Real Wheels Live

Jun 08, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

It is a confusing economy. Unemployment remains in the range of 8 percent, and that's just for people who actually are looking for jobs. Salaries are declining. Yet automobile plants all over the US are running three shifts to keep up with consumer demand. GM has more plants running three shifts in North Amrica then did the entire auto industry from 2000 through 2009. Makes you wonder where we'd be if our politicians worked together to save the American middle and working classes the way the Obama administration worked to save Detroit. Let's discuss. with civility, please.

I travel to Latin America frequently and see just about every class of vehicles with diesel engines. What about us? I am thinking about a Yukon - Can I order that with a diesel? Sam Browne

You can get a Yukon hybrid and a Yukon flex-fuel. But no Yukon diesel at this point. GM seems to be putting what diesel engines it offers into heavyduty pickups and cargo vans. But that may spread, depending on what is happening with gasoline prices.

Warren,  Bought a new Honda CR-V EX-L with Nav. on Monday. My 10 year old CRV was starting to have costly problems and I could not see putting nearly $2,500 into a 10 year old car. I made that mistake before. The new vehicle costs $36K (with all of the add-ons except DVD player) before discounts, but I actually financed $22K after discounts, the $7K they gave me for my vehicle and the cash I put down to lower my note which is $384 for 60 mos. Rate is 1.79% from Navy Federal CU. I don't think I could get a better deal. The difference between this vehicle and my old one is like day and night. It feels like a real luxury truck. I have not begun to figure out all of the technology in it. I am glad I don't have to do this very often, but even I was shocked that Ourisman matched the deal offered by the Navy Federal buying service which I considered a rock bottom price. I reminded them that I have been a loyal customer for 17 years, have bought two other vehicles from them and do all of the vehicle maintenance at Ourisman. In other words, they have made a lot of money off of me!! I even created Excel spreadsheets breaking down the differences between the two deals and brought my computer with me to show the salesman. It took two visits and several back and forth phone calls before everything was final. But, it does illustrate that you can get a good deal if you DO YOUR HOMEWORK and are prepared to walk if they will not work with you. Charles in NW DC

You got a good deal. Doing your homework, having a good credit rating and working with a dealer smart enough to reward customer loyalty paid off. It's why Ourisman is Ourisman, one of the highest rated dealers (in terms of point-of-sale customer treatment) in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Enjoy!

Warren, Submitting early. Not sure if this is for you, Clifton, or someone else. Two fathers, three full-grown teen sons, three inflatable kayaks, a significant amount of gear, and one 2002 Ford Expedition heading to remote interior of Maine for two weeks of fishing, camping, and lake-based exploring. There will be interstate followed by state roads followed by narrow roads followed by dirt track, but no extreme 4x4 driving (we believe). The question: for driving safety, is it best to cram all the gear, boats, food, etc. into the back of the vehicle; get one of those "space shuttle" roof rack systems; get a trailer; or use some combination thereof? I know one question will be how much does it all weigh, would U-haul or an auto shop have a scale? I know the answer, regardless, will be: drive the speed limit, stay to the right, and take our time. Nonetheless, would appreciate your advice on the packing/hauling.

I'd carefully edit the gear presumed needed and load it into the back of the vehicle--carefully. SUV rollover accidents often occur in overloaded and poorly balanced vehicles, which is why I don't like those space shuttle rooftop things. Edit what you plan to bring. Start with what you really need and start tossing out from there. What do you say Clifton, the Paul Bunyan of the mid-Atlantic region?

Hi Warren, am curious to know your take on Tesla and if you're going to be offered a chance to drive their new Model S. It's a beautiful car and were I deeper pocketed, it would be the number one car on my wish list.

Tesla is a dream possibly a dream coming true. I've driven previous models, including those whose batteries later "bricked." Tesla seems to have move quickly to correct that dead battery problem. The company still has a long way to go to stabilize its operations and move toward profitability. But I'm willing to give its leaders a vote of confidence. I look forward to driving the S.

Hi Warren, I was very excited to learn that Mazda would be introducing diesels here, but I have some reservations. Should I approach a purchase like all 'new' model cars - wait till the second year of the model so all the problems are ironed out? Or since it's been sold overseas for awhile, will the first year here be okay? Also, do you have any insight as to which Mazda model(s) will be in the USA? Bonus points if you have any pricing information as well! (I'm assuming about $4000 over the gas-fueled models - is that a good guess?) Many thanks!

