Real Wheels Live

Feb 22, 2013

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.

We're getting dreadfully close to Washington's "sequester" deadline when huge, automatic cuts start hitting the federal budget--ruining small businesses and destroying jobs. Early signs are that the Approach of Sequester already is beginning to scare employers and their workers, slowing down hiring, which is only at a trickle, now, anyway. Experian, a credit rating agency, is reporting a slight uptick in car loans that are more than 60 days delinquent. Many of those loans are with people who were last hired and recently fired in the sluggish recovery. We can do something about this.

Contact your congressional representative. Tell him, her, them that you won't stand for anymore of this political foolishness. Tell'em to stuff their ideologies where the sun doesn't shine and come up with a federal budget that makes sense for most of us, now.

Dump that "deficit, children, grandchildren" junk. If we don't eat, now, our children won't eat either. And not many of us will have grandchildren if we're unemployed and broke.

Knock off the foolishness, Congress!!

Good morning Warren and friends

If you work at Mount Vernon hospital, or the rehab center, thank you for taking such good care of my Mother-in-law.

How many of you having plug-in charging units at your work? They're all the rage in CA.

How much more are you paying for gasoline? At what price would the gasoline have to be before you decided to go diesel, hybrid,plug-in extended range (such as a volt) or complete EV?

If you looked at the Mazda CX-5 and didn't like the horsepower, look again. Mazda will bring out their new 2.5 in 2014.

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Why do you recommend manual over auto transmission. thank you

You're not beholden to software to drive your car, you get to control the car.

It's cheaper to overhaul and more fun to drive.

Warren and/or Lou Ann, Let's say you're interest in buying a new car, possibly the upcoming baby Mercedez CLA 250, Mercedez' first front-wheel drive 4-cylinder in the USA. Which current similar models would you recommend now instead of the promise of the CLA, albeit at the typical $10K permium for German precision engineering, and why? Thank you!

Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Elantra,....The list is endless. Which is why Mercedes-Benz is being forced to enter that segment.

Do you have any concerns vis a vis putting a car on the Autotrain? Is it a hazard in some way, josting the gas, etc., for 1,100 miles on a train? Should I board the car on E? Any suggestions?

Autotrain is fine. Get available "trip insurance" to assure peace of mind.

I love my 5-speed Honda Fit and want a new one. I think I get better MPG but the gov. stats don't seem to bear this out. (I get much higher MPG than the gov. figures, FWIW.) Am I fooling myself that I burn less gas with my stick shift?

Probably, yes, you are fooling yourself. Welcome to the burgeoning world of computers and sensors, which operate more quickly and more effficiently than you can shift--which is why many automatics today are more efficient than manuals, and which is why many manuals are more efficient, too.

Hi, Warren and Lou Ann, I'm hoping you can help me make a decision. I have a 2008 Honda Fit with around 70,000 miles on it, and about $5000 left on the loan. I LOVE the car, but HATE that it's a stick shift. I'd love to trade it in for a new or used Fit with low mileage that's an automatic. So the question is -- do I go new or used? Pay off the loan and then trade it in? Or suck it up and keep the stick shift?   I just do so much city driving, that it's really starting to annoy me!

This is what happens when people can see the end of a loan in sight. They start trying to decide what they want, but they have to justify why they hate their old car.

It's why we tell you to buy the very best you can when you are buying, because you will get tired of it after awhile. I love manuals, but they don't conform to my lifestyle, too many hills in my area and I love to drink coffee and drive.

What else do you not like about the car? Start making a list. Pay off the loan, that will give you the ability to trade in or sell yourself. If you sell yourself you might get a little more money, but there are security concerns. I should do a story on how to sell your car as a private individual. (I won't have a garage sell because I don't want people coming to my house!)

Keep the stick shift till you find something you can't live without, but let's start narrowing your choices now. Tell us what you're thinking of buying.

Hi, I am leaving on Friday for a girls only weekend so I am posting early. I want to upgrade from my Highlander Sport to a luxury SUV. I am looking at the pathfinder vs. the Infiniti JX. What is the difference between the two? On another note, is there an SUV that is minivan like? I test drove the 2013 Sienna and really enjoyed drving it. Thanks!

Good luck on your "girls only" weekend. Save money, buy the new Pathfinder and be happy. It is not much different from the sibling Infiniti JX. Best kuxury kind of SUV is the Mercedes-Benz GLK. You'll love it.

I never hear reference to the big, expensive battery that Prius owners need to replace at some point. This would impact my buy decision - that big bill looming on the horizon. What's the deal with these hybrid batteries?

According to Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), (TMC is global, TMS is US) there have not been that many people that have needed to replace their battery. I ask him everytime I see him. And the recycle rate is somewhere around 98-99%. It might be because on the front of the battery there is an 800 number that says that if you return the battery you get X amount of dollars. I think it's $200, but if you have a Prius go look.

Warren and/or Lou Ann, The new Honda Accord V-6 and Acura TSX I4 are about the same price ($30K+). The new Accord is a Car and Driver 10-Best as was my 2004 TSX, which is bulletproof and still fun to drive but lacking in modern safety amenities. Which model would you choose and more importantly, why?

