Real Wheels Live

Apr 11, 2014

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.

Good morning Warren and Friends

Are you concerned about how much data car companies have because of all the technology going into cars? Do you realize that your smartphone allows people to track your every move?

Is there anyway around buying a car today without being tracked? Will DMV start sending you a bill for miles driven based on your cars ability to track the miles you drive?

Let's chat about cars

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Lou Ann Hammond

I followed the link in Lou Ann's Audi A3 response to read the blurb on her web site. Most of it was about the infotainment system and how it works with your smartphone. Doesn't anyone just pay attention and enjoy the drive anymore? There are still a few of us who realize that these things are just something else to go wrong (expensively) and distract drivers. Will we be able to get cars are fun to drive, but don't have all of this dangerous, unnecessary, and expensive impedimenta? To make matters worse, it is probably linked to the black boxes that Clifton deplores.

Ah, Luddites! These new, seemingly whiz-bang technoligies are not as whiz-bang as they might seem. I have reason to believe, and I am not alone in this thinking, that the technologies in question, while seemingly distracting, will actually lead to a reduction in fatal crashes. Smart-phone syncing allows you to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Advanced infotainment alerts you to traffic problems well before you encounter them. Lane departure andblind-spot monitoring systems, along with advanced pedestrian safety technologies, have already kept me out of big trouble. The more the merrier as for as I am concerned.

What happened to the Post's Kicking Tires blog? It hasn't been updated in months.

I don't know. It probably was kicked out with other things and people at a rapidly changing Washington Post in a rapidly changing news industry--perhaps for the same reason. No one really has to kick tires anymore to get an idea about a vehicle. Computers, notebooks, iPhone. Theinformation, updated, is readily available.

Lou Ann here

Washingtonpost didn't end the show. The show is syndicated; the automated system feed must have broken. I am told that they are looking into it as we speak and hope to have it fixed soon. Thanks for letting us know.

I was looking at the Chevy Spark on the Chevrolet website. I didn't see anything that would give the EPA mileage for the car. Isn't this one of the first questions people want to know? Either I am blind and can't see it right in front of my eyes or the information was missing.

go to they have all the figures for the epa and they give you what other people are getting on their cars.

The Spark numbers are 30 city/39 highway/34 combined but drivers say they are getting 40mpg.

In your opinion, which automotive "brand" is putting out the most consistent vehicles on the road today (looking at variables including safety, reliability, head-turning quotient, etc.)?

I would still say Hyundai because so much of what they have is standard on their cars.

Honda - though not head-turning - is high on the list of safety. They put more safety in their cars as standard than most.

good question

No, I'm not the least bit concerned about who is collecting the information. I use credit cards. I have applied for loans. I have a mortgage. I pay taxes. All of that "private" stuff is readily available to anyone who wants it.

Lou Ann here:

Good points Warren, but there was a point that you could get in your car and drive for hours and noone knew where you were.

Just wanted to give you an update. I wrote in last week when I was anxious over an impending purchase of a Subaru Forester because of some dealer issues. All was resolved to my great satisfaction. Most of the problem was probably because I had spoken with a substitute sales person, not the sales person I'd been working with for several weeks (it was his day off). I not only got the finance rate I wanted, I got a better one, and I was satisfied with the cost of the additional options. And I love my new car. I am happy every time I get in it. It may take me 10 years to understand all the specialty features (which I didn't need but came as a package with the features I did want), but I'm planning to keep it for 20 years, so that's okay :)

Good news! Glad to hear it. Happy that you are satisfied. Thank you for writing in.

Lou Ann here:

So happy for you! Thanks for letting us know, last week, as you know, there were a couple people chiming in to tell you not to buy it if you were going to be treated poorly. Thanks for letting us know.

I went to the Honda dealer interested in an Accord hybrid. While walking across the used car lot came across the Insight. Asked the new car sales woman in the show room about a new one. She smiled, walked away, and introduced me to the new car "sales manager" who said I should check out the internet for information, as they do not inventory the vehicle. It's a Honda hybrid. What is the matter with it? No one seems to know about it.

