Real Wheels Live

Feb 10, 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.

Hi Warren, Love your chats! My boyfriend needs to buy a new car. His budget is about $12,000. He doesn't desire any specific car features but he is 6'4 so he's not the smallest guy. However, he prefers a sedan because he doesn't want the extra gas bill that often comes with an SUV. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. Thank you!

I just put together all the brand new 2012 cars under $15,000. There are more than you think and some of these will fit a 6'4" guy. My husband is that tall, so I know.


I am thinking about buying another convertible, but it is getting more difficult for me to get down into, and up out of, the low-slung roadsters similar to the ones I have owned in the past. Are there any convertibles, under $40K, that are easier for us aging folks to enter and exit? Thanks. Aging, but not dead yet.

Yes, and you can start with the affordable and quite likeable Ford Mustang. Or, if you are a member of the One Percent, you can order a copy of the Bentley 4-liter V-8 drop-top I´ve been driving here in Spain. But there are lots of other suitable offerings. Check out ¨convertibles¨at or Good luck.

There appears to be a trend towards using nitrogen in tires so the driver has to go to the dealer to pump up the tires. What is behind this and is it going to be an industry standard?

No, it won´t become an industry standard. Nor is it a mass-market trend. A number of automotive enthusiasts are doing it, claiming that it gives them lighter weight (in the tires) without sacrificing performance.

I bought a new 2012 Chevy Cruze 2LT on Saturday. I cannot believe the level of luxury the car exudes. I had a Chrysler 300M previously and I'd pick this can hands down over that one. I can truly recommend that my friends "buy American" with a straight face and not for purely patriotic reasons. Amazing car. GM is getting it done!

And it´s not even a matter of ¨buy American.¨Fact is, the Chevrolet Cruze is a globally distributed and bought car with a strong consumer base. It just happens to be made by General Motors.

Hey, Warren and Lou Ann - Hope all is well with you both. Question(s) - Does Chevy plan to (or do they already) offer an 'ECO' trim version of the Sonic, as with the Cruze? Also regarding the Sonic, can one get one of the upper-level trims with a manual? (Please don't tell me how today's automatics get just as good mileage, etc--plenty of us just enjoy driving a manual, and are sorry to see it on the decline). Thanks, Tim in B'more

YES! I just put a video up about the Sonic with all that information. Did you know There are no incentives for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic?  Chevy says they were number 2 in the segment last month without incentives.

Available Ecotec 1.4L turbo engine rated at 138 horsepower (103 kW) that delivers competitive fuel economy
Standard Ecotec 1.8L engine paired with five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions
Ecotec 1.4L turbo available with a six-speed manual transmission

you can get a sedan or a hatchback

I am not 100% sure about the manual on the upper level. I think it may be only on the LT.

What do you think of the power and acceleration of the V6 engine. Also, I do not plan to do any off road driving, so do you think buying the Grand Cherokee with the optional Quadra-Drive II makes sense in the Metro area? Thank you Michael Ferrell

That Jeep V-6 offers enough power to get you where you want to go on-road or off. And, yes, I´d get the Quadra-Drive. I don´t want to be a pennywise fool here. If  I tell you today not to get it, you can bet that there will be a snowstorm in the mid-Atlantic region tomorrow.

Hi Warren Went to the Detroit auto show. Great to see U.S. auto industry is on its way back. The best part was I had the honor of metting LtCo;. Alexander Jefferson of the Tusskegee airmen there. He was Looking at a new Lincoln. Doug

Red Tails!! Did you get an autograph?

Warren and Lou Ann - here in Florida we use our convertibles year-round. In the last days I've seen both a Saturn Sky and a Pontiac Solstice cruising by (I personally prefer the look of the Solstice). When GM pulled the plug on Saturn and Pontiac, why didn't they continue selling the Sky and/or Solstice under the Chevy, Buick, or just GM marques? The R&D was paid for, the production lines were up and running, and I think sales were pretty good.

They were beautifully designed cars, by Franz von  Holzhausen, but not that pratical, and I don't remember them being great sellers. I remember driving one and I didn't have trunk space for my luggage.