Mazda is no stranger to diesel technology and the application of same. It sells diesels in Europe and other parts of the world. Its decision to bring diesels here is more financial and marketing than it is technical. I look for the company to start with something like a diesel-powered CX-5. Starting at about $28,000.

I have noticed that you recommended the CRV, rav4 and now the Mazda 5 as small crossovers but not the Forester from Subaru. Is this because the Forester is a AWD, which translates to less fuel efficiency? The interior is roomier and the ride is responsive and comfortable in our view of the 2010 version, but we don't hear much of this vehichle. Are we missing something or are the competitor models that much better? Thanks.

No, it's because the Forester is a good vehicle that bores me silly with its missionary styling and road manners.

The auto industry is unique, both historically and politically, in the US given our love affair and history of producing and driving cars. Politically, the auto industry and related supplier base cuts across both parties (midwest and southeast with newer plants) including suppliers in a key swing state of Ohio. Besides the defense industry, I don't think there is one other industry or group/class of people (certainly not the middle class which has no lobbying group focused on it) which is as neatly defined which has the same history and political significance at the US auto industry to garner that support. Other industries (like alternative energy) have huge and well-financed opposing industries (US oil industry) to undercut any support for them.

Thank you. That's an interesting insight. Perhaps, I'm naive. But it just seems to me that if we worked on the rest of the economy with the same energy and political will applied to the now-rapidly growing car business, we'd all be a  lot better off.

Any data on how US consumers are paying for these new cars that are driving sales? It seems inconsistent and unsustainable that the overall economy and employment are sluggish, with real income flat to down, and US car sales up.

The banks are opening up credit for new-vehicle purchases just in time, apparently, to service a healthy vehicle replacement market. Customers with credit ratings of 700 and slightly lower are getting financing. Sub-prime credit folks are getting loans, too. SUVs and pickups are still selling well. But there is statistical evidence that less-expensive and less-consumptive four-cylinder vehicles are getting a favorable nod from consumers, too.

I am confused by car companies because I am in the market for a wagon. A sleek, mature, multi-functional, car. Not a cross-over (see: RAV-4, CRV). Not a plastic-covered Walter Mitty (see: Subaru Outback). Not a shrunken mini-van (see: Mazda 5). I will quite happily settle for a VW Jetta TDI. But my question is: why has everyone else ceded the market for this type of vehicle to VW? Subaru used to sell the Legacy in a wagon version, but now only as an Outback. And Volvo,  of all carmakers, with their history of nice wagons, says on their website that their current wagon, the V50, has been discontinued in the US market. Is VW the only one left? Do others offer something similar? Why have all the makers backed away from this design?

Automobile companies now selling in the United States offer 29 different wagons, according to our trusty friends at Among those on sale are A3 and A4 models from Audi; the deliberate styled wagon from Cadillac, the CTS-V wagon; and one of my affordable favorites, the Mitsubishi Outlander. Oh, and the Subaru Forester, discussed earlier in this session, is marketed as a wagon.

Is there anything special that one should do if they know their car will not be driven for a month or two?

Put fresh fuel in the tank before storage. Remove unnecessary weight--cargo--to avoid flat-spotting tires. Make sure it is protected against the elements and that, if yours is a push-button ignition type, that the ignition is fully, completely off.

Any info about the 2009 Suburu Legacy I need to know about before I buy.

We're still driving ours all over the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. We had to replace brakes because of one family member's unfortunate habit of riding the brakes downhill--down a very steep hill. But we love that Outback, our "country" car, and probably will replace it with another one, especially now that the people at Subaru are beginning to pay favorable attention to least in the Outback.

Hello Warren. I need to buy a new car (no more used cars for me). I am on a tight budget. Could you recommend a very low priced car that is pretty dependable. Thank you...

Yes, the Hyundai Accent sedan, starting at $14,545; or the slightly larger Hyundai Elantra,$16,695. Both are smartly styled, among the safest in their vehicle size classes, fuel-efficient and reliable.

