Real Wheels Live

Jun 01, 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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Congratulations to Warren's daughter, Binta. She was one of the speakers at the Tedx event at Scott Air Force Base. Anyone who has children knows the pride in seeing their children do well. 

I drove a Nissan Altima the other week. The seats were some of the best I've set in. Of course, the M6 Convertible and the BMW 640 Gran coupe I drove were lovely too. 

Let's chat.

Congressional VW finally told me that I would have to special order it with a towing package (optional VW towing pkg - oil cooler, tranny cooler, heavier springs, etc.). That information is significantly absent from the VW web site. The prices listed for the hitch & wiring is just for the parts - not the labour. That is outrageous.

I understand your angst and anger. You are right. All pertinent information related to towing, etc. should be clearly stated in the marketing language. Let's use this as a starting point to loudly demand full disclosure on all optional components and costs.

I'm going to go with another Subaru to replace my 2001 Outback, which has been a great car. Two questions: I need more power than the 2.6L 4--would you recommend the 3.6L or the Turbo (in the Forester, which I'll consider)? And is there, with this make, a significant economic advantage to buying used, say 2 years old? I plan to keep it a long time.

I'd go on and get the 3.6 flat six and get it new. You might as well take advantage of a full, standard manufacturer's warranty and avoid the cost of so-called extended warranty coverage. Subaru models are addictive, like Timex watches. Not the most stylish vehicles, but the very seldom let you down.

Warren - comparative tire tests, once part of the staple of features offerred by enthusiast magazine and consumer reports, now seem to be a forgotten thing. Yet, these tests provided good and useful information. Are you aware of any such tests with today's crop of passenger car tires? Such tests and reports would surely help the consumer with what's often an expensive purchase. JPH

Yes. Check out Consumer Reports, which has technical facility and know-how for determining tire quality, among other things. If you are local, check out the Washington Consumers' Checkbook, or contact the Washington Center for the Study of Services.

On Tuesday, the topic of in-car baby alarms came up in Gene Weingarten's live session. Why don't cars have baby alarms. It seemed like they were proposing complex solutions to this problem, but it should be fairly simple. My car will beep if I don't buckle my seat or forget to turn off the headlights. Cars could have a sensor when the baby is in the baby seat that sounds the horn if the doors are locked from the outside while the baby is still in their car seat.

A very keep it simple idea. There would have to be a way to engage the car with the weight of the baby. This might not work for People who don't have new cars, or old baby seats. And let's face it, with the new jobs report that came out, money is going to get tighter.

We have no kids currently, but we expect we may soon. We're looking for a family friendly car that is fuel efficient and budget friendly. Any suggestions?

Congratulations on the babies.

A couple weeks ago I did a spot on KCRA-Sacramento about fuel efficient cars - over 30 under $30K.

Since then I have driven the Nissan Altima and was really impressed with that vehicle. 

Do you have any feelings about that? Or is that something that a candidate would propose only if he wanted to commit political suicide?

A political candidate contemplating political suicide would do the right thing and suggest a higher federal gas tax. A political panderer would do what all of our Palinesque political panderers, Democrats and Republicans, Right and Left, are doing: They would pretend that all we have to do is "drill baby drill." They would pretend that we could frack free of environmental charge. They would pretend that, somehow somewhere, there is a magic button that can be pressed to get us all of the fossil fuels we want at the  developed world's cheapest price. The same people would pretend that, as long as we have an all-volunteer military force in which their sons and daughters aren't involved, we can always march into someone else's country to take the fossil fuels we need. It's pathetic. But it's a sorry state of affairs in which too much of the American electorate is a willing, gullible participant.

Political Suicide. The elections will be decided on the economy and the price of gasoline. If the price of gasoline goes up look for more calls to put gasoline into the system by taking it out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Warren, We are looking to add some additional cargo capacity with the purchase of a used car in the next 6 months or so. Cargo needs are East Coast vacations, Trips to local garden centers, with room for 2 car seats. The car needs to commute from FFX county to DC daily. We are considering the 2012 Passat sedan (huge trunk), an Audi wagon or BMW wagon. Given these 3 options what would you recommend, and why? Thanks from Alexandria

You seem to want something German, which is fine. That being the case, I'd go with something such as a BMW X3 or X5. Utility matters. The Bimmers offer decent utility and are reasonably good on-road and off. But, frankly, I'd rather save the money, get more utility, and choose a good and decent runner such as the Kia Sorento.

