Real Wheels Live

Dec 18, 2015

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond discussed what they're seeing in the auto industry. Plus, they gave purchase advice to readers.

Good Morning Warren and Friends,

I'm so excited! Last year you kept asking if Warren and I were going to be at the auto show together and we didn't get it together quickly enough to make it happen. 

We are going to be at the auto show TOGETHER Friday, Jan 22 from 12:00-1:00, at the opening of the show at the WANADA booth. 

IT GETS EVEN BETTER! EACH WEEK WE'RE OFFERING TWO FREE TICKETS TO THE FRIDAY SHOW. We're still figuring out how to do that, but stay tuned. 

Is everyone getting their Christmas shopping done? What are some great presents you've bought for the car? 

I found this really cool jump charger that can charge your car or charge your smartphone. It's called the Cobra JumPack CPP 8000. For a little over $100, you can throw it in your purse and not worry again. 

Chevy announced the pricing for the new 2016 Malibu. The entry level 2016 Chevy Malibu starts at $28,645. The all-new hybrid powertrain, which leverages technology from the Chevy Volt, is expected to get an estimated 47 mpg combined. 

The 2016 Chevy Malibu prices are 

2016 Chevy Malibu L $21,625

2016 Chevy Malibu 1LS $23,120

2016 Chevy Malibu 1LT $25,020

2016 Chevy Malibu 2LT $28,620

2016 Chevy Malibu Premier $30,920

Chevy Malibu is one of the North American car of the year contenders. The other two are the 

Honda Civic and the

Mazda Miata. 

The trucks in contention for truck of the year are the 

Honda Pilot, 

Nissan Titan, and the 

Volvo XC 90 

Which do you think will win? 

Tell me - when you're buying a vehicle do you look at the carfax report? How important is the automobile history of the car?  What are the most important issues in the automobile history of a used car do you look for when purchasing a car? Are they service records, accidents, etc. Would you pay more for a car if the owner is able to show you all the records for the car? 


As always you can answer here or email me at lou at drivingthenation dot com. 

Let's chat about cars 

I notice the claims that more new vehicles will be sold in 2015 than at any time since 2005. Are those sales to dealers or to consumers? Roughly what percent are leases? What is the average length of a car loan term these days? I ask because a major supplier of products used to repair vehicles just reported a huge increase in profits because the supplier said people are keeping their cars longer.

People are keeping their cars longer. The business model of auto retail is beginning to change--shared cars, Zipcar, that sort of thing. The reason is money--average transaction price on a new vehicle is $33,566. Only four sections of country can "comfortably" afford that.

In a good mood this morning, huh? :) 

The sales to dealers - and then to consumers - remains pretty constant. I think it is a difference of about 6%. 

The article I did last week on sales will give you an idea of what is selling and where

As long as interest rates are low and gasoline prices are low sales will be high - across the board - large vehicles etc. 

The average length of a car loan is about 4-5 years, the length of ownership is 11-12 years. The difference is there are more Americans in the United States. The percentage of people buying cars is about the same as 2005, but since we have more people able to buy cars the number has gone back up. 

And more people own more than one car, so your major supplier is happy and your new car dealers are happy. 

Is there a rule of thumb about how much new cars are typically marked up, and thus where one could start bargaining? e.g. if the MSRP is $40,000, what sort of offer should I make? Or a good website for determining on particular cars?

Not Really. Supply and demand affect everything. If something is popular in your area, it is not likely to be sold at discount. If something is in low demand, you can bargain. It's all common sense, really, including the fact that dealers have to make money and pay bills, too.

I take credit/blame for the warm December (here on the east coast anyway). It's because for the first time in my life I bought snow tires.

We were wondering when you were going to come forward. 

I can't wait to see what happens when you go to church again for the first time in years :) 

I've been enjoying my new Golf, but the check engine light came on a couple weeks back. And the dealer has been chasing an issue with the vapor recovery system. Hopefully I'll get it back today. But this is all backstory, when the car has a screen to display it's status, why doesn't the OBDC information display there? Apparently the only output for an OBDC failure is that check engine light, short of getting an OBDC scanner. I'd think a (slightly more detailed) warning/error message should show up on that screen.

Screen technology/information in cars is changing as fast as smart phones. All screens are not the same--no more than all smart phone have the same capabilities, or lack thereof.

(since warren is answering you seriously…)

This reminds me of a The Big Bang episode when Penny is driving and Sheldon is - as always - the back seat driver in the passenger seat. He looks over at her dash and says, "your check engine light is on". Deadpan, Penny says, "yeah, I've been meaning to put something over that." 

