Real Wheels Live

Jan 24, 2014

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.

Good morning Warren and Friends

Did everyone enjoy the Washington auto show? We ended up giving away 10 tickets! Yes, we were only going to give away 2 but everyone was so excited that Warren and Barbara ended up giving some of their own tickets.

I am in Las Vegas, NV driving the new Volvos. They have three new vehicles

S60 with T6 drive-e starting at $38,.150
SXXC60 T6 drive-e starting at $40,050
V60 T5 drive-e Premier Plus starting at $35,300

great engines, lots of fun to drive.

Let's chat about cars

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Lou Ann Hammond

I try NOT to do it for too long. However if I'm clearing ice off the windshield it makes it easier to scrape if you melt it a little bit. Harmful? Check Yes or No

I always put safety first. If you can't see out of your windshield you shouldn't be driving. If you're so cold you're muscles are contracting you shouldn't be driving. safety is first.

This week, I needed my wiper fluid, but after a few squirts, it would stop spraying. I thought it might just be running low and topped it off, but again the same thing. I assume it just froze in the little tube or something, or at least, I hope once it warms up, it will work without problems. Is there something that one can do while driving if their wiper fluid won't spray?

If it doesn't work once it thaws out have your mechanic take a look.

Morning Warren and Lou Ann, Looking at Crossovers and she's narrowed the search. Key parameters ride, comfort, turning radius, 3rd row legroom, power lift gate, reliability, blind spots or lack thereof, interstate pass an 18-wheeler gear. That's it, I think that's the list. Oh, tan interior an option.

For value plus your stated concerns, I'd look at the Kia Sorento, which also has a high safety rating. The other usual suspects include the Honda CRV, Toyota Rav-4, and the GM Triumvirate, whose names escape me now.

More of a comment than a question. After an exhaustive search, I bought a Fiat 500L and couldn't be happier. I got a fabulous price because of unfortunate sales, I assume. Bottom line; I love a manual car and wanted some creature comforts and the Fiat was virtually the only car to offer a manual with upgrades at my price point. It was so disappointing to find in my research that many of the highly reviewed cars I see on the roads only offer manual transmissions in the lowest trim level. At the Nissan dealership, the sales guy told me that the Juke and Versa in manual are made in such low number that its virtually impossible to get. They have waiting lists. I guess I will need to move abroad to get a nice manual car if this trend continues.

The market determines the equipment. And the U.S. market does not take many manu8als--barely 10 percent of all new cars sold stateside.

She's narrowed it down Highlander 4x4 or Pathfinder 4x4? Any insights into 2014 test drives, features, 3rd row legroom that may help the decision making? Ride, legroom, blind spots, turning radius are factors.

I'd go with the Highlander. I frankly think the Pathfinder is overpriced.

Hello Warren and Lou Ann--my venerable 1986 Saab 900 hatchback squats and I wonder if replacing the rear springs ($400) would improve winter traction. At rest, there's an inch or more clearance in the front wheel wells than in the rear. I believe this is from a history of hauling heavy things, plus rear springs get tired---it is not because I keep extra weight in the back (I don't). If your experts think that new springs and an even keel front-to-back would significantly improve traction on snow and ice, I would spend the $400. If it wouldn't really change it, I won't. Spokane gets 2' of snow in the average winter so I always run four good snow tires, but I'd like better traction. The car is front wheel drive. I'd appreciate your theories or better yet, opinions from an automotive engineer! Thank you very much. Chris DeForest in Spokane WA

1986? wow! You're going to need to take it to a mechanic. I didn't know you could haul anything in a 1986 Saab 900 so you need to make sure you haven't done any damage. If that's the only issue you have with the car you are doing well.

Chris, replace the springs. $400 is less expensive than buying new.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann. I'm taking my seven year-old son to the auto show this weekend. Other than drooling over cars that I want, any entertaining bits I should be sure to catch with the kid? Thanks.

There will be celebrities aplenty, including Pierre Garcon of the Washington Redskins. And the show people almost always have things to keep the children happy.

I have never seen a major pileup. I have driven in snow and rain but have never seen conditions deteriorate so quickly that dozens of people are suddenly left without control of their car or truck. I must think that they missed the warning signs and continued to drive faster than conditions would suggest. I would think that modern cars have sensors that could detect conditions where the traction control fails and the wheels are on ice. It shouldn't be hard to come up with an early warning alert to have drivers stop or at least slow down.

