Real Wheels Live

Jun 03, 2011

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

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Thanks for having me on again this week.

My question is, as a consumer, are you willing to use natural gas as a fuel for your vehicle?

Two weeks ago I was at The 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum held in Berlin, Germany. Last week I traveled onto Leipzig, Germany where the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) held the International Transportation Forum. The big news for the OECD was that China will join the OECD this year. That brings the number to 52 countries inside the OECD.

I interviewed Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. For the past one hundred years oil companies have put a steel straw in the sand and brought oil to the United States. Only once during the last one hundred years was there a problem with the supply of gasoline. I asked Voser what energy could replace gasoline for the next one hundred years. He said natural gas.

Natural gas, synthetic natural gas, liquid natural gas, unconventional gas such as shale gas. Put together, natural gas is looking pretty good. I, of course, like the natural gas from renewables, such as the e-gas Audi is working on.

I also talked with Larry Burns. Larry Burns is a Professor at University of Michigan. Before that Burns was the head of research and development for General Motors. I've always said that one of the biggest reasons it was important to keep General Motors from going under was the intellectual property they possessed. Anyways, Burns agreed with Voser.

My question is, as a consumer, are you willing to use natural gas as a fuel for your vehicle? You would have options: you could fuel up at a station or have a home fueling device in your garage. Many of you use natural gas already.

Is there a psychological barrier to using natural gas that you don't have with plugging into electricity in your home?

Let me know your thoughts.


Hi Warren- Based on your recommendation (and Consumer Reports) I bought a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited for my recent college graduate son. We had a hard time finding one in stock here in the metro area, but finally got one out in Leesburg. The car is indeed a good value for the price. However, we discovered one HUGE omission. The car has NO SPARE TIRE!!! Instead, in the wheel well in the trunk is a small package with a can of spray gunk to seal a flat and an air pump. We were not informed of this at the time we bought the car. Warren, I've bought a number of cars over the years and never has this issue come up. We are pushing the dealer to provide a tire on a rim, jack, lug wrench etc. Why does a major manufacturer trying to gain market share in this country resort to such practice? Is it to save a few bucks? Frankly, though we really do like the car, this experience has really turned me off to doing business with Hyundai again. Thoughts?

Welcome to the new world of weight reduction in pursuit of better fuel economy. Car manufacturers worldwide are shrinking spare tires (temporary spares), or they are omitting them altogether via run-flat tires (50-miles travel distance at max 50 mph after deflation, expensive), or via the Hyundai-type quick-fix kit. I suppose a dealer could try some kind of retrofit (Clifton?). But the old spare tire is becoming a thing of the past in pursuit of better fuel economy.

What is emerging as the most likely scheme to tax electric cars since their owners will not purchase fuel? Will hybrids be included since their owners do purchase some fuel?

Good morning TEC:

This debate has been going on for years now. The more miles per gallon our car gets, the more we drive. Since we're driving more miles on one gallon of gas the states are not getting as much money to fix the roads as they used to. It's a legitimate concern on the states part, I just haven't liked any of the solutions they've come up with. Too much big brother invading your privacy. Such as, taxing you on every mile, through a GPS system in your car. NOT!!


Is it my imagination or did everything at Toyota get much more expensive lately? I wonder if they are managing their supply problems by raising prices. I thought that a 2011 Camry would be cheap considering that a brand new model is coming for 2012, but prices at Carmax seemed to have gone up $1,200 lately. Any idea how much different the 2012 model will be anyway?

Used car prices have gone up across the board, largely thanks to supply restrictions caused by interruption of fully assembled vehicles and component production in Japan. As a result, most Japanese car companies have either raised their new-vehicle prices; or they have reduced or eliminated sales incentives on new cars, while many of their U.S. dealers have raised prices on used cars, especially high-demand fuel-efficient models. This situation is expected to last through nd of July, according to industry executives I've interviewed. My colleague, Lou Ann Hammond, has additional information on this matter. Lou Ann?

Warren is right - used car prices have spiked. And Japan's supplies has been cut back because of the tragedies they have experienced.That might explain why sales were down in May. There is brand loyalty - if you can't get the brand you want you will wait - also there is price shock. When you don't have a glut of product the price will go up. 

