Real Wheels Live.

Jun 20, 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

How are you saving gasoline? Gas prices are back at $4.00 a gallon in Northern CA. What are you paying and does that price seem high to you anymore?

The last three weeks I've driven a Toyota 4Runner a Lexus RX450h and a Lexus GS460, the big Papa bear 3 row seat. My favorite? the Lexus RX 450h. It got about 26 mpg, the GS got about 16 mpg and the 4Runner got 18mpg. But more importantly, I liked the way the RX 450h drove. I know some of you need a 3rd row, but if you don't and want a great ride, the RX is it.

Let's chat about cars

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Lou Ann Hammond

Every few days, I drive behind someone who clearly has one tire that looks like it is running a bit low on pressure. It just looks wider than the other tires. Last night, it was a pickup truck from a pool company. Their front passenger tire was clearly lower than the rest. I never got in a position where I could signal to the driver about their potential problem before I had to turn. While my car has an indicator light for tire pressure, I usually can't tell which tire is a problem by walking around my car. Why can't they fill tires with gel or something that is less likely to leak out?

Tires require maintenance, even in the unlikely event they were to be filled with gel. It is inexcusable that a fleet operator, such as a pool company, would run trucks with under-inflated tires.

I don't know who to ask this question, so I am going to try you all. I am going on vacation to a location where I will be driving over 6 miles on gravel roads. I have to rent a car. Are there types of cars I should avoid and those I should really look at? thank you

Good Morning,

Some of the obvious things - don't get a car that is low to the ground with gravel kicking up, especially since it's a rental and they will charge you for any knicks.

Make sure you get a car that has good durable tires that can grip gravel. Gravel doesn't have the same grip as asphalt , so be prepared to give yourself time.

Enjoy your vacation - let someone else have the road rage that week.


Warren, any recommendations regarding new BMW 2, MB CLA or Audi 3?

Yeah, I lean toward the MB CLA, which is a darned good buy at a base price below 30 MPG. It is also reasonably well equipped. With advanced safety options, such as lane-departure warning and blind-side monitoring, it still comes in under the Bimmer.

BMW folks, and posisbly Audi, will brag about their superior performance, which I regard as functional baloney, given the regulated roads we all use.

In the most recent JD Power Initial Quality Survey, I was surprised to see that Acura and Infiniti, two brands known for their reliability, ranked below average. What do you attribute that to?

I would have ranked them lower too. It's not so much that they are bad cars, it's just that other cars have become better. Auto Pacific just released a study they did that talked only to 2014 customers - 92,000 of them and Lincoln and GMC came in number one in their segment.

You can read the article here:

It surprises me that the vehicle-buying public persists in buying from some companies like GM despite epic recent recalls. Why aren't these consumers switching to manufacturers with better track records? I would think these customers would become more discerning as they become more informed?

Baloney. While the media were in deep angst over GM recalls, they were basically ignoring recent Toyota recalls (800k plus) and several others.

GM's Mary Barra is to be credited with kicking butt, taking names, and making sure that GM gets back fully on the quality track. As for consumers, I'm one. And if my publishers treat me right on my next project, I will head right over to Cadillac and buy an XLR.

Lou Ann, Warren, I'd like your opinion (and Clifton's!) on upgrading a car's ECU for a few extra horsepower. My impression is that the manufacturer is probably more concerned with emissions, therefore may leave some horsepower "on the table" to be safely exploited by an ECU chip upgrade. I'd consider chipping for kicks after the warranty expires if it didn't affect engine reliability and maintainability.

I would ask a mechanic that works on the car you have. You are correct that fuel economy is the priority of the day for most manufacturers, but they get that fuel economy more from less weight and better aerodynamics. They still brag everytime they can get 5 more horsepower.

I'm a horsepower apostate, meaning that I think concern about horsepower is greatly overrated to the point of being nonsensical, considering the current state of our roads, traffic congestion, and so on. But you are right: The manufacturers are right, the manufacturers are leaving some horsepower on the table. Legally, considering regulations governing fleet fuel economy and clean air, they have no choice.

Warren/Lou Ann - Have either of you had the opportunity to look at and possibly drive the new Chevy Colorado (or its GMC cousin)? And, if so, what's you call on when we'll be seeing them in the showroom? Keep up the great work!