Short answer: Nothing is technically wrong with the Insight. But it looks too much like a science project, which actually attracts some people, but turns most of them off.

How would you compare these two cars for safety and for reliability. What are your personal preferences?

My bias is, and has been for a long time, in favor of most things Subaru. Excellent build quality, great reliability, and in most things Subaru, one of the best symmetrical all-wheel-drive systems available. The xception on the latter point, of course, is the youth-oriented, rear-wheel-drive BRZ sports coupe. But even that is likable for what it is. I also like the wagon-like Prius V, one of the best of the Prius genre.

Lou Ann here:

Great comparison. Subaru gets about 30mpg, Prius V gets  42mpg. Subaru can be less expensive than the Toyota. I have not heard of either having major recalls or safety issues, so it comes down to which one you like to drive more.

Do you feel this latest slate of recalls is due to the fact that automakers know they will be called to the carpet by legislative bodies, or do you think that they actively find and/or hear about defects and want to correct them? Or is it a little bit of both...

I have interr the world. Most of them have families andviewed automotive engineers, designers, and chief executives all over the world. Most of them have families and friends they love and hold dear. They would not deliberately endanger those people any more than you and I would deliberately endanger our own. Car development and manufacturing is an extremely complicated, protracted enterprise run by fallible human beings. Mistakes happen. Recalls are designed to correct those mistakes when they occur. Increased global governmental emphasis on safe motoring is pushing everyone to do better.

If there's one sedan you're most interested/excited to see on the market in 2015 (for each of you), what would that one auto be?

The range goes from the smallest cars (subcompact - because they are going to need to have everything contented but great mileage too) to the high-end like the Maserati Ghibli, because they are going to be incorporating Chrysler into their product.

We have a 2011 Volvo XC90 with 11K miles on it, almost paid off. We're in the foreign service and can't take it with us to our next post. So our choices are sell it, save the $ and get a new car in 2 years, or store it and come home to a barely used, paid off vehicle. My instinct is to store it (pro facility where they check fluids and move it once a month), but my dad is adamant that we should sell it now, while it still has value. What do you experts think? Help!!!

Listen to your Dad. Sell it. Store the proceeds of the sale in an interest-bearing financial account. Return home to money. And, by the way, heartfelt thanks for your service to our contry in the foreign service. Not easy work. Thanks. Be safe.

Lou Ann here:

I am going to echo Warren's sentiments - thank you for your service. My Dad was a military man - Air Force - I know what it takes to pack up and move every four years.

Sell the car. It would cost to store it and insure it. Sock away the money and buy something when you come home.

I keep hearing this word thrown around but have no idea what the concept is all about. Is there any easy explanation for this term, and also, is the concept a valid one for most drivers?

The concept is not valid for most drivers especially if the driver behind you has road rage.

It's about doing what is necessary to get the most miles you can out of your car. I know people that drive without air conditioning, coast down every little hill in neutral and ride on a trucks bumper all to get more miles.

Drive safely. If you want more miles by a car that gets better mpg.

I think as we see the complexity of various manufacturers' "infotainment" systems increase, we will see the benefit of offering reduced features for use with rental cars. Most rental cars are not driven long enough to be able to properly learn how to navigate through all of the various menus and sub-menus. I recently rented a Ford Fusion and found that the Sync system and the in-vehicle display had too many options and none clearly or easily found without a lot of trial and error. I don't need this when I'm renting a car for a couple of days.

I respectfully disagree. The people who want to stay connected in their personal cars also want to stay connected in rentals. I think we'll se an increasingly simplified version of telematic technologies, much as we have witnessed with computers and cell phones. Telematics is here to stay, and to grow.

is it okay to run my Camaro convertible through an automatic car wash? A good "brushless" carwash?

Yes, a good brushless car wash--top up, windows closed of course.