The Japanese companies are bringing more of their production to the United States to combat some of those problems. They have always been "just-in-time" producers, so they know how to be nimble. It will still take them months to catch up.

I expect to see them on full board by August.

We don't need the third seat for passengers, but do need the room for a large dog cage. The Enclave seems to have much-better interior room than the SRX (including for a tall driver), doesn't require premium as the BMW X3, and looks snappier than the sister Acadia. Any thoughts?

Ahhh, another dog lover. I agree with the Enclave. The Enclave does have the room for the dog cage. A thought: does the back fold level with the bumper? If not you're going to have to put the cage on top of some seats. In either case you want to leave room for a dog ramp. My Black lab/australian shepard is 11 years old now and can't get in or out of a car without assistance.


My wife is chiding me for rotating tires because she can remember a time when tire rotation was not done. She believes it's just another way for service operations to make money. What do you think?

Tell your wife that you are protecting her life. Routine tire rotation and tire pressure monitoring can keep you from an unhappy surprise down the road. Much of this information is publicly available, especially now during National Tire Care Month. WARNING: Please avoid driving on underinflated tires. As little as five pounds under pressure can be the difference between a fatal crash or a correctable swerve.

Good Morning Warren, Please rank the following mid-size SUV's for the best value for the money: Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento, Ford Edge, and Chevy Equinox.  I have an opportunity to purchase a well-equipped Hyundai Veracruz for approximately the same cost as a Santa Fe through a special promotion. Is it wiser to go for "more car for the money" or go with the Santa Fe for the better gas mileage? Many thanks to you and your team for providing valuable insight to the ever changing auto world.

Good morning,

Ask yourself a couple of questions:

1. Will I use the "more car", or am I just buying it because I'm getting a good deal? -- do you drive alone a lot, or will you have a full load in the car?

2. If gasoline goes to $5 a gallon can I afford that car?

Look at how many miles a month you've been putting on a car and how much you've spent. ouch! Now multiply that amount using $5 a gallon instead of the $3 something you've been paying.

I always tell people to only buy homes on a fixed interest rate because they know what their payment will be. You can't do the same with gasoline, but you can prepare yourself.

Just where does Toyota stand now regarding the Prius acceleration problem. Is the auto still under the gun?

Toyota contends that the alleged sudden acceleration defect really was a case of drivers hitting the wrong pedal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seems to have accepted that argument. At any rate, our government says it can find no sytemic fault, including no electronic bugaboo, with Toyota's throttle systems. Thus, it seems Toyota is off the hook on that one. But I'm sure there are many product liability lawyers out there who think otherwise and who are still pursuing the matter.

I currently drive a '98 V8 Mustang and am looking to get a 2011 Mustang. Do I go with the high horse power V6 or will I really miss the V8 and notice a big difference?  I only drive around town.

I believe the Mustang has a V-6 with eco-boost that you will love. Eco-boost gives you the horsepower and torque of a V-8, but you get the fuel economy of a V-6.

The initial price will be a little more than a regular V-6, but you get your performance and your fuel savings all in one package.


Warren, I have become increasingly interested in the Hyundai Elantra Touring instead of shelling out all the money for a Subaru Outback. I would like a station wagon, but like the smaller size of the Touring and the smaller price tag. You have been singing Hyundai's praises for awhile in your chats lately. However, looking at your past reviews of the Touring, you wrote a good/happy review in April 2009 and then a not so good/pretty unhappy one a mere 4 months later. Your quick turnaround is a bit confusing, but what's more important is what you think now. Worth buying if I'm trying to avoid the whole SUV crossover thing and don't want/can't spend the money on a Subaru?Any other wagon type cars you can suggest? If it matters, we'll be moving to Western, MA from DC in a year and have 1 child and no pets. Thanks.

Avoid the base model, the Hyundai Elantra Touring GLS, which I drove after driving the "happy" model, the Elantra Touring SE, which starts at $19,495, some $3,500 above the Elantra GLS. Both have 2-liter, inline 4-cylinder engines (138 hp, 136 foot-pounds of torque). Both get about 31 mpg on the hwy. But cosmetics and the extras, in this case, make a world of difference in one's enjoyment. Get the SE and be happy.