If you like Franz's work he quit GM for Mazda, and has since moved on to design the Tesla Model S that was shown yesterday.

It was hard to make a business case for continuing those two cars via a different division at the time. The extant mentality was cut, cut to survive. Putting marketing money and muscle into a product with a tiny niche consumer base just wasn´t in the cards.

Hi Warren, as always, appreciate your good work! Just saw something that piqued my curiosity, a photo of the Euro-spec Chevy Cruze Wagon. Any insight into whether we wagonphiles on this side of the pond will also have a chance to enjoy one? Pinch me if it happens and they deliver it with one of the diesels offered over there!

HA! I sent an email to GM yesterday asking them the same thing!!!

Yes, it's beautiful, yes, it has a diesel engine, NOOOO it won't be coming here.

Hello!! What is wrong with you?

Didn't GM see the movie?

If you build they will come.:)

Warren and I will be seeing it in person in Geneva. We will have more to say about how it should be brought here.

Any concerns about the Honda Pilot? Your column in 2009 indicated that I shouldn't drive it in Manhattan on Thanksgiving, but is there anything else I would want to know if I were to buy one?

The point was that it shouldn´t be driven in the city, period. Too darned big and clumsy for that venue.

Hi, Warren and Lou Ann: One person last week wrote about red-light cameras and whether they reduce red-light running or generate revenue. Here's a link to a Chicago Tribune article from 2010 about yellow-light times in Chicago: 3 seconds in the city and 4.5 in the suburbs. I've had times when someone was right on my bumper that I went through a late yellow light to avoid an accident instead of jamming on the brakes to avoid a ticket.

We´ve gone crazy for cameras. Alas, it´s a global trend. Cameras are all over Western and Eastern Europe where, in small villages and towns such as Yuso ,Spain, whose few streets are narrow and potentially dangerous, they make sense in deterring would-be speeders. But I fear that generally these cameras are no more than revenue-enhancement mechanisms. Bottom line: If those cameras were not rasing money in American municipalities, they would not be installed.

Dear Mr. Brown, several years ago, I bought a Volvo V50 wagon, based largely on your review. I particularly wanted a manual transmission with a bit of zip, and I love it. Unfortunately, Volvo isn't making them anymore, and it's time to think about changing cars. I'd love to find another smallish manual transmission wagon (or hatchback) like the V50. Any recommdations? Thanks!

Check out Audi with the A3. Or, is it the A4? Check out Audi at any rate.

But the mileage is much worse than the sticker indicated. I'm a good driver, not fast accel or braking. Have you heard this from others, or do I have a lemon?

This is an issue that is getting more and more attention.

First, the mileage posted on the sticker of the car you bought is not car manufactur approved, it is EPA approved. To me, that is like saying a piece of meat is FDA approved. They have actuall inspected it, right?

The EPA needs to get a handle on this. There are already class action lawsuits about miles per gallon figures. Honda just had a lawsuit in small claims court that they lost

The EPA is making fuel mileage a big deal, we hear about it all the time in the press. We start wanting better fuel economy as consumers.

Most people know that the mpg numbers are certified by the EPA. What they don’t realize is that only a small percentage of cars are tested by the EPA. A group called Consumer watchdog just sent a letter to President Obama asking him to bring testing in-house in order to re-evaluate the process and to increase consumer confidence in the EPA numbers that are listed on the window stickers of new cars.


A few weeks ago, one of your readers wrote that he was amazed that the new BMW can achieve a 0-60 time in 5.5 sec, but still maintain 38 mpg. In reality, those two figures are mutually exclusive. If you're consistently pushing the 0-60 time, then I guarantee you won't be achieving 38 mpg. MPG of course, is determined from driving a vehicle at a consistent speed of 55 mph. on the highway.

Speed increases. Mileage decreases. Jack-rabbit starts in pursuit of best 0-60 times is a misguided concern of automotive journalists and other enthusiasts who gorget that most of us drive and live in the real world.

