Real Wheels Live

Jan 20, 2012

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

I am a semi-truck driver and I have always wondered why my 26,000lb(without trailer) semi can get 10mpg and last 800,000 miles with fairly basic maintenance but I can't buy an SUV that extrapolates those same figures to a smaller envelope? ie a 6500lb SUV that gets 40mpg or at the very least lasts 500,000 miles or both. It seems like auto makers intentionally sell us garbage so that we have to buy a new car about the time the loan is paid off. Is there evidence that this is intentional?

No one is in business to fail intentionally, which means there is no conpsiracy among automobile manufacturers to deliberately sell junk. Manufacturers worldwide, because of legislative requirements and their own realization of the limits of oil, are struggling to improve fuel economy. They are making marked progress in personal vehicles, including SUVs. 18-wheelers, considering all that we ask 18-wheelers to carry, pose a bit of a challenge.

Warren, We are about ready to spring for a Kia Optima. An important factor in that decision is their 5 year,  60000 mile bumper to bumper warranty. When you read about the new Ford Fusion, the thought occurs to reconsider. But the much better Kia warranty is an important deciding factor. Since cars are so much better now than they used to be, wouldn't you think other manufacturers like the "big 3" would upgrade at least to the 4 year 50000 mile the high end makes offer without putting themselves to that much risk/extra expense? Have you heard of any considerations about that? Thanks, Bob; Washington, DC

Hyundai and Kia, roughly eight years ago, adopted long warranties of necessity. Both companies entered the U.S. market, back in 1986 or thereabouts, with junk. It was an embarrassment, and the buying public responded accordingly. To win back that public, both companies offered better products and a stronger promise (warranty) that those products would last. Other companies, notably Toyota and Honda, could offer weaker warranties ironically because the strong quality of their products usually spoke for themselves. But things have changed. All car companies now know that their products must have top quality just to enter the market. Better warranties will follow.

Why is there so little discussion of diesel engines and their fuel efficiency?My sister drives a 2009 Jetta TDI with 180,000 miles on it. She says that now that the motor is broke-in she consistently gets over 55 miles per gallon on a tank of fuel--she used to get about 10% better mileage running 100% vegoil but lost her supplier. She averaged 38 MPG on a cross country trip pulling a loaded U-haul trailer and with 3 adults in the car--try that with a Prius. I drive an Audi A3 13.7 miles round-trip to work each day. Driving to work accounts for about 75% of the mileage I put on my car. My drive has 83 stoplights and 26 stop signs. The last tank of fuel I average 31.5 MPG, trip computer showed average speed of 14.5 MPH. Had to go to Pittsburgh for a funeral, set the cruise control at 7 MPH over whatever was the posted limit and averaged 48 MPG and the motor is still pretty tight, has less than 1000 hours on it. I suppose a Prius would beat that, but which would you rather drive? The Germans will have a mid-sized lux sedan out in a couple of years that will get of 60MPG on diesel. The problem in the US is that we have such poor standards for diesel fuel that you can't engineer a motor to get consistently low emissions with the variability in fuel. Euros have and all oil companies meet tight quality standards, but the same companies say they can't meet those same standard in the US?

It is a matter of education, politics, and experience. But the latest reports from Automotive News and the Diesel Technology Forum indicate that diesel sales are increasing in the the United States--in fact, outstripping sales of all electrified vehicles in this country. I don't recall the exact numbers; but you can check them at Also, check Ward's Automotive, whose numbers indicate the same trend.

Hi Warren - Love this chat! What's your view on TrueCar? I'm in the market for an Audi A5 after a 10-year love affair w/my Honda Prelude. My credit union seems to have teamed-up with but looking into the fine print on their website has me scratching my head. Their "guaranteed low pricing" is pretty high compared to invoice, info on their methodology is questionable and I'm concerned about what sounds like "bait-and-switch" problems that can happen once you get to the lot w/your certificate. Frankly, I don't like the idea of TrueCar getting all my info up-front and sharing it within its network when I show up at the lot. Have you heard of any car buyer complaints about TrueCar? Or am I just paranoid?

I am still studying the TrueCar situation, which is more than a little confusing. A bevy of Honda Dealers have taken TrueCar to court arguing that the brokerage agency is engaging in a kind of price-fixing that undermines there sales margins. That's a dealr complaint, not a customer complaint. Customers seem happy.