Isn't the state of Oregon (or maybe Washington?) already doing that, in lieu of a gas tax?

Thanks for reminding, I forgot about that.

I have not checked if Oregon is actually doing that but they were the test ground for it happening. This was an article I wrote in 2007 (!) - I will have to go back and update it

If you had to make a guess as to when cars will regularly get 60 MPG in terms of timeframe, when do you think this might be? I'd have to think we're less than 10 years away with the advances they are making every day.

I agree. I think by 2020, and I don't believe that is optimistic.

I don't get it, how is it like a science project? It looks pretty normal, vaguely prius-ish. The first gen Insight had those aerodynamic wheel covers over the rear wheels and looked pretty strange. This 2014 model looks more like a regular car.

The first gen did attract more of the scientist teacher type, but you are right, now they look like regular cars but few have been bought so even in California they are noticed on the road.

Went on line to build a Corolla. Sales gimmick as the lower end Corolla give you only four paint choices whereas the upper Corolla give you 6-7 color choices. Think most folks would automatically move up to the more color options which means higher $$$.

Yes, probably. I do detest the myriad options sales gimmicks.

I remember my parents' VW Beetle—baby's egg blue with one white, bolted-on fender. It didn't even have a gas gauge, just a lever to open a one gallon reserve tank. Today, I drive a 9-year-old car with six airbags, antilock brakes, traction control and more. My next car will likely have lane-detection warning, at least. Am I giving up some romantic notions of driving? Sure. But I also can finder fewer and fewer places to exercise that wind-in-your hair memory. Driving is, I'm afraid, more and more of a lost art. I'd rather be surrounded by stuff that will keep me alive.

The trouble with romance is that it is, more often than not, complicated by reality. The truth is that the romantic notion of driving, man in control of machine, still contributes to more than 30,00 traffic fatallities annually in the United States--miliions more in Africa, China, Central Rurope and South America. Most of those fatalities are human-caused. If the new technology helps to reduce that carnage, I'm all for it.

Lou Ann and Warren, as you discuss the ramifications of increasing the data crunching capabilities and machine intelligence in motor vehicles, I wonder to what extent the industry has addressed the question of how much data gathering and intelligence will be part of a vehicle's basic design, and how much can be modularized. As an example, I point to the question of whether it is preferable to have a built-in navigation system in each vehicle, or have a mobile navigation system that can be shifted from vehicle to vehicle. Vehicle performance parameters would be more flexible if data management and vehicle intelligence were modularized so that capabilities could easily be upgraded, much like the performance maps in engine control units can easily be upgraded through software linked to an OBDII plug. Interestingly, the bicycle world had to wrestle with a similar issue about 70 years ago. There were two schools of thought on the proper design for touring bikes. The randonneur school, championed by French designers, favored the incorporation of features and functions in the bike's basic design. The modular school, championed by the British, favored putting features and functions into modules, which could be mixed and matched to provide the desired capabilities. Today, nearly all bicycles are designed and built using modular principles. I predict a similar outcome for the automotive industry.

Interesting. Thanks. My question was more whether people realize that it is happening, that you are freely giving up your privacy everytime you turn your smartphone on, everytime you get in your car. We don't need microchips in the back of our neck, we have them draped all over us.

If we had been demanded to have these devices would we fight back and say it wasn't legal? Instead, because of the conveniences and the ability to save a life we have given up the freedom of privacy.

Actually, the wind in my hair is itself just a memory.

:) over 50 are you? :)


The internal complexity and sophistication of automotive "connectivity" systems is not the issue, its the poorly designed, non-intuitive interfaces. Amazing that typically the OEM radio head is relatively simple and straightforward to use compared to third-party replacements. DOT is rightly concerned about the use of cell phones and texting while driving - but where are they with respect to the navigation/internet systems which can be very confusing and distracting to use? Add to that their presence on rental cars which the customers have even less knowledge of and experience with. A recipe for disaster.