Warren, Good morning. Where are all the "experts" who said that gas was going to hit $5? Another scare tactic by the media I presume. I live in the Shenandoah Valley and recently made a trip to Nags Head. I have no less traffic and folks slowing down to conserve gas. Looks like "business as usual" to me.

I have found that the way people drive has no direct correlation to the price of gasoline. I have heard them complain about the price of gasoline, but never seem them change the way they drive.

$5 a gallon for gas is already a reality in some parts of Southern California. The question is whether it will become the average all over the nation.

The thing that brought down the price of gasoline in 2008 was the recession. Unless we have a double dip you will see the price of gasoline stay where it is or go up.

I would rather not see a recession, but I don't see any energy that is giving gasoline competition.

Hi Warren: Any ETA on the stateside arrival of the Ford C-Max? We'll be in the market for a new family hauler this fall, and I'd like another option to a minivan or even the newly redesigned Mazda5. Thanks.

Supposedly late fall as a 2012 model. I will check with Ford to make sure.

Ford Motor Company has confirmed that the new 7-seat C-MAX introduced today at the Frankfurt Motor Show will arrive in North America beginning late 2011.

I live 25 miles from work and 15 miles from the nearest metro station. So, my car is required for my daily commute. However, I could use a scooter or something like that when heading out for lunch. I know Razor and other companies make electric scooters that I could in theory keep in my trunk, but they seem to have a 30 minute range and require recharging after each use. Are there other options for lunchtime use that would fit easily in a small trunk?

I just saw this at the 2011 Challenge Bibendum. Michelin is making a foldable electric bicycle. It folds to about 2 feet by 2 feet. You could ride it to the metro in the morning, fold it with the click of a button and take it with you.

The electric bicycle still works even when the power is gone, but you can take the battery out of the downtube and charge it at the office. (Consider it another perk :)

You're just the person they're looking to target.

Good morning. I have a compact Kia that I recently brought in for a 30,000-mile checkup at a local shop (not dealer), and I was told that it needed about $1,100 worth of work (fluids, belts, spark plugs, etc.). The shop told me during a prior oil change that things looked overall, and I know that the 30,000-mile checkup alone should only run up a few hundred dollars' worth of expenses. How likely is it that my car really needed all that extra (several hundred dollars' worth of) work outside the 30,000-mile recommendations? It's a three-year-old car. I can't shake the feeling that they've ripped me off.

Cross shop. Go to another Hyundai dealer, or to an independent. Have the rivals look at the car without telling them anything about the previous repair shop. See what happens. I'm not making any specific accusations, but some dealer repair shops are less than happy with the money they get  for warranty work, especially if that work is time-consuming. So, they look for add-on stuff.

Every 10,000 miles, or sooner if tires are wearing badly.......

Says who? Sourcing, please.

Only issue I have with natural gas is it contains less BTUs then gas we use now. As a result you will not have the same range. We have enough oil reserves in the US both onshore and offshore to last us more than a 100 years at current rates of consumption. We just need the political will to go after them. Clifton VA

There in lies the problem - no political will. I would assert that going after oil might be political suicide. Even shale gasoline is going to have a major hurdle.

Natural gas is cleaner than gasoline, but will still a carbon.

For some reason I see people hesitant to say yes to natural gas. Why is that? Would you use natural gas (let's skip the oil issues for now) over electricity or hydrogen?

Hi, We're looking into new or used minivans. Which is the best value out there? We don't drive too much (average 15K per year or less). With 3 kids, we need more car than what we have now.

Try the Kia Sedona, starting bat just under $25k. It has a vanilla personality. But it's a terrific people hauler with a very competitive price, a five-star safety and consumer rating. Good value.

My sense is that vehicles are designed and engineered today against manufacturing and assembly constraining parameters, leaving subsequent maintenance and repair an afterthought or no thought at all. Replacement of parts is often the "next higher assembly" and the mechanic must be a multi-jointed long-armed, slim fingered contortionist to get to things like the rear bank of a cross-mounted V-6. Are you aware of anyone doing "maintenance engineering" evaluations/rankings of the automobile industry? Thanks.

I sense that your sense, although containing some truth (the front light assembly of the Infini QX56, for example), is mostly erroneous. The manufacturers know that many of their components nowadays mitigate against shade-tree mechanic fixes. So do their dealers. And they are all in happy agreement with that circumstance.

