Real Wheels Live

Jan 13, 2012

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

Our garage is small, especially for our car with side-view mirrors that extend. 1. I heard that a manufacturer makes a car with side-view mirrors that can be folded in with a remote control. Which car has this feature? 2. I am also looking for a 4 door sedan less than 70" wide that has a back-up camera, power steering, front or all wheel drive, and an automatic transmission. Thank you. Diane Epstein Bethesda, MD

A number of automakers offer the automatically folding sideview mirrors, including Honda and Nissan. Check or for options, also, which is an affiliate of The Washington Post, or, which is Lou Ann's wonderful outfit.

I was in Alexandria last week for my Mother-in-laws 90th birthday. We stayed with my brother-in-law, Paul, and sister-in-law, Cheryl. They have a small garage and as we were going out Cheryl bragged about her remote folding mirrors.

Warren is right, many car dealers have them now. Audi, BMW, Honda, Chevy. Happens as soon as you click the lock or unlock. very cool.

I would like to purchase a good off-road capable SUV that provides good gas mileage. Are there any out there?

Not really. Perhaps the most capable/fuel efficient is the Nissan Xterra, assuming you are talking about serious off-roading, which inherently contradicts conventional notions of fuel economy.

Recently I saw a couple of almost tiny rust spots on my trunk that are a little larger than pin pricks. Since I know nothing about cars, I thought that I would just need to buy some spray paint to spray paint over the spots. But when I went to the store, the clerk told me that before those rust spots get bigger, I need to buy rust dissolver gel and then sand the spots and apply the gel and then use water to rinse it off. I also need to buy paint that matched the color of my car to paint over those spots. Then I would also need to buy clearcoat to cover over the paint which would make it waterproof. Any reactions? Since the spots are so small, could I skip the sanding? Or is there a simpler way to deal with those almost tiny rust spots?

I think the clerk was trying to up-sell you. I'd use a light abrasive to get rid of those rust spots and then  spray paint. By the time those pin pricks would become real problems, you would have gotten rid of the car anyway.

Two weeks ago, I wrote in asking for assistance with a problem I was having with my 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE that has a driver's power window that intermittently refuses to respond to the toggle switch. I park at home and at work in underground garages that have electronic card gates, so I need to raise and lower the driver's power window four times a day. The car had been to the dealership twice before, but the problem was persisting even after the dealer replaced the window motor. I wanted to give you an update as to what has happened over the two weeks. Lou Ann kindly e-mailed Hyundai and a few days later, I got a call from a woman in Hyundai's Executive Communications Dept. She was sympathetic and eager to help me get the problem fixed. A few days later, the dealer called me and asked me to come meet with them and the regional Hyundai representative who handles warranty claims. We met for about an hour, and the Hyundai rep asked me to again leave the car with the dealer for testing. He also authorized the warranty replacement of certain parts that operate the power window. (He also comp'd me my next maintenance visit for my inconvenience.) I expect to pick up the car today or over the weekend. So, right now, I'm very hopeful that the problem will finally be fixed. It's a frustrating situation because the problem itself is intermittent, and the window can work just fine for days on end, making it impossible to duplicate the problem while the car is at the dealer. Hyundai certainly was responsive and cooperative and they seem very eager to make me happy and to keep my business. So, thank you again for helping me reach the right people at Hyundai and I'll let you know what happens after I get the car back. The Sonata is a beautiful, well-performing car with all the features I want in a car, and I'd love to be able to enjoy without having to wonder if the power window is going to be work when I pull up to the garage gate. Thanks again!!!

The Sonata is a beautiful car, I would hate to think you got rid of the car because of a power window problem.

There are car manufacturers that understand that each little issue that doesn't get taken care of by a dealer costs every other car dealer another sell.

Hyundai, BMW, Ford, VW - they're all very responsive to consumer complaints.

Anytime you have a legitimate complaint Warren and I have sent the complaint to the manufacturer.

I'm glad they're helping.

I've had a 2001 Outback since new, great car. It's showing some wear, and is a bit small for my use--it's a lead car on group back country trips that require some moderate 4wd road usage. I love its reliability and would go with another Subie. Considerations: the new Outback, according to reviews, doesn't handle so well. The Forester uses cheaper interior materials. Also, I'd like 30 mpg. Will Subaru be offering a vehicle in the next 2 years that can achieve this (prefer diesel to hybrid), handles well, has high quality interior? Anywhere else I should look? Can afford up to around $30k. Thanks--Warren, I really enjoy your insights!

I'd get the new Outback and be perfectly happy. I tend not to believe auto journalists' reports about handling until I drive the evehicle myself, which, in this case, I did with absolutely no problems. You are okay with the Outback.

