The Washington Post

Real Wheels Live

Feb 04, 2011

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

Hi Warren.  In a study released on Tuesday, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light cameras could save lives. I personally don't have an issue with red light cameras, but am curious to hear what you think.

Good morning.  I disagree. I understand that law enforcement officers can't be everywhere, and that motorists tend to behave themselves in the presence of visible law enforcement. I understand that cameras can be and often are used in that capacity. But I don't buy the argument that cameras improve safety. How can that  be? Most of these cameras don't photograph an individual. They photoshoot a car, a license tag. How many of us have gotten photo-issued traffic tickets for allegedly illegal behavior that occurred in a ploace we never visited and at a time we were somewhere else? Exactly how does that make us safer drivers? It doesn't. It's a revenue racket. We need full disclosure on the contracts for these cameras. Who makes them? Who gets the money? How much money? How is penalty revenue allocated? How did the  contracts come about? The bottom line is that there are hundreds of millions of d9ollars floating around in the traffic photo business. Whenever there is that much money, someone is taking advantage.

The original poster couldn't be further off base. In VDOTs own study they found that red light cameras actually INCREASED accidents at intersections. Camera fans (usually cash strapped local governments) cherry pick out certain statistics to make it look ike they work when in fact they don't. They are all about revenue - period. I'd much rather see our local goverments admit they overspent (nice $300mm courthouse in Fairfax by the way) and focus on cutting spending rather than trying to pick pockets. If you are so concerned about safety, find a way to hire more police and get them on the street actually catching these people. OR better yet, increase the yellow light interval - has been shown to cut the problem far more.

The tone might be edgy. But I'm more in agreement with this argument. Again, why not photograph the actual driver if the aim of camera enforcement is safer driving? Cameras in stores photograph the actual shoplifter, as opposed to the shoplifter's parents or other friend or relative. Cameras at banks photograph the actual individual abusing an ATM. Photographing a licene plate and sending it to the owner, who may or may not have been driving the car in question, isn't law enforcement. It's revenue enhancement pure and simple.

In your opinion, should car companies be doing more to help reduce the number of teen fatalities/injuries due to motor vehicle crashes each year?

Yes. So should parents, schools, and various houses of worship. So should the teenagers themselves.  When I address high school students on this subject, I urge them to look at the classmate next to them. I tell them that, on the road, that classmate is their responsibility (regardlesss of whether the classmate is a passenger in the car being driven). That classmate's family also is their responsibility. Also, they have a moral obligation to protect that classmate's future. Some of them get it. Others don't. Driving responsibly is an act of love.

Good morning. My wife, daughter, and I visited the auto show last weekend. While the little one (2+) loved whatever car she was climbing in, we were looking to replace a Malibu Maxx. We looked at Fords offering, but the primary driver hated the cramped feel of the cockpit, as did I. And let's not talk about how busy the steering wheel is. I think there were 15 buttons, levers, or paddles. Her last car before the Maxx was a Rav4 whose transmission died. We both like the look inside and outside of the 5, and are planning a test drive in the next weeks. And as an aside: Enough with the lockdown packages. I want to be as safe as possible, and we hate leather seating.

Lockdown packages? Please, educate me on that one. But, yes, the Mazda5, assuming you are talking about the forthcoming, completely revised 2012 model, is a nice piece of work. I'd go with the Grand Touring version, which is a pretty good deal for family transport at $23,875.

Warren, enjoy the chats and hoping to tap your expertise. We are expecting twins shortly which means the days are numbered for my model year '03, 2 door sports coupe, sigh. Any recommendations on a vehicle with good backseat room for 2 car seats and storage for baby gear that is still fun to drive? My wife drives an mid-sized SUV so that will be the primary vehicle if we are going somewhere as a family. $30 - $35K is probably the high end of my budget though, I would be thrilled to stay in the mid-$20's. The option of a manual transmission, or "manual" automatic would be a plus. Thanks.

You sound like the prospective dad. Congratulations on the expected twins who most certainly, regardless of gender, will have you sighing for other reasons.  You have many options including the Subarur Legacy sedan (go with the Legacy 3.6R,  3.6-liter boxer 6engine),  Audi A4, Hyundai Sonata Turbo, Chevrolet Malibu, Buick LaCrosse, Ford Fusion, BMW 3-Series, among many others.

I'm considering the purchase of a certified pre-owned Range Rover sport. Should I be concerned about its mechanical reliability and long term maintenance costs?

You should be concerned about its longterm maintenance costs. The Range Rover is a finely tuned machine. It only gives you headaches when you fail to do and pay what's needed to keep it finely tuned.

Some of the car mags are reporting the Volvo S60 competes with G37X and BMW 3 series. Saw the Volvo at the car show. Any thoughts?

Volvo's new owner, Geely of China assumming memory serves me well, is pouring in lots of money and talent to keep the brand going. I imagine that Geely also is getting some help from Ford, Volvo's previous owner, in that endeavor. I've driven two Geely-aegis Volvo cars, the S60 and V50. So far, everything to like and nothing to hate.

Never put anyone in the third row seat. It is the crush zone for rear end collisions. Serious injury or death will happen in a read end collision above 15mph. Mazda's dont hold their value as well as other cars, dealers are iffy and their reliability well only VW is worse.

Lots of speculation there. But nothing of proof from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Strong allegations. Proof?

By lockdown I mean that if I hate with an undying passion leather seating, I must purchase it if I want to get ALL the safety equipment. This car will be carrying my wife and children, so having all the possible safety equipment is critical to me. It does look like, baring the leather, the top of the line 5 is the best in its tiny class, we will probably bite the bullet and get the grand touring package. Maybe I can find someone with a lower trim level who would want to trade me cloth for leather.

