Real Wheels Live

Apr 26, 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.

Horses and wheels supplanted walking and running. The automobile supplanted the horse. Is it any wonder that we are now speculating that the car, as we've come to love and loathe it, will be replaced by the completely autononomous automobile? We've mentioned that possible development in this space several times. We've evem explored several preliminary technologies--blind-spot monitoring, electronic parking assistance, et cetera. We must have been on the right trackThe Economist is touting the autonomous automobile on its April 20-26th cover. Let's talk.

Lou Ann here:

If you want to see some of the first autonomous vehicles, here's a link to a DARPA challenge

Good Morning Warren and friends,

I'm back from Shanghai, China and I am glad to be back!

This week I drove the Honda CRV and the Chevy Camaro. Right now I have a Kia Sorrento in my driveway. I was helping 90-year old Jeanie clean out a storage unit and I was quite impressed with the amount of cargo room in the Sorrento. Even after I piled it high the engine could take all the extra cargo.

Let's chat about cars

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A car's trade in value is often impacted by the total miles driven. If I drive a car 20,000 miles in a year, its value will be lower. If I keep that same car another year without driving more than 1,000-2,000 additional miles, it will be on par with other two year old cars. The assumption will be that it was driven 10,000-11,000 miles both years which is incorrect. Should there be a better way to gauge a car's value than just total miles?

First, a car's trade in value is affected by whatever is happening economically and politically at the moment.

You could have a Mercedes-Benz with super-low miles driven; but if that car gets 7 miles per gallon in an economy of $5 per gallon gasoline, nobody will want to pay much for it.

I just saw the new Tesla 4 door and I was wondering what is the lowest cost/per mile EV to drive. Patrick

Do you mean pure EV? I think the Nissan Leaf/Mitsubishi iMiev? is the cheapest, so it would have to be that.I'm not sure of the cost.

Are you looking for some other way to calculate?

Warren, in your view, what are the advantages and disadvantges between convertibles with hard vs soft cloth roofs? Which would you recommend.

I really see none. The Hard top convertible isn't wearing a safety bonnet; nor is the soft-top models. Vandals can slASH THE HARD-TOP. They'd have more difficulty doing that to the soft-top. It boils down to a matterz of style.

Warren I enjoyed your review of the Infiniti M37, but it made me think of this one small detail that keeps me from considering an infiniti. (its truly petty). Are there any features or design elements that just by there nature turn you off of a car just because they rub you wrong. And to be clear, I mean stuff that really is meaningless. A couple of mine are analog clock dials in the middle of dash boards (infinit), the placement of the gear shifter on the dash or partially up the dash (think Lexus RX), and not so meaningless but very common are SUV rear seats that don't fold flat (I envision the three times in the car's life that I'm going to need to move a piece of furniture and me cursing my car choice). I'll check these items and if the car has any of them it gets moved to the do not buy list.

Truly petty but equally understandable. If you don't like the "Tiffany" clocks, you don't like them. Thankfully, that jewelry has little or nothing to do with the on-road performance of the automobile.

MB dealer @ 90,000 miles recommends $300 fuel injector cleaner and $300 intake carbon cleaning, $90 air filter. I said yes. Was I a sap? Also, should rubber camshaft plugs leak and need to be replaced? Thanks.

No, you weren't a sap. You'd be a sap to think that you could ignore that maintenance advice and keep driving problem free.

Has there been any encouraging movement in the Saab story? I've driven Saabs since the late 80's, and I'm saddened by the prospect of them disappearing from the marketplace. I drove a Volvo before that, and I suppose I'll go back at the next update; something about the Swedish approach makes sense to me. Thanks. Chip Levy Washington, DC

As best I can tell, Saab is still waiting for a sugar daddy from China. You find out anything in Shanghai, Lou Ann?

Lou Ann here:

Saab wasn't even mentioned.

Hello. The kids are finally out of the house. Before kids I loved fun cars, camaro, RX7. No more SUV or mini vans. Any suggestions for an aging fun person for around $40,000. Would like for the car to be safe and fun and hold four people. Thanks for any suggestions.