Not yet. You, Lou Ann?

Lou Ann here:

Thanks for the kind words. GMC/Chevy has not had a car launch for that car yet. When they do, we will let you know.

That segment is growing and it will come up against some stiff competition. I hear the horsepower being boasted about so it should be a fun vehicle to drive.

Hi guys, am trying to decide between a 2011 Odyssey (the new model) with 55K miles and an 2007 Odyssey (previous model) with 65K. Both are EX models, are in good condition (have been checked out by our mechanic), though unfortunately neither has a back-up camera. Should I just save $8000 and go for the '07 or are there some compelling reasons why I should get the 2011?

I'd go with the 2011 and, if possible, take it to Carmax to have it checked out.

Last week Lou Ann shared the story of someone who was run over by a riding lawnmower that went in reverse. What safety features do you propose for riding lawnmowers?

And I will ask again that anyone who would like, please send your thoughts and prayers to the woman who ran over her own child.

It does bring home safety in cars though and every WEEK two children are killed backing up over a child.

No safety regulations for lawnmowers. It will be 2018 before backup cameras are mandatory in cars.

Hi, love your chats and finally have a question to submit: We are looking at buying a used 2008 Highlander Hybrid with 95,000 miles. Should I be concerned with this high mileage as I'm wondering for how long the batteries will last in powering the hybrid drivetrain? We typically keep our cars 8 years and so want to know if I'll be needing to replace the batteries fairly soon down the road. Thanks!

Yes, you should be concerned with the high mileage and remaining battery life, which could lead to a big expense (about $3,000) if that battery has to be replaced. Have this one checked out carefully.

Do you have any suggestions for this type of car under $40,000? Thanks

Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, Chevrolet Equinox, new Ford Escape.

I'm worried about the price of gas. Sure, the president has done well in doubling prices over the last five years, but Stephen Chu, Obama's first energy secretary, said that the administration's goal was $8 gas. They have less than three years to get us the rest of the way. What additional steps can the president take to make sure our economy is completely ruined by the time he leaves office? Love, The Rest of America Where We Have to Drive Our Own Cars Instead of Riding Taxpayer-Subsidized Trains

Poor President Obama. Wall Street and the banks screw us. It's his fault. The Iraqui Army runs and hides, the Iraqui president falters, Shiite and Sunnis decide to slaughter one another. It's Obama's fault, Syria's Assad kills his own people. Blame Obama. A do-nothing Congress does nothing. Blame Obama. Poor guy, I wouldn't have his job for anything.

I live about two miles up the side of a small mountain. Is it better to use a low gear when descending every day, to reduce the use of the brakes, or to ride the brake the whole way down? Brakes wear out quicker, but are cheaper to replace. I use one strategy, my wife uses the other.

Do not ride the brake down hill. Use the low gear.

What's the best way to regularly stay abreast of service bulletins? My son had an issue with halting acceleration in his Audi A4 and being the handy (and courageous) mechanic he is, changed spark plugs, wires, and numerous other fairly easy things in an attempt to fix the problem. Eventually, after consulting an Audi owner forum he checked the fuel pump and found a totally failed cam follower. Turns out Audi even had a service bulletin on this for exactly this acceleration problem. Perhaps, had he known of this sooner, the cost of repair would have been much less. By the way, contrary to official Audi maintenance "wisdom", the owner's forum recommends preventive maintenance of this part every 40,000 miles.

safer car is a part of NHTSA, your federal taxpayer money at work. Anytime you are having a problem with a car, want to report a car or want to see if the car has been reported you can look up the car on or


I think there may be an expectation gap in play too, with Acura, Infiniti, and other higher-end brands. When I started spending real money on cars, I was a lot less forgiving than I was when I was buying crappy GM's.

As if all GM machines are "crappy," which is crap. And now you are excusing Honda/Acura for its mistakes. How do you spell "bias'?

On every vehicle I've ever owned that's modern enough to have a computer information display (a gas Passat, Golf TDI, and Ford F350) the fuel mileage it says I'm getting is always 2-3 mpg more than what I calculate by odometer reading and how much fuel it takes to fill the tank. Is this true for all cars, or am I just special? Just curious.


When are you going to test drive the new battery powered Harley Davidson motorcycle?

Never. I'm living with too many other peoples' body parts to take that risk.