Interesting. The business refers to that as an "options package." From the standpoint of manufacturing, it makes perfect sense. If options A, B, and C  normally are bought with option D, it makes sense to package the latter three along with D. You DO NOT HAVE TO BUY the options package. But, as with most other retail activities, buying separately what can produced and offered more efficiently (and, thus, less expensively) as a group generally results in a higher cost to the consumer. Want to save money? Limit options. Choose your options packages accordingly.

I'd agree with the poster on "lockdown" packages. What he meant was that you often can only get premium extras on vehicles with leather upholstery. I also don't like leather, but tend to like the other high end options that are often packaged with leather. A good example, while Toyota corporate would let you select options one at a time when you "build your model", if you generally want a V6 Venza, for example, most dealers only have models that are loaded with every option, included leather upholstery. I don't find leather to be a luxury and more trouble than it's worth, but many tend to like it. It's the vagaries of the market and manufacturers and dealers playing the odds that if you can and will pay for some options, they'll price you up with others. It also has to do with the manufacturing process. Automakers are kind of guessing what you want and packages are how they try play those odds.

I understand your complaint. Truly, I feel your pain. But the fact remains: You do not have to buy the options package. You can cherry pick option, if that is your wish. Yes, dealers tend to mass order cars with various options groups. But if you want a car a particular way, you can go to your dealer and p-re-order (aka "build to order). Will that cost you more? Probably. Concierge service usually does.

I agree with the car show attendee. We hate leather seats--they are cold in winter and hot in summer (people have bare legs in summer). Car manufacturers should offer options strictly a la carte or allow for opting out of some items.

Again, you do not have to buy leather seats!

Warren, Have you enjoyed the DC car show? Here were my questions/comments from Saturday: 1. Why was the new Jeep locked? 2. Does Mercedes really like all the kids climbing all over $100,000 cars? 3. Ford had the most impressive display.

Yes. And I agree with your observations, especially the business about the locked Jeep. Odd, I've been to automobile shows all over the world. Where do I find locked doors? Answer: Detroit (but only on public show days, as opposed to press days); Washington, D.C. (press days and public show days); Philadelphia (press preview and public show). Where are cars most accessible? Answer: Los Angeles, Tokyo, Geneva, New York (press preview), Shanghai (press preview). I'm still trying to figure this out.

So, what's your take on Weingarten's "review" of the Volt?

It was silly. My review of the Chevrolet Volt will run Feb. 13 or therabouts. Unlike Weingarten, who played with the Volt for several hours, most of that time apparently spent trying to use the car to plug into women, I will drive it for a week. Stay tuned.

Where did the previous poster get his/her stuff about Mazda resale value and reliability? I once bought a used 626 that already had over 110,000 miles on it and managed to put on another 100K + myself with little trouble. Consumer Reports and other mags have consistently rated the Mazda3 (and its predecessor, the Protege) as one of the best used-car buys as far as reliability goes, and I currently have a 1997 Protege that has required almost zero repair other than normal wear-and-tear. We have or have had two Hondas and a Nissan, and while they are fine vehicles, I would buy another Mazda over them in a heartbeat!

This is America. Different strokes. Different folks.

Last week Lou Ann said that GM is still using drum brakes on cars for "emerging countries". Why would that make any difference? The antiquated drum brakes should have been scrapped years ago. And don't tell me they're cheaper to maintain, because that's just so wrong.

GM is a business, as opposed to a charitable institution. So are the rest of the car companies doing business in "emerging countries."  Ventilated four-wheel disc brakes cost more than  ventilated discs up front and soild discs in the rear. Ventilated or solid discs up front with drum brakes in the rear cost less than four-wheel discs. It's the price of the thing and what people can afford and, thus, are willing to spend.

Saw the Darth Vader VW ad this morning. Cute, but long. And I know I'm going to get really really sick of it. VW always seems to have ads that get annoying a lot faster than others... why is that? Do they play more often or is it that you just remember them so they seem to get old that much faster? What are your thoughts about the AWD Buick LaCrosse? How does it compare to say another AWD like the Subaru Impreza? or the AWD Ford Fusion?

I like the AWD LaCrosse. Much, much quieter and discernibly more comfortable than ANYTHING from Subaru.

With the exception of the Cruze and Volt (which probably won't be a majority of cars sold) it seems like GM and Chrysler are going back to the old "build the biggest most powerful SUV or muscle car you can". Of course fuel economy seems only an afterthought. Now that gas is steadily rising towards $4/gallon, won't these guys be in exactly the same predicament as 3 years ago? Doesn't anybody remember Katrina? Yeesh, makes me sad and angry.

Nonsense.  Nearly all domestic and foreign car companies are rolling out SUVs of various sizes. Why? Because Americans are asking for and buying them. Why? Because the car companies, in meeting the continued demand for big rides, have switched from truck-like body-on-frame platforms to lighter weight, more fuel-efficient and car-like unitized body building.

. Better, more fuel-efficient engines with variable valve lift and timing for better fuel efficiency.

. The United States STILL has the cheapest gasoline in the developed world.

. Our country has no real energy policy.

. ALL CAR COMPANIES ARE PRAYING, HOPING THAT U.S GASOLINE PRICES WILL RISE TO AT LEAST $4 a gallon. Why? Because the poor darlings have invested billions into developing and producing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. If U.S. gasoline prices drop to $3 or less, that money is wasted.

Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. We'll be in Chicago, weather permitting. Thanks Dominique Vu for another fine production. Thanks, Ria. Eat lunch.

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

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