Real Wheels Live

Mar 16, 2012

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

What would be the best used car to buy for under $15,000?

Check with and, which have listings. My take: Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus.

Does turning off the engine for 30 to 40 seconds at a stop lite save gass?

Yes, which is why all major manufacturers nowadays are intoducing "stop and go" technology that automatically shuts the engine at such stops...and automatically restarts the engine when you press the accelerator. An engine that isn't running, isn't burning fuel.

Is there a website that will tell you which child car seats fit in a given car? I have been referred to, can't find anything on it that gives this info. Thanks.

Yes. Try the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at Click on "crash safety" and "safety seats." Also, check with your local fire department. Seriously.

Warren, Do you know when the 8 speed will be available? Or the diesel? Recommend a good Jeep dealer in NOVA? Considering a Grand Cherokee. Chrysler's awful reliability and the real possibilty Chrysler will not exist in 5 years bothers me. The proclamations of Sergio what his name head of Fiat are just hot air. If Fiat had competent leadership instead PT Barnum and the Obama administration in charge I would feel more comfortable. Clifton, VA

You seem to have a lot on your mind, most of it misinformed. I'll try to help.

. Eight speed transmissions are here, now, mostly on high-end automobiles. They'll start migrating to lower cost cars in the near future.

. Diesel is here, too, mostly via Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. It will be here in a big way in 2013, when  GM introduces diesel-powered Chevrolet Cruze models. Look for all competitors to follow.

. Chrysler's "awful reliability"? What Chrysler are you talking about? The current Chrysler is kicking tail and taking names in terms of overall product quality, especially with the Jeep.

. Sergio Marchione? Let's see. Italian labor laws and other government restrictions were making it difficult for him to do with Fiat  what he wants to do with Fiat. So, he picks up Chrysler for less than a song and mates it with Fiat. The deal pulls Chrysler out of financial trouble. Now, it turns out, Chrysler actually is keeping fiat afloat with record Chrysler sales, new products, improved technology. We could all use that kind of hot air.

Is the Ford Focus ST worth waiting for?

Hard question to answer. We usually wait for something we want. But we have to have a reason for wanting it. What's yours?

Hi. Just traded in an automatic 11 Elantra for a manual 12 VW Jetta TDI. Elantra was a good car, but really didn't fit my vehicle preferences. What a change, more engine, more room, and a much smoother ride. It was a little more expensive, but in the first 60 miles of highway driving, average about 47.5mpg. I know Warren is a big proponent of the diesel, and I have to say, you are right. Love that torque!

I'm happy that you're happy. That TDI torque is simply amazing.

Hi Warren I am a former NYtimes reader, switching after they introduced a pay for content website. I just read your review on the Mazda 3 with Skyactiv technology. I was wondering if you could comment on drivability (did you actually drive the car?), handling, interior (you look like you are an above average guy like me, did you fit in the car ok?) & price. I generally look for these things in an automobile review. 

Dear New Reader:

Welcome aboard. I NEVER review any vehicle I did not actually drive. Point one.

Point two: As I said in the review, Mazda CX-5's drivability is excellent, better than that of the new Honda CR-V, which has a larger engine and much else to recommend. Handling also gets excellent marks. And, as the review states, the interior is ergonomically sensible and easily accommodates most adults.

My 18 year old son is about to get his license and a job. We will need a new car to support these events. My question is, do we get a used car for him or something fun for Mom (Fiat 500c, Prius C, etc., under 23K). We would keep Mom's Highlander Hybrid in any case, and it would still be used for hauling stuff and long trips. The Highlander is paid for and still in good shape. What would you suggest?

An 18-year-old, presumably unmarried son with his first job? The first thing I'd do is check with my insurance company to see which car it recommends. I'd buy accordingly and probably buy used.

Which one do you think would be the better bet if you planned on keeping it for 10 years or more? Any thoughts as to why would be appreciated. Thanks.

Both would do well for 10 years. "Better" depends on events occuring during that decade. Gas prices continue going up? The CX-5 has better fuel economy. Crash? The CR-V has an excellent crash-protection structure. But so those the CX-5. Interior quality? That depends on who uses the vehicle and how they use it.

A co-worker has a 2006 Honda Hybrid with about 130,000 miles. The battery will no longer hold a charge. The quote from the dealership is $5,000. Apparently Click and Clack can't replace the battery. If my math is anywhere correct, he would have had to save nearly 1,500 gallons of $3.50 gas to break even. Granted he got to drive in the HOV lane, but that is not much of an arguement for a hybrid.

