Real Wheels Live

May 11, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will be joined by Art Shaw, CEO at RepairPal, to discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

Hello, everybody. We're hoping today to hear from the good folks at Repair Pal. Com. They are a research outfit specializing in helping us find the best ga5rages (quality, promptness, price) for our cars and trucks. They aren't alone in the business. Locally, we also have Washington Consumers' Checkbook. Unsatisfied with your auto repairs? Tune in. We might have some answer, or ideas.

Are you looking forward to driving the new 3 series diesels?

I'm looking forward to driving anything BMW. That goes twice for a BMW diesel.

We bought a 2012 VW Beatle last November thinking we would be ahead of the curve on this new design. This is now May and I have yet to see more than one on the street. What gives? Not selling, short supply?

Supply affects sales. My hunch is that VW is selling many copies of the new VW overseas. But I have to check.

After 50 years of operating mostly manual transmission vehicles, I will probably move to an automatic on my next vehicle, primarily because the traffic I drive in has become so bad and congestion has moved so far out that I seldom am in a situation in which I can enjoy shifting. Contrary to what one of your posters said on May 4, I get the impression that many/most new vehicles get better mileage with automatics than manual transmissions. I also understand that the dual clutch transmissions actually shift faster than even expert drivers. Am I right on these issues? Thanks.

Most new automatic transmissions are computer-controlled, which means many of them shift more efficiently than most humans do with a manual gearboxes. Efficiency in power transmission usually means a fuel saving. So, yes, many modern automatics are just as efficient, if not more efficient (in terms of fuel economy) than manuals. And you're right, congestion and urban sprawl rob much of the joy from manual shifting. There also is the matter of "automated manuals" or "manumatics," which can be operated manually or automatically. There is a growing market for that technology.

I'm in the market for a late-model sedan or SUV with low mileage and don't want to pay more than 20-k. What models would yo u recommend and is buying from one of the big used car places like carmax better than shopping at regular dealers?

First, decide what you want--sedan, SUV, or  a crossover-utility wagon such as the Honda CR-V or Chevrolet Equinox.

Next, why do you want it? Actual transportation needs? Are you carrying more people than stuff, more stuff than people, or a combination of both?

Are you transporting pets, say a large dog, on a regular basis? If you are, that pretty much rules out a sedan.

Check,,,, Consumer's Digest and Consumers' Reports to ascertain what is available in your price range.

Shop. Carmax generally is a good bet. But don't ignore independent dealers who might have some gems.

Any new important features we should be looking for in the 2012 Silverado Trucks, or should we wait for the Silverado 2013 models? Shopping for a Chevy truck, but can wait until fall if need to for the 2013 models... Thanks.

Nearly all truck manufacturers nowadays are trying to up the fuel economy of their products. That includes the people at Chevrolet. Typical approaches to better mpg includes cylinder deactiviation--running on four cylinders, for example, when eight aren't needed; smarter, lighter weight, more efficient transmissi0ns; turbocharged and super charged engines. The trick is to reduce fuel consumption without reducing the prowess of the truck. GM, Ford, Ram, and Nissan are all getting good at that.

Are there any (three, four, or five examples) cars now being produced that a half century out from now will be obviously just beautiful as was the '53 Studebaker coupe or that series of Chrysler experimental cars of that same time period? Today's seem to be much more utilitarian, even pedestrian in their design. Not timeless as were those particular models. Thank you in advance for your consideration. I recognize this question isn't like those normally submitted. DDavis/FargoND

It's a good question. Times have changed, leaning more toward form following function. The function nowadays is to reduce fuel consumption by any means possible. That usually means aerodynamic design and the elimination or reduction of any form--square design, ornate body folds--that interfere with the most efficient (in terms of fuel savings) movement of the vehicle through the air. In 50 years, we'll probably remember most of today's cars as laughable dinosaurs. Many cars will drive themselves. Some will fly. Alternative fuels will  play a major role. Nuclear power is not unthinkable in this picture.

Looking for a minivan. Thinking of Honda or Toyota. Which would you recommend? Other makers? Thanks.

If it's between the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna, I'd go with the Honda Odyssey. Both are excellent family minivans. But, to me, strictly subjective, the Odyssey looks and feels better. There's also the Chrysler Town & Country, or, is it the Dodge Town & Country nowadays? Also, check out crossover-utility models such as the Mazda CX-9 and the latest, excellent version of the Kia Sorento.