Always bring crate(s) with you when shopping for vehicle for you and your dog(s). Any dealer who doesn't want to deal with your dogs and your crates to make a sale doesnt really want your business. Do they? Pohanka Chevy and Acura, Hendrick Honda and Alexandria Land Rover all do. BMW of Alexandria and Sterling, Mercedes of Chantilly and Tysons don't. BTW, there are at least a couple million drivers who need vehicles to haul dogs to the park, conformation, performance events and sheepherding trials. Are you lsitening car makers? Now Warren, aren't you supposed to be including info if folding the second and third row seats give you a flat floor. You promised a certain collie girl. Clifton VA

That's my fault, Warren didn't answer the question. But I will try to be more attuned as well. I actually own an old dog, so I feel your pain and understand.

I wouldnt' buy a vehicle without doing what you have suggested.

Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: How important do you think it was for Chrysler to pay back its loans to the U.S. and Canada, and what does this symbolize for the U.S. automaker?  


Warren's answer: Getting rid of debt is always important. So is  gaining a 52-percent share of Chrysler in the process, which is the case for Fiat. Some things need to be considered: Fiat isn't hankering to sell small cars in America, although it is offering a cute little number, the Fiat 500. Fiat wants to sell trucks in America, which they get to do with Chrysler (Dodge, Ram, Jeep). Now, here's the kicker: With its now controlling interest in Chrysler, Fiat can use its considerable expertise in diesel engines to put diesel power in everything from Jeep to Ram, assuming energy prices continue to be a problem. Think about that--a whole fleet of fuel-efficient, diesel-powered trucks. Wouldn't that change the retail automotive landscape in America?

How important is it that you use 91 octane in a car who's manual suggests it? Will 89 kill the engine?

I just had this discussion with Fiat. The Fiat 500C uses 91 octane, but they say 89 is okay. What's the difference, I asked? Performance they said. Won't there be a difference in miles per gallon, I asked. No, they said, just in performance.

Ask the manufacturer/dealer. Some higher performance cars it will make a huge difference, others it might not. Also make sure you're not disavowing your warranty if you use regular gasoline when high octane is called for.


Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: I have noticed that Chrysler has been very aggressive in advertising the Chrysler 300 on TV this week, particularly while watching the French Open tennis broadcasts on Tennis Channel and ESPN2. Is this an indication that Chrysler is going after an upscale audience, one that watches tennis and sports on TV?

Yes, of course.

But going after an upscale audience does not mean Chrysler is abandoning the rank and file. The company also has been spending big bucks advertising the Chrysler 200 sedan.

In 1983, I went to a conference with a colleague who had a car that had been converted to natural gas. It was an old police cruiser, so it was pretty beat up to begin with, probably not the best choice for an experiment with natural gas. On the way home, the vehicle started not accelerating and lurching something terrible, so my colleague switched it back to gasoline. Turned out the carburetor wasn't set properly. With better engine technology today, I can't see the down side of using natural gas. Upfitting distribution points won't be tough, so let's go for it!

Honda's natural gas Civic has none of those problems. And you can buy a home-based CNG fueling stationto keep it running, at least locally.

Dealer should have told the buyer up front about the spare, or lack thereof. I'd make the dealer make it right.

Hyundai is not the only company that does it. Warren is right, this is the new norm and it is happening in part because of financial savings but mainly because of fuel savings. Car companies are looking at the cheapest ways to make a car have more miles per gallon, while still adhereing to all the safety regulations put forth by NHTSA.


Common sense. Any much sooner is just plain overkill. One mechanic I know won't rotate the tires until he takes a tire gauge to every row of tread on the tires. Then, if there is enough difference, and only then, will he rotate the tires. And, he works on Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche etc.

Thank you.

I find electricity a much better fuel alternative than natural gas, which is still a fossil fuel. I suspect (but don't know) that even if that electricity is generated by burning natural gas it would be more efficient to burn it in a central plant than in thousands of small engines. And if that electricity is generated by some combination of nuclear/solar/wind/hydro that doesn't require burning fossil fuels at all then electricity is clearly preferred. Just invest in better batteries!

There is MAJOR money being put into the advancement of batteries, trust me.

