Real Wheels Live

Apr 25, 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


How much over the MSRP of the base cost did you pay for your car? 


The average transaction price of a car keeps sneaking up, it's over $30,000!


I have noticed that the base price of a car hasn't increased that much and I'm wondering if people are buying more expensive cars or are they buying base cars and tweaking them out? 


How much was the base price of your car and how much did you end up spending on it? 


Let's chat about cars


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Lou Ann Hammond

Hi Warren, hi Lou Ann. I like your chats even though I have never been to the US myself. You have travelled the world alot, so what car would you advise a fellow US citizen if he was to travel through Europe? What vehicle would you advise to a European who makes a road trip in the US? My father usually rents a Mazda 6 when he visits the US, but that sounds like a boring choice to me. Rob from Magdeburg (Germany)

You could try the VW CC, if you want to stay with something more Ruropean during U.S. visits. A mid-size, well-equipped sedan aith a 2-liter petro motor, definitely highway competitive. Or a Dodge Challenger or Mustang if you want to feel American in America. In Europe, when there, my bias usually lean towards Opel and Fiat.

Lou Ann here: 

There are European programs set up - BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, VW/Audi - that allow you to purchase a car in the US, take a trip to Europe, drive YOUR car in Europe and they will ship it back home. 

Search for it on the web or talk to a car dealer. 

Is there a better, safer, honest way to purchase a new car? I just recently purchased one, with items I didn't want, but it was part of the package. The salesman--first agreeable one in over 18 months, about the 7th one--was fine, but I really wanted a slightly less "loaded" car. Is there really a safe way to order exactly the car one wants directly from the manufacturer, like in the 1960s and 1970s?

No. Automobiles nowadays are works of modular assembly for reasons of production-cost control, no matter who manufactures them. The tendency is to sell packages, example: driver asssistance packages which often include items such as lane-departure warning, blind-side monitoring. You can go to almost any online retail information, sort out the packages and attendant prices before you buy.

Lou Ann here: 

If you find a car on the internet but you don't want to drive that far, or you want to deal with a certain car dealer ask the car dealer if you can buy it from them. They have services that trade cars between dealers all the time. 

I have often noticed that my gas gauge seems to move slowly the first half of the tank and quickly the 2nd half. The indicator uses 8 bars to indicate the amount of gas left in the tank. It is an ~8 gallon tank, so each bar should represent 1 gallon of gas. My car averages 40 mpg, so I would assume it would loose one bar every 40 miles. Instead, it shows all 8 bars until I go about 75 miles. It loses the 2nd bar around 110 miles, 3rd around 150, and 4th around 180 miles. By the time it looses the 7th bar, it is pretty close to the 280 miles that I would expect at 40 mpg. I have noticed this on other cars I have owned where the needle remains on FULL for a long time and then slowly goes through the 3/4, 1/2, and 1/4 levels.

Yeah. Happens all the time. Still accurate, though, but just not the way your logic parses it. I only pay real attention to the last bar, meaning you have about 50 miles less plus, maybe, a little reserve. Just don't drive to far with the last bar showing and don't worry about the rest.

These German car makers have all come out with new entry-level vehicles. Any experiences with these vehicles? Thanks.

I just drove the Audi A3 and loved it. great car for the money. The CLA is getting lighter, it is a beautiful design. The BMW is a great driving car. 

Are you looking for all around substantial car - Audi - or unsurpassed beauty - Mercedes - or BMW's ultimate driving machine? 

I prefer sports cars and hot hatches, but I am even older than Warren and I am approaching the point where it will be better for me to have a vehicle with a little higher seat, so that I can more easily enter and exit. Which of the small SUVs have good handling, good brakes and a zippy engine? I would prefer either a dual-clutch or a good automatic transmission. Thanks.

Check out the Audi Q5 on the high end of the price spectrum and the Chevrolet Equinox on the more affordable end.  Just note that the Equinox, although a worthy piece, tends to lose resale value faster.

I'd go with the Subaru Imprezza.

Thank you. Eack column is an adventure. The aim is to get better with each one.

I'm going to test drive new cars this weekend—must have all-wheel/4-wheel drive and come in around (or under $30,000). On the list is: Subaru Impreza, Legacy, Crosstrek, Crosstrek hybrid; Jeep Cherokee; Kia Sportage; and Buick Encore. Already eliminated from my list (for either cost or safety reasons): Ford Escape, Jeep Compass, Mazda CX5, Nissan Rogue and XTerra, and Hyundai Tucson. Did I miss anything, and what from the lists would you recommend or should I re-look at?

anything subaru would be good. I'm surprised you eliminated the Mazda CX-5. Why? 

Not the Jeep Cherokee or the Buick Encore. You could do Kia sportage, but Subaru is the master of all-wheel drive. 

Hi Warren, on the home page of the WP Cars section, the most recent review from you is dated March 21st. I get the paper version too, but it's nice to go back and read your reviews online from time to time. Thank you for your great work.

Thank you. Each column is an adventure in writing. The aim is to get better, with reader in mind, with each one.

