Real Wheels Live

Nov 18, 2011

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

Hello, I'm looking to spend under $8K for a used 2000 A6 Audi, 2002 Subaru Outbook, and 2002 Saab sedan. All have 100K and I'm okay with that. Would you lean more towards one and do you have any quick tips for purchasing a used car? Thank you!

You'll do better with the Subaru Outback or the Saab for $8,000. Most dealers thing they are doing you a really big favor by selling you a used A6 with 100,000 miles for $18,000.

Mr. Brown, I have admired your car commentary for many years -- its accuracy, humor, and your obvious love of automobiles. I was stunned by what seemed to be snide comments about the Equus -- damning with faint and skewed praise. Why did you compare it to the BMW? Would not a more fitting comparison be to the Lexus LS series? I have done considerable research on the Equus over many months. I think the 2012 is much improved, not just in horsepower and engine size, but in stiffening the engine block for reduced noise and vibration and more control. Are you aware of the August 2011 J. D. Pwer APEAL Award (Equus # 1) and their Initial Quality Award (Equus #2)? So, I'm disappointed that your comment about the 2012 seemed cursory, a bit snide, and not based on your usual thorough review. I would welcome your response. And, by the way, I bought a 2012 Equus (Signature trim level) yesterday, and couldn't be happy -- and that's after having owned high end German cars (several Mercedes; two Audis) and Japanese cars (three Infinitis). Best Regards, Dorothy Holmes crescent@gwu.edu

Fair enough. I drove a BMW 5-Series immediately after driving the Equus and a Mercedes-Benz C-Class immediately before driving the Equus. I am convinced that anyone wanting those German cars will not choose the Equus as a substitute. They are more consistent in styling message, road feel, thrust, acceleration and handling. They're just better, period. But you are right. I could've and should've said those things without being snide. But Hyundai executives privately agree: No one has to justify spending lots of money for a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. I got no such letters from owners of those cars. I did get this one from you. See what I mean?

Two questions about your review. 1. How can one get a ticket for fast acceleration off the blocks if they remain below the speed limit? Remember, acceleration is the rate of change in velocity. 2. Would you prefer a six speed manual for the A6 vice the 7 speed manumatic?

You apprently haven't driven in Arlington, Va. A quick, aggressive acceleration off the block gets you police notice here, especially if you are dumb enough to do it with a police cruiser alongside you. Don't take my word for it. Come here and try it. Move up next to a cruiser on patrol. Gun your engine. Smoke your tires. You've probably moved ahead of the cruiser, by a bit or a lot. When Officer He or She pulls you over, give him or her your learned definition of acceleration. Officer he or She is already ready for your erudition. They will tell you that your take off from stop was super aggresive, as if you were trying to race someone. They will tell you that your take-off made you reach and exceed the speed limit (because their experience tells them that no one zooms from stop to slow-down later). And be warned that Arlington cruisers have traffic cameras. Be happy if you get a warning instead of a ticket. Be warned if you get a ticket. The copy will present a video of you wheel-smokin' take-off to the Arlington County District Court. Who do you think the Judge will believe? So, come on to Arlington. Try it. Please report your results to us. As for gearboxes (and I think the 2012 A6 has an eight-speed), I'll take either one.

This is a great highway car. With only 62,000 miles and a "small" V8 engine, it is effortless to drive and very comfortable. But in town, the gas mileage is miserable - 14 - 15 mpg. Is there anything to do about getting better mpg in town? A tune-up? More maintenance? I recently replaced the filers and plugs. Thank you for any advice. Is is possible to receive your answer via e-mail?

Quick answer: Yes a tune-up, including air filter and oil change would help. Or, consider replacing the V-8 with one of Ford's more fuel-efficient, reasonably powerful, turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder engines. Or, get one of the company's updated V-6 models.

Dear Mr. Brown I have enjoyed reading your reviews on cars. May I ask your advice on what small and affordable car to buy for my daugher. We are looking into Honda, Toyata and Subaru, either front wheel or 4wd. She is interested in the Subaru Impreza because of 4wd. But my husband is against it because it is #15 on the US News list, and Ford Fiesta is #1 on US News list. Myself was more interested in the Honda because I believe it is a well rounded car. I hope to heave your advice soon. Thank you. Lanha Ly

Your daughter is ahead of both of you. A four-wheel -drive Subaru makes more sense, especially if she is going to school anywhere in a snowy region. Subaru's structural safety meets or beats that of any of the rivals you suggested. It's active safey, via its all-wheel-drive sytem, is tops. Passive safety, air bags and other restraints, are equal to are better than the rest. Also, Subaru models generally have better utility than rivals. Sounds like the daughter did better research than her parents. I think this kid will do extremely well in college. Congrats to you all!

Hi Warren, Two part question. We bought a new Subaru Outback with the 4 Cyl CVT engine in March. A few weeks ago, we drove down to Atlanta to buy a used ultralight camper and returned to northern VA. The little engine did fair, but spins pretty high keeping 55-60 on the highway. The camper is within towing limits for the Suby, but I'm worried if we do much highway and hills with it that it will wear out too fast. Should I not worry? Or, should I get a used truck for camper towing duties. If so, what would you recommend for used pickups under 10K: F150, Tundra, Tacoma, or Ram 1500? thanx.

Keep canpers and other tag-alongs well within Subby tag-alons. You should be okay. That spinning, whining sound, and a kind of rubbery feel, is common with many continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) at higher speeds.

Fortunately, I've avoided two accidents recently from people pulling out in front of my car where my judgement said we were certain to hit but the anti-lock brake kept me from skidding into the car while I turned away. Is there data to show a decrease in accidents since the larger scale rollout of anti-lock brakes?