If you were to buy a new truck today as a personal vehicle (non-work related), which truck would you purchase and why? Thanks.

There are a couple I like:

1. My neighbor, Sheri, has a Dodge Ram 1500, crew cab (4-door). She has fourd dogs, I have one. With the help of a dog ramp we can get most the dogs in the bed, but my dog, PJ, has to go in the backseat. Her seats fold up and there is nothing under the seat for the dog to trip on. On other vehicles you have little boxes, stereo equipment etc. My dog is 12 1/2 years old and doesn't have the ability to stand while the truck is driving, so he needs to lay down. 

2. Ford - Warren and I interviewed Dawn Piechocki.  Piechocki is 4’10″ so she is the perfect person to go to when the rest of the team wants to make sure they are integrating new product for vertically challenged people.

It's so humorous to watch Warren in the video because what he is saying is true, it's tough for short people to get into pickup beds.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, love these chats, keep up the good work! I'm of a generation that when I hear "standard of the world" associated with Cadillac I think that the European and Japanese luxury marques can lay a better claim to this boast. If GM wants to change my mind, which Cadillac model would it recommend I test?

CTS, particularly the CTS-V. The new XTS.

I was talking to Ludwig Willisch, Pres and CEO of BMW North America the other day. He told me an interesting fact: the competitors are broken down by region.

Audi is their biggest competitor in the East and Europe
Mercedes is their biggest competitor on the coasts 
Cadillac is their biggest competitor in the midwest. 
I don't know which Cadillac in the midwest (CTS versus 3-Series perhaps?). Just an interesting factoid. 

Saw the new ILX at a dealer last weekend. Pretty nice. Have you seen/driven one yet? Thoughts ? Thanks

I drove the ILX last month and loved it. I road with Nina Russin from and she loved it as well. You can read her article at

Acura is going back to the V6, which I found interesting till I drove the past generation and realized they had a great V6. 

I'm driving the Acura RDX this week at home and like that as well. It didn't have a netting, or a well in the back to store my purchases, so you would need to buy one. 

I am hoping that the market gives them a chamce. Already, I'm hearing noises that they are little more than "glorified Honda Civics," which is nonsense. I'd take a Honda Civic anytime. I'd jump at a glorified model. The simple truth is that luxury no longer is what it used to be. That is, it's no longer exclusive. The ILX models, for example, include functions and amenities once exclusively found on super high-end cars. Credit technology. ILX prices range from an "affordable" $25,900 for the base model to about $31,400 for the top of the line. The base 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder engine (201 horsepower, 170 foot-pounds of torque) is a sturdy, hustling little thing that also saves fuel. Honda crash safety lately rivals that of Volvo and other top-grade Europeans models. Check the numbers. It may even be better. The hybrid costs about $3,000 more, which I find offputting. I'd go with the ILX Premium sedan model and be perfectly happy.

Just a recall notice from Toyota about my Prius v for possible cooling issues. It covers highlander hybrids too. Do you know anything about it? Thanks.

Is it battery cooling or something related to the gasoline  engine?

I think it is battery cooling..... given that the vehicles in the recall are all hybrids...

Figured as much.

Toyota is calling the program a "service campaign" and will be replace weak actuators in the exhaust heat recovery system that have been causing engine coolant leaks. In the event of a coolant leak, the car will switch into safe mode which allows it to operate only on electric power.

"Service campaign" and "consumer satisfaction campaign" simply means that Toyota has found a problem and is fixing it voluntary.  Good for Toyota. It best to be ahead of a problem before it gets bigger. "Recall" is a statutory term usually referring to a government threat of legal action, or an actual court case demanding the recall of a product. Court cases, often too expensive for either side, are rare. Most "recalls" are rare. They are usually voluntary or euphemistically dressed up to look like something else.

