Real Wheels Live

Jan 11, 2013

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond will discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

Hello Warren and friends

I just got back from Las Vegas, NV, attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). If you ever want to see every gizmoo and gizmod on the face of the earth, it is there.

But there are some cool things for the automotive world there, things that could enhance our lives immeasurably.

Bosch is in the process of creating a storage unit that will hold 5kwH of electricity (they sell solar panels). Anyone who had a loved one in Hurricane Sandy that lost their electricity can see the benefit. I was on the John Batchelor radio show (he's on WMAL in your area) talking to Bosch's President, Mike Mansuetti, about the technology that is about a year away from market.  (listen later, chat now :)

Also, Audi showed us a car that can park itself! OMG. All of us have seen a person drive to the front of a hotel, get out of their car, throw the keys, and a twenty-spot, to the valet and walk in. Wouldn't you love to pull your smartphone out of your pocket and instruct your car to park itself? I'm including a video of exactly that happening. This is not in production yet, but within 10 years, according to Audi, it could be. The thing holding it up? Not technology, not fear of litigation, the thing holding it up is legislation. watch/listen to those later. Now, let's chat about cars to buy.

Is Toyota doing bargaining on the Prius, or is it a matter of paying their price? What do you think is a balanced price?

It all depends, really. If Prius isn't a hot seller in y0ur area, you can bargain. If the Toyota store is near a Ford store, which has a couple of good hybrids nowadays, you can bargain. But if Prius is a hot-seller in your area, with no nearby competitors, you pay the price asked.

I'm looking at a C-Max hybrid, but my husband is leaning toward a conventional Escape, mainly because he's concerned about the battery life in the hybrid. What say you? We tend to keep our cars until they fall apart Blues Brothers style.

Tell your husband to drive the C-Max. Once he drives the hybrid and feels the low end torque he gets from it he will be sold.

The C-Max has the traditional, tried and true, Nickel metal hydride battery in it. The hardest thing on a battery is depleting and recharging all the way down. All manufacturers configure the car battery so that doesn't happen.

Have you driven a C-Max? Once you drive a hybrid and watch how much better mileage you can get, especially around town, you will want one.

I just verified with Ford - The C-MAX Hybrid hybrid component warranty is 8 years / 100,000 miles.

Hi Warren, My Santa Fe is on its last mile and I need to buy something within the month. I'm debating between a MINI or an Elantra. I tend to keep cars for many years and donate when I need a new one. Thanks for your advice.

Frankly, I'd get the Elantra. The MINI is fun to drive and all of that. But I wouldn't buy another one. The reason involves repair costs, which are somewhere north of ridiculous. The Elantra is a good car, beautifully sculpted, made even better with selected options.

Happy new year, everyone. I have a 2013 Fusion hybrid and recently received a recall notice for the headlight assembly. That could be the cause for the defective headlight you mentioned in Sunday's review (1/06/2013). Aside from the recall, there have been no problems so far. The car drives well, is comfortable, feels solid, is fairly economical (but not the advertised 47mpg) and has enough safety devices to protect the driver from everything but the flu.

I did not get the advertised mpg on the Ford Fusion or the Hyundai. It's dissapointing because, in reality, the mpg was still good, just not what they advertised. And both cars were good solid cars.

I believe the EPA needs to step up to the plate and take another look at the numbers they are giving these cars. Remember, these are EPA certified numbers.

The Ford Fusion is a solid car, I enjoyed driving it.

Wrote you several weeks ago about "expensive" problems with the hatchback latch on my 2003 Murano. Finally the dealer got it right, after doing everything wrong. $700 out on replacing all the interior parts when it was really the outside latch that was very rusted. Probably a $15 part at most. I had to leave it at the dealer and they gave me a Nissan Leaf to drive. It was very nice to drive except with 91 miles on a charge, I worried the whole time I was driving. Had to drive it with the heat off to keep my few miles from being sucked up. A piece of advice - don't buy one. Frozen in AL.