As a Republican, does Lou Ann agree with Warren's comments regarding the President?

I love Lou Ann. But she knows that I can care less about her political views.

Does Clifton want to get rid of mass transit and have the roads get even more congested?


I want a small car that gets decent milage and is quiet, quiet, quiet. Is there even such a thing?

How small? Buick Verano is supposedly the quietest car in its segment and a great little car. It's only about $25K and gets about 30mpg combined.


Good day. Looking to replace a 2002 CR-V with a Jeep Cherokee 4WD 3.2L -- I don't like the looks of the new CR-V and frankly I'm ready for a change. I will be hauling my daughter to college in VA in the next 4 years so I'm looking for a comfortable ride capable of hauling and handling weather - but I don't want a "station wagon" look. I've gotten a good price for a fully loaded Cherokee and will be doing a test ride shortly. I want to stay under $30K. Are there any other models that I should be looking at? Many thanks!

Under 30 K, base I assume? Not many. Not any that you probably would like, anyway. Jeep Compass, that sort of thing. Toyota Rav-4. Chevrolet Equinox. Ford Escape.

Perhaps the new name for the Washington professional football team should be Obama's Fault? I blamed him this morning for having to talk five extra steps to pick up my newspaper. Oh, and that my milk had gone bad.

Or, Clifton's Raiders.

Use the brakes which are cheaper to repair and replace than the transmission especially if its an automatic. Clifton, VA

I disagree. Use the proper gear, which is why you have a proper gear--low gear in this case.

They were, undeniably, pretty crappy back in the 80's. My Delta 88 and Century ownership experiences convinced me that no matter how great you or the government or anyone else says GM is now, it's a once-bitten-twice-shy situation. (Not to mention tens of millions of avoidable recalls, unless the number went up again this morning.)

I think it's close to 18 million worldwide now. But other companies are having recalls as well, it's just that Mary Barra is cleaning house. She's not leaving any issue out there. She's not playing games. It's her turn to run GM and she's going to make it the company she has always thought it should be or it will go under.

That's actually brilliant! The team begins every season assuming a Super Bowl win, despite any reason to think the lineup is qualified or even competent. Then the inevitable failure results, and still the diehards defend their team...

Diehards made this country. Diehards did not give up when all seemed lost. Rosa Parks was a diehard, as was Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and all of those men who died in Normandy. I love diehards..much more than I do fair-weather, bias-gulping cynics. But I still want the Redskins to change their offensive name. I'll stop watching their games, rooting for them until they do. What can I say? I'm a diehard.

Bought it last January. Couple of oddities with it that I'm going to mention when I take it in for its first oil change: About half the time when I'm dropping the top it stops with a message asking to close it and start over. Just letting off the button and then pressing it again fixes whatever the issue is. And a couple of times the right rear window has gotten stuck in the down position. Using the top raise/lower button to raise the window seems to fix it. So something is odd with the software controlling the top... Otherwise, I like it, although the automatic transmission in that thing feels a bit odd. Feels like a stick shift with a clutch operated by someone who doesn't like pressing the clutch, if that makes any sense. Sometimes it feels like it's right on the edge of stalling when it goes into neutral while slowing down. One more thing. That engine is going to get me in trouble! I hit the gas, it hesitates for a half second while the turbo spools up, and then it GOES! DAMN! Great for merging into traffic on the Beltway, but I'm doing 80 before I realize it.

do me a favor, send me an email to lou at I'm going to send this email to Volkswagen. When I hear from them I will send their response to you.

Tell me which dealer you're going to take it to etc. anything that helps them get these issues fixed.

VW is concerned about quality issues. I have sent chats to them before and they have followed up.

You can get a nicely equipped Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 for under $40k out the door. V6 models average 20 to23mpg.

Great. Go for it. At what dealership? Share the wealth.

The best ways to descend a hill is in reverse, using your parking break, while ignoring your back-up camera.


I adore my Hyundai Elantra hatchback. Lots of room, it drives great, and I get fantastic gas mileage. On an average day, driving 35+ miles each way to work, I'd say I get 33 mpg.

Thanks for the share.