Is a road test of the Mercedes CLA turbo-diesel on the schedule?

Yes. In Two weeks, right M-B?

Consumer-conscious Honda must have a secret sadistic mole. Why else would they seemingly respond to Fit fans' frequent calls with a new manual tranny additional top gear (needed to reduce the 3500+ rpm drone on interstates), together with a technically complementary boost in engine horsepower and torque, only to list the new 6th gear as the SAME RATIO as the current 5-speed's top gear?! Is this data merely a belated April Fool's fib, or is it now time for a Congressional investigation of this senseless outrage along with GM's ignition switch debacle?

I don't know about all of that.  What I know is that Honda is winning kudos worldwide for the clever packaging of its new Fit, which somehow is small enough on the outside to esaily fit into the tightest urban spaces, but large enough inside to handle a six-footer and her packages. That sounds like a winner to me. No one buys a Fit to race or meditate on gearing.

Lou Ann here: 

Warren and I agree on the Fit that it can be transformed, configured, in about 6 different ways to fit many almost any need, but I prefer the automatic version of the Fit to the manual. I don't like the gearing. 

Those new Fiats have the strangest green color. Is that enamel?

My girlfriend, Holly Reich,, and I were laughing at some of the colors of the cars at the New York auto show, saying they would make great nail polish colors. Fiat needs flash to stand out. It's a small car and it needs to be seen. 

Hi—for a long story with a lot of reasons that aren't worth going into here, I bought a new car for about $38K out the door last summer that I didn't really want and I like less and less every day. Car's showing a value of about $25,000 on now, and I owe $23.5K on it now. I would love to trade it for something I actually like (and I'm willing to buy used to make the values a wash)—but I'd like to do that when the car has maximum loan-to-value ratio. (And no, driving it until it's paid off isn't what I want to do!) Any advice?

Sometimes, it's better to wait before placating your heart. This is one of those times. If the car in hand still works, is still safe, amortize its value through continued use. Pay down the existing note until you are considerably more upside than downside on the value equation. Right now, you seem only about $2,000 upside, not enough to make a switch.

Lou Ann here:

Clearly, you're not going to wait. You hate the car. Find a car that is not from the same manufacturer, a new car. Tell the car dealer that you have a different make car and that if they would like to increase the manufacturer's marketshare you are willing to help them if they will eat the lose on the car. 

Warren, I don't think that you responded directly to the previous question. The person was asking why Honda didn't reduce the final drive ratio so that the more powerful engine wouldn't have to rev as high as previously, which high revving generated an annoying drone at highway speeds.

I don't know. Who cares, really? There is an optional automatic transmission for the 2015 Fit, a CVT, I think, With either manual or automatic, it is a pepppy litttle car--easily one of the best designed subcompacts available, especially with that very clever rear flat-fold seat. It will sell well.

Lou Ann here:

I agree with you guys, the manual revs too high. Buy the automatic. 

Warren, I know you've had experience with Minis. We flatted a front tire yesterday. Car is 5 years old, but only 25k miles. It looks like replacing the factory-spec run-flat Continentals would be about $250 each, and we were thinking of just replacing the front two. Or replacing all four with either Bridgestones or Michelins at Costco would only be about $600, but they don't have run-flats. Any thoughts on the choice? How well do the cans of compressed air/sealant work because the car doesn't have spare and I want to have something if we didn't get run flat tires? Thanks.

I'd place all four with Bridgestones and forget about the run flats. Just make sure that your AAA road-service card, or other road servive is up to date.

I think a lot of that creep has to do with the bundling of options in packages, where you have to buy a certain trim level package in order to get the option you want. If I want navigation, I have to upgrade to the Audio and Entertainment Trim, with surround sound, acoustically dampered ceiling louvers, and real imitation faux leather radio knobs. Just sell me the dang navigation system.

Good point, if I want heated seats I can't just buy heated seats I have to buy a whole package. 

good point. 

I wanted to see what all the critical praise was about for the new Impala, so I rented one for a couple days. After about 100 miles, my assumption was confirmed: it's still the same old mediocre GM something-for-everyone, but nothing special. Still like driving your couch, except your couch has better acceleration and tighter brakes. Sorry.

Ok, but did I advise you to pull one out of a commercial rental fleet? If so, I goofed. Those fleets generally buy the least representative sample of everything.

Do you have a picture you can share with us? I went to that website and it didn't have anything I could see about green Fiats. Lots of ads though.

Metallic pea green. I think it is an homage to fuel economy, clean exhaust or something.

Are you able to give readers a few recommendations for non-warranty repair work on a relatively new car? Or point us to a source for ranking car repair shops in the area. The dealer from whom I bought the car is way too expensive, and I think their repair shop has fairly limited expierence with non-warranty work. Thanks.

Make sure the mechanic is ASE certified. They don't have to be at a dealership but most reputable mechanics are ASE certified these days. 


If you're unwilling to address consumer concerns with the manufacturer, can you provide us with a contact so we can ask directly?

I care. I have put on each of the blogs that the gearing on the Fit isn't what I expect from a manual, it revs to high. Go back and read them. 

