Real Wheels Live

Jun 29, 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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Not all diesel is created equally, and that could have a devastating effect of high-pressure fuel pumps in modern diesel engines. Those engines require ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, 15 parts sulfur permillion or lower, which have superior lubricity--the ability to allow metal parts to move against one another whithout scuffing or shedding metal. Less lubricity means more metal shavings in your engine, which means trouble in engine performance. Lou Ann and I are checking out complaints about failures of high pressure fuel pumps in diesel engines. At the moment, all of the usual suspects-car companies, oil companies, fuel stations--are involved in a finger-pointing game worthy of Obama and the Tea Party.

We always have left over questions from the previous chat, and I try to find out as much as I can. 


We left off on the last chat with someone asking about failures in High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) in Diesel Vehicles. There does appear to be a NHTSA investigation open about this subject. We are trying to find out more for you. 


Vehicle Make / Model: Model Year(s):

     AUDI / A3 2010


     VOLKSWAGEN / JETTA 2009-2010


I have contacted VW and Bosch, the provider of the fuel pumps. The most important part for you, the consumer, is to know "The bulletin states that "fuel system damage incurred by use of fuel not complying to ASTM-D-975 Grade 2 S15 (B5 or less biodiesel content) standards will not be covered under warranty." What that says to me is if you use homemade diesel your car is no longer covered on a warranty. 

This investigation is not limited to Volkswagen and Audi. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is requesting information from all the car companies that sell common rail diesel engines, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. 

Once again, be careful of the diesel you are putting into your engine. You could end up invalidating your warranty and getting metal shards in your fuel line. 


Another reader wrote in to give a clarification on the Escape versus Explorer: the Explorer, which was riding on a modified Ranger platform and now is on Ford's D platform (itself a derivative from a Volvo S80).  The Escape was originally based on the Mazda 6 platform, derived from the Ford Mondeo (an updated Ford Contour platform) - and now, it is riding on Ford's C platform, so it is now related to the Focus (and some other vehicles).

Hi Warren, Your friend from Bay St Louis here. Today I saw a right hand drive Suzuki APV,  also called a Carry here in town. It was legally licensed for road use. How in the world are these vehicles imported into this country? I don't think there is any way that this vehicle would meet US safety standards. Any ideas?

My fellow Gulf Coast native: Are you joking? Louisiana and Mississippi politics mixed with money and no real regulation habitually yields that kind of insanity. I'd start with the retail source--the dealer. He or she had to bring it into the country and state somehow. Also, check with the Longshoremen. Back in the day, when I was a kid, we got lots of illegal stuff, mostly food and toys, from contacts on the docks sans Customs.

What is the best diesel on the market today?

Fuel that complys to ASTM-D-975 Grade 2 S15 (B5 or less biodiesel content). All the reputable big oil companies have that fuel. If you use anything else you will invalidate your car warranty. Look at my welcome post. There is an investigation on-going right now because the high pressure fuel pumps are set to take a certain type of diesel.

Here is an excerpt from the NHTSA/DOT report that explains part of the problem:Volkswagen also provided information about 121 mis-fueling incidents reportedly acknowledged by consumers or dealers and test results for about 50 diesel fuel samples taken from complaint vehicles in late-August through early-October 2010. The mis-fueling incidents include about 20 reports involving incorrect fueling by dealer sales or service personnel and generally report symptoms such as rough running, stalling and/or no start within a few miles of refueling the vehicle with gasoline. Volkswagen indicated that the testing of fuel samples from complaint vehicles found that nearly 90 percent contained high amounts of gasoline. Volkswagen implemented design changes for the HPFP in May 2008, September 2009 and November 2010 to improve the robustness of the pump when used with poor quality fuel.

Hello there! Enjoy your chat weekly & appreciated your insight on the 2012 Grand Cherokee. Now I have a question from our in laws. My husband's mom suffers from an assortment of ear difficulties that cause her to be very sensitive to noise. They are considering new or used vehicles, and were wondering if you could point to any certain brands that have particularly quiet interiors. Thanks a bunch!

