Real Wheels Live

May 04, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will be joined by Lou Ann Hammond to discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

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I recently spent $2,500 for a lousy repair job on our 2001 Mini Cooper. Had I checked out Repair, a national repair shop rating service, I probably could've gotten a better job for substantially less money. We'll have the principals from Repai Pal next week to discuss with us how they do what they do. It should be an informative show. Today's show ought to be kicking, too. Let's roll!


I am in Leipzig, Germany attending an International Transportation Forum (ITF). It is put on by the OECD, a group of 54 countries, all coming together to try to find answers to our transportation issues. 


One forum I attended was about global fuel economy. I interviewed Lew Fulton from the International Energy Administration (IEA). Fulton said that by 2050 we could expect the global number of light duty vehicles to triple to 2.3 billion on the road. Where will we get the fuel for the all of those cars? You can watch his interview at 


One question for all of you - in the gallon of gas that you buy are federal taxes, around 18 cents per gallon. Of that 18 cents 2.86 cents goes to public transportation. Are you okay with part of the tax on gasoline going to public transportation? 


But for now, let's chat about cars. 


Lou Ann- If Audi claims that they want to take over as the #1 German autobrand in 2015, why do they offer such limited options compared to BMW? For the 3 series, BMW offers both manual and auto versions of the 328, 335, 335d, xdrive, sport wagon, coupe, convertible, hybrid, and of course M. Audi only offers a 2.0L A4, the S4, and the new Avant. C'mon.

I think BMW has had a bit more time to build their brand. Audi was down in the dumps for awhile and Audi of America went through a couple executives before they hit on Johan DeNyschen. Since he has come into power Audi has created a certified used car program, increased dealer loyalty and brought in new cars. Audi also has to share their revenue with Volkswagen and they maybe hampering them as well. It has been many years since VW had a profit in the US. 


Hello, need your advice, please, on which three-row CUV is best for babies and adults who would need easy access to a roomy third row. Have you driven the new Infiniti yet? It may be out of my price range. What are your thoughts on the Ford Flex and Ford Explorer? Also, fuel-efficiency is important. Thank you.

I still maintain that the best third-row crossovers are among the GM triumvirate--the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. All three offer easy third-row access and third-row seats that are more protected than those of most rivals from rear-end collisions. Fuel economy. About 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24mpg on the highway, isn't much to cheer about. But it's competitive with everything in the large crossover category. I'd also recommend taking  close look at the Ford Flex and the wonderfully surprising, in terms of value for dollar, Kia Sorrento.

Last week you said a lot more people prefer to drive an auto. I don't disagree. Do you agree that that for sporty sedans like BMW and Audi, the percentage of those want to drive manuals is higher?

I'll have to check those numbers. But, I don't think so. Although it is true that you are more likely to find manuals among the sporty set. For example, check out the new BMW X1 (due on these shores in the fall) and the hot little Ford Focus ST (expected retail also in the fall.) Both come with traditional six-speed gearboxes as standard transmissions.

Do you mean higher than other car models, as an industry average? You might be right. If you mean more manuals than automatics, no.

I would include Porsche. Remember, there are many vehicles that have automatic transmissions with paddle shifters. 

Hi there Warren: I haven't bought a car since 1998, but it's about time to trade in my old Toyota Corrolla, which no longer fits my family of four very comfortably. Any suggestions on a good family sedan that won't break the bank? I like to drive cars until the bitter end and am looking for safety, comfort and good gas mileage. Should I buy new or used? Ford or Toyota? Thanks for the guidance! The whole idea of going onto a dealer lot is very intimidating to me!

My husband and I are the same. We buy the best we can buy, within our budget at the time we are buying it. We use it till it cost more to fix it than to buy a new one. We do this with everything we own. We have a wheelbarrow that is 12 years old that my husband has riveted aluminum in the bottom :) The economy would not do well if it were depending on us! 

Look at the new Toyota Avalon. It's beautiful, and you already know Toyota. 