Why is it they can't make a Maserati for under $40,000? :)

There are some great cars out there

Chevy Camaro

Ford Mustang

VW Eos

Infiniti G37

Honda Civic SI

Nissan 370Z

BMW 3-Series

Mazda Miata/MX5

Subaru WRX


Hi WB & LAH, love your work & as a faithful reader have been following the discussion of diesel engines. Lately I've had the opportunity to drive a VW Jetta wagon diesel and have been impressed with the torque it delivers as well as great mpgs. My current car requires premium and here in KC diesel is slightly higher than premium. However, I'll gladly pay that as it's returning much better mpgs than my own car. I see why the rest of world prefers diesels and hope that we get to see more models with diesel engines, especially in wagon form!

More diesels are on the way in the U.S. market. Cleaner, quieter, more fuel-efficient diesels. I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mazda's Skyactiv-D tecnology, by next fall, I think. With Skyactiv-D, Mazda is doing for diesel engines what the company already has done for gasoline engines--making them much more fuel-efficient with absolutely no reduction in performance. Can't wait!

Lou Ann here:

Sometimes it's the simplest explanations of why diesel does better than electric cars

Hi, I need to buy a car soon and have zeroed in on the Honda Fit as the most highly rated and economical choice. Also, my husband has had one for a couple of years, and I like it. What is your opinion on the Fit? Are there other choices out there that are competitive? Then, my other question is that I prefer a manual transmission. I've test driven both versions of the Fit, and if I get one I think I'll get the Sport model with MT. I don't drive a whole lot, but do a mixture of city and freeway, with occasional longer trips. But was wondering about your opinion on the Honda's manual versus automatic transmissions in terms of drivability, fuel economy, and reliability. Thanks.

I love the Fit for all of the reasons you cited. I particularly love the Fit Sport. Warning: That little car runs a lot faster than you might think. Ease off the pedal.

Hi, I've been meaning to post ,but, you know how time just flies by. Thanks so much for your advice! You answered many of my questions these past 3 months! I purchased a Honda Odyssey . We are luvin' the extra space for a family of 4 and a large dog. Just wondering about something that I was told. I was test driving an X3, which I loved, but the salesman said you don't need the blind spot monitor in the X3. What do you think? I knew I wanted the blind spot monitor in my new car, thus I purchased the Odyssey Touring Elite model. Thanks! Enjoy the sunny day if you are in DC!

It's the salespersons job to sell you a car they have on the lot. Did the X5 have blind spot? I doubt it.

The older people get, the less movement they have in their neck. It's harder to look from side-to-side. Enjoy your car with the amenities you know you needed and wanted and could afford.

Is it better to wait for new 2015 Golf TDI (out in US in 2014) or get the 2013 TDI? I have read that the 2015 Golf is a lighter, better car , that is out in Europe now. Any thoughts considering how much you liked the VW TDI Beetle.

I'd wait. The new model benefits from new reasearch and development in the areas of fuel economy, materials composition, and performance.

I am looking for a used car for my teenager. He just started driving a few months ago. Is it best to buy used from a private seller or a dealer?

Doesn't matter the source. Just remind himthat h is taking his and other futures in hand everytime he gets behind the wheel. Seriously. Check with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for best vehicle from a safety standpoint. Also, check with your local law enforcement and fire people. They have the best experience in these matters.

Since viable long range between recharges eVs are at least 20 years if not 30 years in the future near term future vehicles will be determined by current energy prices and a rational energy policy the exploits all this nation's natural resources w/o favoring one specific fuel. Folks are still going to need a fossil fuel powered vehicle to go see granny in Atlanta so a comfortable and safe vehicle to make 600 mile drive from DC is required. Also dont forget our vehicles are an expression of who we think we want to be. We still have freedom of choice is selecting either a Chevy Suburban or a Nissan Leaf to go to the range and blow off 500 rounds of ammo out of our AR15s. One fuel that has got to go is ethanol--it's not good for environment or food prices. Clifton, VA

Good morning clifton - how are the other 285 people in Clifton, VA doing this morning?

It's not just about the range of the car, it's about the infrastructure of the energy to charge your car. You can only go as far as the amount of gasoline in your car, but you have gas stations at almost every corner.

We spend a billion dollars a day on importing foreign oil. Certainly we could spend some of that on infrastructure of the electric grid and on technology to store electricity and technology to make batteries that go further. 

I am glad that there are people that would buy a full electric vehicle. I am not one of them. I, however, would buy a plug-in hybrid/range extender. Most days I don't need to go more than 40 miles but on those days I do I want that gasoline infrastructure.

BTW - the united states is exporting ethanol to countries like brazil and I don't eat corn, so...