Where is Mr. Shaw?


I'm here and ready to answer questions on car repairs and how to find a trusted shop to do the work.


I've got 100k miles on a 2005 Acura MDX and the AC isn't responding (with cold air anyway) this spring. Dealer says $150 just to diagnose, another $250 to recharge the system (if it's just low freon levels) and potentially into thousands if they find a leak. Is this unusual (the AC kicking out and the dealer charges). A local garage said a recharge would be $90 and they would check for leaks.

This is just the type of situation that consumers come to us every day with. We built a car repair estimation tool that after entering in your information, will give you an idea of what these repairs should cost. Head over to and enter your information, and there you will get the fair price for a dealership in your area, or you can find a Top Shop that will guarantee the price you see in our estimator. 

Along side the estimate you will also find information that can help you avoid the common pitfalls that lead to incorrect repairs, overcharging etc. The next step is for a shop to recharge the system, add a fluorescent dye into the system and check for leaks. The local garage sounds like they are taking the appropriate approach here, but the dealer is correct in that when the leak is found, it can be a very expensive repair.

Hi, Warren and Art: John and Helen Taylor of Australia have done it again. Driving a 2012 VW Passat TDI (manual), they averaged 84.1 mpg on a three-day drive through nine states. Very impressive. Why bother with a hybrid or electric when diesels offer fantastic mileage? (The Taylors have set all kinds of mileage records over the years, many in diesel cars.)

Thanks for acknowledging Art of Repair Pal, who is with us today. We'll try to bring him back as often as possible. As for John and Helen Taylor of Australia, I've heard of that couple and think I might've met them in my travels. They are the king and queen of  hyper-mpg driving--squeezing as many miles per gallon as possible out of an engine, which is easy to do with a Volkswagen diesel. But let us not entertain the go-nowhere-argument that one technology is preferable to another, better than another. I and others have made that error for too long. The truth is that our automotive future will see a wide diversity of power systems, often adapted to specific tasks. It's not the winner-takes-all scenario of simplistic reporting on "News" at 11.

Considering a new Civic EX as a commuter car with good gas mileage. I heard there were concerns that it had taken a dive in quality in the 2011 model. Do these concerns still exist for the 2012 model?

No. It's a rumor no more valid than the latest Hollywood romance gossip. What happened is that companies such as Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, et cetera have all caught up with Honda and Toyota in the quality wars. Honda is no longer alone at the top of the quality heap. It now has very competitive company. But the Civic remains an excellently reliable, safe (check out its ACE body structure), and fuel-efficient choice for small-car commuting.

I just recently went through a new car purchase, and was supremely frustrated by not one, not two, not three, but four different dealerships. So much so, that I ultimately ended up purchasing the vehicle for special order through the manufacturer. I was looking for a base model, which seems to be the most rare configuration of the vehicle. Every dealer I went to wanted to sell me a car with tons of options that I neither needed or wanted. I explained very clearly what I was asking for and even noted that I was willing to wait to have a vehicle brought in that met my specifications. All four of the dealers wanted to sell me the upgraded models, and despite some heavy discounts, those cars would have still cost more than the MSRP of the base model. Two of the dealers were able to locate vehicles outside of the region (one found a vehicle in New York and another found one in southwestern Virginia), but wanted to charge me over $1,000 over MSRP to transfer the vehicle to the dealership. I eventually contacted the company's corporate office and requested to purchase the vehicle through them for custom order and delivery to my dealer of choice. They were able to do that, and at a price that was 2% under the MSRP. Based on my experience, and past experiences I've had with auto dealerships, why don't manufacturers just eliminate the dealer system, and allow customers to purcahse vehicles direct from the manufacturer? The dealer system seems like a giant waste of time, money, and resources.

Your complaint does not surprise me. Dealer's DON"T make money selling stripper cars. They don't make money selling stripper anything. The profit margins grow on "fully loaded" and "popularly equipped" models. Trying to buy a stripper car at something close to cost is like trying to find a nun in a stripper's club.