My apologies for my late response. Ask the dealer for a refund or other nuisance benefit. As for the Leaf, it is what it is--a neighborhood  commuter, which means that you plan your trips so that you can use your heater.

I put my compact's five-speed into neutral at red lights and stops (braking, of course). Then I shift to first, etc., on green. Is that correct? I like this, esp. when many pedestrians are passing and I know I can't go forward even if I mistakenly accelerate. What is best?

It makes sense to me, it's the way I do it.

I remember when I was a teenager and had a green Volkswagen Beetle (named herman). I was at the stop sign and the guy in the passenger seat looked down and asked me why I still had the clutch engaged and was still in first gear. I didn't have an answer.


We are considering buying the Touring model of the new Avalon. Have you had a chance to take a look at it yet? If so,what do you think of it? Thanks!

Love it.

My neighbor Jill has an Avalon and she loves it. It's as well built as a Lexus. You will love it.

Is my 2010 Honda Element about to fall off some depreciation cliff as it approaches 40,000 miles? It is in pristine condition, BTW. Teen bolted, don't need it. Do I have to rush to sell, or will it depreciate slowly as I dawdle?

You are fully vested in your Honda Element by this time, which means you are earning money every time you drive it. The only cliffs you have to worry about are real ones.

Warren - The wife and I have landed on a 3 row Crossover/SUV as our next vehicle for our growing family. We would like to have Captain's chairs in the second row (which would hold car seats) for easy access to the third row when in use (or luggage when not). We are considering the Acadia, new Pathfinder, and Durango...have you driven these yet? Do you have a favorite among them? I like the price tag on the Pathfinder and Durango...seems to be better value for your money. Appreciate your thoughts...thanks!!

I've driven them all and have the same feeling, Pathfinder or Durango. I really like the Durango, which is so surprising to me. I haven't liked Dodge products in the past, but the Durango doesn't feel like the old Dodge.

Nissan Pathfinder has been consistent since day one.

I would drive them both, in the same weather, on the same route.

If I couldn't decide then, then  I would see which one I could get the best deal on.

I am thinking of a VW GTI. Always wanted one, and am dealing with my second cancer in 8 months. Any reason to avoid it?

No, anyone who is dealing with their second cancer in 8 months deserves exactly what they've always wanted.

Take care of yourself, enjoy your new car.

Warren and I send our thoughts and prayers.

What is your view on Virginia Gov McDonnell's plans to punish (my bias) flex fuel car owners with an extra "fee" in his new plan for transportation funding? Doesn't it punish people who buy hybrid/flex cars trying to reduce their gas usage? What do you say?

First, I voted against him. But I vote against a lot of people--Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

Second, the governor's plans to place an extra tax on flex-fuel cars and hybrids is both stupid and logical.

It is stupid because it punishes us for doing what the state and federal governments asked us to do, which is to get more miles per gallon, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and do all of those things while getting cleaner emissions.

It is logical because we rapidly are accomplishing those goals, much to the chagrin of the oil companies that fund our politicians and political parties.

Also, there's this: Fewer gasoline purchases mean fewer gasoline taxes collected. But McDonnell's plan is the cowrd's way out of that dilemna. A fairer way to raise lost fuel-tax revenue would be a road-use tax. But that takes guts, which are lacking in Richmond and Washington.

Mr. Brown, Do you think the U.S. car companies have helped the recovery in auto sales by building cars people want to buy again?

It is because they are building cars people want to buy, but it is also because people have shifted their priorities. If you look at this chat as anecdotal evidence, people are concerned about finances and fuel effiiciency. Car companies are getting the message.

Car companies are producing cars that are small, but not tiny, and filling them with all the amenties of a big car. Those cars are getting better gas mileage than before.

It also helps that car manufacturing no longer takes 3-4 years from conception to market. This allows the people making the decisions to make cars quicker, allowing for trends of the day, not just forecasting into the future.