I looked at a Chevy Equinox and it has some nice features (back seat adjusts back/forward!) but to get AWD on it or equivalent cars, you give up mpg. My '99 Honda CRV gets 19/26 and the advance in mpg in 13 years is minimal. Max on highway is 32 and they probably rarely get that. I can't keep waiting though. Looking at '12 CRV, RAV4, Equinox, maybe Forester. But mpg is still minimally increased in all those. Pitiful. Will they increase mpg in anything but electric cars?

The problem:

Yours is not a fair comparison. You are comparing a heavier all-wheel-drive vehicle with a lighter front-wheel-drive model. Extra weight in tandem with all-wheel-drive requires more energy and, thus, consumes more fuel.  But even with that being the case, the engineers of the Equinox have made notable progress in fuel economy. The 2012 all-wheel-drive Equinox LS, for example, delivers 22 mpg city and 32 mpg hwy using regular unleaded gasoline.

Help, please. I currently drive a 2003 Volvo XC70 with 120k miles. I am the second owner and have had fairly minimal repair costs until this year. I drive about 5k miles a year (take public transportation to work) and am having a hard time figuring out if I should keep my car and plan for expensive repairs or if it's time to get a different car. I am single and don't really need a station wagon or 4-wheel drive (bought the car from family member so emotional attachments to the car). What I really want is a 2 or 3 year old VW Golf (preferrably TDI for gas mileage). Is that a logical move? Or is it just plain dumb to go from no car payments to car payments when I drive so few miles a year? I appreciate your help/suggestions.

You're just breaking in your Volvo. I owned a Volvo 240 and put 250,000 miles on it before I finally sold it for $2,500. And that was back in the '80s! 

I love your financial prudence. If I'm reading your sentiment correctly you don't really want a new car, you love not having a car payment, you're just beginning to wonder if life is too good to be true. You own a Volvo. Life is good. You have no car payments. Life is better. 

Unless you decide that you want to change your car and acquire a car payment that matches I would keep that car. The VW Golf TDI is a fine car, but there's nothing wrong with your car. And if you put $50 a month away each month you won't be caught off guard if there are little repairs. 

Mr. Brown, what kind of "city" driving did you do when you test drove the Volvo wagon a couple of weeks ago? I ask because I own the S60 T5 and I get really terrible city mileage - like about 14 mpg! But when I say "city" I mean "Washington, DC" - and that means a stop sign or traffic light almost every block and not only obeying the speed limits but often being forced by traffic to drive at a pace below the posted speed limit. when I complained to the service bay at my dealership they said my mpg was about what other owners were getting driving around town. I couldn't believe your claimed mpg - where were you driving? Some mid-western or southern mid-sized town where one can drive for half a mile at 35 mph without encountering a stop?

I drove in the District and Baltimore, but I did it in off-peak hours, avoiding all "rush-hour" traffic and noon-time rush D.C. traffic. I concede that most of us can't choose when we are going to drive in the city. I can. And I learned a long time ago that my mileage increases on off-peak driving schedules. Otherwise, I'd be there with the rest of you good folks, literally dumping gasoline on the streets waiting to move an inch.

Warren, I have been compact SUV shopping and have been feeling that I have been hoodwinked. Both the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape Eco-Boost claim to have "class leading" fuel economy; however, when I check the specs., those great numbers are for FWD/manual transmissions. The specs. for AWD/Automatic transmissions are no better than the Honda CRV which is my first choice. In addition, the Ford came to $3K more than the comparably equipped CRV and Ford want an additional $395 for red paint or $495 for Pearl White paint. No way!! Charles in DC

Good on you for doing your homework, Charles! I'm very proud of you. 

All car manufacturers, just like people, try to put their best foot forward. They will advertise the best miles per gallon, the lowest price in class, blah, blah, blah. 

You have to shop for the exact car model you want then compare it against the other competitors. 

The new Honda CRV is a great vehicle. Enjoy it. 

Can a front wheel drive do well enough in occasional snow/ice? Or should you pay the extra for AWD for only occasional snow/ice driving?

Yes, a front-wheel-drive car can handle most snows in the mid-Atlantic region. That's not an opinion. It's a fact based on much driving of front-wheel-drive cars, including my beloved Mini Cooper, in Washington-area snows. But getting through that mess with front-wheel-drive, or all-wheel-drive, for that matter, involves common sense. If there is a six-inch snowfall and your car has a four-inch ground clearance, it's best to keep it parked. If your ride is shod with low-aspect ratio, high-performance "summer" tires, it's best to keep it parked. If the rubber on your front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive car is visibly worn, it's best to keep it parked.