Warren, have you driven the new Lexus GS and also the new BMW X3, if so, your views? Thanks

I have driven all the renditions of the new Lexus GS and just got out of the BMW X3.

Both are great vehicles. Both have been totally redesigned.

If you're looking for a SUV that is beautiful, comfortable and has a sporty drive buy the BMW X3. It was in the top 3 for the North American truck of the year. It would have received it had the Range Rover Evoque not been a new vehicle.

The Lexus is beautiful as well as refined. I own a Lexus LS400 and have loved the luxury in it since the day it was made. 

Good morning - I've owned quite a few used cars in the past and my usual criteria were "best price with the lowest miles." Is that still true ? Friends are warning about "flood damaged cars from the mid-west" and "cars coming off a lease" (maybe not maintained ?) I'm thinking of 3-4 year old BMW/ Audi/ SAAB/ maybe mustang (?). Thoughts ?

I'd say best safety, best price, least damage, fewest miles, best maintenance costs (influding fuel bill), which means you have to do a bit more potential-purchase research.

Hi Warren, keep up the good work! Curious for you to share your thoughts on current or future electric cars showcased at the Detroit Auto Show and which one holds the most promise for mainstream adoption. Thanks!

There were many electric cars there; Tesla was there, Toyota had their Prius plug-in there, Hyundai had an electric car there. Some of these cars are in production, some are still concepts. The BMW i8 electric concept was beauttttiiifull.

Secretary Chu was at the Detroit auto show and I followed him around the whole time he was there. Chu is big on electric cars. I am bigger on hybrid, extended range cars for the future, but like the idea of an electric car for regional uses, such as San Francisco, LA, or DC.

The electric grid is still amping up for electric cars. And the EPA needs to figure out how to measure miles per gallon on all of these cars. 

Having said all that, electric cars/hybrids/range extenders are the future. We export a lot of money in order to drive anyway we want. If we kept all that money in the United States we wouldn't have a trae deficit within 5 years.


They are all over the place, all over Cobo Hall, every major manufacturer. And so it would seem that electric cars, of one sort or another, are ready to take a major share of the U.S. automotive market. They are not. The problem is threefold: Battery production and availability; servicing and safety infrastructure; consumer education and perception of how electrics are best used. Manufacturers are beginning to take electric vehicles seriously. But we have a long way to go before those cars actually become a major part of the market.

What do you think of it in general, Warren? Any thoughts on advantages to 2011 vs. 2012 or trim levels vs. others? In your view are there any comparable SUVs in that class terms of quality, looks and function for a little less $? My other half is in love with the 4Runner but I'm big into comparison shopping and can't seem to find much in the way of apples-to-apples. Thanks in advance for your insights!

The Toyota 4Runner, as readers of this space know, is one of my favorite mid-size SUVs--rugged, real utility, reliable. But I tend to lean more towards the slighly smaller Nissan Xterra which, to me, is much more manageable off-road, which is the only reason I would buy the 4Runner, Jeep, or Xterra. For off-road use.

Do you know if Toyota intends to discontinue the Prius hatchback in favor of the larger, station-wagon styled Prius V? Also, I know that Toyota makes a Camry hybrid -- do you know if they intend to offer more hybrid options for other models, such as for the Corolla or Yaris? Thanks.

There will be a whole family of Prius, called the Pri-I. As far as I know they are keeping all of the cousins in the mix.

You are going to see more innovation from every single manufacturer in the next ten-fifteen years. The car companies have to meet 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Good morning, Warren and Lou Ann. I'm wondering whether, in your intelligence-gathering in Detroit this week, you might have picked up any signals of new diesel models coming to the U.S. anytime soon.

The Cadillac ATS will have a diesel in its variant within the first year, according to Cadillac. (They'll also have a manual available).Chrysler will be bringing out diesel as well.

Chevy has a diesel coming out. VW has diesel, Mercedes too.

Toyota doesn't have a diesel coming to America, but they have diesel engines all over the world.

I am doing a story on diesel now, the availablity of diesel. Who wins with diesel, who loses.

I've always said this, every energy has its issues. Diesel will have its issues as well. It is a balancing act with all energies, supply and demand.

Diesel is a great option, the cars are clean, you get low-end torque and better miles per gallon.


Warren, I like the styling of the new Jetta and am starting to look at at retiring my 2000 Civic and am leaning toward the new Jetta GLI. I know the new Jetta has been widely panned by reviewers for cutting corners in various areas for the sake of cost, but in researching the various specs, it seems VW has corrected those shortcomings with the GLI model. Have you had an opportunity to drive the GLI yet? Your thoughts on the GLI?