In response to your advice to adjust mileage expectations for Subaru's because of AWD - my reply is this: No. As consumers, if we do not push for better mileage, improved safety, etc, the companies will keep making useless doo-dads and not substantive changes. I mostly like my aging Forester, but the new ones get worse mileage than my 13 y/old one! If I have to buy a hybrid, albeit w/out AWD, to get more MPG, I will. Maybe that is MY adjustment. But I continue to hold Subaru's company feet to the fire to improve. 

I respectfully disagree with you. Here's why. Consumers also have the responsibility to use common sense. "Consumer" is neither a privileged, nor a sacrosanct status. "Consumer" does not change the laws of physics, nor of economics. To wit: More work means more energy needed to do that work. More energy requires more fuel.

Now, if some genius finds a way to mitigate that immutable law, he or she should be paid handsomely for the invention and implementation of the mitigation device. That means you should pay more for that device, unless you also believe that "consumer" means "free of charge" or the lowest price possible for an improved product.

Hi Warren, since you review so many cars and so many reviews have lately been laudatory across different segments, I'm wondering if there is a car/crossover/suv/etc that stands head & shoulders above its peers? Many thanks for your thoughts!

Of course, there are many. But you might have noticed that my reviews tend to stick to "affordable" models, meaning those costing $50,000 or less.

I am a buy & hold car buyer: think eight+ years. I have been wed to a string of Hondas in service to this stance. I would buy a small Ford in a flash, and would prefer to, but I don't think it can go the distance with me. I don't see many old Fords out on the road (cars, not trucks BTW.) If I make a patriotic purchase, does that force me back at year five or six?

You do know you are messing with the actuarials, right? :)

It always amazes me that car companies make cars that can last for over 10 years ( and they tout that reliability) but we don't keep them till they fall apart. That has changed since 2008/09 but I am like you, I keep my car till it falls apart.

You can look at the Ford Fusion or the C-Max hybrid. I would look at the c-max plug-in myself. I really like the idea of using as little gasoline as possible, espcially since electricity is so much cheaper.

I have a lot of reflective heat in the drivers' seat, but I can't tint the windshield by law. My BFFs insist that there is a clear 'tint' that stops some UV rays and reduces heat. Is this true? I hate extra UV exposure and the extra AC I blast is not green.  What can I buy or have installed for this issue and not get ticketed?

I appeal to the techs among us for an intteligent, usable answer. I don't have one.

Costco filled my new tires with...something. Not air. What if I run low on pressure? Can this stuff mix with air? Is there something...wrong....with good 'ole air?

I suspect that it was a nitro-fill. Check with Costco to make sure. I don't think you can do a mix.

A friend of mine has 3 kids over the age of 8 and is looking for a newer car/van/SUV. Any used ones you'd recommend for a family of 5 plus a friend or 2? Under 25K and the cheaper the better.

Do not look for cheap. Look for a used vehicle that has rear warning, with a rear camera and audible sounds.

You've got 3 kids, plus a couple others running around. Pay the extra price to make sure you're not backing up over one of them. This happens over (I think I remember this correctly) 150 times a year.

Pay the extra price to keep your children safe.

Warren, which is better for pure urban run-around fun: the Fiat 500 or Honda Fit? I'm single, with no big dog and no muddy mountain bike. So for me, this means easy to park, a quick feel in the city, connections for my electronic gizmos AND an expected minimum number of trips to the suburban dealership for repairs. Many thanks.

The Honda Fit--better utility, more fun to drive, better overall reliability. Best: Honda Fit Sport, which I love.

Warren, you did answer my question at the time. Just took that long to find out what actually was wrong. Mainly my fault for not getting it back to the dealer. Just wanted to make your readers aware of the latch problem in case they were having the same problem. I can't complain about the car because it has almost 190,000 miles on it. AL

And we thank you.