Would you have any insights into making the trade off between age and mileage in a used car? All things being equal, how would you value, a low mileage but older car, say 2011 with 20k, vs. a newer model, with relatively high mileage, 2015 with 12k? Specific cars in question are an Audi A5, so the body style hasn't really changed and I haven't seen anything to particularly make me wary of the 2011 models. The 2011 is a lot cheaper, but I am hesitating over the age even with low miles. Thanks.

All things are never equal when it comes to automobiles, especially nowadays. The down side of trading age for mileage is what you might be sacrificing in technology--particularly safety. Be careful.

I don't consider either of these cars particularly old. Remember, you're talking to a woman that has a 1993 Lexus LS 400 with 86,000 on it. 

The difference is not in styling, though that is the impulse buy, the difference is in safety equipment. Find out what safety items are on the 2011 versus the 2015. Does one of them have blind spot warning and the other does not? 

You can add most the entertainment stuff, but safety is harder to add. 

Warren, have you driven the new Jaguar XF or XE (or both?). Thank you

Yes. The XE. Fun.

Is "Stretch" excited for the new film?

How do you people know my husband so well? 

Stretch says, "he is purposely not seen any trailers and does not to know if Dick Van Dyke is a Jedi knight" 

Me? I still get star trek and star wars confused but love all the soap opera in drag :) 

Warren, When walking my dogs I saw a Nissan GTR in your driveway. Very exciting! But then you wrote about the Kia which was there too. Boring. So did you take the GTR to VIR and do laps? What do you think of it? I know, most people not buying a GTR, but they aren't buying Rolls either. - Your neighbor.

Good observation. The Kia Optima makes infinitely more sense than the GTR. It is also a good driver.  "Track cars" strike me as being practically silly and ludicrously expensive.

When will you get a chance to drive the Buick Cascada. I think that many of us are looking forward to it. It is on the Buick website, and I noticed that the color selection appears to be devoid of anything bright. Convertibles are fun cars, give us reds, yellows, etc.!

Right before the Washington auto show! I am going to Florida Monday and Tuesday to drive the Cascada and then head to DC to see my peeps! Come by Friday the 22nd from 12-1 and I'll give you the press info they give us. send me an email with your name at lou at driving the nation dot com so I know who it is

Miata. It helps remind that cars can be fun and that "lightness makes right."

Agreed. Light is right.

Hi guys, love your chats! I want to avoid the immediate depreciation saddled with purchasing a new car and am thinking about buying an Audi A5 that's 2-4 years old. Am interested in hearing your impressions on the car itself and if you think a used Audi will prove reliable?

You avoid depreciation by buying used. Have the car checked. A "pre-certified" used model probably is your safest bet.

We're really interested in a VW Jetta, but the emissions scandal has us nervous about the brand - even the non-diesel models. Is it safe to trust VW, or sound we look elsewhere; and what's comparable?

Buy the VW Jetta. I am driving a Audi A6 this week and a couple weeks ago I drove an Audi TTS and love both of them. 

You can't buy a diesel version - there's this little problem with lieing to the government right now- oops, so gasoline it is. 

VW will get the diesel issue fixed - they've already sent the powers that be some recommendations. CARB is looking them over now. VW will pay their fines. My big concern is the brain drain in the company, but since they're going to go electric now...

But the drivability, safety and infotainment systems really are wonderful. 


Warren, seems to me that in the five years BMW has chosen to emphasize luxury over drivability. If you agree do you think that moved paid off or has BMW lost customers? Thanks

Like it or not, the world is changing. Technological progress is trumping traditional notions of luxury. The Kia Optima, for example, offers much of the advanced safety tech found in BMW. What does that do to consumer willingness to pay more? Note that BMW is upping the ante. It's new carbon-fiber infused 7 series is a new industry standard.

Warren's and Lou Ann's information is very helpful to me but does anyone have a rough estimate of what percentage of new car purchases involve leasing? Thanks again.

Who loves you baby? I haven't put this article up yet, but here you go - let me say one thing though - consumers are getting savvier - they realize if they're not going to keep the car for a long time then it is best to get rid of it once the warranty is done. That is another reason leasing is going up.

Dec. 02, 2015 — Experian Automotive today announced that consumers continue to lease vehicles at a record pace. According to the Q3 2015 State of the Automotive Finance Market report, leasing accounted for nearly 27 percent of all new vehicle transactions, up from 24.7 percent the previous year. This marks the highest percentage of vehicles leased since Experian began tracking the data publicly in 2006. Findings from the report also showed that the average monthly lease payment was $398 during the quarter, up $1 from a year ago.

