Real Wheels Live

Apr 13, 2012

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

It turns out that parents aren't entirely the blame for errors in installing child-safety seats. A just-published study by the  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of  Michigan Transportation Study Research Institute found that only 21 of 98 tested popular vehicles sold in the United States meet all 2003 federal safety standards for ease of installation of  child-safety states. Several vehicles tested, including the Toyota Sienna and Ford Flex, don't meet any of the ease of installation standards, according to the IIHS/UMTRI study. You can check out a full report on Real Wheels affiliate Also, Google "IIHS/UMTRI child safety seats" for more information.

On the lighter side: has come up with the favorite cars of cheating men and cheating women. High-end men prefer BMW. High-end women choose Mercedes-Benz. I guess that's one way to get the German companies into bed with one another.

So looking at going from a two car situation to a one car situation. Both cars are mid-2000's. One is a diesel Jetta with 110,000+ miles and the other is a Mazda 3 with just over 40,000. Whichever the winning car is would need to do a daily DC commute of 40 total miles. Does the diesel win over the lower miles or does the lower miles win in spite of the diesel?

I'd stick with the Jetta diesel. Stronger, more fuel-efficient engine, especially for your super-commute.

Why isn't the diesel version of the various small pickup trucks available in the U.S. I have wanted the diesel Ranger for a couple of years. Why aren't they available?

Cost and the decline of small pickup sales in the United States. Bottom line is that no manufacturer, yet, sees a profitable business case in a compact diesel pickup.

Warren, for years you've been pointing out that hybrids don't deserve special status. It seems that hybrid owners agree. MSN ran an article today, "Hybrid owners unlikely to buy another one, study shows". Only about 1 in 3 hybrid owners replace it with another hybrid.

Technology is like that. It does not fit the irrational exuberance of Capitol Hill politicians or "News at 11" journalists. It improves incrementally, often too slowly or expensively for consumers. Thus is the case with hybrids. Small, powerful tourbo-four gasoline engines now deliver excellent mileage and "fun-to-drive" with one drive system, as opposed to two in hybrids. They are also less expensive. There is more than one way to save fuel and reduce tailpipe pollution, and many of them are considerably less expensive than electrified vehicls.

Hello Warren Any info from the NYAS on the Acura ISX ? I'm getting emails from Acura about being among the first to get one next month, but other than the 3 engine options, not much in the way of specs. Did Acura have one on display ? Thanks

I didn't see it. Most of my attention was taken by a remake of the RDX crossover. Honda is struggling to get back to the top of the heap in innovation and quality. If the ISX matches the RDX in design and quality, it should be okay.

My first car love was and is the Nissan Maxima. I currently have a 2000, am considering upgrading to a new Max, but am hesitant due to the average to below-average ratings that Consumer Reports gave the Max between '06 and '10. The V6 Altima for the same time period rates average to above average. Can you provide insight on why - at least according to the CR ratings - the Maxima doesn't appear to hold up well over time? Do the believe the CR ratings are too conservative? Many thanks.

I've long considered the CR ratings too conservative and biased-weighted by a pre-selected audience, CR subscribers. But I also pay attention to those ratings, too. Here's the deal: Check out the latest Altima, which I think is the 2013 model to be intro'd this spring. I spent lots of time with it at the NY Auto Show. My conclusion: There is no reason, absolutely none, for me to spend more money on a Maxima.

I was browsing around Carmax the other day and came across a 2011 Mustang at a good price. But it had 32k miles on it !! what are the dangers when buying a car with high miles on a young car. Personally, I drive less than 10k per year, so it will have a gentler life with me. What do I look for ? Clean oil, etc ?

I'm a Carmax fan, as most of you know. I'm not paid by the company, nor am I in any way commercially bound by the company. It's just that Carmax has won my faith over the years in the way it treats and respects is customers. If Carmax is selling a 2011 Ford Mustang, the likelihood is that the car already has been checked and certified for more life on the road. Buy with confidence. If I'm wrong on this, please come back and tell us why.

For the first two years I owned my car, I never had to replace a headlight. Since then, it seems like I have had to replace them every three or four months. On my last visit to the auto parts store, I noticed something that said the more expensive bulbs actually had an expected life that was half as long or less than the standard bulbs. Getting tired of changing bulbs on a regular basis, I decided to buy the cheapest bulbs I could find. Why do people pay a premium for bulbs that will not last? When it comes to bulbs for around the house, the more expensive bulbs are supposed to last years if not decades and use a fraction of the energy. It seems that for cars, the opposite is true. Cheaper bulbs will last longer and use less power.