If you have distronic or advanced cruise control it will do that. The problem is people don't like using it because it keeps you a certain distance away from the car in front of you and they say other cars will jump in front of you.

Technology is only good if you use it.

Warren and Lou Ann, does Volvo have the new V60 at the show? I'm really eager to check it out. Any impressions of it? Thanks.

I don't think they do. Volvo is just now showing them to the press. They should be out in the dealerships soon.

Lou Ann & Warren, Do you know if the latest versions of the MazdaSpeed 3 and the Ford Focus STI share any systems? In particular, the powertrain?

They don't. Mazda and Ford are now separate. Mazda is doing its own thing, especially with the popular Mazda 3.

How long should someone warm up their car on a cold day?

All depends on how cold. I usually do four minutes.

Warren, Thanks for answering the previous question. So....which of the two do you prefer? Lou Ann, same question: which of the two do you prefer?

I like them both, but would buy the Mazdaspeed3.

Please stop by Saturday, Sunday. I'll be hosting questions and conversation along with my dealer representative. Michelle Dawson. Lou Ann is running around california. Also, we've set up a ticket giveaway with Barbar Pomerance. Try me at

I just put up some new videos on Driving the Nation

A couple of weeks back, two readers wrote in about frost and ice accumulating inside their windshields. I was having the same problem with my Toyota Sienna and asked the dealership about it during our last (free) maintenance appointment. They said it was totally normal. Something about a lot of moisture inside the car condensing on the windshield and then freezing due to cold temperatures. We had been tracking in a lot of snow and ice into the floor mats during this time. So we took the removal floor mats out and brought them into the house, set them near an air vent overnight so they could get some warm air and hopefully dry out. It worked! We haven't had that problem since. Now we remind our kids to shake the snow off their boots before they get in the van.

It is absolutely normal for reasons stated. I usually get rid of the stuff by setting the defroster at about 76-degrees Fahrenheit. As it starts melting, I also spritz it with de-icer.

There is washer fluid with anti freeze in it. I use it 12mos a year and havent had a problem with it freezing in over 30 years Clifton, VA

Good advice, Clifton.

Yes, Lou Ann, you can haul a lot in a 1980s SAAB. A hatchback model has as much space with the rear seat folded down as many 1990s era SUVs. Our 1985 SAAB 900T is our beater and go-to vehicle for hauling anything smaller than a fridge or washing machine.

Oh, my mistake. I was thinking towing, not hauling. You know, a boat, a horse trailer. :)


I'm wondering whether Lou Ann and/or Warren, as professional car people, would like to comment on the controversy about whether school districts should be cancelling school for adverse weather over the concern of bus drivers being able to safely navigate icy and snowy side streets. Officials in Fairfax County were criticizing for cancelling school yesterday, but they seem vindicated today as many buses were not able to start, and children were left standing in very cold weather. Thanks.

I prefer to err on the side of safety. We can make up school days. We can't recall injuries or death suffered by students in crashes on slick roads, especially because so many adults seem to lack common sense when it comes to safe winter driving. I was appalled--saw three completely avoidable crashes on the first day of the storm--all three caused  by adults who apparently thought that all-wheel-drive means go fast on ice. Dumb!

Best way to improve traction in the snow is four winter tires. Problem with front wheel drive in the snow is its great for pulling away from lights and stop signs but as you get going weight transfer to the rear. This can be very challenging if you are trying to climb a steep hill and back in day when I owned VW Golfs and Rabbits I did back up really steep hills. Winter tires will make a huge difference. If you still want to replace the rear springs you should also replace the front springs and the struts and shocks. Chances are replacing the rear springs won't make a difference for traction in the snow. Clifton VA

They said they do use snow tires. Thanks for the info Clifton.

I'm continue to be appalled that we do not require school children on buses to wear seat belts. Seat belts are the single best protection against injury and death in crashes (after driving safely), and the idea that we allow our children to get on buses that will be driven on icy and snowy streets NOT wearing seat belts is ridiculous.

I agree. It makes little sense that kids are put on buses without belts. I've never understood it. I still don't. The throw distance in most school buses is a lot farther than it is in most cars in a frontal crash. Parents need to get on their politicians about this.

