Real Wheels Live

May 10, 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.


I just took delivery of the new Ford Fusion Energi, which, if imitation is the best form of flattery, is proof that GM has been successful with the Chevrolet Volt. The Fusion Energi, like the Volt, is a plug-in electric hybrid...runs 40 miles or so on batteries only and then quietly switches to gas generator. It's juicing up right now in my driveway. Looking forward to the driving and operational experience. How are things in California, Lou Ann?

I may be switching jobs and, if so, would need a car. I will only be driving about 7,000 miles per year. I don't believe that I need a new car but would like to get something nice. I have been thinking about either a 2008 Acura TL or Audi A6. Do you have any thoughts on these cars? I am looking for something fun to drive in this DC area where it is generally no fun to drive, and something that is not going to need frequent repairs. Thanks for you advice.

I'd get the Audi A6, or the A4 and save a little money. Rather than buy an Acura TL, I'd spend less and be happy with a used Honda equivalent.

I have never been one to bother with the time or expense of the car wash. I doubt my cars get washed more than 4 times a year. The only time I really bother is the spring when the car is covered in salt. Most of the rest of the year, the rain manages to clean off the pollen and dirt. I will wipe the windows clean on a more regular basis, but that is about it. My dad, on the other hand, goes to the car wash every week. I have a car that is 5 years old and another that is 10 years old. As far as I am concerned, they both look good and aren't turning into piles of rust. Am I missing something by not going to the car wash or having it hand washed on a more frequent basis?

Yes. Talk to your dad. Ask him why he does what he does. Listen. You have a smart dad.

Lou Ann here:

Some of it has to do with residual value, resale value. If you bought a used vehicle and the guy said, I cleaned it every week or someone said I never cleaned it, which would you buy?

When you clean a car you can see little issues popping up, you're more in-tune to the car. People appreciate that when they're looking for a used car to buy.

Giving my 2006 Ford Escape to my daughter. Looking to replace with a similar new or used(low mileage) vehicle. I occasionally haul small amounts of gardening and boating equipment. Frequently haul a muddy wet dog so I appreciate the seperation this type of car provides. Looking to balance cost(budget up to 30K) and good gas milage/safety. A quieter car cabin than the old Ford Escape would be a plus. Im considering going back to Ford, but open to others(Kia, Honda????) Help me to at least focus the search...

Kia Sportage and Honda Santa Fe could be possible choices. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee is superb, better than Range Rover in my estimation, but a bit pricey. Consider the Chevy Equinox if you are looking for something "nice" and given to the abuse of wet dogs at a reasonable price. P.S. Make sure you scholl your daughter on how to SAFELY drive that Escape. You can't swing it around in the manner of a sports car.

What's your thoughts between these two? I like the styling and the 3d camera on the Pathfinder, but I think the Santa Fe still comes in about 4-5k less, .... I'm a bit torn and don't "love", but don't "hate" the styling on the santa fe.

$4-5,ooo is still a lot of money in my budget. Also, it depends on the model you get, a Santa Fe can be 4-5K more than a Pathfinder (if you get the low-end pathfinder and the Limited Santa Fe) .

There are a couple of differences

1. The warranty on the Hyundai is better

2. Headroom in the Pathfinder is higher and the Pathfinder is wider and higher and higher in the rear.

If you're a tall person, or have a big family you might consider the Pathfinder.

If you're not and you've found a Santa Fe that meets your needs take the Santa Fe, save $4-5,000 and get a better warranty.

They're both great cars, both drive well. You won't be dissapointed with either.

Since there is no substitute for alert, attentive driving, do you think some of the new safety features, such as lane change warnings, back-up cameras, and blind spot detection, will lull drivers into paying less attention, not turning their head to look for traffic, etc?

It is something the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is aware of. NHTSA's favorite type of safety feature is one that makes a noise. Think of your safety belt, do you put it on because you want to be safer or because you don't want that awful noise in your ear?

Backup cameras, to me, are not as effective without a beep to let you know something is in the way.

There are cars that have seats that vibrate if you go over a lane without putting a blinker on.

These things are good. They are also technology that you will see more of as we get closer to autonomous, or piloted, vehicles.