Check with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the Federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You should find the numbers you are seeking at both of those places. Keep in mind that your antilock brake system (ABS) probably works in tandem with an emergency braking system and an electronically controlled brake-force system, all of which contribute to safer stops. My best advice is to avoid shopping center parking lots-- the centers of selfish, rude driving--or to park in remote areas of those lots, or to try parking face forward; and to always move with super-extra caution in those places.

Hi Warren, Soon I will be looking for a new-to-me car. I need space to haul stuff from time to time but drive a lot (city and highway) so I need good MPG. I was thinking a wagon over a small SUV for the mileage, but I also want something sexy. The Audi A3 TDI is very enticing. What else should I consider? If there are used luxury cars to be leased, I am open to that too. I have a vanity with cars but not the budget to match :-) Thanks!

Consider something you might never have thought about: the 2012 Hyundai Veloster. It looks a lot faster than it will ever go. It has 1.6-liter, gasoline direct injection, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine (125 foot-pounds of torque, 138-horspower engine) that accelerates well-enough on the highway, where it also delivers nearly 40 miles per gallon. It offers more utility than most hatchbacks. Starts at $17,300. $22,300 or therabouts withoption Style and Tech packages thrown in.

What is it and how often do I really need to change it (05 MDX)?

Most vital fluids usually are in the engine bay. Frankly, I'd take it to a Honda dealer to have the fluid change done properly.

Warren, When driving to work this morning, I noticed a car with blue headlights. It made me wonder if this was a new kind of headlight and what its purpose is. I could not see what kind of car it was on as this happened on the Beltway. Thanks.

A lot of blue headlights are aftermarket items sold to mimic genuine high intensity discharge headlamps. The blue lights tend to annoy oncomng drivers more than they increase highway illumination. If you want safer increased highway illumination, get genuine, more expensive, factory certified HID headlamps carried by dealers or top-grade automotive supply houses.

Aren't brake pads/rotors supposed to squeak when they wear down and need to be replaced? Either my hearing is bad or mine don't as I've had to have rotor work done twice when the pad had worn away without much audible warning. Granted, I'm no genius to know what to look for.

Neither am I a genius. Squeakin, scraping osunds generally occur when break pads (abestos types) wear down. But abestos pads are now listed as environmental felons and are being used les and less. Other ways to note worn pads includes increased stopping distances. The worn pads will be replace with non-abestos materials.

Good morning: Thank you so much for taking my question. I have coveted a VW Golf for a really long time. What worries about getting one is the reliability factor (compared to a Japanese/Honda Civic type car) and also the typically higher maintenance/repair costs with European. However, looks like I might be in the market for a car (I tend to keep my cars till they die) so I am wondering if it makes sense to get a VW Golf if the goal is to minimize car related costs. If it makes a difference, I would be buying a used, not new car, though one with low mile s (less than 50k miles) Thank you.

VW has made many changes to address your concerns. New VW reliability, durability, and service is world class--meaning that it matches any of its rivals in those categories. Checkout the Jetta Tdi (diesel) for best fuel economy.

Not often discussed here - what's your opinion of the Toyota Venza? I've been admiring it from a distance. Thanks.

I admire it from a distance, too. There are so many good, rival compact cross over utility vehicles, including the Nissan Rogue, Kia Sorento, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Rav-4. It's good to shop around before you buy in this class.

Good morning, Warren. I am interested in your reaction to the news that Chrysler announced this week that it would add 1,100 jobs at its sports utility vehicle plant in Toledo as part of spending $1.7 billion in developing new models for its Jeep brand. What does this mean for Chrysler and the U.S. automobile industry?

It means that, instead of Fiat saving Chrysler, Chrysler has wound up saving Fiat, which is losing tons of money and sales in Europe. Chrysler's manufacturing and quality-control methods are better than those at Fiat in Europe--even Fiat execs admit. Fiat is bringing more production to the U.S. beacuse the company is less-affected by the Euro's problem; also, Fiat execs have discovered a workforce pasionately willling to work for better quality (Detroit has  a lot to prove, and is proving it). Bottom line--building in Detroit means building better at lower costs. Makes perfect sense to me.

Warren, thanks for taking this comment. I had posted my TDI woes and you were gracious to post them for VW execs. Quick follow on: When I asked the VW rep on the phone (said was from Head Office) whether my broken thermostat would have been covered by their powertrain warranty, the reply was, " Ask the dealer whether it is covered. Do not have copy of warranty here." I am steadily losing faith in VW. Your comments?

Corporate turnarounds are always afflicted by missing parts, often frustrating to consumers. The evidence is that VW is moving in the right direction. I'll post this to illustrate to the bosses ther that they still have along way to go.

Warren et al: I'm just back from France for 2.5 weeks, and I am in love with all those tiny, efficient little cars. Why, oh why haven't they caught on in the states yet? I'm optimistic, with the Honda Fit (my car, actually), the Mini, the Fiat 500, and others like it available here. But there are so many other options over there... ...Like the Audi A1. Any chance that'll come to the States anytime in the next few years? Also, diesel: My rental, a peppy and useful - tho not sexy - Renault Megane, was a diesel, and I was quite impressed with its efficiency and of course the lower price of diesel. I realize my options are more limited here, but how wise or unwise would it be for my next car here in the US to be a diesel? Is diesel better for the environment?

Simple answer: We have childish, self-centered politicians who refuse to deliver a national energy policy that makes sense.

We enjoyed hearing from you today. We'll ask the wonderful Dominique Vu to please forward all unanswered questions so we can get to them all during the week. Have a Good Thanksgiving Holiday. Yes, we'll be here Thanksgiving Friday ready to take rour questions and post your civil comments. Thanks, Ria, for everything. Eat lunch.

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

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