I saw the new 2013 Escape last week at the auto show and was considerably impressed. I realize that there isn't a whole lot of info on it and nobody has really taken one for a test drive yet, but I was wondering if you thought it would be worth the wait before I purchase. My wife and I are considering the Escape, the Rav4 and the Equinox (the CRV left us feeling blah). Should we only look at this years models, or hold on for a few more months? Also, is there any chance on deals on the Escape Hybrid once the 13 comes out?

The CR-V left you feeling blah most probablybecause of its 4-clinder engine and rather straightforward styling. Truly, I would at least look at the Equinox...or wate for the Escape redone...or try something like the zippy, odd Nissan Rogue.

First, the air we breath is about 80% nitrogen if I remember correctly from Earth Science back in 1974. Not sure if it is lighter but for performance Nitrogen has less moisture in it which means you get less psi increase as the tire gets hot. For example a tire can go from 35psi cold to approx 47psi when hot on a road course. Also Nitrogen has no H20 in it. Claims are that this causes longer tire life and TPMS(tirepressuresensor) will not corrode. Nitrogen at the prices charged by New Car dealers and tire places is a rip off. If the best tire dealer in the area and country Radial Tire doesnt push it you don't need it Clifton VA

Sounds like you wrote this, Clinton. Is it you. Thanks, anyway.

I am in the process of researching the purchase of my first car. I have completed the search and have narrowed down the choices (Honda Insight/Civic, Toyota Matrix, Mini, Madza 3 Hatchback). Long list but I want options with higher gas mileage. I am a single, female, 27 years and don't wish to proceed in the usual fashion of negotiation unless necessary. I wanted to ask you your view of auto buying programs like that of Costco and Geico. Is it worth going through a car buying program to avoid the hassle of the sleezy car saleman routine or just endure it? Pros? Cons? Note: I am financing through my credit union so no financing with the dealer. What do you think?

I am a Costco buyer and would feel very comfortable buying my car there.

You do want a rapport with the dealer near you for servicing etc. Your new car will be under warranty. You will be going to them for the first couple years. If I'm a dealer I'm going to appreciate that consumer the most.

It doesn't mean your car won't get serviced, it just means the dealer's customer will be first in line, etc.

You can use any of those services, but toss the chip off shoulder before you go into the dealership for your servicing. I just got my Lexus serviced at Roseville Lexus and the guys were great. I wouldn't have  thought that 10-15 years ago.

Congrats on having good credit and investigating all avenues before you buy.

One of the reasons I heard for the use was that the Nitrogen molecules were larger so there would be less leakage. There was a test (I'm not sure if it was CR) and no difference was found.

See Clinton´s answer (that is, I´m assuming it´s Clinton´s answer) on this subject in this chat. I think he´s a lot closer to the truth of the matter.

Warren: The reason that race cars and airplanes use nitrogen in tires is to reduce the amount of water vapor that is normally in air. Water vapor tends to make tire pressure vary more with temperature than dry nitrogen gas. The weight savings is very small since air is 70% nitrogen anyway. Nitrogen in passinger car tires is a gimmick to make money and is not at all necessary.

Many thanks.

I bought an used 2010 Lexus RX350 from a local dealer last weekend. During the buying process, the processing person asked us if we would like to buy extended warranty, 7 years/75k miles from the original date of purchase, for only $895. That equates to additional 5 years and more than 50k miles from our purchasing date. Do you think it is smart to buy it? $895 can easily be one electrical issue in 5 years. What do you think?

Are you buying it through the manufacturer? If so, yes.

If not, what happens if the dealer, or the group selling the insurance, goes out of business?

A lot of car dealerships went under during 2008-2009. They sold warranties, separate from the manufacturers. One of the biggest concerns was honoring those warranties.


Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: I thought Chrysler's "Halftime in America" advertisement featuring Clint Eastwood was the surprise of Sunday's Super Bowl, and it surpassed last year's advert for the Chrysler 200 featuring the rapper Eminem. It's amazing that it didn't mention a Chrysler car or truck product directly, yet it's message of recovery and hope was clear to the American public. Or was it?