We just replaced all brake pads and rotors on our 2003 Dodge Ram 1500 Quad cab Hemi. The squeeking noise has returned from what I can tell on the drivers side front. Last year we replaced the hub and the bars (I think that is what they are called - had something to do with the suspension and wheels). What could be causing the brake noise? The mechanic is my BIL and my husband was there..he watched him clean them properly before the installation.

There are many possibilities here but a few items to be aware of are:
1. Was the brake hardware replaced and installed correctly?
2. Did you use OE Parts? This is very important, aftermarket parts increase the chances of noises occurring.

Does Mini operate independantly of BMW, or do the two share technology and parts just like they share dealers and distribution?

Mini Cooper is a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW Ag, which means, yes, it shares parts with BMW. That shouldn't be surprising. All manufacturers are involved in pasrts and platform sharing arrangements of one sort or another.

Warren, Any inside scoop on the new Scion FR-5 sports care? Thanks.

Not from me, not at tis moment. I am working on it.

For Mr. Shaw, what are the 2 or 3 things a regular car owner like me should look for when I need to bring my car in and don't want to go back to the dealer?

You can look for ASE certified technicians and be sure to look for ongoing training achieved, and generally their certificates will be on display.  Also look at warranty.

At RepairPal we actually do rigorous screening of all aspects of repair shops by our certified master mechanics and we call real customers from the shop's list to ensure that do great work.  We do this so you don't have to.


I am in the market for a big European luxury sedan to replace my 2004 Jag XJR. I will buy used to let the first owner take the initial depreciation hit. Any thoughts among the Porsche Panamera, updated XJ, or Audi A8? I don't like the BMW 7-series. Anything else I should consider?

Of all those mentioned, I'd first choose the Audi A8 and then look at the BMW 7-Series. The Porsche  Panamera is an answer to a question that no one in the market asked. Porschephiles don't like it. And many of the noveau riche buyers who do like it are, well, noveau riche. Want to prove that yours is not old money? Buy a Pnamera.

How do you think most shops should react to a customer purchasing a replacement part from another source? I was quoted a pretty exhorbitant price for a part that I found online (OEM) for half the shop price, so I bought it and took it to the shop to have it installed. They looked at me like I was crazy and then said it was now going to cost more for the labor and disposal than they originally quoted. When I showed them the original quote, they said it was no longer valid because they were losing the markup on the part. You try to keep from getting ripped off, and shops find a way to get you anyway. It's ridiculous.

This is hard, as shops generally don't like you to bring in your own parts.  Just like a restaurant doesn't like you to bring in your own steak to cook, and charges corkage fees.  They do count on parts as part of their fee.

That said, check out RepairPal for your make, model, year and zip for the repair, and you'll get a fair price on the part piece of your repair, as this shop could be overcharging you on parts.

Hi Warren, thanks for your great work! We have 2 cars- a minivan to haul our 5 member family plus gear- and a sedan for me to head to work in. I drive less than 10 miles each day and am thinking of an ev-ish car to save on fuel. Am open to all considerations, like the Prius plug-in, Mitsubishi ev, Focus EV, and Volt (sorry the Leaf is too u-g-l-y). Was surprised that the Prius was the least expensive and am curious to know your thoughts on these, thanks!

I'd go for the Mitsubishi i-MIEV. Here's why. I can run all over my Northern Virginia neighborhood in the thing (45-50 miles driving) without using an ounce of gasoline. Instant torque goes to the rear drive wheels, which means I don't have to file an application to enter local freeways. It's also one of the highest quality, least expensive all-electrics available. And there's this, something Mitsubishi's marketers need to get off their sorry tales and promote, Mitsubishi's forte has always been in electronics. The company knows what it is doing with electric vehicles.

I noticed more companies offering this is a feature of new car ownership. However, the Japanese automakers (even the luxury makers) seem to be the holdouts in offering this minimal cost, maximum customer satisfaction perk to their owners. Do you think this concept will continue to expand, or will the fact that the Japanese continue to hold out on this will cause the perk to die off.

Please, Art Shaw of Repair Pal, handle this one.

I'm extremely pleased with the average fuel economy I'm getting from my 2011 Volvo S-60 (27 MPG combined), which is far above the 24/19 that was quoted on the sticker from the EPA. I've been equally disappointed in the economy I'm getting from my 2012 GMC Terrain (21 MPG combined), which is far below the 32/24 that was on the sticker. How consistant are the tests that the EPA conducts on vehicles, and how can I get such dramatically different results with two different cars?