The automatic is the better bet. There are few times I will say that about an automatic but this is one of them. The manufacturer knows, I told them. 

The need for a taller top gear isn't to race, but to reduce noise and engine wear while on interstates, and give highway fuel mileage as good as the CVT is capable of because of its higher gearing. Why didn't Honda's new 6th gear answer that long-sought need?

I don't know. I'll put that question to Honda. Lou Ann does not like the new Fit manual. In a very brief exposure, I had no problem with it. I have another one coming and will take a closer look.

Some of the shades of green seen on Fiat 500s remind me of the green commonly seen on Volvos in the mid '70s to early '80s. One shade of green is close to shade popularized by Bianchi, an Italian bicycle maker. Maybe one has to be Italian to like the color. Bianchi calls the color "celeste." Volvo drivers used to call the color "snot green."

hey, I used to have a Volvo snot green 240Dl! :) 

I wonder why celeste, though. When I think of celeste I think celestial. perhaps pistachio? 

Good morning Warren! Thank you for hosting this chat. I am looking to purchase a used, mid-size sedan (preferably a 2011/2012), and for the first time in several years, I am leaning toward a domestic vehicle over a foreign one. I am considering a Nissan Maxima, Infiniti, Volkswagen CC, but so far the Lincoln MKZ has been very impressive in terms of the options it comes with, and the smooth, comfortable ride. Can you or anyone out there speak to the reliability of this vehicle, or provide any experience (good or bad) you have had with it? Are there any others I should be considering? Thank you!

The Lincoln MKZ gets generally good consumer reviews. But I noticed that Ford has increased its warranty reserves for 2010-1013 models. That could actually be a good thing.  Check,, for service repair notes.

A few years ago my husband and I, aging baby boomers, bought a Volvo v70. We loved it for the space In back, enough for two dog crates plus luggage, and the comfort and convenience features. It also included built-in child seats, which we didn't need and would never have chosen, but they were part of the car, so OK. Guess what—since then, my niece has given birth to twins. Looks like those built-in car seats might come in handy after all, for family travel. You never know, sometimes those unwanted but functional extras can prove their worth later on.

yes, and they will certainly make for better resale value. It's just that upfront cost and the jump between the base and what you end up paying out the door. 

The top Google image search results for "metallic pea green" are for the Griswold's Wagon Queen Family Truckster Station Wagon! Sweet! Does Fiat offer optional wood panels, too?

they will for a price :) 

Has anyone driven or tested it yet?

Coming soon, according to Toyota.

Warren, I also bought a new car last year that I hate, but my car is paid off. My car is a 2013 Sonata Ltd. It gets dismal city mileage (slightly over 18 mpg), lower than the EPA estimate on the sticker, and I'm thinking of trading it in for a hybrid sedan (2014.5 Toyota Camry) that would be more suitable for my twice- daily commute, on which I rarely go above 35 mph. Your thoughts (other than I should have gotten a hybrid to begin with, which is correct)?

Do you have a place you can plug your car in? If so get a plug-in hybrid. 

Your commute is the perfect range to go back and forth and rarely use gas. You could commute on electric almost everyday and then on the weekend go 30-40 miles before using gasoline. 

There are a group of plug-ins now

Audi A3 phev (coming soon to a car dealer near you)

Ford Fusion energi phev

Chevy Volt phev

Toyota Prius phev 

If your Sonata is paid off and you hate it, go ahead and trade it in. The Camry Hybrid, $35,555, is a good choice, albeit a bit pricey for things Toyota.

When the warning lights on my 2005 Prius lit up like a Christmas tree, I determined it was time to get a new car. I need a hybrid so I can continue to use the HOV lanes for my commute until I retire. I'm trying to keep the bottom line under $25K. Another Prius would be fine, but my wife is leaning towards a more conventional looking car. My top choice is the Camry becuse it doesn't look like Hyundai or Kia have updated their hybrids lately and the Fusion is too darn expensive. Any other suggestions?

The Camry hybrid would be fine, Can you do a plug-in hybrid 

Ford Fusion energi phev

Chevy Volt phev

Toyota Prius phev 

A number of myths have circulated as to why Bianchi named their signature green color celeste. One myth is that the color was named after the green eyes of a certain Italian princess. Another myth is that the color was the result of mixing surplus paint leftover from WWII. There is no myth about the color being named after what founder Edoardo Bianchi saw in his handkerchief after blowing his nose.

Geez! Thanks.

How much does the convertible actually feel like a convertible, given the design? Is a real convertible feel, or more like a really big sunroof? I have loved my 500 Sport and Abarth.

More like a big sunroof, to me. But my research tells me that the design has more to do with agrarian life in Italy, farm implements thhrough the roof and all of that. Am I off base?

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week. We will check out your unanswered questions, such as the one on the gearing in the 2015 Honda Fit. Thanks for a fine production, Angela Wong; for your West Coast contributions, Lou Ann Hammond; for keeping the cars running, Ria Manglapus; for dealer relations and public relations, Michelle Dawson. Thank you all. 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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