I just had my hearing checked and my right ear is less robust than my left ear. I understand her plight. As we age...

Look at the Buick Verano. The car was created for less road noise.

 I just drove an Audi allroad  that I would buy because I couldn't hear anything. :) oh so quiet. 

I would like to comment not on the quality of cars, but on the quality of Warren Brown. I have been following him for many years, maybe 15, and I see him trying to do something far beyond providing car reviews. He is trying to improve the world we live in and improve us as a species as well. A noble undertaking, but a difficult and thankless one as well. He has my gratitude and admiration, and I pray his health allows him to continue for many years. And, it seems he has chosen an excellent colleague in Lou Ann. Respectfully, Russell in WV

Wow, Russell, we thank you. Lou Ann and I have traveled the world enough to see what is happening with fuel consumption, air pollution, poverty and disease. It is difficult to witness all of that stuff and still look at cars as innocent non-participants. We love cars. But love means trying to live responsibly, which is what we are advocating in our reporting on the automobile industry. We'll keep trying. Thanks for the note. My health is okay. Thank you.

Who makes or where can you obtain info on cars with the LEAST amount of road noise???

Many of the car buff books have that information under their NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) ratings. Also check

Hi Warren, Will you be reviewing the 2013 Nissan Altima soon? We will be testing that and the Passat TDI soon - would you recommend one over the other? We are a tall family of four. Thanks!

You would be happy with either one. The Passat TDI is a great machine, great mileage, lots of interior room. 

The Nissan Altima has the most comfortable seats I've driven in ages. If you have sciatica/back problems take a drive in the Altima. It is also inexpensive for the money, with great fuel economy. 

My husband is 6'4" and loved the Altima. He also loved the Passat. 

Enjoy either. 

Do you think the carrot vs stick approach will work for drivers? Warren, you certainly have a history with getting cited! Frankly, I'm a huge advocate (as you are) of raising gas tax to pay for our failing infrastructure - that carrot approach works well in Europe where people are greatly incentivized to buy more fuel efficient cars. And numerous studies show americans buy more fuel efficient when gas is high and start buying gas pigs when gas gets cheaper.

Thanks for reminding me to contact the Arlington County District Court to settle my latest citation (trying to get a laggard Nissan Quest up to speed and succeeding all too well.) I believe the carrot can work, making drivers competitive to get the best rating in terms of rebates. But, let's face it. Jurisdictional coffers much prefer the revenue generated by the stick. That works, too. I'm a much more careful driver nowadays.

Have you test driven the Subaru BRZ? Impressions?

Next week, for me. What about you, Lou Ann?

After a year of vacillating between Forester, RAV, CRV, Equinox, I finally decided on a Chevy Equinox. I know they aren't all equivalent but... Now, I must decide between 4 cyl vs 6. Miles per gallon is important (I will keep the car 8-10 yrs) but so is driving in very occasional snow or mountains. Any ideas to help me make that last decision? Sales rep said it is more the tires than anything else that gets you through snow/ice.

Actually, the models cited by you are exceptionally competitive in terms of build quality and performance. But go with the four-cylinder job for best mpg.

Any chance we'll ever get the diesel Jeep Wrangler on these shores? I love my used Wrangler with the old 4.0, but I'd be willing to buy a new one if it was an oil-burner.

Chrysler Group markets a diesel-powered Jeep Wrangler overseas. And the Grand Cherokee will be available with a diesel engine next year in North America.

One can only surmise that if diesel continues to grow in demand that Sergio Marchionne will bring to market what he can sell. 

If you want some seat time, I've had my FR-S for nearly 2 weeks now - but not fully broken in, still have less than 500 miles so not exceeding 4000RPM! The car is a ton of fun - very comparable to an RX-8 (smaller) with much better gas mileage or a miata with a backseat and hard top. One of a very few cars that is proof you don't need uber horsepower to enjoy driving - even if it is on the beltway.