We're going to have these overheating problems until manufactureres and their suppliers come up with a fail-safe technology to cool the heat generated by lithium-ion and similar batteries. Remember those self-immolating laptops? This is a matter of developments in science and technology, as opposed to individual product quality.

My arthritic 70+ year old mother would strongly prefer that her next car have pushbutton start. Is there a car comparison website that would allow me to narrow her list of choices (for four-door sedans) to models with that feature? It's awfully frustrating to have to go manufacturer websites and try to sift through their "options" lists, especially when many models don't offer pushbutton start on any trim level.

I can't think of a single website. If someone were looking to create a new automotive website that would be the perfect one to create, a website that allows you to pick options that are on a car. 

I had a friend, Robert, visit yesterday. Robert is from Wisconsin and he has cerebral palsy. He is also under 5 feet. He was lamenting about the car issues he has. I wish I could go to a website and click a button that would show me all the cars that had:

pedals that moved back and forth (remember he's short and doesn't want to sit to close to the windshield) 

land departure warning (he almost fell asleep once, so he's always concerned about that) 

blind spot detection (his neck doesn't turn well, so having the blind spot detection in the side mirrors would be great) 

But, alas, no such website. 

What inspired you to create the first privately-owned automobile website?


If it were for money, I would have stayed working at Chevron. :)

When I started carlist back in 1986 the only place to find a used car was in the newspaper. You could have a dealer search for a new car if you went into their dealership but you couldn't do the same for a used car. 

I started carlist on an apple IIC. People and dealerships would list their used car. Buyers would call looking for the car and I would tell them where to go to buy the car. 

That was before the internet. In the early '90s I worked with Pacfic Bell and we put computers in credit unions so that the members could go into the credit union and find the car online and see a picture of it. 

Then the internet came around in 1995. It was a wonderful invention. I am always amazed to look back and see how far technology has evolved and how much easier it has made our life. 

Thanks for asking.

Small cars are gaining popularity, according to latest numbers in the Automotive News Data Center. Subcompacts such as the Smart Fortwo (steady gains in teh last six months), Mini Cooper, Chevrolet Sonic, Nissan Versa, et al. The reason: Fuel prices, super high on the West Coast and abating somewhat in the East. Will this trend continue? I don't know. Too early yet to tell if Americans are trending towards common sense or just hunkering down in politically inspired hopes of regular grade gasoline at $2.50 a gallon.

I'd recommend that Alexandria hunt down a 2010 Passat Wagon and test drive it. We moved up from a Golf to the Passat Wagon just before our daughter was born and love it. We transport her, and our dog most weekends to my foiks place which is about two hours away, and have also taken it on long trips to the beach. It is a pleasure to drive on the highway, just eats up the miles. Recently purchased an entire bedroom set at Ikea and got it all inside with just half the back seat folded and my daughter on the other side. We also own an Audi, so if $$ aren't an issue, the A4 wagon would be at the top of my list, since new Passat wagons aren't available.

Wagons are making a comeback! If manufacturers want more sales they need to get on the band-wagon :) 

All you have to do is look at hatchback sales to know wagons are a welcome commodity. 

Both Warren and I keep saying it, wagons are practical and more of them should be built and sold in the United States. 

Warren, when did cars go to such hard sun visors? I had mine half way down and accidentally moved forward and the visor made a nice slash in my forehead. In my old car, the visor was fairly flexible.

As ironic as it seems, your previous soft visors weighed a few grams more than the current hard visors. Car companies nowadays are nuts about excluding as much weight as possible in their quest for better fuel economy. We'll post this to let them know that some of their otherwise noble efforts can cause injury.

Looks like the auto industry is the one bright light for the economy again this month. Sales are up, again. 

I'm reading the numbers the auto companies are sending me and they're looking great. Chrysler has the best sales they've had in the last five years. Ford's sales are up, General Motors too. Audi is too. I haven't seen any declines in sales, year-over-year yet. 

With the jobs numbers looking so bleak it's great to see these numbers looking so good. 


Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thanks to the ever-wonderful Lou Ann Hammond for her valuable industry and product insights. And where would I be without the brilliantly loyal Ria Manglapus? Probably still waiting in Union Station for a ride home. Thanks, Ria. 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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