I'm confused between the two, as I can get them both for more or less the same money. Can you characterize the difference, or tell me which is better, or direct me to a third option that is better than either at the same price-point.

The Passat is more of a "we" car, a family sedan more affordably priced at a starting sticker of about $20,300. Powered by an inline 5 at 170 hp running on regular gas, Gets 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway.

The more slickly style CC is more of a "me" car with more ameniitie starting at about $30,250 running on a new high-compression four-cylinder engine pumping  200 hp.

it's a question of "we" or "me." Your choice.

My question is. I have 4 Boss motorsport 20 inch, bolt pattern 6 x 139.7, P275/45/20, chrome wheels. I had them on my 2000 Toyota tundra. I sold my truck, know I need to know what other vehicles can fit these wheels. Thank You Edward.

I'm assuming you want to know so that you can advertise them for sale in the right market.

That is a question for your wheel guy. Call Big-O or someone and ask them.

I've been considering buying a BMW 328i Convertible and thought it might be a good idea to rent one for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Considering the amount of time wasted so far, I have to ask "Is renting a BMW 328i convertible even possible in the DC Metro area?"

It's about as possible as a common sense compromise on common sense issues between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill.

Last week's discussion about 4 versus 6 cylinders for a small SUV piqued my interest. I have a 2006 RAV4 with 6 cylinders. My husband insisted that we get the bigger engine, because we planned to buy a mountain place, which we have. I LOVE how the little vehicle will get up and GO in low gear. It's got me spoiled, for sure! The mileage isn't bad, either, 20-21 mpg in the city and 25-26 on the road.

If you are not habitually carrying heavy cargo, or pulling a boat up mountain roads, I'd go with the four and save money. Something I've discovered in my many travels: If you plan well and leave on time, you don't have to worry about having enough power to exceed posted speed limits.

Warren, Glad you like the new Fusion Energi. Cost? I will be interested when they can price this type of car under $20k. Until then, it is much cheaper in the long run to have a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris with 40 mpg.

Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, recently said he is has talked to Google about autonomous vehicles. Can you imagine how much an electric autonomous vehicle would cost? There are people with that kind of money!

I interviewed Sam Hoyt, Ford Fusion Marketing Manager, Ford Motor Company and she said there are two models, the $38,700 SE or the Energi Titanium that starts at $40,100.

You've got a ways to go before they start at $20,000, but there are cash incentives on that number, so it could bring it down to $30,000-ish.

Plus saving the price of gasoline. Priceless! :)

Mr. Brown. I am an avid reader of your automobile reviews. I have purchased two new Dodge Chargers within the last 2.5 years. The vehicles are much improved over previous versions in regards to handling, ride and build quality of the interior and body. However, I have had many problems with both vehicles with, rattles, speakers blowing with moderate use and a noisy water pump on the 2013. With all the problems I have had with the two new cars, I am quite irritated to learn that I have warped rotors on the front. I commute a lot for work and generally love to drive, so in four months of ownership, I have a total 15,000 miles on the vehicle. The dealership refuses to admit that the breaks are wearing prematurely and told me that won't replace my rotors because I have exceeded the mileage portion of a 1 year/12,000 mile warranty I didn't know about. On the 2012 I traded for the 2013, even at 28,000 miles, I had no brake problems at all, so why would a newer model's breaks be wearing so much sooner? I am quite frustrated with the whole ordeal and irritated with Dodges cavalier attitude about keeping a repeat customer happy. THe offered to do my front break at a discount of 200 parts and labor but I don't feel I should have to pay anything considering all the problems I have had with two new vehicles. Any advice?

I am posting this for your dealer and the many Chrysler officials who have been telling me for years that they are taking care of these kinds of quality problems. Please come back to let us know what happens in your case.

Lou Ann here:

And I am sending to the Dodge Manufacture PR reps so they can see it. If you want to send me an email at lou at I can send the email with your contact info to them. It helps if you mention the dealerships

Hi, What are your thoughts on the Honda Fit. I need a car for a family of 4 and a dog. I work in PG County and live in Montgomery County. Any other vehicles I should consider? Thanks for answering my question.