Camry hybrid was disapointing, Fusion was well received, Sonota was highly anticipated. The new Camry hybrid seems much improved. How would you rank these?

The Ford Fusion gets my nod--more robust than the Camry with equally good fuel economy. And the Fusion will keep my nod, if what I saw at the Detroit show is where Ford really is going with that model. The new Fusion is the hottest looking family sedan ever! The Camry is nice, but bores me silly. The Sonata Hybrid needs work. It's an unforgivable wimp on the highway and in the mountains.

Thank you for taking my question. I am in the market for a small SUV that gets good/decent gas mileage. American company is a must. I'm currently considering the GMC Terrain and Ford Escape (hybrid or non-hybrid) - is there another car I should be looking at? Thank you for your thoughts!

You might also consider the Chevrolet Equinox, built on the same platform as the GMC Terrain, but sold at a lower price.  Honda now builds its CR-V in the United States, if that helps your "buy America" thing. I could not in good conscience recommend a compact SUV/crossover utility vehicle without including the CR-V. It's that good.

Warren - Good morning. Thanks for all the chats - I always enjoy them. I have a 2004 VW Golf - good car in good shape. The engine light came on and was diagnosed with a failure with the catalytic converter and the engine fan. The total cost to repair is roughly $1,700. I have two questions - are these common problems for a VW with 90K miles? I usually drive cars for well over 100K miles and have never had a catalytic converter or engine fan fail. Secondly, given the market for that car is roughly $4,500 to $7,000 in the used ar section of the Post is it worth it to put almost $2K into the car at this point? Thanks for your advice! Dave

I can't tell you if that's a common problem for a VW with 90,000 miles. But having just spent $2,500 to repair the exhaust system of a 2001 Mini Cooper with 35,000 miles, I'm willing to trade.

Is it true that visitors to the upcoming DC auto show will not be able to sit in and explore the cars on display? I ask because my wife has mobility issues (and I'm no spring chicken either) and it would be a big convenience for us to be able to check ingress/egress on lots of cars at a single location (rather than having to visit umpteen dealerships).

Unfortunately, some displays, usually the super luxury models, don't allow sit-and-explore visits. But no mass-market manufacturer, makers of the cars for the rest of us, is dumb enough to do that as what is mostly a retail-oriented car show, which is the case in D.C>

An out of state friend of mine loves his Suzuki Kizashi and highly recommends it over the other mid-sized sedans I'm looking at (Jetta, used Accords and Camrys). Have you driven it? Anything I ought to know?

Yes. I've driven the Kizashi twice--an estimated total of 321 miles. I'd happily drive it another 30,000. The problem there is marketing. Suzuki has none worth speaking of. But the car, it's excellent. I'd go for it.

Hi, Warren. The recent post about diesel fuel in the USA is wrong. USA/Canada have some of the most stringent diesel standards in the world, only 15 ppm of sulphur in Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel at all pumps.

By the way, about basic warranties: VW Canada has a 4-year/80,000 KM warranty (cars are pricier here, though) vs. the 3-year, 36,000 mi. warranty in the USA, which also includes a carefree maintenance program.

Correct. The 15 ppm diesel in the U.S., at least, has been in effect for at least 5 years now--probably longer. Europe has long had a similar standard. Indeed, nearly 50 percent of all new passenger vehicles sold in Europe are diesel requiring 15 PPM ("ultra low sulfur diesel), the same as diesel vehicles now sold in the United States. Besides, the numbers don't lie. There were more diesels sold in the United States in 2011, 75 percent of them VW products, than all electrified vehicles combined.

I have a 2007 Honda Fit Sport, looking to replace it in the next year or two. Love my Fit - hauls plenty of stuff, gets great mileage, and it's well designed. But I'm looking for an upgrade. I want to keep the stuff-hauling abilities, and at least some of the great mileage, but basically I want more cowbell. I wrote in a month ago, and you suggested the Sorento or the Outlander. Thank you! But...both are a little more SUV-ish than I want. What do you think about the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus? Both seem to meet my needs, and offer the bells/whistles (heated leather seats, keyless start/stop, sun/moon roof, etc.) that I want. Anything else I should be looking at in the less-than-$30K range? In particular, I was pleasantly surprised by the Focus and am leaning slightly toward it. Any experience with or thoughts on Ford's technology offerings, specifically its Sync/MyFord Touch, and Active Park Assist?