I just traded our minivan for a Prius. The mileage is great, but I miss the utility of the minivan. Are there any plans by anyone for a hybrid van? If I could get close to 35mpg in a van I'd jump at the chance.

At some point I wouldn't be surprised if Honda or Toyota brought one. I drove the Toyota Estima and Alphard hybrid but they aren't coming to the U.S. yet.

Looking at a Ford Fiesta with the 1 Liter 3 cyl engine, any thoughts.... over the regular engine

Know what you are buying. That's a dedicated fuel-sipper, not a performance car. You are in the right lanes on most highways in that one.

You don't need to with current model cars. Just start and drive away. Assuming you have completely cleared the vehicle, which I do without the vehicle running. Every little bit helps with climate change. Clifton, VA

Not me, I like a warm car on the inside before I start driving. I don't run for long, but enough to warm it up so that my muscles aren't frozen and I always put the heated seat and steering wheel on as soon as I start the car.

Any views on this one yet? Looks interesting, but I'd like to hear some expert opinions. Thanks

It is a good urban family mobile. Fits easily into most city parking spaces, yet has enough interior room to suit a family of five. About 36 mpg highway, if I recall correctly. Nor bad for family transport.

I am thinking of driving the car for commuting...good fit? ( sorry for the pun)

For commuting at posted speed limits, yes.

How many kids die or are injured in school bus accidents? Would seat belts have prevented any of these deaths or injuries? Come on Warren you live a lawyer if injuries and deaths were a problem the lawyers would be telling school officials to get seatbelts. Clifton, VA

I would have to check DOT's fatality analysis figures to answer that one. One kid dying because of no seat belts is one too many.

Lou Ann here;

Seriously, Clifton, that's really hard hearted of you. I agree with Warren. One kid is one too many. Two children every week are killed because of someone backing up in a car that doesn't have sensors and a backup camera and yet NHTSA has done nothing.


What do you think of it? How about the Hybrid version of it?

I never liked the Subaru Crosstrek, mostly because it looks like a vehicle in search of an identity. I'd rather go with a Subaru Outback, or something similar.

Should seat belts be required on transit buses too?

yes - Two children every week are killed because of someone backing up in a car that doesn't have sensors and a backup camera and yet NHTSA has done nothing.

I'm so mad! I purchased a 2009 Honda Fit for my daughter after exhaustive research with safety being very important. All reseach indicated it's very safe with 5 or 4 star ratings in different categories. but what's the deal with the recent news on safety ratings being poor?

I don't know. I feel perfectly safe behind the wheel of a Fit. Are they talking about a Fit in a crash with an SUV? All bets are off on that one.

You only need to let it run long enough so that the fluids are moving. Not much of a problem in the DC area, but those four years in North Dakota taught me just how frozen a car can get.

I agree, but, once again, I don't like to be cold when I'm driving. I think it is unsafe. I sit differently, I move differently when I am cold.

If you are truly concerned about child safety on school buses, then the requirement should be for all children to wear helmets. Seatbelts still need to be fastened correctly to be effective. Do you really think a bus full of children would properly fasten their seatbelts? Think of the time it would take for the driver to confirm that every child is properly belted in before proceeding. It would be far more effective to have each child wear a helmet that could be easily seen by the driver upon boarding the bus.

It would become compulsory just like in a car. Think of how long a bus driver, and a parent, will beat themselves up because they didn't make that child wear a seatbelt.

Thatr rant sounds like something from someone who isn't a parent. Bottom line: There is no real excuse for not installing set belts on sschool buses. We tell our kids to buckle up in cars. But we don't require them to do it on buses. Makes no sense.

Hi, Lou Ann and Warren: good tip from Clifton. I've never used water or summer blend windshield in my past few cars -- only stuff good to -35 C or more. Also, I use rubber mats and clean them regularly. I put shop rags under the driver's mat to prevent salt stains on the carpet. Those shop rags are laundered at least every other week in winter. Stay warm! Garey, Ottawa

Makes sense. Thanks for that.

The National Education Assn. opposes seat belts on school buses:

  • Students can and do use the heavy belt buckles as weapons, injuring other riders.
  • Put cameras in all buses and don't allow children to be the adult.
  • It is next to impossible to make sure that all students keep their belts properly fastened, so that they are not injured by the belts in an accident.
  • see above answer
  • If a bus has to be evacuated in an emergency, such as a fire, panicked or disoriented students might be trapped by their belts.
  • The same excuse was used in cars.