The Jetta has been widely panned by reviewers, too many of whom cannot afford to buy the previously highly contented Jetta, or anything else. It's simple: We've been going through a world economic crisis. People can't afford what they previously could afford. VW and other car companies have responded by "de-contenting," removing things from cars that, apparently, only car reviewers miss. Fact is, the de-contented Jetta, based on available sales numbers (check has been selling well. If you or the carping journalists want more content in your Jetta, Volkswagen is willing to  sell it to you.

Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: I am interested in hearing your impressions of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Did any of the Big Three U.S. automakers emerge as a winner this week? Has Sergio Marchionne become the Steve Jobs of automobiles? And, can the new Dodge Dart be a catalyst for getting Fiat-Chrysler back in the black?

I think the Ford Fusion was the most spectacular car shown of the three companies you are referring to.

The Cadillac ATS will do well for Cadillac, and they need new product badly.

Good question about Marchione - I listened to Marchione talk to Secretary Chu and he's got some hurdles to overcome. He doesn't sound like a regular car guy. Time will tell, especially since Fiat seems to be having a slow go of it.

I've had the above vehicle since I purchased it new 9 years ago. On the roof, I've noticed that the "rain channels," as Ford calls them, have a serious issue with the paint peeling off. I took it to the dealer and they said it was not repairable under warranty...essentially live with it or pay to fix myself. I've seen similar reports from other SuperCrew owners on the Internet. What's your take?

My take is that Ford needs to take a look at this.  But current research, looking at advanced painting processes, indicates that peeling paint on newer Ford products is no longer a problem. Still, Ford needs to check out your complaint. Thus posted.

The reader with rust spots, first make sure they're really rust. I've had some small animal/bird droppings look just like rust. Bug and tar cleaner got rid of them. Robert/Gaithersburg

Thank you, Robert.

Hello! We have a 2000 Ford Explorer which is starting to show its age. My partner's job is to buy vintage and antique furniture, so we need to start shopping for a replacement vehicle which would provide good, protected cargo space. We would also like something at least somewhat fuel efficient. Do you have any thoughts on where to look? We are also thinking of buying used to save some money. Thanks!

Have you looked at the Honda Element, dog edition? The seats fold up (not down, but up) next to the window out of the way. There is a dog ramp built in in case you need to load heavy items.

Honda is discontinuing the Element, so you will only be able to buy it used.

I think the poster looking for something that narrow with 4 doors and automatically retracting mirrors (usually only in luxury models) is going to have a hard time. Even the small-ish Ford Focus is 71.8" wide (excluding mirrors). The Mazda3 (the smallest 4-door car in the US) is 69.1", but does not offer folding mirrors as an option or a backup camera. I thought I had a small garage when I was trying to squeeze a small SUV/station wagon less than 78" wide into it.

Thank you. And we still advise that chatter to take a look at,,

Warren and Lou Ann, thanks for the chats. My 1996 Corolla, bought used as a poor graduate student, is approaching 217K and my husband says no to any more repairs. So we're in the market for a new or used small to midsized sedan in the $15K-$30K range. After so many years in a no-frills, beat-up compact, I'd like something sporty-ish, fun to drive, with a few luxury touches and, dare I say, the ability to thrill me a little? We keep cars a long time, so lasting power would be a plus. Business travel has allowed me to rent the Hyundai Elantra (nice for the price), the Ford Focus (strangely appealing), and a Honda Civic. I've heard great things about the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata. I wouldn't rule out the Camry (hybrid or regular), Prius, or Accord, but I have to confess those cars bore me a little, looks-wise. I've also thought about the new Buick Verano and the Volvo S40. As you can see, I'm all over the place. Where should I focus my energy in test drives and research?

This is the hardest segment to pick from because they have so many good cars to pick from.

The Ford Focus, Volkswagen Passat and the Hyundai Elantra were the three North American Car of the Year nominees. The Hyundai Elantra won, but any of the three would make me happy. The VW Passat has a diesel variant.

I like the Buick Verano style. When you drive it notice how little noise there is with the windows rolled up. GM gave the Chevy Cruze some of the noise reducing techniques, but Buick got it full force. And get the Chococinno color, just lovely.

The Hyundai Sonata is lovely as well, but if you don't need the extra room look at the Elantra.

One thing I want you to do: Look at the stated miles per gallon on the window sticker. When you get into the car reset the average miles per gallon. Drive a goodly distance, 10 miles at least, some city, some highway. See what your mpg is after that.

Let me know - I'm curious.

Thank you for your Prius V review. Is there a specific technique to use for winter driving, with a hybrid car? What about fuel economy and winter tires?

