Real Wheels Live

Apr 30, 2010

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

ugh My two year old baby (which I brought home from Germany) finally got a door ding - and I did it, not someone in a parking lot. When you drop your garage badge, don't open the door on the pole to retrieve it. It's very small but I want to get it fixed. The dealer said that since it's on the crease (mid-point of the door, where it kind of bends out a little) if he were to pop it out, some paint might fleck off and it would be worse. I'd have to get the whole door repainted so that it would match up. Does that sound right? They said just touch it up with a few daubs of paint which to me would look worse - a bubble on top of a ding. How much do door-ding fixes usually cost, anyway? Thanks.

Good morning.

Door-ding fixes vary in cost with the door design and model vehicle. Your dealer has a point. Popping out that crease can ruin your painjt  job, necessitating a door repaint. Can someone do it more easily? I'm sure. But I'm not sure you would like the way it's done.



About a month ago I wrote to you about your thoughts for the Chev, Tahoe and how it compared to the similar imports in quality and value and you replied that the Tahoe was up there with all the other SUVs being a high quality car. Well last week posted an article that had the Escalade (Tahoe) as one of the worst cars on the road, rated poorly for low workmanship/quality... what are your thoughts - since we are still considering purchasing a Tahoe?

I'd have to k now the year of make. Today's Tahoe is far superior to earlier models, which primarily were cosmetic jobs.

Dear Warren, I find your dismissal of the Prius a bit unfair. Yes, there are problems in recycling the batteries and it still produces carbon. However, you should remember where the electric cars were before the Prius: literally in the JUNKYARD. Before the Prius, Americans associated fuel-efficient cars with tiny unsafe cars. With the Prius, Toyota demonstrated that you can build an affordable fuel-efficient car that is also good and safe (no easy joke about the brakes, please), thus reopening market and research on hybrids and electric vehicles. Without the Prius, we wouldn't have the Fusion Hybrid or the Volt. Does the electricity used to charge the car still produce carbon? Yes. YET, at night, when electricity is not in demand, the thousands of windmills that we are building still work, and so are the power plants, which cannot be shut down entirely. Recharging cars may be a good use of all this energy, which is produced anyway. Did the Prius displace better technologies? I don't think so. Hydrogen, besides also requiring electricity to be produced, needs the creation of an entirely new distribution and production system. Diesel is not much more efficient than a good hybrid in urban settings, where most of the people drive. Plug-in-Hybrid-Diesels may eventually get much better mileage, if no new and better technology appears. In short, the Prius is not the BEST car from an environmental viewpoint, YET it was the first VIABLE fuel-efficient car for TODAY AMERICANS, not for non-existing ideal people (was'nt someone raving about a 22mpg Infiniti?) and created a new market moving capitals and efforts in a new direction. A final comment: many people invented the phone before Bell and many invented the bulb before Edison. So Toyota is in good company.

Small, fuel-efficient cars were around long before Toyota introduced the Prius. But an America drunk on cheap gasoline just didn't buy them,  just as they didn't buy many Priuses (less than 1 percent of the U.S. market) until we were clobbered by rising fuel prices in 2007-2008.

Saying that does not demean the Prius's value. But it does put it in perspective. Truth is, if our political leaders had bothered to introduce an energy policy that forced consumers to pay attention to the true cost of gasoline, we would have had profitable sales of fuel-efficient cars and trucks long ago.

But that never happened.

Is the Prius important? Yes?. But did it start some kind of revolution in automotive fuel efficiency? Technical history says "no."

For that, I turn to the European Union, where governments sensibly demanded that consumers pay their share of the real cost of gasoline, forcing them to demand more efficient vehicles and to buy them at a profit to the manufacturer.

What is more efficient? Is it 50 percent of the market buying diesel-powered vehicles that are 30-35 percent more efficient than gasoline? Or, is it barely 1 percent of the market (in early years)  buying Priuses?

As for hydrogen, et al, this country is making a serious mistake by putting that technology on the back burner while the Europeans and Chinese busily are working to put in place the infrastructure that makes that much cleaner and more efficient technology viable. As usual, we here have chosen to go with the sizzle in lieu of the  steak, which is why, I suppose, we have more English majors than scientists.

do you know anything about the 2010 toyota avalon? my parents have a 2005 and are thinking of upgrading. thanks!

It's a good car, one of the best full-size sedans available. It's the best Buick Toyota ever made. And, nowadays, Buick makes some darned good Buicks.

My problem is choosing between the two. Either one would be a manual and probably non-turbo (not looking to pay for premium gas). I've got a kid on the way and the Outback looks bigger but when sitting in a Forester its much bigger than it seems. Your thoughts?

It depends on how much stuff you regularly intend to carry. If you regularly intend to carry a lot, get the Forester. If not, get the Outback.