Not sure if this is a question for you, for Clifton, or for Michele Singeltary. I am shifting from a car-less existence to one with a daily city commuter vehicle. When figuring out the cost of car ownership, I am good at figuring out the cost of the vehicle purchase/financing (easy to determine), the cost of gasoline (I can estimate based on my expected daily drive), and the cost of insurance (because the insurance company tells me over the phone, straight up). Where I fail is estimating annual or lifetime maintenance costs. Is there some average calculation, like "20% of the cost of a new Toyota Camry; 50% of the cost of a Porsche 911"? Thanks.

Look at,,, None will give you a percentage of cost (that I know of) but they will give you some idea of how expensive a car is to maintain. 

And remember, there is a difference between reliability and repair. Warren will tell you that his MINI Cooper is quite reliable, but as you see in his post today, he paid $2,500 for repairs. Ouch! Oh, so also check out 

From warren - Had I checked out Repair, a national repair shop rating service...


That's easy. Go to,, or to a federal government port, such as Input your vehicle's particulars. Search for "total cost of ownership" or a similar rubric. You should get the information you want.

Why do you oppose gas tax money going toward public transit?

I didn't say I was. I asked you if you what you thought. 

I do take into account that as we get more vehicles on the road that get better miles per gallon we won't use as much gasoline. This would mean less money to fix the roads that we drive on. As there are more electric cars on the road, they won't pay gas tax at all, but they will still drive on the roads. 

I just like to see what you think and give you more parts of the picture to think about. 


Lou Ann, as you raised the topic. 2.86 cents per gallon for public transportation? We should all be happy if it were 28.6 cents. Or higher. Every person riding on a metro train or bus, or, for that matter, walking or biking to work, is, by definition, not driving in a car. Those of us who are driving cars should be thankful to all of them, and happily fork over our three pennies for the cause.

Many people feel like that. :) 

It has been pointed out that there are many taxes that benefit people that have nothing to do with that tax. The first example would be people that don't have children that contribute property taxes to education. 

There is always a case to be made for that tax distribution. 

You must be talking to Lou Ann, a California Republican who opposes all things tax. I'm an Obama Independent who favors sensible taxing policy, especially in matters of energy. I strongly favor imposing a larger federal tax, especially on gasoline, which is a woefully inefficient fuel. I favor shifting the proceeds of that tax to mass transit. But here is something I've found in my extensive research on the matter: Much of the opposition to mass transit has little to do with financial costs. It has much to do with sociology. To wit: Ever wonder why tony Georgetown has no Metro service? And it's not just well-off whites who oppose mass transit. It's everybody, including affluent blacks and other people of color, who want to keep their neighborhhods free of people who aren't like them in class or income. We can raise all of the taxes we want. But until we get the sociology problem solved, we will not expand mass transit.

When I was shopping for a subcompact car, I bought the Honda Fit because it can carry two bicycles upright (front wheels off, back seats folded flat). This week I am taking care of a friend's dog at my house. The extra-large dog crate (40" long, 30" high) easily fit in the back of the car . And I get 35 - 38 mpg.

All good to know. 

How old is the dog? Are they able to jump into the back? 

Warren and I are always getting questions about cars that work for dog owners. 

The LS and LT Equinox's I looked at on the lot had 20/27 listed on their stickers. AWD.

Right. Just another example - figure out what you want first. AWD, FWD, RWD; manual or automatic. There are some automatics that get the same fuel economy as manual. You just have to check. 

Hello Warren, I'm in the market for a used AWD drive vehicle, up to about $12,000. We've had a Subaru in the past so I'm looking mostly at an older Outback or Forester. I'm intrigued by the Volvo XC90 and XC70. Any strong warnings or recommendations, or other vehicles to look at? Priorities are reliability and some cargo capacity, though we're not looking for a larger SUV. Good gas mileage and performance would also be great.

I would stick with the Subaru. Tried and true. 