I would ask, what is OP's timeframe in buying his car? From what I have read, Chrysler is looking to add diesels not only in the Ram 1500 in the next year or so, but also the Wrangler at the next redesign which should be in a couple years. Motors (6-cylinder!) would come via both (a) existing relationship with Cummins and (b) Fiat's ownership stake in VM Motori -- which is co-owned with GM who by the way is looking to sell this stake and Fiat may buy it. Personally, I would say that Chrysler/FIAT may just be at the cutting edge of bringing diesels into more widespread usage -- if they are insanely successful on smaller diesels in the Ram, no doubt it will come into far more use in the car lines quickly. Potomac, MD (who hopes to become Clifton's counterweight in Chrysler pronouncements)

Thanks, Potomac. Here's hoping that Chrysler and several of its rivals don't back off their diesel plans because of falling gasoline prices in the United States (except the West Coast).

Good! It's supposed to be boring. It's a utilitarian vehicle that does what it does exceedingly well. What is the obsession with anything other than a roadster or a real sports sedan being "sexy"??

No argument there. You are right. I personally am not looking for sexy. But I'm still a sucker for beauty in design.

Warren, They obviously do affect the center of gravity, but if you look at the manufacturers recommendations they are not designed to carry much weight. I have a 16 c.f. box, and I think the advertised weight limit tops out at around 70 lbs (which isn't even half of the load capacity of our cross bars). The primary benefit is to provide storage for bulkier (not heavier) items to free up trunk/hatch space. If you don't overload them they do not pose much of an additional roll over danger. Especially if you load heavier items lower in the remaining available vehicle space.

Many thanks for that input.

Banks are hammering people on new home loans but opening up the spigots for new car loans? I don't get it.

Neither do I. I don't understand banks, period. I'm working hard to become more intelligent about how and why banks do what they do. But it's a treacherous uphill learning curve.

Argh, the new Volvo V40 looks so cool and is so unavailable in the U.S. Do you think they'll ever bring it to the states?

Yes, or an equivalent.

I have a 2003 Sentra, which hasn't given me any real problems. Last week, all of a sudden, I noticed that the front passenger side door doesn't work from the inside. The power locks seem to work fine, and the door can be opened from the outside, but not from the inside. Any idea what the problem is? Do you think this is a costly fix?

This is one of yours, Clifton. Please, help!

My father plans to buy his "last car" in about 2 years. At that time it will be an impeccably maintained 2005 Honda Civic with about 120,000 miles on it. I would like to buy it from him at that time, but he seems reluctant, just because it will be almost 10 years old and have 120,000 miles on the transmission. A car is a complete luxury for me. I like having it for grocery runs and getting to social events, but I could manage without one since there is a grocery store in my neighborhood and I take Metro to work. I'm willing to pay the monthly costs connected with owning a vehicle, but not put out a huge chunk of capital on the original purchase. I currently drive a 1997 Ford Taurus that I bought from my former employer in 2001 for $5000 when it was retired from use by a sales support rep. I think my Dad's car would be ideal for me since my mileage per year is very low (about 3000). Thoughts? Children don't ride in this car.

Offer your father a fair price for his current ride. You sound like a daughter. Are you? If so, he'll probably sell it  to you. Why? Fathers are suckers for daughters. I'm one. But, hey, do the old dude a favor. Tell him that his "last car" is still several cars away and that you plan on being around to help him drive it. Sucker Dads like that kind of stuff.

Reading about Steven Tyler's new $1.5m Venom GT, I was curious what the most expensive car you have ever driven and did it meet your expectation. If I gave you a $1.5m budget for cars would you focus on one very expensive one or pick several different kinds of slightly less expensive cars?

The most expensive car I've driven is the Lamborghini Rebenton, in 2007, then valued at $1.45 million U.S.-- driven in Bologna, Italy. You have to master that car, which is something I don't like to do. Maybe, I'd feel differently if I were rich. But I don't think so. I'd rather spend that kind of money to educate nieces, nephews, and God children. I want my legacy to be more than an expensive automobile that does no one much good.

The following recent one hour tv program, "The Price of Gas," made and shown in Hawaii may be of interest:

Thank you very much.

Warren, For a family with two kids in carseats, but needing periodic third row seating for carpooling to soccer practices, etc., what three row SUVs/crossovers between $30 and $45k would you recommend? Since we do regular "city" driving, fuel economy is not an insignificant consideration.

The new Nissan Quest, circa 2013.

Thanks for joining us today. Please visit us next week. Also accepting questions, comments during the week at Thanks, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thanks, Ria Manglapus, for keeping everything running on schedule. Eat lunch.

In This Chat
Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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