Real Wheels Live

Feb 11, 2011

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.

Warren, great to get this time to chat. My question is based on the electric cars (Volt, Leaf). When is the infrastructure going to be in place (quick charging stations). It is great to be able to buy an electric car but, when is that parking area at the mall going to have charging stations or public parks, etc? For the electric car to work the charging stations are going to have to be in place prior to there sales.

It's going to take a while. Politics, self-defeating ( in terms of doing the most public good) self-interests. But if I had to wait, I'd choose the Chevrolet Volt. That car really can go 40 miles on a single charge at speeds up to 100 mph. And it seamlessly switches from electric power to gasoline engine-generator to give you nearly 300 miles more. I love it!

I enjoyed a little stroll trough the DC auto show last Friday. The Fiat 500's driver seat felt a little high to me. It will be interesting to see how it drives. I did notice that the trunk (er...boot?) had more space than my MINI's does in a smaller overall package. I thought the Prius c concept looked pretty darn cool and may well be worth waiting for. Nice to see small cars that are not just utilitarian anymore. The weird new Hyundai with one door on the driver's side and two on the passenger side looked interesting too. Are Honda and Toyota falling behind a bit styling-wise? The Corolla needs an update bad. And Honda's styling in general is terribly dated looking, and that translates up to Acura too. Why would anyone ever buy an RL? Will Saab revamp the aging 9-3 any time soon? The new 9-5 has some very cool features but a very high price tag for what it is.

That's the trend. Globally, automobile manufacturers are moving toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars with premium content and performance.  "Small" no longer means economy.

Good Morning Warren, I always enjoy your Q & A's and your passion for automobiles. We currently drive a nine year old Alero and a twelve year old Blazer. My wife and I will soon purchase a new Equinox and Liberty for two very different reasons. We belong to AAA and have access to their buying service program. We can never find exactly what we want on the lots so we will probably order the cars. How would you proceed with these negotiations?

Good Morning,

Whether you buy from a dealer, AAA or some other service, the goal is to get what you want at the lowest price. There are a couple factors to doing this:

1. Know the car you want and the accesories you want on it. 

2. Know your FICO score. You may have negotiated a great price on the car, but you can also negotiate a great finance rate. Don't just let them tell you a score, know it, have it in writing.

3. watch out for the extras. It irritates me that some car companies include shipping and handling and some don't in their prices. Ask about any other costs associated with the car before you sign the bottom line.

Have you reviewed either of these cars yet? 2011 Hyundai Elantra 2011 Honda Fit 2011 or 2012 - Ford Focus. All must have auto transmission and air conditioning. Which one do you recommend buying?

I just drove the Elantra and the Focus. Both are great cars. The focus dash is a bit long feeling to me. I like spaciousness in front of me. The Elantra gets 40 mpg, so if fuel economy is a concern for you make sure to check out the focus that gets 40 mpg to the Elantra. The last time I drove the Fit I liked the automatic better than the manual which is not usually the case.

Warren - I found a couple freebies your readers might be interested in:

Free program for teens and parents

There is a new national education web-based program being launched for 13- and 14-year-olds aimed at reducing teen crashes.  The program is called Countdown2Drive and is available free to parents and teens on the web at

At age 13 and 14,  a teens’ risk of dying while riding with a teenage driver is double what it was when they were younger, and it continues to rise each year. 

Scholarships for college students

Buick Achievers, designed to inspire, celebrate, and enable human achievement, also will provide 1,000 students with $2,000 scholarships renewable for up to four years. Majors covered include science, technology, engineering, mathematics, design, marketing and business administration.

To be eligible for the Buick Achievers scholarship, applicants must be high school seniors or high school graduates entering college for the first time in the fall of 2011; plan to enroll in full-time undergraduate study at an accredited four-year college or university for the entire 2011-12 academic year; and demonstrate an interest in the automotive industry. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have permanent residence in the United States. Other criteria include being a first-generation college student, female, minority, military veteran or a dependent of military personnel.

Information and applications are available at  Applications will be accepted through March 31, 2011, and scholarships will be awarded for the 2011-2012 academic year.

I'm looking for a used Honda, preferably a coupe civic/accord. I will be driving from MD to San Diego at the end of the month. What would you suggest? Once there. I will be driving 20 miles a day tops.

Take yourself to Carmax. Here's why: You'll probably pay more for your used Honda. But you can be reasonably assured that the car will work reliably for the duration of your East-West trip and long afterwards. Carmax is nationwide, which means you are not driving alone. Also, for many of the same reasons, check AutoNation.

Warren, I submitted a query a month or two a go, asking for your recommendations for mid-size AWD sedans to get me through the weather out here. You gave me your suggestions, but you and several other posters recommended also considering a good set of snow tires for the cars I already have. I did, and I have to say...thanks. I've been amazed at what a difference they make. I've had NO problems negotiating the last couple storms. Now, would I still like an $80,000 AWD Mercedes. Well.....sure. But for now, we're doing just fine with the front-drive Accord and Focus and two sets of snow tires from Costco.