I thank you for the offer. But my insurers and lawyers, and editors, prefer that I deal directly with the manufacturers and their agents. Everbody is a lawyer, it seems.

Lou Ann and I are soliciting experience stories from actual advanced diesel drivers. Please write me at Lou Ann will provide her contact info. Information from reader/diesel drivers help us to work through the current blame game underway. Thank you.

I would like to know if any of you have used bio-diesel in your car? 

We're looking for real experiences to help sort out this issue. If you can help please email me at lou at 


Our son is looking for a used car and needs something cheap. I want him to have safety (not a teeny tiny car) and reasonable reliablity, considering he can just spend up to $3,000 or so. Suggestions for models? Avoid high mileage 4 cyllinders?

I'd go with a Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris or Corolla, Honda Fit or Civic, For Fiesta, something like that. About safety: The best thing to do is to instill in your son the idea that he is morally responsible for his life and the lives of his fellow motorists. That helps to curb potentially fatal habits behind the wheel. As for the "safest" car: The simple truth is that a bad driving attitude could cause you to die in anything.

With the prediction that we may be paying $3 or less per gallon come fall, do you worry that drivers will start buying bigger cars and bigger engines again? Have we learned a lesson about finite resources, or is it still a short-term-gain world?

Worry? No. 

Am I certain they will? Yes. 

Since most people have a finite time on this earth they concern is whether they can live well to the end of their days, aka a short-term-gain world. 

I try to impress upon people that it is not whether we will have the resources forever, but how much those resources will cost. How much of your disposable income are you willing to put towards one part of your life? 

If people would think of gasoline/diesel as a variable interest rate they would buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle. I was talking to a Chrysler person yesterday. They are expecting to bring out the most fuel-efficient truck EVER in 2013 (right now it is Ford at 23mpg). 

People aren't going to change unless they are made to change, or unless they see a benefit to them. 

Warren, I have long followed you and respect your recommendations! I am coming to terms with the fact that as a family of four with two working parents, we need two cars. The second car will primarily be used for in-town driving, getting from home to the day care, to the train, etc. If we had no financial restrictions, I'd buy a Mini Countryman in a heartbeat. But that's not the case. I'd rather buy used because of the two kids (and will need to fit two car seats in the car for the next 5 years). Given the nature of the driving, hybrid appeals, but my preliminary research makes that seem like the economics don't make sense. Do you have any thoughts on a small four door that would suit our needs?

I'm going to pull a John Roberts here and seemingly go against my pedigree. But that is what happens when you have enough experience to balance seemingly competing interests. My take: Hybrid cars--gas electrics, plug-in extended range, electric assist stop-and-go--make perfect sense. Use as directed, they will save you money at the pump and actually instill a certain discipline in trip planning and actual driving. At the lower cost in is one of my favorites--the Toyota Prius V wagon, which is fuel-eficient, safe, reliable and offers a pleasantly surprising degree of utility.

What about this statement from the sales rep: Sales rep said it is more the tires than anything else that gets you through snow/ice. Not type of drive, v6, etc. He said a 'rating' of 300 means the tire is soft and will go anywhere vs the usual rating of 600 for longer mileage. I never heard of this rating until he told me about it. Of course, the 300 won't last as long. He also said winter tires are best for mountains and winter driving (Warren has said the latter also).

It is more the tires--those things that have actual contact with the road. But all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive helps. If you are in a high-snow area get real snow tires.

I am looking for a fun but safe convertible with a full back seat. How does the Volvo C70 stack up?

The C70 is fine. Sow is the Volkswagen EOS. I'd also check the Ford Mustang convertible.