Warren/Lou Ann, I enjoy the conversations each week. I just wanted to ask do you know anymore information about the new Chevy Colorado pickup that supposedly might come to the US. It is currently in Thailand and a few other countries. The current Colorado (also Avalanche) have been left in really bad shape with no major upgrades. The current Colorado has terrible engine and transmission selections, no navigation system. So the new Colorado in Thailand has a diesel, maybe GM would listen that truck people like diesels in little pickups. Still remember my late uncle's Chevy Luv diesel (over 40 mpg).

I've never gotten a straight answer from GM on that question. How about you, Lou Ann? But I have bugged GM about the possibility of bringing a diesel-powered Colorado stateside, one that finally will render proper homage to the Great State of Colorado.

Sorry Warren currently for the US no manual trannie available CLifton VA

Keep an eye on that spot, Clifton. A manual tranny for U.S. sales of the X1 is under strong consideration; albeit I probably jumped the gun on "announcing" it.

The story about Georgetown blocking a Metro stop is mostly an urban myth:

Really? And why doesn't Georgetown have an accessible Metro station? The "urban myth" charge sounds more like  liberal embarrassment to me. What's next, "some of our best friends ride metro....?"

Would you support increased tolls or parking rates if gas tax revenue decreases?

What is being looked at is taxing per mile driven instead of gasoline used. What would happen to the mass transit gas tax then? 

In some states the road tax part of the gas tax can be used to balance the state budget instead of fixing the roads. 

I don't have the answers, but if I make sure you know the concerns we can at least talk about them before the decisions are made for us without any input from us. 

I wish we could all grow up on the issue of taxes and responsibility. Currently, for example, roads in the federal and state highway systems are funded by motor fuel taxes. As we trend more away from increased consumption of gasoline and diesel, that tax-funded fix-and-repair treasury will decline. The money to continue timely repair and maintenance, and needed construction, will have to come from somewhere. That probably will mean a tax on road use, that sort of thing. So yes, I favor those fees you suggested. Do I look forward to paying them? Of course not. But I also don't relish the idea of uisng roads in woeful disrepair.

Hi Warren, curious to know if Hyundai/Kia are planning on delivering a new minivan to our shores anytime soon? Our minivan is aging and want to see what they might be up to, thanks!

I was in Korea in 2011 and I don't remember Kia mentioning a new minivan. Michael Sprague, Kia’s U.S. marketing chief was asked about a pickup truck (because of the “KC4-Mojace” concept shown earlier) he emphatically said, “No thank you. There are so many other areas we would go into before we would go there”

Does that mean a minivan? Not sure. 

Before buying any vehicle, you should call the service departments and ask how much for an oil change, major service, replacing the pads and rotors front and rear, replacing transmission fluid and if necessary and differntial fluids etc. Also you need to flush the brake fluid every two years and change the radiator fluid every 3 years or so. Lifetime fluid means life of the transmission not of the car. Not changing transmission fluid can shorten life of the trannie. Clifton, VA

Many thanks, Brother Clifton!

Lou Ann- I think that car drivers are a major beneficiary of mass transit, as such transit reduces the number of cars competing for fixed road miles. So I have no trouble at all with gas taxes subsidizing transit.

See, Lou Ann. I am NOT the only one with those ideas. You California Republicans need to get real, Lady!!

Hi Warren and Lou Ann: Did either of you get to see/test-fly the Terrafugia Transition at the NY Auto Show? How soon until we have flying cars available? We were promised jet packs, but this is getting there. Is this the wave of the future? Thanks!

Dr. Carl Dietrich was on WABC, in studio, with John Batchelor and myself at the New York auto show

If you can afford $279,000 you can put your name on the list to get one. It's an interesting concept. 

 By the way - Warren was in studio with John, myself and Mary Kissel from WSJ as well. You can hear us at

You asked whether the dog is able to jump into the back of the Honda Fit. I don't know the height of the cargo floor off the ground, but it's pretty low. The extra-large crate slid right in, and we were able to swing the door grille open, put the dog in, and then close everything up. And there was some room left over, it wasn't a tight fit.


It seems to be the hardest thing for me to recommend - SUVs for dogs. Mainly because it depends on the age of the dog!

Young dogs can jump higher, but some cars have deep wells in the back (for bags, etc). Other backs don't fold down flat. 