We just did a piece from the Chicago auto show called Heels and Wheels. When you consider it, the only thing keeping you and your car upright are your shoes and tires. They should be the only part of you and the car touching the ground.

Warren is right, we all need to pay more attention to heels and wheels, especially in the snow.

Both Lou Ann and I learned that lesson the hard way.

We've been dragged out to the coldest, most snow-laden parts of the USA and challenged to drive icy circuits on "all-season" radials. We couldn't. Braking was even worse. We then switched to proper winter tires. All the difference in the world.

Ford will introduce a new Focus very soon. I would wait to buy the new one since the current edition is very long in the tooth Clifton VA

Just drove the new one and you are right.

Any chance we will see speakers like these in our cars soon? They would be great since the music would only be directed to the people in the car; and no sounds would leak into the neighborhood..

Cool technology. Look at the Lincoln and Hyundai surround sound. Hyundai has the same manufacturer that Rolls-royce has.

Hi Warren, Thank you for the wonderfully enlightening chats into the world of the car industry. I recently had an occurance that required my vehicle to receive some extensive repairs by Hyundai. My Santa Fe is 3 years old and has 62K miles and has been serviced according to the guidelines in the Owners Manual. (Yeah, some of us pay attention to you and read it!) While chatting with the service writer to determine what was normal maintenance and what would be covered under the 100,000 mile warranty I learned a few things. First, I learned the 100,000 mile warranty is not a true bumper-to-bumper warranty and that at 80,000 certain emissions components are no longer covered. The issue that caused some of the repairs was a gas cap/filler tube problem that would have been covered if it happened 2000 miles earlier before I hit 60,000 miles. Fortunately, it was an inexpensive fix but I was not happy to pay the $118 diagnostic fee because I exceeded the 60,000 mile limit. In a nutshell, is there a magic guideline written in plain laymen's terms that spells out what is/not covered under a manufacturer's 100,000 warranty and the various time or mileage breakpoints? In your opinion, and I realize this is subjective, what manufacturer has the best, most inclusive 100,000 warranty? I average 20,000+ miles a year and would like to have a better idea of what to expect in coverage over the next few years. Thank you!

Yes. And please understand that I am not speaking/writing flippantly here. Again, the onus is on the consumer to do his/her homework. That means carefulllly reading through all of the deliberately obfuscatory verbose text in most warranty agreements. The insurers and their agents are betting that you won't get through the first three paragraphs. But , by law, they have to put all of the relevant information in there. They just try to hide it.

Hi Warren. In your opinion (for the money) who has the best 4-door coupe? And do any models have enough read head room that it could seat someone 6ft-1?

Isn't the definition of a coupe two-door?

If you want a four-door sporty feel that fits four 6 footers look at the Porsche Panamera

I see that Lou Ann is answering that. She should know. Her wonderful husband is so tall, we call him "Stretch."

I know you've commented on the sedan - S60. But do you plan to review the XC60 utility?

Yes, in mid-March, according to the schedules I'm looking at. Please stay tuned.

I commute daily between Annapolis & D.C. Within the next 2-years, I will be in the market for a new commuter. I currently drive a Buick LeSabre which I really like. That said, my thought was diesel because they run forever and get good mileage. Recently, a friend who works for Toyota told me hybrid was the way to go since the cost per mile is cheaper given the rise in diesel prices. Weighing maintenance and fuel cost issues, which would you recommend? Or, should I stay "old school" and go with a conventional gas engine? Also, would you recommend new or used? Thanks for your feedback!

Diesel has come back in line with premium gasoline. There was a time when it was higher. That was when China was hoarding diesel so that they could shut down their coal plants a month before the Olympics so the city would be cleaner.

Diesel gets better gas mileage, as do some hybrids. But there are cars - the good ole' fashioned gasoline type - that cost less than hybrids and get 35-40 miles to the gallon.

Warren, Folks need to remember that their cars and trucks are riding on 4 tire contact patches that are smaller then the area the palms of a hand covers. Scary when you think about it. Wider tires don't change the size of the contact patch, just the dimensions from tall and narrow to wide and short. Clifton

Thanks, Clifton. Good advice, as always. And too reiterate: It does not matter how much money you've spent for your high-performance car. It does not matter who makes it, or if its foreign or domestic. High-performance, low-aspect radial summer tires are absolutely the wrong tires for winter driving. You will get stuck, or spin out, or worse. Change those tires in winter.  You don't want to be one of the hundreds of look-silly motorists stuck on the side of the road in a BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, or Chevrolet Corvette.