He won't get to drive in the HOV lane anyway. Virginia and other states are doing away with silly laws giving HOV leeway to hybrid vehicles. It was a politically inspired privilege that defeats the purpose of hybrids (which work best in urban congestion) and HOV lanes (designed to better utilize the carrying capacity of cars and trucks). As for the battery, consider that hybrids are meant to do more than save fuel. When they aren't burning fossil fuel, they also are not spewing tailpipe pollution. The question is: What happens with those spent batteries?

Hi, keep up the great work! I drive approximately 15 miles per day during the week and am considering purchasing an "electric" car. Between the Leaf, Volt (I know it's a range extender) & new Focus, which would you recommend? Also, how does the tax credit work? Do I get a check for the credit later?

The Leaf is great for local commuting, now considered a roundtrip of 40 miles or less, especially if you have access to charging power while at work. The Volt is good for commuting and long-distance driving--because the Volt's gasoline engine automatically takes over when the battery loses driving-effective charge. As for any tax credits, check with your accountant. He or she probably will tell you that you have to wait after purchase to receive the credit, if any is due.

Warren, Dont think so. I have several fellow herding trialers and dog owners who have made the mistake of purchasing Chrysler minivans and Dodge pick ups. One has a 2009 minivan with 75,000 miles on it and it's on its fourth trannie. Come on Warren, Chrysler has never had the quality rep of even Ford or GM over the last 40 years. Do you read our friend beat and his blog Autoextremeist. Sergio is full of it and many in the auto industry have questions about Chrysler's long term viability under Fiat and Sergio. BTW who does worse then Land Rover in the CR and JD Power reports on auto dependability. Clifton, VA

Frankly, Clifton, I think you are wrong. I can pick any car form any manufacturer that has had occasional problems. You can, too. As for Sergio and the financial analysts, the latter of whom sometimes have a vested interest in predicting failure, were these the same analysts who once touted credit default swaps?

I tried this question while you were gone but I think the host that week misunderstood and suggested a minivan. I'm trying to get out of a minivan because it's overkill for my usual commute. What I need is a small SUV but--and this is where it gets tricky--I need to be able to haul dog crates, grooming tables and a 100 pound dog. The Honda CRV isn't wide enough for the equipment. Small SUVs that are wide enough have a load height that is too high for my second dog, also 100 pounds, who must use a ramp. (Obviously, the equipment only goes when there is a single dog.) The only vehicle so far I can find that fits the bill is the Toyota RAV4, and then only because the wheel well covers inside the vehicle are flat, allowing me to put the crate and grooming table across them and other equipment underneath (and the dog in the back seat). But they seem to be awfully popular and very few are available at local dealers since I want to buy new. Is there another option I should consider?

I'd seriously take a look at the Mazda CX-5, or the Chevrolet Equinox.

Hi Warren, Can you recommend a good independent BMW specialized repair shop? I came accross Advantage Certified in Manassas, VA. I am not sure if they are good or not. I need to get spark plugs replaced and their price is much better than a BMW dealership. What would you do?

I don't recommend specific dealers. I work with too many of them to choose ...especially publicly. Try contacting the good people at the Washington Center for the Study of Services, publisher of the Washington Consumer's Checkbook.

Hi, always enjoy your work! Just saw the Acura ILX concept at the KC Auto Show & was very impressed. If they did indeed base it on the Civic, they did a masterful job in the styling department. Curious to know your thoughts on this?

I somehow managed to miss that one at all of the shows I've been to this year. My apologies. I'll check and get back to you.

Was late in reading last week's session, but wanted to comment on the discussion of child seats in a convertible. I have a new Mustang convertible. I love it and I am really impressed with the attention to detail that went into its design. I have had six-footers in the back who have been reasonably comfortable. Every inch shorter than that makes the passenger happier, but that's pretty impressive. Here's the point I want to make for the person who asked the question: you won't want to drive this car with the top down if anyone is in the back, unless you're just cruising around the neighborhood. While front seat passengers get a tranquil ride, those in the back really get the full force of the wind if you're going much more than 30 mph. It's something to bear in mind!

Yeah, tradeoffs. They are in automatically trading off a certain amount of crash safety when you choose to go topless.

Mr. B: I find the message from the "former" NY Times reader fascinating. S/he seems to believe all the on-line goodies to which we have access should be free. Me, I'm glad the Post isn't charging yet, but have to believe that's going to change, since I believe the Post isn't exactly making a huge profit. When the time comes, I'll pay (as long as you're still available)

Thank you. I and my Post pension fund, unusually and thankfully generous, appreciate it.

Only if the the vehicle does it automatically and then starts by itself. If you do it for the 30-40 secs it will result in you using more fuel. Has to do with how much fuel is used to start car from the software. Vehicles that shut off and start at lights have software that knows its not a new start and therefore use less gas. Clifton, VA

Thank you, Clifton.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thanks, Ria, for keeping everything moving. Eat lunch.

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

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