters are works of designed impracticality, which is why they are fun. They are fantasy cars, not meant for everyday demands, such as carrying stuff and more than two people. Repair and keep the Acura CL as a backup car.

Warren, I enjoy the chats here. I have a question concerning Rain Sensing Windshield Wipers. I have them on my 2004 BMW and they are the greatest things when it comes to rain. When or how long will it be before it is standard equipment on all cars?

Give it a few years. Rain-sensing and other luxury-car technologies quickly are migrating downward to less expensive wheels. In large measure, we have Hyundai to thank for that. The Korean automobile manufacturer is making standard a lot of stuff that is available only on more expensive cars.

Mr. B: As the stock market plunges and my wife's and my retirement funds take a big hit, what better time than to consider buying a new car? Our beloved 2000 BMW 323i is starting to need the repair shop more and more, and it's time for a replacement - either new, or not very used. We're open to another BMW, but nothing's off the table in the say, $30 to $40 k area. The kids have left home, it's just the two of us - we only want comfort, driving fun, decent luggage space and rear seating that will hold two friends for not-too-lengthy drives without cutting off the circulation in their aging legs.

The world is changing, and here is how: Would you believe me if I told you that you could get all of the comforts you want in a luxury or near-luxury automobile for under $40K? You can with the 3.8-liter V-6 Hyundai Genesis. And if you wanted to boost that to a 429-horsepower V-8, you can get that in a Hyundai Genesis R-Spec for $46,500. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be recommending Hyundai to people shopping Audi, BMW, Cadillac, or Mercedes-Benz. But that day is here!

Hi Warren, The hype on the Tesla S is impressive. Do you think it's actually going to happen? Any thoughts on other electric sedans in the pipeline? There's got to be something better than the Leaf and the Volt coming (I hope).

The Tesla S, the sedan for families, probably will happen. So will a number of other electric cars now aborning. Here's hoping that politicians of all stripes will get some common sense and approve legislation to build a practical infrastructure to support these cars, which initially will appear in small numbers.

How does the Ford Fiesta stack up against the Hyundai Elantra Touring? I've read that it gets better gas mileage (presumably because it is smaller). But other than that, is there any competition between the two?

Both the tiny Fiesta and small Elentra stack up against one another quite well. But the Elantra didn't make the mistake of thinking that it had to make an all-out effort to appeal to late-teeners and 20-somethings. As a result, in my opinion, the Elantra's design is more appealing. And the car itself is more comfortable and likable.

Hi Warren! I just purchased a 2011 Honda Accord LX-P and paid for a 6 year/120,000 mile extended warrenty. I realize now that I paid way too much for the extended warranty (I made the mistake of haggling for the OTD car price but now the warrently). I have 20 more days to cancel without a fee. Do you recommend extended warranties on "reliable" cars, like Honda.

No. They are a waste of money. No car company, and certainly not Honda, advertises by saying: "Hey, you'd better buy an extended warranty, because we aren't sure about how well this car is going to hold up." For that matter, rare is the insurance company that offers policies on which it habitually pays out in claims more than it collects in premiums.

The Chevy Cruze looks appealing in its crowded market segment, but it uses a 4-cylinder engine with a turbo. Will that be more prone to mechanical problems than the standard engines used by its competitors? Would you buy a Cruze over an Elantra, Sentra, Civic, Mazda3, Focus etc.? (I note that the Cruze, unlike its competitors, has replaced the compact spare tire everyone else provides with a can of aerosol sealant; a donut spare is a $100 option. This leaves me wondering where else the Cruze has been cheaped-out.)

The Cruze is selling well--well enough to help GM to a second-quarter profit of $2.5 billion, most of it generated in the North American retail market. That's for good reason. It's a darned good little car offered in various iterations, including the turbo 4--something most of Chevy's rivals are doing, too. It's all about delivering more fuel economy without diminishing "fun to drive." Turbochargers do that by pulling more air into engine combustion chambers via exhaust-driven impellers. Superchargers accomplish the same thing through more of a direct air feed to the engine. In the future, as governments insist on better fuel economy and consumers continue demanding power uber alles, we're going to see more turbo charging and  supercharging, as well as more weight-saving measures, such as giving the old spare tire the boot.

Warren, If you had to pick one new four door car to buy that was under $20,000 and got 35+ MPG, what would it be? Thanks.

Hyundai Elantra

Have you been test driving any of the 2012 SUVs or sedans yet? If so, which ones appear to be stand outs or greatly improved over the 2011s? S in AL

Yes. And here is a general trend in the SUV's: more reliance on cylinder deactivation in pursuit of better fuel economy. Example: Your SUV has a V-8. But under light loads or low speeds, it acts like an inline four, or flat four. Unforunately, that third-seat madness remains popular, although some car companies have wizened up and offer it only as an option in their bigger SUVs. On the sedan side, more start-stop technology is coming into play, Start-Stop: Engine stops at red light pause. Engine starts when accelerater pedal is pushed, presumably after the light turns green.