I wanted to like CVT, and tried a number of different models from a couple of different manufacturers. Not only was I disappointed with the overall feel of vehicles with CVT, but further investigation revealed that equally equipped competitors with "normal" automatic 5 or 6-speed transmissions got the same or better fuel economy based on the EPA data. Are manufacturer's still trying to work out the kinks in CVT or is it just not the silver bullet that was once touted 5-8 years ago when the technology was first introduced?

I feel your pain. I would rather have a 6-8 speed transmission than a CVT. I just drove a Mitsubishi that had a 5-speed and really needed a 6-speed.

I asked the president of ZF, the maker of 7 and 8-speed transmissions about CVTs.

He gave me the impression that CVTs were still an issue and that they were not making them. This is a company that only makes transmissions. 

All that said, CVTs are becoming more refined, but I'm still sticking to a 6-8 speed. 

It's doubtless sour grapes.But I personally blame the CVT in the 2012/13 Nissan Quest for my last traffic ticket. The thing was dragging. So, I made the usual mistake and pushed the accelerator harder...right in front of an Arlington County traffic officer. I think the technicians still are working out the kinks in CVTs.

Does the Mazda 5 have the Sky-Active technology to improve mileage yet?

Mazda said it had not been announced yet, but that It'll be whenever the full model-change occurs. 

Why does it seem that Nissans are all about 5-10% more expensive than the competition? I just finished my second car search in the past 5 years, and both times I looked at Nissans in the class of vehicle I was interested in, and both times I was underwhealmed by the product and shocked at the inflated sticker price. Also, what's up with their shoddy-looking engine construction? I popped the hood of a showroom Murano, and the wiring harnesses consisted of electrical taping the bundles together and using zip ties to tether them to the engine mounts.

I honestly have to do research on that one. I'm not at all sure about your stated price differential (no offense), because those prices often vary by region and dealer and what is selling. But I thank you for your query. I'll check.

Treadwear says very little about how well a tire will do in snow. Snow tires have low treadwear ratings, but so do summer tires, which are far worse than all-seasons in the snow. If you want a tire that does well in snow, get a snow tire, or at least a performance winter tire. But those don't do well in the summer, so you'll need two sets of tires.

Which is why I have 100 pairs of shoes. :) Some for summer, some for winter and some for fun. 


Mazda’s website says the Fuel economy also gets a boost from the combination of a SKYACTIV engine and transmissions. When equipped with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine and optional SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, the 2012 Mazda3 sedan will achieve an EPA rating of 40 mpg on the highway, an approximately 21-percent improvement over the current MZR 2.0-liter engine when equipped with the optional five-speed automatic transmission.

is a video with David Matthew, Vehicle line developer for Mazda

What is it? Not only do dealers have no clue what it is, but even the Mazda website dances around what increases the fuel economy of the vehicles with "SkyActive technology." Is it cylender and fuel injection toggling? Is it throttle limiting? Is it smoke and mirrors?

Why Mazda chose the rubric "SkyActiv" befuddles me. But the retailers certainly ought to know what it means. To wit: SkyActiv refers to a host of Mazda proprietary materials and component technologies put together to improve fuel economy without reducing road performance. Materials used are lightweight, but strong composites; engine technology is designed to increase combustion through a better air/fuel mix, which also helps to reduce tailpipe emissions. SkyActiv also involves chassis/suspension design to improve handling. All I can say is that it works wonderfully well on all counts. Mazda has published several manuals on all of this. Your salespeople ought to read one.

For the chatter getting an Equinox. I've always loved my horse-power. But when I purchsed my now 6-month old Equinox I opted for the 4-cylinder for milage since it was my commuting car. I have not been disapointed. No problems getting up to speed on the 95 HOV lanes or the beltway. Up hill acceleration is a little lacking so I'm not sure I'd want to do a ton of driving in the mountains though.

Thanks for that note.

I'm starting to consider the very quiet Buick Verano, but I wonder about Buick's reliability these days. Do you have any intelligence about that? Thanks.

If you have one car that you want to know about, look up that car, not the manufacturer. Some cars are long in the tooth and the manufacturer is biting at the bit for the next generation upgrade. 