Warren , My 2010 Camaro was delivered in September 2009. I had a problem with the airbag light coming on and it was finally fixed after four visits to the dealer. In March my car stalled out on me three times. Twice while pulling out of a parking space and once while driving at 25 mph in my neighborhood. Each time I was able to restart right away and I immediately called OnStar to run a diagnostic which found no codes. I took my car to the dealer and they were unable to duplicate the problem or find any codes. They held my car for one week and then released it to me w/out finding or fixing the problem. Fast forward one month and my car stalled out again this week. Neither OnStar or the dealer were able to detect any codes from running a diagnostic. GM told the dealer to change the oil, put in a fuel additive, and recommend that I use premium gas for the next month. I am not a mechanic but I can tell you that these fixes will not make the problem go away. I do not feel safe driving the car never knowing when it will stall out. I do not want to put myself, my family, and other drivers in danger. My last conversation with GM is that I can't prove that the car is stalling and they can't do anything for me. Do you think that I try to have my car classified a lemon? Also, how difficult is it to have a car classified as a lemon?

There are lemons, foreign and domestic. Getting your car classified as one can be quite difficult, depending on the jurisdiction in which you file your case. In Virginia, which seems to still believe in the Divine Right of Kings in corporate-consumer matters, it's difficult. In Maryland's Montgomry County, it's a lot easier, as it tends to be in California. Research the Lemon Law regs in your area. Research consumer-favorable settlements. That should gtive you an idea of your chances. In the interim, we'll post this for the GM-Chevy people to see. Let's see if the "New GM" is more responsive than the old company. Please, let us know.

Any preference or advice deciding between the new BMW 535 (due out in June, I believe) and the E Class based on joy to drive and practicality for DC driving?

Frankly, I'd take the BMW 335d over both of them. The thing gets about 35 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg in the city. It kicks butt--torque, acceleration (be careful in city), and handling--in both places.

Looking to replace a 1999 Honda Odyssey with another minivan within the next 3 months. We tend to drive for vacations and hauls kids across the region (our 3 plus various carpools). Any thoughts or suggestions?

Check out the Volkswagen Routan. Then, check out the Chrysler Town and Country. Gee, they look and perform so much alike. Same amenities. Same family friendly interiors. Something from the old VW-Chrysler alliance. Something good. But, perhaps, something less expensive as a Chrysler. Buy accordingly.

Happy Friday Warren! Convertible time! But on to reality: I was watching PBS' "Motor Week" and they had a good review of the GMC Terrain, which got decent mileage and drove well etc. But then I checked CR and they basically said the competitors (Toyota, Subaru) were better and mor reliable. Oh the confusion! I liked the GMC's looks and review, but I keep my cars forever and am really interested in how long they will last and how trouble-free they will be. IS CR the only place to get that info? Edmunds has it but to a far lesser degree. And what is your experience with GMC reliability? I'd love to pull the trigger but my 2004 Solara (6 cyl, non-convertible by the way) is spoiling me with its reliability and making me afraid even for a second car to make the right choice. Same with Hyundai and the like ... great reviews, but do they last into 100k territory with no troubles? Thanks!

You can go to Consumer's Digest, which has a diffrerent take. Also, you can go to Edmunds. I prefer going to the people who actually bought an Equinox (more sense financially) or a Terrain, most of whom seem just as pleased as people who bought Toyota and Subaru.

1) The Subaru Outback 3.6--is there any reason NOT to love it? This would be my "splurge" car (leather! sunroof! etc.) 2) For all car manufacturers whose interns read this chat: please--AMBER TURN SIGNALS ALWAYS! No need to have red ones for turn signals AND brake lights. Those little lights burn out and you can't always "read" the driver's signals through the glass (seeing a head turn, or body lean to infer their intentions). Thank you.

Many thanks. No argument here.

Have you had a chance to drive the VW Jetta TDI? What do you think of it? How concerned should one be about reliability and the poor reputation of VW dealers?

It's an absolutely lovely car. Good fuel economy. Terrific interior. Excellent driver. VW dealers nowadays, especially in the mid-Atlantic region, are doing much better in the repair bays. I'd buy.

When I was growing up, it was a big deal to watch the car go over the 100,000 mile point. Now even though everyone around here talks about Detroit junk, my Ford just went over 100,000 miles and it drives like it is new. Now I'm hoping for 250,000 miles. What do you think is a reasonable lifetime for a car?

I find that most of the people who talk about "Detroit junk" haven't driven anything from Detroit in years. It's like talking about Toyota's impeccable quality, often disputed in this space, before the real world caught up with and overcame that myth.

Truth is, everybody makes mistakes. Usually, everyone tries to 0vercome his or her errors. Often, most people, depending on their  understanding of previous errors and the sincerity and competence of their redemptive efforts, experience some form of genuine redemption.

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

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