Real Wheels Live

Jun 06, 2014

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.

Good morning Warren and Friends


I was having dinner with my friends Sam and Miriam the other night when Sam broke into a tirade about his Toyota 4Runner and the lousy mileage it got, "Who do you know at Toyota? I want to talk to them. Tell them that the miles they claim aren't anywhere near what I'm getting." We talked a little further and found out that Sam was braking a cardinal rule of people who want to get the most miles out of their vehicle - junk in the trunk, or even worse, out of the trunk. 


Sam is an avid bicyclist. Every other day you can see Sam putting his bicycle on the back of his 4Runner and taking off with his buddies to go for a 50 mile ride in the hills of Sierra Nevada in Northern California. 


It just so happened that I got a Toyota 4Runner this week, the same one Sam has. I live a couple hundred feet higher than Sam and drove my 4Runner normally and got 18 miles per gallon of city and highway traffic. Sam was getting 13 miles per gallon!


Car companies spend a lot of time maximizing fuel economy. Aerodynamics play a large part in that fuel economy. When you change the shape of the car and add weight to the car, you are changing the miles per gallon you will get out of a car. It's important to remember this as you go out on your summer vacation trips and you start putting stuff on top of the car and on the back of the car. 


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Lou Ann Hammond

Any reactions to this recent article?:

I have to read the article. But I've been doing a lot on autonomous driving--written two small, very small books, in fact. The technology is coming. It is heavily dependent on infrastructure development, which is wanting. What are your concerns?

Lou Ann here" 

I love Asimov's writing, have interviewed Burns many times, interviewed Thrun when he was at Stanford and Google. 

These are the minds of the future and while it is fun to think of 2001 space odyssey this people are serious about safety and autonomous vehicles. 

The question the writer didn't address is what happens to our auto insurance if there are so fewer accidents. :) 

Prius, Volt, or Camry Hybrid? Or CMax despite its faked MPG? And is 2015 Camry Hybrid worth waiting for? Already have fairly large four door tourer.

Inasmuch as you already have a mid-size car, do you really need another one, or something smaller? If the answer is yes to something smaller, I'd go with one of several versions of the Prius, probably the V.

It depends on how many miles you drive a day? The Volt gives you 35 miles to the charge, but only 35 miles per gallon afterwards. The Prius gives you 11 miles to the charge but you have about 50 miles per gallon. So, if you want all electric most days but no range anxiety I would go volt. If you drive more than 11 miles a day and don't mind using gas I would buy the Prius. The Ford Fusion Energi is also a plug-in hybrid that would be in the same price range as what you're looking for. Of course, the BMW i8 would be the luxury plug-in that we would all love. :) 

Here's an article from 2012 - if you follow the same methodology in the .jpg you will figure out which one you want.


I know you have answered various questions about Elio in past sessions... I own a smart fortwo with 100,000 miles. The car cost me $15,000 and gets about 40 mpg. Is there a chance that Elio can make and sell a car that gets twice the mileage at half the price? I didn't think the average motorcycle was able to get 84mpg and know they usually cost more than $6,800. Since the car isn't in production, I somewhat think it is too good to be true.

Yes, the simple answer. Lou Ann?

I am getting dizzy trying to figure out the "real" differences on BMW's new model lineup. Can you comment how much "real" driving experience is between the 3, 4 and 5 series? Or even just the 4 and 5? Thank you

BMW is maximizing common platforms. "Real differences," as a result, could be hard to determine. Pay attention, of course, to available drivetrains. Trim levels, also. I'm just waiting for BMW to get real and stop pricing as optional technology stuff that is being offered by lesser rivals as standard equipment.

Lou Annd is right. It really is about safety. We're still killing 36,000 people annually in the United States in traffic crashes. Autonomous driving could alleviate much of that. But the reality is that we'll have to cater to the politics of choice before we get there.

Is there a better SUV (not crossover) which can be used as a vehicle for family of 5?

Yeah, Land Rover.

I was disappointed to recently read that Honda is not releasing a completely revised Pilot for 2015, like they previously announced. Rather, they are simply adding a lame mid-level trim (SE) to the current model. Is this because Honda had to go back and make improvements in light of the recent IIHS small overlap front crash test results?

It would make sense. IIHS has brought out new cash tests and every car company is trying to get the highest grade they can on those tests. This means spending more time on the architecture of the car instead of content. 

Let's face it, most people want infotainment and entertainment in their life. It is the responsibility of the car company to make a safe car before they add content and tainment to a car. 

Good morning. Just wondering if either of you has driven this car with the 4-cylinder engine. It looks interesting. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Yes, I have. I like it. Fact is, 240 horsepower is all most of us will ever need in today's congested world. Gets 37 miles per gallon on the highway. Not bad.

I have 126K miles on this car and I love it BUT it is 15 years old. I change the oil, maintain it well, etc. What problems would make you want to look for a new car?

You have a Toyota Corolla. It can easily go another 100,000-150000 miles before you have to think about a new car. 