Almost any electrically powered or assisted system is going to work harder in winter. But that should not negatively affect life in a Prius V, other than, perhaps, a slight  increase in fuel consumption. (Heating and defrosting, lights, et cetera sap energy).  I had no problems with the tested Prius V in cold weather (approx. 33 degrees F in the Hudson Valley and environs). My only problem came on steep uphill climbs with a load (approx. 300 lbs.) in the cargo bay. Snow tires are recommended in snowy climes. Parking is recommended if snow is higher than five inches--approx. Prius V ground clearance.

Hi Warren and LouAnn, I've narrowed choices down to the Optima or Sonata, and I'm curious if you -- or any of the chatters -- have thoughts on pros/cons of the standard vs. turbo. Looks like there's only a mile or so of difference in estimated MPG. Fwiw, we do a lot of city driving but some highway trips as well. Thanks, and keep up the great work on the chats!


I just told another person to do this - go back to the dealership and look at the miles per gallon on the window sticker. Drive both cars again. This time reset the mpg button when you get in. Drive some city, some highway. Note the mpg you get. Use that as your base for what you will really get from the car.

The turbo is more performance, it will get you out of harm's way faster, up a hill with less effort.

It may cost you more mpg, but when there's a 18-wheeler barreling down on you I want my torque.

Let me know about those mpg numbers.

Re. a new car purchase, what should we as consumers factor in when considering built-in navigation vs. a separate standalone system? Are the fancier built-in nav systems worth the additional cost?

I much prefer the portable navigation systems which usually are less expensive, more advanced, more easily updateable than the fixed in-car systems. I'm waiting for fixed onboard nav systems to go the way of fixed car phones,

Baby coming and my two-seater convertible will not accommodate. I prefer manual shift cars and was looking at the Nissan Juke, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot be impressed with this vehicle. Now I'm considering used luxury cars (BMW 3 and 5 series, Baby Benzes) and wondering if there's anything I should look out for or any car in particular you would recommend?

Look at the automatic version with the paddle shifters. You can switch to manual mode anytime your child is not in the car and you want to have a little more fun.

You'll have the best of both worlds.

Do you or chatters who are 4Runner owners have any thoughts on pros/cons of the different trim level packages and actual vs. EPA estimated mileage? Thanks again, Warren!

I'd buy the "trim" that enhances safety. I'd ignore the cosmetic stuff.

In the Washington area, do we really need a SUV? Can a AWD sedan do the same thing? What do you suggestion?

Have you ever known a person to buy ONLY what they need? REally? me either.

Cars/SUVs are an extension of ourselves. Some people like to sit high off the road, some like cars that hug the ground.

If you're good at driving in the snow, and have the right tires, you may not need AWD.

Warren and I are not trying to tell you what to buy. We try to give you our expertise on the cars you are looking at buying. Give us a couple of cars you like, we'll give you our thoughts and maybe another car to test drive.

Hi Warren! I am in the market for a used car. I have my heart set on getting a used Volvo S40, but am wondering whether I should be concerned that the S40 was discontinued in 2011. What does that mean for future repairs and availability of parts? I know a good, more economical alternative to the S40 is the Mazda 3. Any others I should consider? Finally, is there a good resource I should be looking at regarding reliability of certain models when buying a used car? I've looked at for reviews for the year/model of certain cars, but where can I go to determine whether certain models of used cars are more or less dependable than others?

You are okay with a used S40 (or Toyota Corolla, which is every bit as good in that compact car category). Volvo isn't Saab. It has secure financing. It and the parts it sells for Volvo vehicles in service willbe around for a long time.

Warren, I know you're generally not a big fan of the additional warranties and coverage plans that dealers will try to get you to add to a new car purchase, but we can state from experience that a paln covering wheel and tire damage can be well worth it, especially in this area. In our case, we purchased 5-year wheel and tire damage coverage for a bit over $500 because we live near (and must constantly drive through) the enormous beltway/HOT lanes/Metrorail construction mess around Tyson's Corner and regularly drive the pot-hole and construction-gutted streets of DC. In less than a year, we have had to replace 2 tires and one alloy wheel due to road debris at what would have been a total cost of well over $1,000 -- but it has all been covered by our plan. With 4 more years to go on the coverage (and no apparent end in sight to the potholes and construction), I think we've come out ahead.

Generally not worth it. BUT--and there's always a 'but"--could be good in areas where bad roads routinely conspire to keep you in dealership repair bays. That is a good point, and one that I should have mentioned, which is wy Lou Ann and I both ionvite you back next week. Hey, Lou Ann, missed you in Detroit. Thanks Dominique and Ria. Eat lunch.

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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