Real Wheels Live (September 1)

Sep 01, 2017

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.

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Good Morning Warren and Friends,

I am sure all of you will be with me in sending good thoughts to our fellow Americans caught in Hurricane Harvey. I've been kept up to date through some of my Texas Auto Writer's Association (TAWA). Most are doing okay, but a couple have had their homes flooded. How are the people you know in Texas and Louisiana? 

I'm in Berlin, Germany attending IFA 2017, aka tech world, aka connected life. 

Samsung bought Harman Kardon last year, and they are now considered a major competitor in the connected car and the connected life. One of the cool ideas is to be able to listen to music in your home and have it go with you to your car, without missing a beat. 

As we get closer to autonomous driving what do you think you will do in the car while you are being driven? Listen to music? Shop on Amazon? Harman brought out three new speakers, Allure with Alexa (Amazon), Invoke with Cortana (Microsoft), and JBL Link range with Google Assistant. All three can be talked to, but with Amazon, you would be able to shop as well. Imagine having all your shopping done before you arrive home, and it is delivered by drone the next day. This is the way rich people live! 

Do you like the idea of creating your own car from an old car? Sort of like pimp my ride with a Porsche 911? I spoke with the CEO of Singer Vehicle Design and Gunther Werks last week. To give you an idea, the absolutely stunning titanium Singer watch starts at $40,000. (I know me either. :) 

I am going to Karlsbad, Germany next to see all the new stuff Harman has in speakers. After that, I will go to Frankfurt for the auto show. If there are any pictures of cars, you want me to take send me a note now to lou at drivingthenation dot com. 

Let's chat about cars 

Warren and Lou Ann -- love reading the chats and in-paper reviews, but can't generally apply your advice as we are buy-and-hold car buyers. My husband has said that with our next car purchase, probably 3+ years out, we can look at MB. Given his frugal-to-a-fault spending habits, I'm pretty shocked, but am going to take this at face value LOL! I've heard casual comments that the entry-level MBs are "crap" ... but we won't be comfortable spending 60K+ ... a little starting guidance is much appreciated. We will want one AWD in the carport, so also curious what you think of MB's offerings of that. And, since he mentioned MB, I can probably sneak in peeks at BMW and Audi as well.

There are two types of Mercedes buyers, S-Class and Mercedes buyers. If you own an S-Class and somone asks what type of car you own, you will say S-Class. If you buy a C-Class - in my opinion - you are buying it for the Mercedes moniker and when someone asks what type of car you own you will say Mercedes. 

Don't buy a car because of the brand name, buy it because it is the absolute best value for your money. I hate to burst your bubble on this one, but if you want a car for $40,000 there are some great AWD vehicles out there, including Audi A6 Premium Quattro, Genesis G80 AWD 3.8, Volvo S90 T6 Momentum AWD, Infiniti Q70

If you are going to buy a Mercedes I would recommend the Mercedes-Benz E-Class E300 4Matic AWD

My 60 something, relatively healthy mother is having a really hard time finding a new car that is comfortable for her. She doesn't have a bad back, but it can get pretty sore from sitting poorly. Every car she's tried to drive ends up leaving her in pain within a half an hour. She'd really like to upgrade to an automatic with a backup camera and bluetooth, after driving manual honda accords for years, but the Honda have horrible seats now, I noticed it when I was test driving a few years ago, the head rest pushes your head forward and strains your neck. We looked into getting a custom seat to replace the one that comes with the Honda, but that disables all the airbags, so that's not worth it. Every time we google for a car with a comfortable seat, we find just as many hits for that car to say its uncomfortable. I think she's open to any type of car and I'm trying to talk her into going luxury, but she's not convinced that luxury will necessarily mean comfort. Any suggestions?

Try these two; 

Volvo or Nissan with NASA seats. Let me know what she thinks of those two. 

When you lease a car, do you buy collision and liability insurance from the leasing company or do you buy it directly from an insurance company? If you have an accident, does your own insurance company dictate how the vehicle is optimally repaired or is that the leasing company's prerogative? Does an accident in your leased vehicle automatically increase any of your financial obligations to the leasing company when you turn the vehicle in?

You can get it from the leasing company IF the leasing company offers it. Make sure you undrstand what is offered and under what circumstances. Otherwise, cdeal with a certified insurer. Note that same rules still apply. Make sure that you know what is offered and under what circumstances.