I'm not sure the original poster got a very good answer. I, too, wonder why these new cars with all their technology and "safety" improvements can't just display the actual engine codes, maybe even with an English translation for the driver. A $150 OBDC reader can do it, and its just a matter of a database lookup table. Pretty simple and the added cost to the car? Relatively little. Oh yeah, but I'm sure owners would rather go to the dealer and pay $75 an hour labor (i.e., flat fee) plus the cost of using the fancy-dancy diagnostics computer every time the problem occurs.

That was a good answer, the truth, in fact. That technology is so competitive and is changing so rapidly, some screens actually are better and more useful than others, such as the brilliant screen in the 2016 Lexus RX 350.

Ah, welcome to life as a VW owner! For the last two years, mine beeps at me when we hit 2,500 RPM. No one knows why. I just say "Good morning, Dieter" and drive on.


for car of the year - Miata (MX5 ? ) is a great choice. But what's extra special about the Civic? Is it that different from prior versions?

Yes, the Civic is completely redesigned and a great value for the money compared to the rest of the segment. When you can put more safety, infotainment and design in one of the hottest selling cars in America and still have a comparable price to the outgoing model that is worthy of consideration. 

Miata is completely redesigned as well, beautifully redesigned and a great deal for the money. 

Don't scoff -- in 2004 I bought a generator a couple weeks after Hurricane Charley and we haven't had more than a stiff breeze since then...


Truck Honda Pilot and Car Chevy Malibu. Money and advertising dollars talk. Clifton, VA

Wow -- Stretch got it on the first try! (I had to go last night for my wife's company party, and it seems like this: if you like Star Wars, you'll like the movie.)

Everytime the movie gets mentioned he leaves the room. 

I, of course, am going to have to go to the show with him. 

Remember the picture of a woman reading a book through the Donald Trump event? That will me :)

In response to Lou Ann's request to identify things I consider when buying a used car: knowing the seller and his/her integrity has been number one for me but few of us have that luxury. Next comes Consumer Reports' ratings of the model year and brand and their pluses and minuses by component. Next comes mileage and appearance of the vehicle. Next comes my own mechanics' opinion. Finally, I consider price. When you are spending 10,000 to 20,000 for a used vehicle, it pays to be very cautious since you have little recourse.

Ok. Thanks.

Lou Ann here: 

All good considerations. Do the sellers you know keep track of their records of service etc? Is that what makes you want to buy a car from them? 

Warren and Louann, What would you buy? I already own a reliable car and motorcycle so this is for fun. :)

A book. A bicycle. A ticket to the play, Hamilton, assuming I could find one. A nice meal at an expensive restaurant with my beautiful wife.

What is current release date for VW Alltrack? Has the VW scandal affected VW's release of the Alltrack?

Looks like fall of 2016.

I was looking at the new Miata for a fun ride actually instead of a motorcycle (having been hit from behind 5 times in the last 8 years while at a stop, I'km hesitant to have that happen on a bike!). Loved the Miata and the base is only about $25k; since it's a new design I'm guessing the 2015s might be that much less for you to look at.

Yeah, the price hasn't gone up that much 

I grabbed these off google quickly, but you can see the car is very reasonable, beautiful design and lovely to drive 

Sport Manual


Sport Automatic


Club Manual


Club Automatic


Grand Touring Manual



Thanks for joining us today. Have a Happy Chanukah, Glorious Christmas, Great New Year. Be safe. Be loving. Eat lunch. Come back.

Kia Sorento, Honda Pilot, or the new Mazda CX-9?

Wow - all great choices. What are you looking for in the car? 

Good morning, Warren and Lou Ann. My question is simple. I am looking at the Prius and RAV-4. Is it worth waiting for the next-generation Prius coming out this winter (when?), or the RAV-4 hybrid, or am I likely to score better deals on the 2015 Prius and the gasoline-powered RAV-4? Thank you.

If you want the best get the 2016 with the lithium ion battery 

I'm not sure how your wife would want to be driven to the restaurant. But I'd suggest you look at the classic, uncommon Z3 Coupe. They are all "pre-owned" of course and need to be well inspected, accordingly. But I have yet to hear of someone that was unhappy with theirs - especially as a second "toy" car. Superb handling, very good acceleration, easily noticed, and plain fun to drive.

But if you can get a Z4 for that price I would do that

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

On Wheels Archive

Real Wheels Live Q&A Archive
Lou Ann Hammond
Lou Ann Hammond is the founder and owner of the first privately owned automobile website Recently Lou Ann has developed an automotive and energy issues related website,, that covers a broader range of subjects than solely the automotive or the energy industry.
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