OK, so I understand that they make more $$ with financing. But why on earth do they pretty much walk away. We've tried waiting until the last minute, being up front about wanting to pay cash, and everything in between. We're starting to despair. Of course, it would probably help if they had the cars in which we were interested in stock... (Elantra, Juke etc.)

Madness! You are dealing with the wrong dealer. You are willing to pay cash? Do it. You'll wind up paying less (no finance charges, et cetera.) Most dealers with a smidgen of common sense will take that deal and rid themselves of a floor-planned vehicle that's eating up operating revenue in taxes. Any dealer who refuses a legitimate cash deal is just silly. Shop elsewhere. Caveat: The emphasis here is on "legitimate" cash deal. Under federal law, most dealers must do due diligence for a cash deal of $10,000 or more. The government wants to make sure that you did not get the money from selling crack or meth.

Good morning. My husband and I were considering a car along the lines of a Honda Fit, but now, since we want kids and have a dog, we've moved to discussing bigger cars. On the list is the Subaru Outback, the Honda CRV, and the Toyota RAV4. Any feelings on these options? Most important factors for us are: safety, gas mileage, price and getting a car that can accommodate planned growth in our family without being way too big for what we need now (our current Ford Focus meets all our current needs but needs to be replaced due to age). Thanks.

We have a big dog, Rosa Parks Brown, our hazel-eyed Chocolate Labrador, who is sleeping on the floor of my office as I write this. We normally transport her in a Subaru Outback. Miss Parks, who does not like to be called by her first name, loves the Outback.  We crawl into the front seats. She hops into the cargo area on her travel bed, goes to sleep. All's right with the world.

Hi Warren, as always keep up the good work! Don't know if there is a vehicle out there that will allow us to squeeze two car seats and another kid in between in "relative" comfort? One child is almost out of their car seat and will soon move to a booster that will take up less space, and we're hoping to avoid purchasing a car with 3 rows as we're going for maximum fuel efficiency. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

Check out the new Mazda 5, which seems to be designed with your family demographics in mind. Also, look at the  Kia Sorento, which has enough space to accommodate family demilitarized zones and car seats on a long trip.

Is there one way, or even a series of ways, to be made 'whole' with a car issue? If the service manager and lead mechanic tell you privately that a problem is the company's fault, but the dealer won't make you whole, how can the car buyer get a resolution? Does a huge company care about one person?

Without that "one person," the huge company would have never become a huge company. Please go to www.nhtsa.dot.gov. NHTSA stands for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's Web site lists recalls and service bulletins. You want to look at the service bulletins, which generally list non-safety, non-emissions,  but still pain-in-the-butt consumer complaints. If you find your complaint in one of those service bulletins, go back to the dealership and demand redress. They should fix your problem free of charge, or at reduced cost.

I own a 1996 Buick Regal with 146,000 miles on the car. The transmission has gone bad. It would cost approximately $1,600 to have the transmission rebuilt. Would it be economically feasible to have the transmission rebuilt given the mileage and the expense involved? Or would it make more sense to get rid of the car and get a used car? Thanks for your advice.

The way things are going economically, it would make more sense to save money and get the car repaired. Paying $1,600 is a lot less expensive than buying a new car.

Good morning, Warren. I read with interest this week about the Big Three automakers acceptance of strict new fuel-economy standards and the role that Sergio Marchionne, the chief executive of Chrysler played. I am interested in hearing your thoughts about this new agreement and how the new fuel rules might affect the type of automobile that the American automakers produce in the future. Also, why do you think the Big Three have always been critical of fuel-efficiency standards instead of embracing this idea?

I am not now, nor have I ever been impressed with government regulations regarding fuel economy, nor with industrial responses, sincere or not, to those regulations. We want better fuel economy? We want more advanced fuel-saving technology? We want alternative fuel and propulsion systems? Simple. Price and tax gasoline accordingly. We'll get them.

I have a 5 year old car. A few months ago, I clipped a post coming out of my alley and dented it. Usually, I don't worry about fixing scratches and dents. But this one seems to have taken the paint off and is now rusting. Does it need to be fixed, or is it OK to just leave it be. For the record, I have a bad feeling that it will be an expensive fix, given where it is.

Take it to Maaco. Seriously. Problem solved.

I have carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand, and a push-button ignition was a "must have" feature for me, since I experience wrist pain when shutting off a keyed ignition. But settle a family debate for us, please: are push-button ignition more "theft-proof" than the old keyed ignitions? Thank you.

Nothing is theft proof, more or less. If a thief really wants your car, the thief will get it. We need more disincentives for stealing.

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu. for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for keeping an eye on things. Eat lunch. Time to take Miss Parks out for her noontime constitutional,

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Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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