I am looking to get a new car and have a car to trade in that has a couple of scratches in it, nothing major, but definitely noticeable. I'd guess a few hundred dollars to get fixed and the hassle of a body shop. Is it worth the trouble to get it repaired before a dealer trade in? Last time I traded in a car, it seemed they cared very little about cosmetic condition. I'm not planning on selling it individually. thanks

There is only one way to know for sure and that is to ask the dealer. Now, you don't want to show your hand to the dealer you're going to sell it to so what you would want to do is take it into a dealer that you aren't going to sell it to and ask them. If it's going to cost that much money and you're not going to see any extra cash for your efforts I can see your reasoning. If you would spend $200 but get an extra $500 then I would do it. 

Hi, Warren - I lived quite happily in DC for at least 15 years with no car at all, and before that, my cars were mostly hand-me-downs. Altogether, I don't know a lot about car shopping. A new job a few years ago meant I needed a car to commute, but I had next to no money, so I tried to find the nexus of the lowest mileage I could get for a decent model. I wound up with a 2000 Volvo station wagon with something like 60,000 miles on it, for $4000. Given all the givens, I've been satisfied--I feel like I got more than my money's worth and it hasn't given out on me, which is really all I can ask for. Now I'm making an actual living and the car is showing its age in a number of ways (not to mention the body showing the results of my basically having to re-learn how to drive!) and I'm thinking of getting an upgrade--still used, but younger and less in need of upkeep (i.e., a "check engine" light that will stay off after it's been supposedly fixed). I do like Volvo station wagons. But looking online, I realize I don't really know what to use as a baseline for my search. At what point, both in terms of age and in terms of miles on the odometer, do I have to assume there's going to be some serious maintenance coming up soon because major parts are wearing out? When I was young I remember it being a big deal to have a car cross the 100,000 mile mark and you could kind of assume that once a car passed that, it was living on borrowed time.

I'd still consider a used, Circa 2011, Volvo. Also, take a close look at what Toyota/Lexus has to offer in the used department. Remember, you are buying transportation, not an ego overhaul.

Sorry if this has been addressed before, but I'm a first time poster/reader. With child no. 3 on the way we're upgrading to a minivan and need to sell our 2013 RAV 4. How does one sell a car these days to get the most value? I could make it easy and trade it in or sell it to a seller, but if I want to do it myself, what options do I have beyond Craigslist? Thanks much

Frankly, I'd take the old ride to CarMax, where I've always gotten a good deal. Assuming the price is right, I'd buy my replacement from there, too.

I am sure many people know the feeling when their GPS says they have reached the destination and it isn't there or the GPS tells them to turn on something that isn't a road. How will the autonomous car respond to these problems? I assume the early versions will provide a way for the passenger to take control and actually drive, but at some point, a car might become totally autonomous or be without a passenger just out to deliver a package. I think there will always be a time when a driver will need to take over and solve a problem with the route or destination.

I remember the first time I had GPS turn-by-turn without a map and we were going to the airport. This was before iPhones. It took us to Terminal road, which was terminated. A dead end. We ended up getting to the airport too late and having to spend another night at the hotel. Yes, I was one of the first to try that system. 

It will probably happen and hopefully the person will have the ability to keep their wits about themselves. You just have to know that the more people that use the systems the faster the bugs get cleaned out of it. 

Whatever she gets, mom should make sure that it has fully powered seats, plus the lumbar deal and heating if it's available. I find that even a minor adjustment, sometimes to the "seat" vs. the "seat back," can make a difference, and the non-electric seats just don't have as many options. Also: FWIW, the seats in my Passat were by far the most comfortable chairs I ever sat in, including the fancy Aeron chair in which I spend most days.


Sometimes, you just have to make an adult decision--property or life. You can't drive or othwerwise enjoy an EV if you are dead or seriously injured. Follow evacuation rules and orders. Period.

All, So you are in a major city on the Gulf or East Coast and a Cat 5 hurricane Lou Ann is bearing down on your city and the gov has ordered your area to evacuate and imposed martial law but you have an EV with a max 200 mile range. Recharge time is 24hrs for close to full range is 24hrs. I fuel up my 2017 Chevy 2500HD 4x4 with and I have well over 500+ miles of range. I can also ford 20+ inches of water. Solar powered charger aint go to diddly squat in a hurricane and where are you going to find 220volt source to recharge??? Even with a 300 mile range you are in deep trouble. And remember max range is w/o AC running on max and defroster running full blast which will result in a significant decrease in range. If there isn't any electricity you cant recharge. Same scenario is in play in Cali when the big one hits 7.0+ on the scale. Just something to think about. And watch Irma since she could be a Cat 5. Clifton, VA

- Hurricane Lou Ann! :) You know I'd be swarming right over your house! :) 

 I wrote in my Hurricane Harvey article that if it were me and I lived in that area I wouldn't buy anything except a truck with the highest ground clearance I could get. It only makes sense. 