Lou Ann, I used to do that in my first car, a 65 Bug (red and rust). Until the clutch cable snapped and the car leaped forward, about a foot. Into the car in front of me.

Yeah, that would pretty much stop me from doing it as well. :) Luckily, I had someone point out that I was doing it before it happened.

Have a great day.

What do you think about the Hot Hatch segment. My GTI is getting long in the tooth. And I'm thinking about replacing it in coming years. I could see another VW, or a MazdaSpeed 3, or much to my own surprise the Ford Focus ST. I miss the Civic Si Hatch but don't think much of the Fit.

Those are all good. I love the way a VW and Mazda drive.

Consider a Chevy Sonic as well.

My commute is less than 10 miles each way, on a city route that doesn't let go faster than 40 mph (legally, anyway), so a hybrid would seem perfect for me as my next car. But, in August, when I have the A/C in the car cranked up to battle 95 degree weather with 95 percent humidity, is a hybrid going to have to move from the battery to the gas engine to keep the A/C performing? And if so, does that really cut into the total mpg I would get? Thanks.

I remember driving the first Toyota Prius and everytime I came to a stop the A/C would stop. What? It was 110 degrees outside and the A/C would stop!

Hybrids do not do that anymore, thankfully.

All cars lose mpg when you use the air conditioner. It's the price we pay to stay comfortable. But would you rather have a plug-in (such as the Volt) hybrid that can get 35-40 mpg on electricity, which is way more than you need and would have a buffer for air conditioning use?

I would.

I have $5000 to buy my 17 year old a used car. What do you recommend?

You want the best car you can get. I did an article in 2009 about cars under $15,000. Those cars have to be somewhere around $5,000 now.

Cars under $15,000 | Driving the Nation
Jul 2, 2009 ... There are seventy-one 2009 and 2010 vehicles under $15000 on sale right now. 2009 Hyundai Accent $9970 - $13920 3-door hatchback ...

Let me know how close I am.

Could either of you comment on the proposed fuel tax changes proposed by Virginia's governor? As a diesel automobile driver, i am troubled that my fuel of choice will remain taxed while I have to absorb an increase in sales tax. I would think the the private diesel truck drivers should be aware of the extra cost they are being burdened with. Virginia has a below average fuel tax that hasn't increased since 1986 and doesn't increase with inflation. Why can't we make fuel tax a percentage of the cost (just like sales tax) so that as the price of fuel increases the state makes more money. This could offset the movement of consumers to higher fuel economy vehicles. We do need to think about a tax base for fully electric cars, but that is a future problem, the road issue is a big deal now.

I just commented in a previous response. McDonnells's proposals are logical (from the viewpoint of a politician afraid to make choices); and they are absolutely dumb in terms of energy policy and energy policy history.

Both Virginia and the federal government have urged car companies and car buyers to get more miles per gallon and cleaner tailpipe emissions. Both have urged us to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles work toward that end. We, for those and other reasons, are using less gasoline. But that also means we are paying fewer gasoline taxes. You'd think that our politicians would be happy about that since most of them, Republicans and Democrats, are loathe to raise fuel taxes.

Unfortunately, they are also beholden to the oil companies, who are affected by our turn to more fuel-efficient and non-fossil fuel vehicles.

So, what does our dear Virginia Governor do? He punishes us and the car industry for doing what the government asked us to do. He proposes higher taxes for cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles. IT IS SO D-U-M-B IT BORDERS ON THE UNBELIEVABLE!!!

Costco should have put green valve stem covers on the tires if they put in nitrofill. And you can put regular air in nitrofill tires if your TPMS goes off, but then you won't have real nitrofill. Costco should refill the nitrogen for free for one year, that's usually the deal.

Thank you very much.

When hybrid cars came out, many people,  including Warren, were skeptical about the useful life of the hybrid cars batteries and their recycling. There was also some question about how this would affect the true consumption of these cars. Now, 15 years later the debut of Prius, what is the state of old and new car batteries?