I love the Honda Fit, particularly the Sport version. Small, it is. But it actually can accommodate a family of four and a dog as large as a Chocolate Lab--at the same time on SHORT trips. But it is quite adequate for family transportation carrying two or three BEINGS--a dog is a BEING to me--at a time.

Lou Ann here:

You can also look at the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris and Chevy Spark. Let us know if you do, and what you like about each of them.

Not a question, just an observation from a former Detroiter (and no spring chicken) who has a poor opinion of that car company . I would never, ever buy a Chrysler product.

A response from a longtime Detroit adoptee who has spent most of his adult life studying Chrysler, Ford, GM, et al: I would , could easily buy a Chrysler product, especially the new Grand Cherokee, which I love. We've all made mistakes, done dumb or stupid things. Thank, God, we are not judged by our mistakes for our entire lives.

Lou Ann here:

I agree Warren. Life is long, failure only happens when you quit trying. Chrysler Group is starting to right their ship. It will take some time, but I like some of the new people - and old - that are there now. I also like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Durango. oh, and a Maserati :)

I have a 2004 Jaguar XJR. It's been a fantastic car, smooth, fast, and reliable. When I bought it, it was fully disclosed to me that it had been bought back by Jaguar as potentially subject to the lemon law (the prior owned claimed that it wouldn't run when it went over a bump; apparently the bump bent all four rims, which were replaced, along with the inertial switch that cuts off fuel supply in the event of an accident). When negotiating the purchase, it was hard to know how much to discount for this history -- I got about 20%. Do you have any estimates/guesses? The question is relevant because I may sell/trade it soon. Of course I will disclose the history although I have to say that I have had seven years of virtually trouble-free enjoyment and to me it is no lemon.

I'm no genius in these matters. So, i always go to Carfax, which seems to have an excellent way of figuring these things out. I recommend Carfax.

Hi Warren and company, I live in Seattle, enjoy a nice, against-the-flow commute (i.e. out of the city in the AM). My current vehicle is owned, in solid mechanical shape with the possiblity of some transmission issue (2004 manual, Subaru Impreza with 170K). I'm not ready to give it up but the mileage hovers around 23-24 mpg. I have abou 8 - 10K available (cash) to buy something extremely fuel efficient. Carpooling isn't an option. My first thought is a motorcycle (highly fuel efficient, access to carpool lanes, and years of experience riding in DC). Any suggestions for something in my price range in excess of 35 mpg? It only needs to haul me; no toys, no luggage and occassionally another passenger. Thanks so much!

Think: Your Impreza is paid for and operating reasonably well. You aren't paying a monthly note. You have up to 10K which could be earning money in an investment account. Ehy spend it on something you already have?

There are two good reasons to wash your car regularly. One is that you want your car to look really good. The other is that your car was made before 1990 when car makes seemed to figure out the metallurgy and paint finishes that have largely banished rust from the automotive scene. I remember the 1970s when it was quite common to have a spot of rust along the fender within a year and a rust hole within three years. Today, most cars look pretty good at the ten year mark.

Exactly, if you catch these problems early you have a chance of fixing them. It's pride of ownership, keeping the receipts for anything and everything that you bought for the car. You can keep what pilots call a logbook. Pilots use it for miles flown and where they went etc, but you can use it to show how much you worked on the car, how many times you washed the car, etc.

If the CVT can prove reliable, the new 2014 Versa hatchback should be serious competition for the Fit- particularly in turnpike fuel economy as long as the Fit Lacks a 6th gear.

I agree.

In my experience, car dealers won't allow buyers to pay for a car with a credit card, because, like any merchant, they must pay a percentage of the sale price to the credit card company, and don't want to split their profit on a car sale with the credit card company.

Experiences vary. Retailers of all types pay a percentage of  their sales prices to someone. Some take credit cards. Depends on the dealer and the client.

Lou Ann here:

it's ridiculous that a dealer doesn't take a credit card for a purchase. How many retailers would be out of business today if they didn't take credit cards?

Thank all of you for joining us today. Please comme back next week. Thanks to Matt and Gaurav for another fine production. Thank you, Lou Ann, for your many contributions. And, Ria, as always, thanks. And, oh, we're a car chort! My apologies. HAPPY MOTHER's DAY to all of you so blessed. 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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