I love cars and am hurt by gas prices like most folks, but it appears to me that higher prices would have some good effects. If we had $5 a gallon gas, we would probably buy more efficient cars, car pool, use public transportation more, etc. Many people have to drive, but they don't have to drive solo in a vehicle that gets 16 mpg. If more efficient cars were more in demand, manufacturers would put more effort into them and we could have better better vehicles that used less energy.

well said. I talked to a patent attorney, David Cabello of Wong in Cabello in Houston, TX, and he owns a Tesla S. The one thing he loves the most about it is that he gets to charge his car free at the superchargers Tesla is putting up all over the country.

The probably will continue to climb. Trouble in the Middle East, example, ISIS going after Iraq's refineries. Obama's fault, again. Change over to seasonal fuels taxing refinery capacity. Obama should have done something.

With a rational energy and foreign policy. $4 and $8 a gallon gas will kill the economy. The US is world's second alrgest exporter of oil. gas should not cost $4 is this country ever. It is stupid. Cars are not the problem when it comes to cliamte change. When was the alst year the average temp fo the planet increaseed Warren??? Clifton, VA

No it shouldn't and no it wouldn't. It might kill some other countries because we wouldn't be buying as much. But we can get better gas mileage, we can change our habits. It has been shown each time gas has gone up to the price it hurts. $4.00 a gallon is no longer the price that hurts. In California $4.00 is the norm

On a sled, but it only works a few months out of the year.

alrighty then.

Unless the OP selects a gear as oppsed to putting it in drive on a slushbox the modern slushbox is not going to stay in gear which means wear and tear on the trannie. As I told my drivers brakes are cheap and quick to reapir at Dayona 24 and Sebring 12hrs. a broken trannie puts us out of the race. Clifton, VA

Clifton, Clifton. I've been using low gear on downhills for years without the problems you cite. Obama's fault, I guess.

Is great as long as the gas tax isnt used to subsidize it. I pay and paid for the HOV lane on I66 and it needs to go. 8 troopers writing tickets yesterday between 330pm and 400pm westbound between 495 and Rt 28. I feel safer knowing their writing tickets for HOV violations but what about other crimes and more serious traffic violations like no signal etc! Clifton VA

The Republic of Clifton: No buses, no trains, no taxes, no government, lots of tea with sugar, no Obama.

How 'bout somebody in a position of power realizing that diesel is the way to go? And drop the price on that as well??? Now a question - what time of year does Toyota release it's new year models? Or does it vary by model? We're interested in the Tundra.

Trucks use diesel and they are taxed higher than cars because trucks are heavier than cars and do more damage to the roads. Remember, the tax is supposed to be to fix the roads :) I said supposed to be.

Me? I'm getting solar panels and a plug-in hybrid. I already have my own well, septic system, leach lines, garden and chickens. The rest of the world will need to find another revenue stream because it's not me.

Its safer than hauling the oil by rail and it will drive down the price of a gallon of gas to under $3.50 if not $3.00. Vehcile pollution is not the problem when it comes to climate change in the US. Clifton, VA

What? Really? All those vehicles burning fuel not contributing to dirty air, which is why big bad governments worldwide are moving to cut tailpipe pollution? Do you Really Think that oil prices are NOT affected by world events? Any more than you think we can control those world events--send in the troops. Really?

For our next president, we need to elect Clifton's Jeep. It's rugged, can climb, can descend, can ford every stream, follow every rainbow. And it can't be blamed for anything: It's a machine.


Hey, I love riding the train -- but in my part of the country, they don't exist and building them would cost trillions. So I and my family and my business are affected by gas price increases more than someone who has the option of riding instead of driving. Unfortunately, transit policies are being made by highly-paid people living where there are efficient trains.

yes, you are correct. Are you in the big wide open sky country? can you get solar panels and a plug-in hybrid that gives you 30-40 miles then switches to gasoline till you plug it in again? take control!

Clifton is correct, Warren. It's fine to use the tranny and engine to brake the vehicle on long downhill grades if you encounter them only once in awhile. If you encounter long downhill grades every day, go with the brakes. Brake pads are much cheaper to replace than a tranny.


Thank you all for joining us this week. We need even more of you. All questions and arguments are welcome.

As always, thank you Lou Ann Hammond, Matthew Monahan, Angela Wong, Ria Manglapus (especially for your help this week, lady), and Michelle Dawson.

Michelle, I will post the note on your Jaguar Reston event next week.

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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