I don't know who is right or wrong on this one. I and my minions have to check it out.

My husband and I are wanting to replace his Honda Civic with a pickup truck. We bought a house and with the amount of "hauling" things from Home Depot for example, a truck will be better. I'd still like something that has the bells and whistles but it NEEDS to be automatic and get semi decent gas mileage. What do you recommend? I don't need a full extended cab but would like to have at least a bench seat behind the front seat in the event we do pick up a friend to help us out or to take the dog to the vet etc. I already have a '06 Acura TL which I don't plan on trading in so that will do road trips etc.

Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F 150 (my always favorite), Dodge Ram 1500 or Toyota Tundra. Compare quality, fuel economy, power, comfort, versatility and price. You will find something in that bunch that suits you.

Hi Warren, I currently have an 04 Matrix with low mileage. The other car is a 2011 sedan. We are going to need to trade up. We frequently drive 3 adults, with luggage, plus three dogs (weighing in at 100lbs, 50lbs and 25lbs), between the DC area and Cleveland, plus further north into Canada many times a year. We don't need 4x4 or AWD all the time, but on the trips north, especially in the winter, we do. While in the city the car/truck/suv would be used to and from the train for work, and around the town errands, plus trips to the west and east for camping (again with the dogs). On the current short list is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Ford Edge and Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota Highlander (both hybrid and gasoline). Planning on driving them all in the coming months. Based on research the come similarly equipped and we are more concerned with safety than sleek styling. Are we missing anything in this line up? The Matrix was my right out of school car, and it's served is purpose, the sedan was a recent purchase by my fiance. Both are fully paid off. We could trade in/sell either car. Do you have an idea on which would see a better market as a used car? Thank you!

Yes, my friend, you are missing a lot. Also consider the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. The Ford Flex just got its knuckles rapped for difficulty in installing child safety seats, but it's an overall darned good family hauler. Ditto the Toyota Sienna. Thought: Mercedes-Benz is  discontinuing its R-Class, the crossover/minivan that M-B refused to call a crossover/minivan. My hunch is that M-B dealers will be hustling to clear that one off their lots at reduced prices. The R-Class actually is one of the world's best minivans. You might be able to pick up one at deep discount.

Hi Warren. I'm in the market for a second Volvo, our 1998 V70 still going strong at 110k miles. Need a second car. Would like an S60 but T5 engine mpg is not much better than our V70. Volvo makes a couple of diesels for non USA markets. Do you hear any thing about more frugal Volvo engines for 2013 ? Thanks, Orlean

I'm now driving the XC 60 crossover, which has slightly better fuel economy than those you've mentioned. But "slightly" means "slightly" in this case. Volvo's forte is not, nor has it ever been fuel economy. It's safety, a theme that continues big time with the XC 60.

Always enjoy the chats, keep up the great work! Last week, Lou Ann commented on what it was like always being relegated to the tail end of the station wagon and it made me think that perhaps the reason why so many Americans disdain wagons and minivans is because of the association with these as traditional family haulers. So frequently you hear someone say "I'll never get a minivan, give me an SUV instead" even though they are pretty similar, just like a crossover is a wagon that's been stretched upward. So perhaps it's not the car per se but the perception of its intended use that sets off these prejudices. For me, give me a wagon any day, am always pining for the European ones (A6 Avant) that never make it to our shores!

Yes, a prejudice against family haulers and, dare I say, against the notion of "family". So many unhappy people in this world! At any rate, here's the deal: A station wagon is a minivan is a Sports Utility Vehicle is a crossover is a sportswagon or sportswagen. Vehicle marketing people could save a lot of time and money if they just got over their angst about "family."

Is there a date for Mazda to release the CX-5 diesel in the US?

The fall of 2012. Certainly by spring of 2013. Introduction here is a moveable feast.

Who has the right of way or what is appropriate? I am at the traffic light and need to take left turn. The light is green with yield for left. The on coming traffic is clear -- I start to turn left. But at about the same time, a car in the opposite side -- right most - must turn right line - comes up. My question : Should the other car stop and let me (left turn) go. OR Is that car not needed to yield to me?

If you are turning left on a green arrow permitting the turn, you have the right of way. The other driver is being a bit thoughtless.

I bought a good looking VW CC after direct comparisons w/ high end Accords, Ford Fusion, Mazda 6, etc. Love to drive it and it seems to be competitive w/ Acura & BMW, etc. Strong 4 cyl turbo, and still under $30K. Why do I RARELY see them on the road?