Warren and Lou Ann: A couple weeks ago, I asked whether there was anything different about this winter's fuel blend, because my car is getting even worse mileage than it did in previous winters. Have you found out anything about this subject?

I didn't check it out further, but I'm pretty sure it's because they're adding more oxygenates, i.e. ethanol, in your gasoline. Ethanol has less emissions, and gets less fuel economy.

I am interested in the Ford Fiesta hatch back with automatic transmission. The Fiesta automatic transmission is faulted for it erratic low speed shifting by magazines and talk groups. There are also many comments regarding the availability of the manual transmission equipped Fiestas. Do you know if the erratic shifting problem can be fixed by computer programming or if another fix is in the works? Warm regards, TED

Are you reading buff books that take the car squealing through the paces? Because I like the little Fiesta and didn't have a problem with the handling.

Warren and I review cars like we drive cars, like most of you drive cars. Some car magazines put some of these cars through paces that you won't ever put them through.

Go to your local dealer and drive one and let us know.

I'd be interested in what you think after you drove it.

Hi Warren, thinking about purchasing the new 2011 BMW X3 - is it worth the price for such a little SUV? It does look great...

It looks great, runs great, et cetera. Is it worth the price? It's a question I always answer by using LHF (Lou Ann Hammond Formula). Example: How does it compare to similar vehicles in terms of performance, craftsmanship, overall content? When I check that formula, I find that there are a number of SUVs that have more content, more utility, comparable build quality, and more real-world usable ( 0-60 times are irrelevant in a highly regulated world) performance.

When I answer those questions honestly, I find that I'm paying too much for the BMW X3.

So which of these would you recommend for someone looking for an SUV below 45k that is good in all weather, very nice interior, exterior suitable for a man and space in the back for a dog: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Toyota 4Runner Limited Acura MDX BMW X3 Audi Q5. Am I missing any that would meet my requirements?

Dear dog lover,

Whenever I have an SUV I take my 11 year old black lab (PJ) for a walk. Since he's older we have to be concerned with the ground clearance because he can't jump as high anymore.

All of those are great cars, but look at the back of the SUV. Is it even with the lip of the back of the car or is it sunken down so you can put groceries in the back? An older dog has a hard time negotiationg uneven surfaces.

I really noticed a difference in my dog in the last year and a half, so if your dog is getting older take that into account.

I'm new to your column and love my 09 Cube. Have you driven one? Quirky it is but I like the different look. And I like the gas mileage.

Welcome to warren's room.:)

Love the cube. quirky, yes, but functional and fun.

Okay, so why can't we use snow tires all four seasons and what exactly is so special about these tires?

Snow tires offer greater tire-road friction/traction, which is why they are great for winter. Put another way, they offer greater rolling resistance. Problem is, resistance requires more energy to overcome. Expenditure of that energy yields a greater consumption of the fuel providing that energy. Summer allows us to use tires with less rolling resistance and, thus, a lower consumption of fuel, easier handling, etc. Ours is a world of multiple, changing physical demands. Change your tires accordingly.

My wife and I are owners of 2004 MINI Cooper and love it. We're very intrigued by the new Countryman. Have you had a chance to take it for a spin? Thoughts?

Love it love it love it.

It is our next car. My husband is 6'4", my dog is 11 years old, both love it.


Noticed that the new A6 has come out. The previous versions were seen as distant seconds in that class. What do you think of the new one? And how much longer will they keep going with that front fascia that is on all audi's for the past 6 or so years... Regards.

I'll let you know when I drive it. Right now, I'm finishing up the A4 and working on the truly nice Q5. That front fascia is working well for Audi's image, according to the sales charts. I doubt they'll mess with success anytime soon. How say you, Lou Ann?

Have either of you driven the new BMW 5 series? Thoughts?

I love the 5GT - what do you call that when a car is dual mode? It can be a sedan or a hatchback.

take 4 people somewhere, or throw the seats down and pop the hatchback and put the dog in the back.

Warren, do you take your car to the shop to put the snow tires on before winter and then again to take them off? and what do you do with the 'normal' tire... Do you store them at the house? With those of us without a mcmansion, that seems to be the problem--having to drag those tires back to the house and store it and then have to take it back again at end of winter and repeat the cycle. Thanks for your input.

I/we do that with our cars at the house in Cornwall, NY, where it does not make sense to play sly with winter. But we figure we can skate in the mid-Atlantic region, where the winters are usually milder. It's bad thinking. We figue we can skate in the mid-Atlantic; and when the snow and ice hits, we usually do.

The way I see it, there are 2 cases where it makes sense to buy a US market diesel: 1. You drive 15K+ highway miles a year 2. You love a car with a lot of torque to have great low-speed thrills, but want the option to drive it gently to balance the fun with high mileage at your discretion Otherwise, the price premium of diesel fuel and for the car itself won't pay back the gas savings for 5-10 years. At that point I'm guessing the energy situation will be different, so who can say.