Look, the EPA mileage system has been improved and made more realistic (Circa 2008 model-year, if I remember correctly). But it's far, far from perfect. Understandably. There are so many variables--driving habits, road quality, weather, tires, tire condition, time of commuting. I could go on forever. It is why I and so many other auto journalists strive to give mileage actually experienced in our reports.

Why do auto manufacturers have such dramatically different offerings in foreign markets? The obvious answer would be emissions and safety requirements that vary from country to country, but there are platforms available in other countries that seem like sure winners here in the US and vice versa that never hit the market. What are the challenges/obstacles if I want to go overseas to purchase a vehicle not available in the states and transport it back to here and have it registered in Virginia? I would think a right-hand drive vehicle would be pretty much out of the question, but would I need to make other modifications to have it meet US standards to own and operating the vehicle here?

That difference between foreign and domestic offerings actually has diminished over the years as more car companies turn to simultaneous, 24/7, computer-assisted design and engineering, global parts and platform sharing and three-dimensional "printing," essentially designing and engineering an entire vehicle on computer before actually moving to metal. Ironically,  governmental standards (international) are driving the trend. Your Chevrolet Malibu here wears an Opel badge in Europe.

Hi Warren - any thoughts on the redesigned Escape? I have a 2005 and have been planning on moving to a different small SUVs for an upgrade, but the new Escape looks really nice. But I'm not sure how it is compares within that particular market sector. Many thanks!

I absolutely love the looks of it. Notice to Ford: Soon, please. I'm looking forward to driving it so that I can do a  full report.

You would think dealerships, who make as much if not more on repairs than they do selling cars, would work hard to earn your business. However, the last 2 car buying experiences I've had make me want to do whatever is possible to circumvent these frustrating, dishonest, and pestering people. Is there any chance we can just get rid of the whole dealership concept?

Unfortunately most customers have had bad experiences with car repairs, whether with dealers or independents. Dealers have advantages on parts, information and training capabilities for car repairs.  However, not all dealer service departments think of customer satisfaction as the most important measure.  We think that will change over time, we're trying hard to help by calling real customers to understand their real car repair experiences. 

Do Mazda and Ford still share chasis and technology? The new Ford platforms seem to be diverging from the newer Mazda platforms.

It's a modest, but meaningful sharing of platforms between Ford and Mazda nowadays. Ford is now more committed to being Ford as Mazda is now more committed to being Mazda. But the car manufacturing business is devastatingly capital intensive. Ford and Mazda will get together whenever and howevr convenient to save costs.

1. Yes they were installed correctly, my BIL is a certified mechanic and owns his own shop. 2. Yes, OE parts. The noise stopped for approximately a month, and started up again this week.

If you trust the mechanic and you're using OEM parts, then take it back and have him figure it out.  These problems sometimes take continued effort to get fixed, and a good quality mechanic will keep digging until the problem is resolved.  Information is key in these situations - checking service bulletins and for updated parts from the manufacturer may be necessary.

I know the general consensus is that they are a waste of money, and I agree, but with the proliferation of electronic gizmos in today's vehicles, that's so much more that can go wrong. Particularly if you plan on keeping the car after it's paid for. Are warranties becoming more 'valuable'? For what it's worth, my wife has a 2011 Ford Taurus Limited, loaded with everything you can think of, that can all fail at some point. Thanks!

I will support extended warranties, which I think mostly are a waste of money, the day an automobile manufacturer goes on record saying that a certain component, or the entire vehicle, will fail date certain after new-vehicle purchase. I don't recall seeing or hearing any manufacturer advertisements such as that.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Matt Monahan, for a stellar production. Thank you Art Shaw of Repair Pal.Com for your valuable input on the repair/service questions. As always, Ria Manglapus, I remain in your debt. 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
Art Shaw
Art Shaw has over 20 years of experience in building companies to become leaders in their industries. Art serves as the CEO at RepairPal guiding its strategy and operations. Art was most recently the CEO of Epic Media Group, a leading global advertising and marketing company that builds brands and drives customer acquisition. He has also worked at Charles Schwab where he launched and helped grow it to more than $1 billion in revenue. Art holds a BA from Brown University and an MBA from Stanford University.
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