I'd take the new Accord V6, which offers as much as the TSX at a slightly better price. Acura, like most auto luxury divisions, exists primarily because of marketing.

My wife's 1999 grand minivan has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be put down. She is no longer doing such big artworks, but still needs hauling room. She also hates filling the gas so often at current prices. We have looked at the Volvo EX60. Great piece of machinery, but in base trim not very fuel efficient and rather pokey, but very safe and comfy. The Prius V has great fuel efficiency and hauling space, though the seats do not fold flat.  It's rather chintzy interior and seats are only so so. Will look at Ford C-max hybrid, Jetta Diesel sports wagon - I currently drive at 2010 GTI which I like a lot . I have owned a couple of BMW over the past forty years. I like them a lot though they are expensive to run. We will look at the x1 - small cargo space may be a problem and the X3. Comments on any or all of these? Other suggestions?  I wish you folks did the chat twice a week!

Take a look at the Ford C-Max or the Kia Sorento. Both are compact, gifted utilitarians available at reasonable prices. The interiors aren't glam. But they are certainly suitable, Accept compromise.

When do new models of cars start to become available as used vehicles? A couple of years after the model is introduced, when leases start to end? Or does it take longer? Specifically, I'm thinking of the Prius V.

Whenever someone trades in the first car for another car, is the first quick answer.But you see a large amount of them after about 2 years.



Warren, why aren't you urging your readers to also contact the White House? It's the President who is required by 1974 law to propose a budget to Congress every February. Respectfully, the White House has a role to play in the inevitable sequester, and I think that you should acknowledge that, too. Thank you.

I am urging my readers to contact both the White House, as I have done previously, and Congress, as I am doing today. And it is expressly related to cars, as indicated by Experian's report in a slight uptick in delinquent auto loans of 60 days are more. Many of those delinquencies are with long out-of-work people who bought replacement vehicles when they finally got jobs. Those jobs are now in jeopardy because of Congressional foolishness. The White House has a role to play, yes. The bottom line is that politicians, right, left, Republican, Democrat, need to put aside their ideologies, get off their tails and do what the people sent them to Washington to do.

I commute 12 miles each way in stop and go traffic. My 13 year old Explorer gets 14 mpg and is nearing the end of the line. I am looking at plug in hybrids and want to know what points of comparison I should use when looking at the Prius, Volt, or other plug ins. P.S. Our other car is a Suburban, so we don't need to haul stuff with the new car except for two adults and two children.

Lokk at price, recharge times, the amount of distance that can be traveled on a single chargem whether or not the vehicle in question has fossil fuel assistance. (That is, is it oure electric, plug-in electric with fossil-fuel assist, or non-plug-in gas-electric).

I have a 2003 Accord with 115K miles. (It creaks a little when turning so something is up.) My husband has a 2004 Accord with 149K miles which he just spent $3k repairing (new axle and other safety stuff) We believe keeping our cars as long as possible, but how do you decide when it's worth it to buy as opposed to repairing?

When it cost more to repair than it's worth. Both Warren and I love new cars, but we don't want you to run into financial ruin because of a car. You've had your cars (if you bought them new) for 9-10 years. If you look at how much you can get for them as a trade-in versus how much you would have to put into them to fix them, then you can decide when it is time to trade them in. If you're having issues already, now is the time to start looking so that you can get the best deal for the car you truley want.

We are thinking of replacing one of our cars sometime in the next couple of years it's a 2005 Rav 4 with just under 80K miles and only gets about 6K miles put on it per year these days- it runs fine but is too small now that we have a child (and carseat, and stuff, and m ore stuff...) Our other car is a 2013 Edge we got last summer that has been great. The question is when should we think about actually buying- are we reaching a point where the value of our trade in is going to drop sharply? Is there a better time of the year for doing the sale than another?

Spring is a good time, people are out and about. Don't do it in the fall before the new cars show up.

Value is based on the amount of miles driven and how well you've kept the car. If it has been garaged, let people know. If you have receipts to show the car was fixed, let people know.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, just recently found your chat and am really appreciating your expertise and insights. Maybe you can give me an idea: I'm going to be needing a new (to me) vehicle.  I'm not against getting an older (but newer than my current 1996) vehicle. I need a vehicle that can handle lots of snow and can easily go off-road (as in steep dirt roads), so I would say 4WD would be important. But I also need something that will be reliable and comfortable, as I have a new job and will need to commute to it a few times during the month (4 hrs. one way). I realize mileage with a 4WD won't be great, but I'm hoping that there's something that can come close to meeting my needs. As an aside, I have an old (1989) Nissan Pathfinder that still works on our farm (where the off-road vehicle is needed), and I LOVE that vehicle. Do you think finding a less old model -- but not new one--would work/is worth it to pursue? Thanks much!

I'd look at a used Nissan Xterra, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester, something alon that line. I'd shop at Carmax for best used-vehicle value, variety and warranty. Or Autonation.

My gripe with auto vs manual is 95% of cars are auto but the car dealers charge more for an auto. Should be the other way around.

Nope. That whis is most popular usually comes with a higher price.