That is an argument looking for a cause. Yes, the original telematics systems, I'm thinking BMW, were unnecessarily complicated. The new models from most of today's manufactuers are easier to use, more intuitive. Our ancestors had the same concerns about radio in cars. Today, we can't drive without them.

I bought a barely used Impreza in January, and I can confirm that it gets 30 MPG in stop-and-go traffic between Arlington and Bethesda and back. I'm very pleased with the car so far.

Did you look at the Prius V? What did you pay for the Impreza? If you could have bought a similar priced Prius V would you have and gotten 42mpg? I ask for the chatter, because you own an Impreza.


Of course it stands to reason that if a car, truck, or SUV is popular, it will be harder to obtain and will likely even cost you more to purchase. However, ones that aren't popular are ones you can get good deals on. The question is: How do you know a car, truck or SUV is popular or not unless it is (or is not) already? I would think it would be kind of hard to forecast what will be the hot new model will be and get it before it becomes so.

Some are obvious - concepts that aren't going to take off, but some is what happens in the NHTSA/IIHS testing. These days if you don't get those tests right they don't sell.

You have to do some homework.

I'm starting to look at new cars, and am considering a diesel. I understand that diesel engines have less horsepower but more torque than gas engines. Conceptually, I think that I know what this means: they will have more low-end grunt. So...they should be quick off the line, etc. How does this translate into other aspects of driveability? I'm thinking specifically about mid-range passing power (from 50 MPH to 70 MPH) and going up long mountain grades...two things that I do a fair amount. Thanks for the help.

I'm no longer enamored with quick off-the -line starts. My fascination with that  died a long time ago. I'm more concerned with power for the long haul, the heavy pull, which is where good torque comes in. It is a psychic development that has come with age.

Great point, Lou Ann -- and by the way, we had the TSA and the NSA before we had the iPhone. Privacy has been an illusion since at least 9/11.

It's not a matter of giving up the privacy, as long as we understand that we are doing it. I don't think people realize how much they have given up. I also don't think they care because the benefits out weigh (to them) the privacy issue.

Hello! Husband is looking to purchase a 2013 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew this weekend. Any major transmission issues to consider on this model and/or year? His 2008 F150 has been dogged with transmission problems since the 140K mark and Ford claims there is "nothing wrong"with it.

Just read a NHTSA report saying that it will not open a formal investigation into power complaints about the F150. I think you have no worries. Ford is very jealous about the quality reputation of its best-slling pickups. And with me and Lou Ann, you have a direct line to Ford's management if you have problems. Use it.

The "cause" is right in front of us. Numerous cases of collisions and pedestrian injuries/fatalities at the hands of distracted drivers. Doesn't really matter "what" the driver was distracted with-–cell phone, tablet, iDrive–if their eyes and their attention are not on where the car is going.


That was my point—reduced features for rental cars, not the wholesale removal of telematics. Back to Sync, it was terrible. There are these little "wing" looking things on the keypad, what is that supposed to even be? Absolutely terrible. Sometimes the Google Map directions from my phone would play over the speakers when connected via Bluetooth. Other times, there would be no audio whatsoever, so that I would have to disconnect Bluetooth in order to hear the directions.

We have the same issues, so does Consumer Reports which is why they give Ford such bad marks.

Ford is changing their system, going away from Microsoft. It will take a little while, but they know it has to be done.

It seems like true collaborations between rival automakers are rare, yet do happen from time to time. How do these collaborations really work, and do they have a root in money, design and innovation or a simple desire to see "where the other is?"

Collaboration is not nearly as rare as you might think. It happens all the time, 24-7, 365 days a year. The reason is money. Auto-making is a ridiculously capital-intensive business. With governments worldwide demanding safer, cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles,it is happening more and more..and will continue..which means they work..or serve some valued purpose.

Thank you all for joining us today. I think we'll be off next week--Good Friday, Easter. We'll se. But stick with us. We enjoy these chats. Thank you Angela Wong, Lou Ann Hammond, Ria Manglapus, Michelle Dawson. 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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