Both the Mazda3 and Ford Focus are axcellent subcompacts sharing something of the same developmental heritage inasmuch as both came into being when Ford and Mazda were partners. I'd take either one and be happy. As for the Sorento (Kia) and Outlander (Mitsubishi), you are talking larger crossover utility vehicles. Both are fine. But if you are going that route, you would do well to take a look at the 2012 Honda CR-V, which easily is best in class, assuming you can live with four cylinders.

If we're getting ready to purchase a Grand Cherokee Limited, do you see a vast improvement over the 2011, that we should wait a year for the 2012s to be our used purchase? We know the 2012s have gotten pretty excellent reviews, and we don't NEED to buy one right away, just wondering if we should keep looking for the 2011 with the specs we prefer, or wait.

I'd wait for the 2012. What's impressive about Chrysler nowadays is the company's absolute determination to keep putting out increasingly better products--each one better than the last. If you don'ty have to buy now, wait for the arrival of the 2012.

Of the 2012 midsize SUVs in the under $30k category, as far as MPG economy, safety, seats for 5, navigation included, AWD and good visibility, what would you consider the top three candidates?  I'm replacing a 2001 Mazda Tribute that had good interior space and good visibility. Newer models in this group seem to have reduced visibility. Not a family vehicle, a grandma vehicle, sometimes I cart 3 grandchildren but not too often.

That's easy. Get one you did not mention--the 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L with navigation, all-wheel-drive, base 2.4-liter 185hp engine, 17 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg hwy, five-speed automatic transmission, an absolute easy driver, for about $29,000.

We looked at the Fit and then settled on the Subaru Impreza Sport. The limited has leather seats and all the trimmings. We love it!

Who said car buying was logical? It's a matter of love. You love it. That's what's important.

Warren, now that Detroit is producing quality vehicles that Americans actually want do you see any way to fix the abysmal dealer experience in the big 3 showrooms? I kind of enjoy beating a price out of them but its time consuming and not everyone sees it as sport the way I do. I can't see why they can't come up with a reasonable price and stick to it instead of having secret deals and holdbacks that force you to fight it out with salesmen who are totaly incentivized to jam you for the highest possible margin. The big three could really capitalize on the demand for their product if they revamped the buying experience, in my humble opinion. Love the chats, thanks.

Let's examine your argument:

"Now that Detroit is producing quality vehicles that Americans actually want..."

Answer: If the Americans traditionally have owned most of their home market share, and they have, that must mean someone must have wanted, and bought, what they were making.

U.S. quality has improved. As I have been writing here and in other Washington Post outlets, that quality actuall has been improving since 1993. Perception lags reality, especially in an era where media outlets harbor biases they claim they don't have.

The U.S. Bankruptcies: It is what happens when any business tries to hold onto to old assets, and the people connected with them, in a world that no longer needs them.

New Quality:

No manufacturers nowadays has a choice. Poor quality is a non-starter. Period.


The same applies to them, especially in an age of rapid electronic communications. There is very little about a prospective purchase that consumers can't find online. The only people bad dealers can bamboozle are those who haven't done their homework. Do your homework. You can deal with any dealer and leave the showroom happy.

Hiya Warren. Thanks a lot for doing these chats. Do you have any word on the all electric VW microbus? Is it slated for a 2013 model year release? Does that still translate to a fall 2012 availability? They are sharp looking and get great mileage. Please update us. Thanks!

I have to check that one. I'm drawing a blank. I will get back to you.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thanks, Ria, for keeping track of the cars. Eat Lunch.

Need to replace Landcruiser...2008 Lexus GX 470 with 50K or New Pathfinder LE? Only plan to drive 5k a year or so...Could also pick up an '05 GX 470 with 60k for a bit less, but concerned with seven year age...Thoughts?

Go with the new, slightly more fuel efficient, Nissan Pathfinder.

I have the same question about light bulbs! I never replaced a headlight bulb in my 13-year-old Honda, bouncing all over the road, but have to replace my front porch light bulb a few times a year! Come on, it's a scam: they CAN make a light bulb that lasts 13 years!

You'll find a scam wherever you want to look for one. Are you willing to pay for a light bulb that last 13 years? I'm sure there's someone willing to sell you one.

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

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