So what I hear you saying is that you are basing the use of natural gas versus electricity on which is better for the nation, not because you prefer pumping/charging with one or the other?

To answer your original question, this sounds like the Pickens Plan to replace at least some demand for imported oil with domestic natural gas. Two problems: There are few public refueling stations in the United States (only one, I think, in the D.C. area), meaning a long trip requires knowing exactly where stations are and when they are open, and installing fueling equipment at gas stations is very expensive. Also, the tanks for natural gas take up most of the trunk space in a small car, meaning a natural gas car has much less load capacity. A home refueling station requires that you have a house with a garage or driveway, which isn't true for everybody. What would be more practical -- and some cities are starting to do this -- would be to convert commercial fleet vehicles, taxis and public buses that could be refueled at base stations to natural gas. If natural gas were convenient I would be happy to use it, but for us consumers it would require a whole new energy-delivery infrastructure.

all good points. At the 2011 International Transport Forum Henry Li from BYD said they were changing Chinese buses from gasoline/diesel to electric buses. He gave the numbers of CO2 emissions that would save.

I ask about natural gas because all the points you make are accurate and good. Yet, when I ask the executives what energy do they see superseding oil/gasoline they say hydrogen or natural gas.

I see a disconnect between those two.

Hi Warren: Have you heard about the cluster motors needing to be replaced on 2005-ish Chevy Trailblazers? The speedometer stopped working on our 2005, and the motor is being replaced at the costly price of about $700, plus a rental car. My husband did some research online and found out that many of these cars are having this issue. We are wondering if this cluster motor breakdown also has something to do with the oil gauge not reading properly, beginning about about two years ago (now he has to put oil in the car every couple thousand miles). Just wondering if this is something you were aware of. Thank you for your input.

Check with to see if there is a "service bulletin" on that item in your vehicle. "Service bulletins" are different from recalls. Recalls are statutory matters, issued voluntarily (usually) or by court order (rare) in cases of safety or emissions defects. "Service bulletins" are for irritating faults, but faults deemed non-safety, or non-emissions related. Still, with service bulletins, you can petition the dealer or the car company for a ful or partial refund of your repair expenses.

And they're happy about that? Gouging the car owner for $35 just to change a brake light is simply unsat.

I haven't heard them complaining.

Their "expertise" consists of buying diesel motors from Cummins. Chrysler couldn't make a good diesel motor if they tried.

You're in  a bad mood today, aren't you? Take a break.

This might be too specific, but would now be a good time to get rid of my (awful) 2004 Acura TSX in favor of a Hyundai? I mean, would I be more likely to get a good price on it now because of the supply shortage and the fact that it is still (barely) under 100k miles? Thanks!

It depends on how 'awful" is "awful." Clearly, for example, you would not be tempted to buy it. Why would anyone else?

You mentioned the Elantra Touring. That model is based on the previous version of the Elantra sedan. Will Hyundai be offering a new Touring based on their new, greatly improved sedan, or will they continue to sell two different Elantras?

I don't know. I will check.

Aren't spare tires an anachronism from the days when tires went flat far more often than they do today? Are there any statistics on how often the spare tire is even used in the life of a car?

Hmm. Good question. I tend to agree. But its agreement without research. I have to check a few facts.

I'm pretty sure that California State Trooper Mark Saylor wasn't pushing the wrong pedal when his Lexus reached 120 mph before crashing and killing all four of them. The passengers even had time to call 911. This was not some old lady in her 80s who shouldn't be driving. This was completely Toyota's fault and they paid $10 million to settle the case. Even after a case like this, they still try to blame the drivers.

How are you sure? Were you in the car? Do you have some proof that was not prsented in the legal case? You could be right, but based on what evidence that has not already been presented? Keep in mind that companies frequently "settle" cases to make them and the attendant publicity go away, which is what Toyota did here.

To my knowledge, the case was not fullyajudicated. Had that been the case, and it ended in favor of the trooper's estate, I can assure you that the trooper's heirs would have gotten considerably more than $10 million.

Thank you all for joining us today. Have a great and safe weekend. Please come back next week. Thank you, Lou An Hammond, for your contributions to today's chat. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for your production services. And thank you, Ria, for keeping the cars moving. 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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