When the problem is more expensive than the car is worth that's when I would think about a new car. When you feel your safety in the car is outdated that's when I would think about a new car. 

I don't know the average age of a Toyota but I would bet it is higher than the average age of the average car, which is over 11 years old. 

Keep changing the oil, maintaining it and enjoying not having a payment. 

yes, carrying extra stuff and weight on a car makes it less efficient. Having a single bike on the back of his 4runner won't account, by itself, for the difference between 13 and 18 mpg. If he has a serious road bike, it probably weighs less than 2 bags of groceries. And aerodynamics comes into play more at higher highway speeds. Any local/neighborhood part of his drive really won't bring significant aerodynamics into the equation.

wrong! Consumer Reports , in their June, 2014 edition, did the same test. page 47. They used a 2013 Honda Accord (42mpg) and found that putting just an empty bike rack on the vehicle dropped the mileage by 5mpg (37mpg). A wind deflector and  Two bikes on the rack dropped the mpg to 27mpg. They tested a Toyota Camry with a large car-top carrier and the fuel economy dropped 5mpg. 

junk in - and on - the trunk make a difference. 


Why all the love for autonomous vehicles? You don't get to drive. If you're not interested in driving, there are lots of more carbon efficient choices, such as the bus or the subway.

Why not? The Defense Department fell in love with autonomous vehicles for a very practical reason: They save lives. They are being developed globally for exactly the same reason, especially as the world's roads become more congested. Don't worry. You will still be able to drive and crash on your own. Freeedom of choice.

Problem is the LR4 is way overdue for redo. Current one is expensive and unreliable. Figure 10K more expensive than a Grand Cherokee Limited with a V6. Range Rover Sport non supercharged is another $5 to 10K more expensive. Nothing from Audi, BMW, Porsche, Infiniti or Mercedes except for G Wagon at over a $100k can challenge the Grand Cherokee off road with low range and transfer case. 4 runner is ugly but more reliable than the Grand Cherokee or Land Rover. Big Range Rover and Range Rover Sport are currently more reliable than the Grand Cherokee. LR4 and LR2 arent. Evoque isnt in the same class. LR 4 replacement LR5 should be out in 2016 for US. Hopefully with a diesel. Grand cherokee's diesel option is overpriced and the diesel lacks sophistication and is noisey. I own a 2012 grand Cheroke V6 with the ORA1 package. Next vehicle maybe a LR5 to haul dogs across fields to work heridng trials Clifton VA

Look at a BMW X5 or an Audi Q5

MoveDC recently released its long-term plan for transportation in the DC area, and one proposal was congestion pricing (tolls) for cars entering (and leaving?) DC on several specific roads. I'd love to hear both Lou Ann's and Warren's views on this proposal. Thanks.

Congestion pricing makes sense. It seems to be reducing congestion in London during peak rush hours. We're going to have to do something. Congestion is getting so bad, it makes a mockery of those TV ads showing cars zooming willy-nilly on always empty roads.

Have you had a chance to drive this car? The only negative reviews I have seen revolve around the infotainment system in this vehicle. What are your thoughts on the infotainment system as well as the car overall? Driving and reliability. Thanks

It is an excellent vehicle--well-crafted inside and out. And Toyota/Lexus is to be congratulated for not following BMW's ridiculous, option-everything pricing strategy.

Not really about cars but I'm in the process of teaching my 17 yr old son to drive. I'm not the best passenger to begin with so taking him driving is stressful for me which just adds to his nervousness behind the wheel. Any tips?

Go to an open lot - a huge open lot where there are no cars and nothing he can hit. have him do start and stops, circles, turns. 

Take the drivers test with you and go over each question - one by one - while he is driving. Let him know the reason you are doing this is so that he will pass his test and how that test makes sense on the road. 

When you gain more confidence - both of you - have him parallel park and back into a space. 

Good Luck 

Variations in fuel economy across individual vehicles,owners and circumstances are so well known that on most vehicle enthusiast web sites, when a contributor makes a recommendation, they usually add the codicil: YMMV.

Your mileage may vary. What, they can't write a sentence?

I'm sure we all attach some of our notions of freedom to our cars. Yet, if there were some system by which our vehicles could sense that 270 is clogged 10 miles ahead and adjust our speed and spacing now, we might all get home faster.

Exactly - and some cars already have the feature in their nag system that will ask you if you want the route to be reconfigured because it sees stop and go traffic ahead. My goggle maps on my iPhone shows me the red traffic and if I am inclined I will take a different route and it will reconfigure as well. 

We are smarter than being lemmings. 

Serious Q's: How does the Googlemobile pick a parking space? Does it know that it's better to park under a tree in Florida, but not in Houston (unless you want to go straight to the car wash after)? Does it know that the middle lane is faster because of the people using the left lane for a leisurely cruise? Does it know that you'd rather go slower in one lane than follow a trash truck in the faster lane?