I keep looking. 

I'm looking for recommendations for a new or used car (4-seater) that's good for short trips around town. The car will eventually be handed over to my newly minted 16 yo driver in a few years. Budget is $11,000.

A Porsche Cayman R? Oh, wait, that might be a little more than $11,000 :) 

Here's a list of 2012 cars under $15,000


"The planners of the Metro never seriously considered locating a station in the neighborhood, primarily due to the engineering issues presented by the extremely steep grade from the Potomac River (under which the subway tunnel would run) to the center of Georgetown."

Yeah, right. And are you contending that the residents of Georgetown really, truly wanted a Metro stop? Really? Truly? What about above-ground mass transportation? Ever tried catching a bus in the vicinity of Holy Trinity Catholic Churh in the evening? Heck, ever tried parking a car in that area? The parking cops are super-efficient in Georgetown. And what about communities such as Reston? Finally, at long last, we seem to be getting mass transit in that area. Why did it take so long? I've discovered a pattern in my research in this area. Go to any gated or otherwise affluent and exclusive community in this country, and it matters not black, brown or white, you are not likely to find anything resembling mass transit. Georgetown fits that pattern neatly.

It has a 3rd row and unlike the Explorer is biased towards RWD when not in AWD. Explorer goes to 4wd. Also remember many 3rd row seats are in the crush zone. Warren your lawyer daughter could make a fortune with a class action suits. She could keep mom and dad very comfortably on her share. Clifton VA

Warren has never been a fan of the third row seat. 

Both of his daughters, and his son, make his and Maryanne's life so much richer. It's got to be a joy as a parent to see your children doing well and following their dreams. 

Warren/ Lou Ann, when are we going to get a review on that Flying Car? It might be interesting trying to land that on 66 during rush hour?

The biggest problem with the Terraflugia won't be technology. That will all be improved and figured out. The biggest problem will be municipal, state and federal regulation of use, especially in the area of transportation safety. I don't look for the Terraflugia to take off, on other than an experimental basis, anytime soon.

Please give me a break: auto transmissions with paddle shifters don't count as manuals. My take on why 94% of cars sold in the US are automatics is that Americans are too lazy to learn or use a stick shift. Too many simultaneous operations with the clutch, gas pedal and shifter. Especially in stop & no traffic. An automatic is a no-brainer - put it into D and go. Despite a valid rationale to drive a stick shift (fuel economy is 5-10% better with a manual) people just don't want to drive stick shifts. Ever try drinking a Starbucks coffee or using your cellphone while driving a car with a manual transmission? It's almost impossible. End of venting. Thanks for listening. (I drive a 2000 323i w/5-speed.)

I agree with the latter part of your post - Ever try drinking a Starbucks coffee or using your cellphone while driving a car with a manual transmission?

People know how to drive a clutch, they just want to put the recliner up and watch tv and talk on the phone and have a cup of coffee. 

We really need to get to driverless/chauffered cars sooner than later. :) 

Warren, the reason that there is no metro in georgetown has less to do with the neighbors and more to do with the angles. The logical place to have a metro station would be Wisconsin and M, except Metro planners needed the Rosslyn stop to be where it was (Arlington had been very proactive about creating the R-B Corrdor). You sipmly couldn't get a metro train up the angle from the depths it was at in Rosslyn to the bluff above and the elevation at Wisconsin and M without a very steep incline that the trains couldn't make. There were plenty of neighborhoods that did complain and got a metro stop anyways (pretty much all of the redline after Dupont).

Hmmm....something to consider, but I don't really buy the technical argument. I still contend that if the people of Georgetown reall wanted mass transit, they would have gotten it. I've looked at similar communities nationwide. Funny. No mass transit. For technical reasons? No.

I thank you all for joining us today. What a lively discussion!!! Please come back next week when we will have the principals from Repair discuss their interesting consumer services. Thank you for your great contributions all the way from Germany, Lou Ann. (Consider:  You and I are proof that Obamaphiles and tax-hating Republicans can get along, have civil discussion, even love one another. There's no need for gridlock.) Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. And as always, my dear overworked and underpaid Ria Manglapus, my deepest gratitude. 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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