Yes. Look, we,ve been saying the same thing for a long time in this and other opinion spaces. 1. No one nationality or thnic group has a corner on intelligence, creativity, productivity. 2. American workers can compete with any group and win. 3. Somehow, in the recent past, we got down on ourselves, stopped believing in ourselves, got a little lazy. 4. Those times are over. 5. We are competing, now, and we´re in it to win it.

Warren and Lou Ann: Here's a down market question. Please recommend a few cars that have: good highway ride, front seat space for a 6-footer, good reliability, and have a hatchback and folding seats to haul stuff. Only drive about 8k per year, so high mpg is not essential. Can only spend about 20k, so used is OK.

MINI. I would say VW Beetle, but you can't buy the new one used yet.

I've asked Warren to comment if he knows one.

Anyone else?

Sorry to see you didn't enjoy the JCW Coupe. I have a base Cooper Coupe that I am really enjoying. The ride seems much smoother to me than my '06 Cooper. Was the problem more the JCW suspension than anything? I realize a lot of enthusiasts are throwing down the big bucks for the JCW (or even the S), but given real world driving conditions those cars seems like overkill to me.

It´s a great little car buily for well-maintained roads, of which there are prescious few in most Aerican cities. It was a shake-fest. And, yes, the ¨sports¨suspension setting did not help. And the laws of human physics are what they are. Being in a small, tightly made, tightly suspended car over many miles simply leave you worn out.

I love cars, but I hate the buying process where it's a negotiation and there's no way to make sure you're getting the best deal. There's always some other fee these guys are tacking on at the last minute to pad the profit margins. I'd probably buy more cars if we could decouple the buying process from local dealers, instead ordering the car online for a fixed price. By cutting out the middlemen, both the buyer and the seller would benefit. Yes, I know there's CarMax for used cars, but there's no reason to have to play this game for new cars.

It's the state franchise law.

You can order an apple computer online, or go to the dealer. The car is one of the very few items that this ordering process is applicable to, and trust me, the car dealers protect those laws.

so do the congress people that know how much tax money, and sometimes endorsements for the congress person.

Think of this - if you were a congress person and your tax base was depleted because everyone bought their cars in the next county over, wouldn't you protect those laws? It would be worse if you were able to buy the car online and didn't have to pay taxes.


The Cruise wagon notwithstanding, compared to 5 or 10 years ago, the US market is awash in available hatchbacks and small wagons - truly a renaissance! Have people gone through an attitude adjustment or was there a dramatic downsizing, where people who would have purchased the smallest SUVs are finding themselves comfortable in compact wagons? Is this a new market segment?

Call it a triumph of rational economics. If small can be made beautiful and more fuel-efficient and fun to drive, you are less likely to spend more money on something larger. And if automobile manufacturers can make money on selling small, that is what they are going to do--especially if they can make even more money by giving to customers in a smaller package all of the things they got in a larger product.

Sorry Lou Ann, Mini and VW are not known for their reliability and the dealer service is the worst of any major manufacture. Clifton VA

Clifton! How are you? This could be my first actual email from you. Usually you only email Warren.

I feel as though I have arrived. :)

The question was about height in the drivers seat. That's what I answered.

I bought it from Penske Automotive Group. Hopefully, they won't go under.

Not to worry. Penske is not likely to ¨go under¨anytime soon.

I don't think the nitrogen has anything to do with weight, it's more to do with pressure fluctuations as temps increase. The biggest culprit is water vapor that expand more with heat and so pressures go up/down more with heat and highway driving and so can be an issue if you're driving on a track, but nothing a regular driver has to worry about. Nitrogen sellers will also claim that the water vapor damages the tires from the inside out and that nitrogen doesn't escape as quickly from the tire. File those claims along with the other dealer-based "enhancements" and just monitor tire pressure and treadwear regularly.

The bottom line is that nitrogen-filled tires do not constitute a mass market trend.