Those are two good reasons.

If you don't drive a lot of miles but want the torque than you can consider an electric car. The Volt if you drive more than 40 miles each way to work, the Leaf if you drive less.

Look for tax credits if you buy one - you'll get more tax credits on the Leaf since it is a full EV. If you live in CA or TN  you'll get even more credits

We have a happy dilemma. We're going to have our first baby this summer and it is the perfect excuse to replace our current car, a lovingly-owned, but OLD 97 Corolla. Our extended family is a 6-hour drive away, so we want a comfortable car -- far more comfortable than the Corolla. We want a car with a quiet interior, good pick up, and enough space to accommodate two kids comfortably (since we don't buy cars often, we want one that'll last). What would you recommend -- sedan, crossovers and minivan suggestions are all welcome.

First, congratulations on the new baby. Second, you said "car." Here's hoping you aren't excluding four excellent minivans: Toyota Sienna, Hondy Odyssey, Dodge Journey and Nissan Quest. I'd check them out.

Have you compared Hyundai's Hybrid's Lithium Polymer batteries to Lithium Ion auto batteries?

Compared in what sense?

The LIPO (as I like to call it) is made by LG Chem and is the first LIPO in a car. Li-ion batteries are more prevalent.

Warren, I know you like the Mini. What do you think of the Countryman? Is AWD really that much of a bonus? How is the ride? Anything to look out for? I've been waiting to get one and I think this may be it. Thanks!

It rocks,

If you live snow weather all-wheel drive is a bonus.

I'm going to stress Warren's mantra: tires, get snow tires.

Hi Warren--Thanks for all of your good work over the years. My wife and I are trying to upgrade -- we have a 3 1/2 year old and a 16-month old, which with their carseats and gear is way too much for our old Honda Civic. Should we buy or lease?  Also, what larger vehicle should we get? We live in DC and don't drive long distances too often (3-4 times a year to NY).  Our daily commute is short (13 miles/day). We're looking at the CRV, Equinox, Outback, Kia Sorrento, and maybe the Forrester? Any thoughts/advice? Thanks so much!!!

I'd go with the Outback, specifically the Outback Limited. That's the one we use at the house in New York, usually carrying four people and Rosa Parks Brown, our big chocolate Labrador who demands her space.

My car is now 12 years old and I am hovering on the edge of trying to decide to spend any more money on it, or get a new car. Since I can't afford (unfortunately) the car I really want right now, a Mazda Miati, I am going to have to go much cheaper and smaller. I'm thinking of a Ford Fiesta or the Honda Fit. Which would you recommend? Are there other options in this price and size? I would want a 5 speed manual if that helps sway your opinion toward one or the other. Thank you for all your expert advice you give. I love reading your reviews, even if they are for cars I know I will never buy.

Both are good, let me give you a tip I give friends:

How much of a monthly rate are you able to pay for a car?

Take that amount and start putting it aside right now, every month. Drive the old car into the ground. When it stops take the amount you have been putting aside and you will have a decent little down payment. With a good down payment you will be able to buy a better car and you will get a better finance rate on the rest of the car.

Ford Fusion, Chevy Impala or Buick Lacrosse?

Go with the fusion or LaCrosse

Warren, I like the Infiniti EX35 and the Subaru Outback. Any other cars I should consider? Thanks!

A check out the Kia Sorento all-wheel-drive. You'll be pleasantly surprised. Lou Ann?


Lou Ann- Haven't driven the all-wheel drive version, us Californians got the front-wheel drive version. I liked the car itself better than the Tucson interior.

How would you rate the quality of the 2011 Tahoe against the comparible inports? Thanks - Dave

I honestly believe that the Tahoe is in a class of its own when it comes to full-sized SUVs. You either love it or hate it. I happen to love it--a big beast of an SUV, hauls anything, good on road and off, and reasonably fuel efficient at about 21 mpg hiway swallowing regular. I love it! So do many other people. But I also know many people who hate it. There is no convincing them that we're right. And they have absolutely no chance of convincing us that we're wrong.

Which new cars, in the sport/performance category have the best sight lines, without needing a backup camera, and also offer memory seats?

I can't just answer that for you, since it depends on how tall you are and how agile your neck is.

How valid is the NHTSA report on Toyota unintended acceleration? While the NASA investigators looked at actual owner complaint vehicles, it wasn't clear whether this included those which displayed the phenomenon AFTER recall corrections had been performed. Is there more to this story, yet to be told?

I supppose we have to take their word for it. And, yes, I say that with all of the skepticism implied.


Thanks for joining us today. Thank you Dominique Vu and Lou Ann Hammond for a fine production. Please come back next week.

Thank you, Ria Manglapus, for all you do to keep the cars rolling. 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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