So what are the chances Tesla is still going to be around in 5 years? Fisker needs to be face charges! The govt needs to stay out of selecting winners and losers in the energy and vehicle fields. Clifton, VA

Both are loaded and unfair questions trimmed with bias. The electric car business is relative brand new. There will be failures and successes, as there always are in new industries. Consumers will pick winners and losers as they usually doo.

Is Tesla going out of business? I ask because they're in a legal battle with dealers over whether Tesla can sell directly to consumers through Telsa-owned stores. I'm an attorney and this raises Constitutional issues similar to those involving interstate wine sales. BTW, I hope Tesla wins. I have a very low opinion of car dealers, and dislike restrictions on interstate commerce, such as those in state "dealer protection" laws. They protect dealers from the public by restricting competition.

As a person who habitually works with dealers, I understand their viewpoint. It is the product of a sorry history in which many of them were treated unfairly by the factories. But, that's history. Things have changed. Dealers nowadays are as important to branding as the manufacturer. If Tesla gets what it wants--factory stores--it may very well come to rue the day. If the dealers get Tesla's retail business, and the public balks loudly at an expensive battery-operated cars, they might rue that "success", too. It's all a gamble.

In any modern car or truck taking the time to set up the mirrors correctly will eliminate all blind spots and doesnt require a whole lot of movement from your head or neck. No you cant do this with the vehicle sitting still in your driveway. You dont need blind spot monitoring despite what NHTSA says. Pay attention and stop texting. I remember the bad old days before mirrors could be adjusted electronically and I still did this. You adjust all the mirrors to cover your blind spots. Clifton, VA


NHTSA studies how people have accidents. They can tell you what percentage is from blind spot, from distracted driving, from alcohol etc.

I have been in a car, with my mirrors set, and have still missed seeing a car. If I'm going in reverse, or changing lanes, I still look. It's a small expense for a large amount of safety.

But yes, texting/holding the phone while driving is still a huge problem. Even in California, where I live, it is prohibited and people still do it.

I am looking for a new car and am intrigued by the C/Max--any thoughts?

I like the Ford C-Max, especiall for urban running and hauling. I think it's also available in hybrid. Check it out.

"Vandals can slASH THE HARD-TOP. They'd have more difficulty doing that to the soft-top." Did you mean the other way around?


Have you heard any rumblings from Subaru about the possibility of offering diesels in the US? While my 2004 Pilot gives every indication that it could outlive me, it might not, and Subaru is the only manufacturer currently selling AWD vehicles with manual transmission in this country. A Subaru diesel would definitely get my attention!

Yes. Stay tuned.

Really Warren, we are exporting ethanol to Brazil, who produces it more cheaply than here in the US? And more efficiently? Where do you get this info?

Lou Ann here:

I was the one that said that.

Brazil uses sugar to make their ethanol.

 I was in Brazil and was told that because the cost of sugar had gone up so much it was cheaper to export ethanol from the US to Brazil. It could have been the supply of sugar they had that year.

Sorry Warren not new. Along with gas powered vehicles back when the automobile was first hitting the street there were also steamed powered cars and electric ie battery powered ones too. Electric cars are nothing new they just arent ready for prime time yet and may never be Clifton VA

What are you "sorry" about. When, where did I say electric cars were new. Not guilty. You are looking for an argument with me that doesn't exists.

RAV 4 and CR-V, which one is a better choice? The new RAV4 looks very attractive.

I like the CRV but think it is under powered. Go with the RAV4

Hi, is a blind spot monitor (those in the side mirrors of cars) available for after-market installation?

Yes, I think so.

Question was about difference between types of sellers. Your answer to the parent was they should get a safe car (and to ask police and firefighters about that???). I think the parent is already plenty interested about child's safety - do you have a response on dealer vs private seller? Private is much cheaper, to start with. Do dealers add value?

As I answered, it really matters not. It all deepends on the seller at the extant moment of the sale. But my advice stands: Yes, talk to police, fire, and insurance people about vehicle safety. Who better? I've never run into a car salesman at the scene of a fatal car crash. Have you?

I've never leased a car and I'm wondering if it's worth it. Is it really just like renting a car for a really long time?

Approach leasing with the same stealth and preparation with which you approach buying. Whatt can you afford? What are the ancillary costs? Do you want access to transportation more than you want ownershoip of transportation? What are personal benefits to owning, leasing? Study. Then buy or lease based on YOUR answers.