Here is a quote from Consumer Reports, you will see what I mean 

"“Small Buick” may sound as unnatural as “loose tights” given Buick’s long history of large cars. But the newly reconstituted General Motors has been gradually recasting Buick as a full-line brand, and the Verano is a building block toward that goal. It’s a small sedan using the same platform as the Chevrolet Cruze, but with longer overhangs, more sound-deadening materials, a nicer interior, and more available options. Prices start at $23,470 and top out just under $29,000."

A total of 115 vehicles have earned the 2012 Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) including 69 cars, 38 SUVs, 5 minivans and 3 pickups. Eighteen new models make the list this year including the Acura MDX,Acura TLAcura TSXBMW X3Buick VeranoHonda AccordHonda CR-VHonda CR-ZHonda FitHonda InsightHonda PilotHonda RidgelineMercedes-Benz M-ClassScion xDSubaru ImprezaToyota CamryToyota Prius V, and Toyota Yaris.

Ironically, Buick exists today in the United States because of its global reputation for reliability and quality, particularly in China.

It's boxy, cumbersome, doesn't get spectacular mileage, somewhat spartan yet, according to reports, demand continues to increase for the Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler will need to hire more people to build more to meet the demand. What, in your opinion, is the key to the success of this vehicle when the Toyota FJ1 didn't catch on?

Jeep has a history, to some, of raw ruggedness. The Wrangler fits that description. 

Toyota's are more about reliability. 

What happened to the concept of a long term test drive for cars? I was down to my final 2 choices, and wanted to take each car home (15 miles from the dealers) to see how they'd fit in the garage. Both dealers balked at the idea of me taking the car so far from their location even though I offerred to pay for the fuel. Didn't Chevy used to let you take a car overnight to "sleep on it?" Are customers abusing test drives, or did I just have two prickley dealers?

Lawyers and insurers and, oh, the banks who fund dealership inventories.

I do believe there is still a 3-day law that allows you to take the car back if you're not satisfied. 

Check with your dealer.

Base Murano = $29,960 Base Pilot (way bigger too) = $28,620 Base Altima = $21,500 Base Fusion (better equipped) = $20,705 To get these models to even up in terms of features, the both Nissans were between 5-10% more than their competitor. I don't get it, and can't understand why anybody buys a Nissan.

Nissan makes eye-appealing, amenity-laden vehicles. But, of those mentioned, I'd go with the new Ford Fusion, too.

Dear Warren Brown: We want to buy a new car, and would like to drive it for a few days before we buy one. Is there any way we can rent the kind the car we're interested in for a short trip? I'm interested in a Honda CR-V for one, but am open to suggestions. It needs to be a car with comfortable seats so we could drive it to Chicago (we always stop in Ohio), that takes regular gas and has decent gas mileage. I really want a back-up camera too! We would like to pay under $30,000. ( I had a bad experience trying to test drive a car where they took my driver's license and actually kept it while I was test-driving with the sales-person! ) Thanks for your consideration. Evelyn

The Honda Cr-V is a good choice, so good, it's selling so well right now that I doubt there is a dealer willing to "rent" one, especially for a road trip. But, you can try. I'd check out the people at Enterprise Rental, who always seem to have something pleasantly surprising in their various fleets.

The 4-cyl Equinox/GMC Terrain is a slug. Not only that, it doesn't get close to the 32 MPG advertised. I can't believe I got tricked into buying one. Never again will I buy an underpowered car in the hopes of getting a few extra MPG.

There is a shift right now. I have seen it. Car companies have to meet mileage requirements set by the powers that be. 

I have driven gutless cars that get 40 mpg, but couldn't get me up a hill when I am going 40 mph and a truck is behind me. 

Driving a car before you buy it is one of the best things you can do. 


Thank you all for joining us today. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Please come back to us next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, Lou Ann Hammond and my trusty assistant, Ria Manglapus. 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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