I talked to Toyota's Bob Carter about this and they have very few problems. There biggest problem is trying to get the batteries back. Do you know there is a demand for those batteries? That people steal them? Precious metals.

I also remember there be a cash back if you brought the battery in.

Warren and I will be at the Detroit auto show next week. I will talk to Bob again and find out. Thanks for asking.

We will probably need to replace my husband's Acura RSX (that he also loves) in the next year or two because it's old and we hope to need a more family friendly car. He generally dislikes SUVs, minivans, trucks but he really liked the ride in a friend's Acura MDX because it didn't feel like an SUV. Anything else we should consider that's a bit less expensive and gas guzzling?

Check the Germans, particularly the Audi crossover lineup, particularly the available diesel models. Both you and he will love those.

Hi guys, it looks like I have an opportunity to move to the midwest. I currently live in MD and drive my compact car *maybe* 50 miles a week, due to heavy reliance on public transportation. If i move, it looks like I might be driving back here 3x a year, plus will need to get around in all types of weather. Do I NEED a "heavier" car or should I just invest in some better tires? I have no problem driving long distances or in various weather conditions, I'm just not sure what type of vehicle will be best for living in this new climate. It's just me so I'm not too concerned about seating X number of people or carseats or the like. THANKS!

Check out all things Subaru, with the exception of the Subaru BRZ, which is rear-wheel-drive. Look at other Subaru all-wheel-drive models, such as the Subaru Outback.

The problem with my 2012 Cruze Eco was a cracked valve cover. It had cracked where the pcv valve was mounted, causing extra air to get sucked into the turbo, causing rough running. The service was good, they ordered the part (which apparently has been redesigned), called me when it came in, and replaced it under warranty. The mechanic, once he knew that I had an idea of what he was talking about, provided a fairly good explanation of what was going on. But a cracked valve cover at 25000 miles? No matter how good the customer service, I am now almost certain to trade in the Chevy when the warranty runs out. 30+ years of driving and I never even heard of a cracked valve cover.

Anything made by human beings can break, even at 25,000 miles. I have not dealt with one manufacturer, not one--and I've dealt with all of them worldwide--that did not have one defective part or product somewhere at sometime. Given that reality, good customer service is a God-send.

I respectfully disagree with Warren B. It is not that consumers are so sanctimonious as you suggest that a consumer can't be selective. If they can't find high MPG in one brand, it is their right to choose another. I can choose to spend my money how I want.

You are disagreeing with something I did not say. Please, re-read my response. I said that more work means more energy needed to do that work. I said that usually means more fuel consumed, which is why all-wheel-drive vehicles usually use more fuel. I said that, to the extent that some manufactuers have done a better job of addressing those realities of physics, they tend to charge higher prices. Shop around all you want. Just be willing to pay accordingly.

But you are right about one thing. It is my experience and belief that too many consumers think themselves saints. They aren't. They are well-advised from these quarters to make a date with REASON.

Hello Warren and Happy New Year! It's Jan. 4 and I just finished reading today's transcript. I had to comment on the minivan driver who wrote in about when to use "non-D" gears in the snow. It made me nervous! Please, everyone, get out and get to know your car. Drive your car around a parking lot and get to know each gear and what it can do. Do that in favorable conditions and try again in bad conditions. Every car is different and no one person can tell you which gear in which car will do X, Y, or Z every single time. Full disclosure - I'm a mom/chick who begrudgingly drives a manual transmission because my husband loves them. But, I'm grateful that I have a feel for gear ranges in both manual and automatic transmissions. It's really useful!

Good advice, and we thank you. And with that, I'll/we'll close for the day. Thanks to Dominique Vu and Lou Ann Hammond for another fine production.

Thank you, Ria Manglapus, for all you do to keep us in business.

See you, Lou Ann, at next week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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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