Hi Warren/Lou Ann. I saw a VW Beetle TDI the other day and liked the look of it. I am looking for something small and fun for my retirement, and I'm thinking that this should be on the list. Now I need to go drive one to see how I like it. Do you have any thoughts on the car?

Both Warren and I love the little Beetle, especially the TDI. More importantly, Warren's wife love it, so they will probably buy one :)

Warren-A few weeks ago you suggested to a reader that the Odyssey was a safer bet than the Sienna, Does your answer change if we live in a somewhat hilly area that gets occasional snow storms and more frequent 1-2 inches in the wintertime? We are looking at the 7-passenger AWD Sienna; the Odyssey does not come in AWD version. Is it worth the trade off for the AWD (and the run flats that come with it). Thank you.

I said, I thought, that I like the Odyssey better than I do the Sienna, which remains true. Both are safe when used as designed. AWD in wet icy environs usually beats tw0-wheel drive, regardles of manufacturer.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann - thanks very much for these sessions. I look forward to them every week, and the information I've picked up has been helpful on more than one occasion. But, please come clean :-). Is "Clifton" for real - or is one of you inventing the messages to keep the conversation going? If the latter, you might want to tone it down. Frankly, it starts sounding petty after a while. If the former, the same suggestion applies. Maybe just a wee bit of a filter??? Keep up the good work - I'll keep reading!

We have no idea who Clifton is, or who any of you are. We only know Clifton because he signs it Clifton.


I think you missed my question about the transmission -- is there any reason to get the automatic other than preference? Has either of you driven one or the other? Gas mileage reports vary but they seem to be similar in both AT and MT. Thanks again.

I prefer the automatic which also can be shifted manually, which is how many transmissions come nowadays. Tradidition manual gearboxes have lost their appeal to me, particularly in congested traffic areas. Computers have completely rewritieen the equations as to which is more fuel efficient--manual or automatic. That's an old-school concern.

Hi! Any word on when the new Corvette will be released - and (perhaps more importantly), what the price range will be?

As we speak with real appearances to begin late summer.

Hiya Warren and Lou Ann: Thanks for doing these chats. Is there an estimated time frame for the new VW bus to appear in the U.S.? It looks so cool. I can't wait to trade my boring minivan for one. Any insights?

VW sources guestimate late fall 2013. I'l believe it when I see it. We've been waiting for that one for a bit.

We recently rented a GMC Acadia, which had a backup camera. When you put the selector in Reverse, the left third of the inside mirror shows an image of what's behind the car. I found it to be sort of useful, except for one thing: The depth of field is grossly distorted -- objects that look like they are maybe 20 feet away are actually less than 5 feet. I have enough brains not to blindly trust the camera, but wouldn't it make sense to have less distortion? (That's the only backup camera I have ever used, so I don't know if other manufacturers put better cameras in their vehicles.)

hmm. most cameras are spot on, so I'm surprised. I think all backup cameras should come with the green, yellow red that shows when you're getting close to something. They should also be required to have a sensor beep that sounds when you're about to hit something. I was in a Mercedes the other day that topped out over $100,000 and it didn't have a sensor beep, but has a beep everytime I turn off the car to remind me to take my keys.

Warren, if you won't answer the question about how to purchase, and just say buy the safest car, then you may as well cut and paste that as your answer to every single question regardlesss of content. So I will answer the questioner's query: A private seller will be signficantly cheaper - you might buy the equivalent car for $8K from private, but $10K from dealer. The dealer must make a profit on top of what he just bought the used car for. The tradeoff is that a dealer will give you some form of warranty (sometimes very minimal, like 30 days), and they have cleaned it up nicely. I would go private, but it's ok to go to a dealer and pay more, to get a little bit more peace of mind. But it might not be worth it.

Thank you for going into a bit more detail. I might also add, a car dealer can provide a warranty for a used car. In each case, please do due diligence and have the car checked over by your mechanic. You can also request a carfax report. While not 100% perfect they are the best reporting I know of.


Thanks for the help

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. For the chatter whose still going on about who to buy from, take this: Use common sense. If you think you are being messed with by a dealer, chose someone else. If you feel you can't trust a private seller, chose someone else. There are no hard and fast rules here.

Thank you, Matt Monahan, for another fine production. Thanks, Lou Ann, for your work for us in Shanghai. your contribution today, and for returning without the flu. Thanks Ria Manglapus for all you do. And thanks. Michelle Dawson, for the work you do on our behalf with the dealers. 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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