Marketing. A good car with lousy marketing. It happens more often than you might think. Heads up: VW soon plans to introduce a smaller version of the CC. But if the company markets the new model the way it has sold the old CC, you won't know that the new car is here.

The car companies all tout the EPA mileage **your mileage will vary** stuff. We all know by now that the EPA estimates are based on fluff and nonsense. The companies HAVE to do their own testing - will insisting on seeing those estimates get me anywhere when I go car shopping?

First, the EPA attempts to base its tests on "norms," which  may not be entirely accurate. But they are in no way "fluff" or "nonesense." Mileage is affected by myriad factors--the driver, road and weather conditions, vehicle maintenance, load carried among them. Mileage is and always will be an estimate.

But he didn't have an arrow. Other car has the right-of-way.

I thought he or she wrote that he or she was turning left on an arrow. My error. No arrow, just green, you wait for oncoming traffic to clear.

I haven't changed one in decades. My old BMW which I had for 16 years and 240K had Hella headlights which I installed and I never had to change the bulbs. My 2006 Element never. You should never touch the bulb with your fingers. If you do you need to, wipe the finger prints off with denatured alcohol. Finger prints or other oils on the bulb dramatically shorten their life expectancy. Also if you're replacing every few mos you might have electrical problems. I have always used quality headlight bulbs from Hella or Cibie because they last the longest, have the best pattern and the longest range. Do not go cheap. -Clifton VA

As always, thanks, Clifton. How are you these days?

My wife wants an AWD sedan and first suggested a Subaru, but said she wants something made in the U.S. Her first choice was actually the Chrysler 300, but I felt that was a bit impractical and bigger than we really need. Ideas?

Keep in mind that parts for "American" cars come from everywhere and that parts for "foreign" cars also come from America, or are designed in concert with U.S. based companies. It is a truly global industry. You can buy a BMW made in America or a GM car made in Germany or a Hyundai made in Alabama. Buy what you want. I'd go with the Subaru frankly.

Warren, I am inclined to disagree with your advice that the previous poster keep the Jetta diesel with 110K miles over the Mazda3 with 40K. The Jetta may get better fuel mileage, but the Mazda will likely last longer with lower service and maintenance costs. VW quality may have improved over the years, but parts and service are still pricey when needed, and -- let's face it -- a 70K mile difference in wear and tear cannot be ignored. Mazdas have a solid reputation for reliability and ease/cost of maintenance and can last a very long time. For example, my everyday commute-mobile and weekend "run the kids around to parties, etc" car is a 15-year old Mazda Protege that always works, is dirt-cheap to operate and maintain, and shows no signs of quitting any time soon. Finally, while the Jetta may get better fuel mileage, the Mazda3's mileage is not that bad in the first place.

Well, then, we agree to disagree. Current VW quality and reiability are competitive with all rivals. I'd keep the Jetta diesel and bank fuel costs saved though better mileage.

Hi, I hope you can point me in the right direction on this problem I have with my 2003 Honda Accord EX. The clock display will come on and gradually fade away. Sometimes going over a bump or hitting the top of the dashboard will bring the display back for a short time. I had my local service man take a look and he says it is part of the audio system and to fix the problem would cost over a $1000. He did say there was a bulletin issued and some people had theirs repaired as a courtesy. How would I find out about this? I know the car is old but it runs just fine. Thank you for your help and I enjoy your chats.

Sounds like a fuse or a short. And, no, under no circumstances would I pay $1,000 to have it repaired. I'd buy a watch, or a Garmin, or another iPhone first.

The mentions, last week, of volvos and the C30 made me recall a blurb I got from the dealer a while back about the Polestar performance upgrade one can get done without voiding the factory warranty. Would it be a fun upgrade for a C30 do you think? Or not something one would notice or get use of driving around here?

Not something one would notice around her, I think.

My first Big Three vehicle in decades 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo X V6 with the Offroad Adeventure I. Needed something a little more comfortable and less noisy then my incredibly reliable 06 Element. Chose the GC because it was one of the few SUVs/CUVs with a flat floor with second and third row seats folded. Need that for dog crates. 1% under invoice before the $1k rebate. Took 2 emails and 15 minuites at the dealer in Leesburg to order.


And for the rest of you, please come back next week. Lou Ann will be in tow with her notes on recent travels. For all of you guys who asked: Yeah, she's very married to a quite likeable guy name Stretch. So, please stop bugging me about her status. I'm not Oprah.

Thanks, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. As always, thank you, Ria Manglapus, for keeping this business running.

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

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