The Google mobile, in my estimation, actually is behind the likes of similar technology being developed by Valeo of France. The Valeo system is not nearly as cumbersome/dorky and works by using cameras and sensor to survey prospective parking areas, selecting available parking spots. The technology is in its infancy and, as I wrote earlier, will depend on a variety of dvelopments, infrastucture being key among them.

When will someone make a hybrid CRV, Escape or RAV4? I'd buy a hybrid CRV in a heartbeat. I need that kind of cargo space over a small 4 door sedan. (And yes, I clean out the space when not in use so the only junk in my trunk is my .., well never minds. I'll go a diet)

When, if, they see a viable market?

We just purchased a 2012 Lexus CT200h that is supposed to get 3 times the mileage of the Pickup we "retired". Good choice? Poor choice? Your thoughts.

Good choice. But don't be surprised. YMMV.

What does Lou Ann think about it?

I hate paying to drive on a highway that I have already paid my tax dollars to build, but I also hate congestion. I don't see enough companies staggering their workforce voluntarily so it comes down to employee pressure of being angry that they have to pay tolls during a certain time for the company to bend the rules. 

It's an evil necessity. 

Have no real off road capability Lou Ann. Read my response. Land Rover and Jeep Grand Cherokee do along with 4 Runner. I have pulled X5s and Q5s out of wet grass with Grand Cherokee at herding trials. Some us need the capability.

Then I would go with the Grand Cherokee Clifton. Anyone that reads this chat regularly knows you're an avid Jeep fan. Why are we having this discussion? 

Currently we dont live under Socialist govt like UK or EU. The answer isnt taxes but telecommuting Warren. Its like HOV lanes which should be abnned . My tax dollars went to pay for those lanes and I should be able to use them no matter how many humans and dogs I have in my vehicle. We need to do away with the tyranny of the Greens. Clifton, VA

Ah, Clifton. Your politics are as dicey as....well, suffice it to say that neither UK officials nor those running  the fractious EU out of Brussels regard themselves, or their government as socialist.

I went through this two weeks ago. My 2002 Hyundai Elantra GT needed $1,500 worth of work, on top of $400 that I spent on it last month. It isn't even worth that much...I bought it used for $3,000 in 2010. CarMax bought it for $600, which I was very happy with.

$2400 over 3-4 years, you're talking $6-800 a year for a car. I'm good with that  :) 

If you can't find an empty lot, I suggest taking your teen driver to the back parking lot of the Cabin John shopping center on the weekends. You will be able to find lots of empty rows where a newbie driver can get used to driving without any chance of side swiping a parked car.

Thank you for the suggestion.

Any other suggestions by parents that have taught their children to drive? 

Check out some the BMW Car CLub of America programs like Strett Survival or their high performance drivers schools Both programs are open to minors with a waiver. If you are in the DC area the locl chapter National Capital Chapter offers the ir program at Summit Point in clos by WVA about 70 miles from DC. They are one of the fe schools to offer wet skidpad time which is import ant to all drivers but especially new ones. Cost is very reasonable and signifcantly sheaper than pro schools which often use BMW CCA instructors. Hey Warren you should have the current NCC drivers school coorindator on your chat. Clifton, VA

Ford also has programs that they come to schools and teach some teen driving. I don't remember the name of the program now or if they are still doing it. 

There are lots of teen driving programs but this parent wanted to teach their own child. It is a bonding moment. 

I have been down the teen driving path twice. There are driving schools whose instructors are all with law enforcement. We were very satisfied. Yet, no matter what instruction or practice, we found we ultimately had to trust that we instilled the right values in our kids. Letting go and trusting is one of the toughest things to do as a parent. But it also can be one of the most gratifying.

Amen. I've been down that road, twice. Luckily, with no accidents. Values are exceedingly important. They help your kids say "No" to stupid peer pressure, especially important in the matter of driving.

How many dogs does Clifton like to keep in his car?

you mean his jeep 

Thanks to Lou and Warren for the great information! Warren, I have the same reaction to BMW's options costs, but on the other hand appreciate not being forced to buy some of the "irrelevant" things that don't add to driving pleasure. Either way, if you want that stuff you will pay for it - separately or as part of the basic price. I have the most problem with the girth and weight of new BMW's and what I'd call the "synthetic" driving experience. I am glad to have ABS, traction control, etc., but engine sounds form the audio system (M5 I think)? If all I wanted was transportation, I'd get a Honda or Toyota, (now maybe Hyundai), but it used to be I'd look to BMW or Porsche for pure driving fun. Pretty pricey, and now BMW doesn't really fit that mold.

I understand your concerns. I wish that BMW agreed.

One word: Donuts

I prefer "love." Children who are comfortable in their parents' love also tend to be comfortable in emulating parental values. Nothing, no one is perfect. But I find that unconditional love helps, even when things sour.

Two collies in the back in well secured crates. Loose dogs should be a felony and result in automatic DL revocation for a lifetime. Clifton, VA

there you go - ask and you shall be given. 

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week. Thank you:  Angela Wong, Lou Ann Hammond, Ria Manglapus, and  Michelle Dawson. Couldn't make it without you. 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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