Mr. Brown, once again your comments betray your politics. You insist on pushing an agenda of common sense. Our elected officials need to grow up, but those of us who think government could use trimming--and that this is an easy way to do it--need to grow up, too. Many of these cuts will come from the discretionary budget, and that is a small proportion of the whole. If we care about our people, we won't do this. And it's those least able to look out for themselves who will take the biggest hit.

Politely, that's baloney. Many of the sequester cuts will ham-chop the oldest and the poorest. It will also cut in the wrong places on defense. The way Congress is going about this is as stupid as my "austerity" decision to arbitrarily axe a snow-plowing contract at our home in Cornwall, NY.  Now, I either have to risk a heart attack or broken limb to remove the stuff. Dumb.

Good Morning! Over the last few years Benz kept saying that they are bringing their A&B Classes to the US.  It hasn't happened yet.  Any word if it will ever come to pass?

Coming soon with new entry-level MB.

MB is planning to intro its new, "affordable" CLA compact in the US, soon.

I, like you, am waiting for the MBZ A-Class. I saw it in Stuttgart, Germany and love the design. It is projected to come to the United States in 2014.

Is this as much fun as it sounds like? I'm really not a fan of the handling and drive of SUVs, but do need a bit more space than my current coupe. I've had and liked hatchbacks a lot in the past for being fun to drive but still making it a bit easier to get a bit more mulch back from Home Depot. Do you think the X1 would be more hatchback than SUV-like?

More hatchback. Probably more fun.

Thanks Warren for your suggestions re. a vehicle that can handle snow/off-road. Definitely will look at the sources as well as models you suggest. One quick question-- will an AWD vehicle get me up and down the same steep hills that a 4wd would? Or will I need just to stick with the 4wd? Also, how old would you suggest going back with the Xterra, e.g., before you'd be cautious about age, etc.?

I offer this answer based on proof of experience. Our house in Cornwall, N.Y. sits about three-fourths up the way of the very steep Mine Hill Road. We use a Subaru Outback (circa 2002) to get up and down the road in all kinds of sloppy weather. All-wheel-drive should be sufficient for you, too.

Again Warren, you are misguided. If you look at the vote in 2011, the majority of Republicans opposed the sequester. It was the President who first suggested including the sequester in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Further the House has voted multiple time to replace the sequester with other cuts. So to say it is Congress' fault is not accurate. The House has worked it's will, but it is hard to work towards a solution when the President is not showing leadership and putting real tangible ideas forth to work towards compromise.

Ah, my friend, you are blinded by your anti-Obama bias. I think the majority of the nation's voters have already spoken on that issue.  Congress, controlled in the House by the Republicans and repeatedly bolixed in the Senate by the same party, which once claimed my loyalty when it behaved as the Party of Lincoln, has blocked a common sense approach to budget-making at every turn.

In the real world, we try to improve income AND cut unnecessary spending. But, first, we make sure what is necessary and unnecessary. That helps us avoid doing STUPID things like arbitrarily canceling annual snow-plow fees on the mistaken belief that it is going to be a mild winter.


I think we actually agree. My point, perhaps not well stated, is that much of the federal budget is pre-committed. The discretionary portion is smaller; therefore, the cuts of the sequester will have a huge impact, far beyond the percentages being bandied about, on that portion of the budget. And we will find programs gutted that help the oldest and poorest.

I think there are people who are so angry at Congress, and the White House, that they want to sequestration. How much of this is a political ploy of democrats versus republicans? I have never seen such division in Congress and it is the American people who are going to be hurt. Do we need budget cuts? Yes. Does it need to be the sequestration budget cuts? I don't know.


All I'm saying is that our politicians--Democra, Republican, Independent--supposedly are intelligent people. I'm asking that we demand them to act intelligently. They can start by listening to business people, small and large, nationwide. What are they saying about all of this? What are they actually doing in anticipation of sequester? What do the Experian auto loan delinquency numbers mean?

Warren I just traded my 2005 Acura TL for a 2013 TSX . The TL had 140K miles and regular maintenance --tires, brakes , etc. Never had to touch the exhaust system. Being almost exactly your age , I can remember having to replace mufflers, tail pipes, etc on many previous cars. If manufacturers can build longlasting exhaust systems, can they not do the same for other components as well?

It's a matter of weight versus cost. If it weighs more to fix a component that is going to be good for 8 years (since your car is a 2005), or meeting the cost they need, they are going to do what is necessary.

...for the advice, Warren! Appreciate it! (Nissan/off road person)

Warren enjoys answering your questions and appreciates that you enjoy his answer.


Thanks for all the questions. It's an important time in our Nation. Watch your finances, help your neighbors.

And remember - never drive faster than your Angel can fly.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Welcome to our new producer, Jessica Urquiola, with sincere apologies if I messed up the last name. Thank you, Lou Ann Hammond, our West Coast Correspondent. Again, welcome to Michelle Dawson, the newest member of our staff , who will handle dealer relations. And thanks to our ever-wonderful vehicle fleet assistant, Victoria Manglapus. Eat lunch. Enjoy the weekend.

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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