What is your opinion on the 20/40/60k, etc. checks that car manufacturers recommend? My Toyota Corolla is about to hit 40K miles, and while I've been good about oil changes and tire rotations, that's it. I've been tricked too many times into fluid flushes, etc. that I don't need (for example, a local oil change place convinced me I needed my transmission and coolant flushed at 20k miles!). I asked my local gas station mechanic about a 40K check and his recommendations conflicted with my Toyota service book.

I generally follow the recommendations in the owner's manual. I've never gone wrong with that.

I don't understand Lou Ann's comment: what do back up cameras on cars have to do with seatbelts on transit buses?

Everything. Safety. Backup cameras, especially on big SUVs, help to reduce accidents involving backing up on children. There is an even newer recommended technology--cross-traffic radar/sonar that triggers braking when a small body is in the path of a car in reverse.

Backup cameras and cross-traffic monitors already have saved lives.

Here's an excerpt from one of many write ups: Subcompact cars fared poorly in new crash tests performed by an insurance industry group. None of the 12 minicars tested got the highest rating of "good" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Chevrolet Spark was the only car that earned the second-highest rating of "acceptable." Six of the cars, including the segment's best-seller, the Nissan Versa, got the lowest rating of "poor."

Yeah, wow. A small car hitting a larger vehicle generally loses.

Backup cameras are one issue, safety belts in buses are another. As I remember, there are very few total school bus occupant fatalities a year, perhaps around ten. School buses are designed to "compatmentalize" kids, to decrease likelihood of injury in a crash. Belts raise problems of cost, enforcement, kids using the buckles as weapons, etc. The idea's been considered for decades and felt not to be worthwhile.

So, which one of the 10 school  bus fatalities would you be willing to accept as a parent? Get real, Clifton.

Please do you really think back ups cameras will prevent even one death?? Sorry I don't believe they will since the drivers who don't check the rear of their vehicles are going to be too busy texting or talking on the phone to look at the rear view camera. NHTSA shouldn't be mandating. If you want, install one or get one with your next vehicle purchase. I am a tax payer in Fairfax County and before the county spends any money on seatbelts I want the stats on how many kids were killed and injured in the last 10 years and if seatbelts would have prevented these tragedies. And who is going to make sure the kids buckle up and stay buckled up? Kids like Warren and I would not have buckled up despite what Sister Mary Late Apex said. Just to keep the school bus sitting longer. Clifton, VA

Because knowing you can prevent a child's death isn't good enough for you, Clifton? Really? Your little pennies mean that much to you? Really?

NHTSA should mandate - and they will, eventually - backup cameras with sensors. Once can look at a camera, but a child is quick. Sensors are needed as well.


Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. In te interim, visit us at the Washington Auto Show, main show level, at the DC Convention Center. We have left some tickets wt the will-call desk. First come, first served. Thank you Matt Monahan, Lou Ann Hammond, Ria Manglapus and Michelle Dawson.

It wasn't a rant about seatbelt, just an observation that helmets would be more effective. Please don't take everything so personal.

Sorry to report, but a helmet didn't help Michael Schumacher. They do help, but you're talking about utilizing a seat belt the same way a child has to buckle up in cars. It's not foreign to them.

I think both Warren and I are a little upset at Clifton's harshness and may have been a little defensive with you.

" An analysis of test data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has concluded that lap belts appear to have little, if any, benefit in reducing serious-to-fatal injuries in severe frontal crashes. On the contrary, lap belts could increase the incidence of serious neck injuries and possibly abdominal injury among young passengers in severe frontal crashes."

A faulty analysis if ever there was one. Based on what? All of the shool buses with seat belts?

Seatbelts on buses and backup cameras through laws and regs than lets mandate through laws, regs and EOs that all dogs are either kept in crates or otherwise restrained in vehciles to prevent injury because Warren and Lou Ann my herding collies are smarter than any honor roll student Clifton, VA

I appreciate that you love your dogs. I would appreciate that you love and respect children as well.

Isn't there a big difference between skiing off the trail and riding a school bus?

Yes, but if a head is hit just right it will crack the helmet. Helmets aren't required in the snow and he was wearing one, being as safe as possible. Soemtimes accidents happen.


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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