Back in the late 70's Road and Track did a controlled test and found accelerating reasonably quickly to your chosen speed yielded the best gas mileage. No I am not talking jack rabbit starts but getting to your chosen speed as quickly as possible and then backing off. Leisurely accelerating to your chosen speed was almost as bad as laying rubber and banging gears. EPA mileage numbers ahve always been a problem since back when the first came out. With more cars and trucks with turbo charged engines it is even more difficult for the car or truck owner to come close to the EPA blessed mpgs. Clifton VA

Correct you are Clifton,

The EPA needs to get a handle on that window sticker. They can't keep publishing numbers and not expect the consumer to be unhappy when they don't get them. The "you drive different than we test" is getting old.

Either make the car manufacturers publish the numbers they get, or bring the testing up to date.

I saw one of these on the road the other day and thought it was a nice looking smaller SUV. I don't know much about it...what's your opinion? Is there something similar you would recommend over the Traverse? Thanks!

The traverse is nice. An asidem - Traverse, Michigan is a beautiful place to visit in the summer. Check it out.

The Buick Encore, Ford edge. I was talking to a Fed Ex woman, Terry, yesterday. She said her favorite SUV she had ever rented was the Dodge Durango.

It made me wonder, how many of you rent a car on vacation and then end up buying that type of car?

The Wall St J says that the Cruze is such a good car that it's cannibalizing Volt sales. If someone had told you 5 years ago that GM would (would, not could) build a compact car this good, what would you have said?

Nonsense. The Cruze and Volt are in completely different size, price, and driverain categories. GM has always relied more on the Cruze for market share than the Volt. That was the plan from the inception of both automobiles several years ago.

and don't want to haggle, look at the Scion xD.

There are so many wonderful hatchbacks out there.

Thanks for the help.

I steered clear of Chrysler in recent years because Consumer Reports rated their reliability at bottom. Anything in new models that convinces you this has changed? My perspective is that of a retired guy who must face the fact that he is now poor folks. Thank You

We´re not talking the same Chrysler today versus severak years ago.

My car has a tire pressure monitoring system, and with nitrogen in the tires, it never goes off. To me, it's worth the small investment not to have to fiddle with the inaccurate tire pressure pen, find a gas station with a working air machine, fine the quarters for the air machine, and then try to get the air into the tires before I need to put more quarters in, and to have to do all that in the rain, the heat, and the cold. (Yes, I'm lazy.)

I humbly disagree. The extra cost is a waste of money. You can get ambient air leakage with anything into which compresed air is injected.

People don't get the numbers on the window sticker, which can be aggrevating. Unfortunately, I think it will take an act of Congress, literally, to authorize a change in the fuel economy test procedure. Raise your hand if you expect Congress to get anything accomplished on this matter - or anything else. Seriously, though, does anyone really expect to achieve those numbers on the sticker? Isn't that like the headline on this morning's paper about some powerful House member getting investigated for ethics violations - when does the sun coming up in the morning cease to be news?

I understand your cyncism, but you can't, you musn't stop trying. I thought it was completely inappropriate for Congressman Dingell to tell me to "stay on the positive".

It makes me want to get this information out to you even more. I want you to know so that you kow where the weak links are, and to try to help change them.

It is our money that allows them to think they are above the law.

Lou Ann and Clifton VA, Thanks for the recommendations. I do like the space in the Beetle, maybe I can hang on until I can get a used one. What do you think about a used Outback? Respectfully, Russell in WV

You have to sit in it. There are different versions of it. The olders ones were tighter, the newer one, with the 6 cylinder is a larger cabin.

My husband is 6'4" but he's thin. You have to sit in it.

I'm often disappointed at the stripped down vehicles that are in rental fleets. Wouldn't it make more sense for manufacturers to provide nicely equipped cars that make a good impression?

Yes, it would. But that is not the manufacturers´call. The rental fleets dictate the kind of cars they want. And they generally want the least costly models. Rental companies are selling transportation, not cars or trucks. Automakers could choose to lose money--call it a marketing charge--by giving rental companies more  highly contented cars without charging a higher price for those cars. But that is not likely to happen anytime, soon.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks for another fine production, Dominique, and thanks to you, Lou Ann, for your many fine contributions. And thanks, Ria, for getting me to the airport on that I could wit for flights that failed to leave on time, Eat lunch. I´m going to dinner after a bit of shopping.

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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