Our electric infrastructure still has to be brought out fully. It is that reason that I always say I would buy a plug-in hybrid not a fully electric hybrid. We just aren't there yet. Having said that there is very little one can do if a storm of this magnitude hits and there is no electricity. I know we have a generator at my house, but I doubt it could electrify a car. 

I wonder what people named Harvey think of a hurricane of such magnitude named Harvey 

We love our 2009 car, except that it doesn't have a backup camera, which we've gotten used to in rental cars. Would it be worthwhile to get one installed - what's the quality of a retrofitted one? The car does have a GPS with a map screen, which I guess could be used for the camera screen.

Check with your dealer for possible camera installation.


Probably stare out the window terrified, to tell the truth. It's going to take a while to get comfortable. Then, of course, it's off to the pub crawl with no worries!

Hello! There you go, didn't take long at all to figure that out ;) 

I think of rich people that are chauffeured around, not worrying about the commute at all and think about what they must be doing. There is such a difference between driving a vehicle and being stuck in commute traffic. I could get so much done! 

Hey, just letting everybody know that if they're shopping for a used car, we had a lot of underwater parking last weekend on The Other West Coast from Tampa south (the eastern end of Harvey visited for four days). Be aware when you look at the CarFax and see the previous owner's location. Most used cars here are sent to South America (whether the owner knows about it or not), but you never know what you might find up there.


Are auto manufacturers planning on building cars which could have their gasoline engines replaced with electric motors?

Not yet. Certainly not as a matter of course, or choice, or mass-market availability.

Lou Ann - thank you! You cut to the chase and no BS -- that's why I read y'all. Bubble not burst -- just properly inflated :)

Now you can tell your husband that you didn't marry him just because he was wealthy or because of his last name, but because you loved him.  :) 

In my experience, if you want AWD, you need to go with a brand that specializes in AWD, such as Subaru or Audi. Even if Mercedes makes a great AWD car, the mechanics may not be comfortable with the system because they don't work on it constantly (I had this problem with a BMW). I've owned both Subarus and Audis and was very happy with both of them.

In my experience, you go with a company that makes good AWD. That includes Subaru, MB and many others.


Will the price of new or used cars be afftected by the 300-500,000 (estimates) lost in Texas? WIll the prices only be affected in the Texas and wider area, or as far as Maine or mid-Atlantic states?

Probably not.

Biiiiig difference between hiring a professional so you can relax or work in the spacious cabin and relying on something that you know you'll have to reboot periodically.

Yes...and no.

FWIW, when we got the big one in '04 (and some more in '05), a lot of people tried to head out of what they thought the path was going to be. Most of the ones I know made it about 50 miles in a day of bumper-to-bumper, then ran out of gas and came home.

Good point. If the water doesn't recede or there are gasoline shortages Texas could be hurt for awhile. 

There are companies creating batteries that store electricity right now. Car companies are looking at that as well as using old batteries as generators.  It wouldn't be limited to just getting electricity from one source either. 

Thanks for the reminder. 

For the brand-conscious frugal buyer who's considering Mercedes with AWD, why not consider a pre-owned E-class 2014+ 4-MATIC with most if not all the new safety features? Could save $15K or more off list for the same options with a 3 year warranty.

That's a great idea as well, though she sounded like she wanted a new car. I like the E-Class myself, a nice drive. Thanks 

Do you know when the new Volvo v40 will be available in the U.S.? I'm thinking of buying something smallish that has enough utility to carry a dog crate and some luggage, but would still make sense as an around-town errand runner. We currently have a V70 which we love, and plan on keeping as long as possible, so any new car would be a supplement to it, not our main long-distance vacation driver. I love the Volvo seats, and as I'm rounding the curve into my 70s, am very mindful of comfort, back support, and safety, as well as basic utility. We tend to keep our cars for a long time, so might have this next one until we are close to 80.


Yes, both Warren and I like the seats in Volvos. 

And yes, keep that Volvo forever. I had a Volvo 240 DL that had 250,000 miles on it and still sold it for $2,500 - and that was 30 years ago! 

There was a bad hurricane here (Long Island, NY) a few years ago. While I had electricity at work, and at home after a couple of days, there was NO gasoline for over two weeks at any local stations, and then it came it in fits and starts, resulting in long lines and the station's having run out of gas before I got to the pump. I was quite cocky to begin with, having filled the tank the day before the hurricane, and later very nervous until I eventually pulled a quarter-tank of regular (even though my car requires premium) a couple of weeks later. You never know.

Something similar happened in my home state of Louisiana. Life.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week, Love to and prayers for family and friends in Texas and Lousisiana. We are praying for you and will send as much aid as we can.

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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