Real Wheels Live

Jul 08, 2011

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

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

I have been thinking about trading in my old Accord for a new Audi A4. My folks, who owned Audis back in the 90's, however, have been warning me about the reliability issues that they had with their cars. I know it was a long time back, so has Audi become more reliable? Is there any difference in reliability between the Audi line (A4 vs. A5) and how does it compare to some of their competitors, particularly the BMW 3 series or the Mercedes C300?

The new A4, $32K+ for the sedan and $36k+ for the wagon, is not your parents' Audi. It is one of the best cars available in the entry-level luxury segment. And in fairness to your parents Audi, they weren't that bad either. They had some problems, which were aggravated by a weak U.S. Audi dealer body, ahich is much improved.

Warren, great to get a chance to chat with you again. Last week I told you about the event at FEDEX Field two weeks ago. Well, my wife loved the Chevy Cruze so much that we brought a 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ with the RS package yesterday. I had to ride over a 150 miles (with the representative from Sterling Chevrolet in Sterling VA, because it was the only 2011 Cruze that had everything we wanted and the right color). I drove the car back to the dealer, and I was throughly impressed. It drove more like my 2004 BMW 325I than my wife's 2003 Honda Civic (it actually crossed speeds over 80 mph very smoothly). Got a lot of comments at the stop lights from people who were very impressed with the car.  My wife picked it up from the dealer once we returned. She is extremely happy with the car (trust me it is going to be a long time before I ever get a chance to drive it again).

So I just wanted to give GM its props on the car. I have to even admit, I'm tempted to give up the BMW for one (I'll wait a little bit first). So tell the folks to keep up the good work, but if only you could get the guys from GMC to take the front off of the Terrain and put it on the Arcadia.

Side note: Yesterday (when I picked up the car) was our wedding anniversary, and our 5th grandchild (Mason) was also born yesterday. So a very important and busy day. Now, you might understand the interest in the Arcadia. For all of the military members or relatives of military members, use USAA's program for buying new cars, Great discount (we saved over $4000.00 off the list price). So I have to give props to USAA.

Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthday for your newborn grandchild. And if you have any problems with that Cruze, you know who to call.

Wondering about the clearance and grip and go of Fit, Fiat 500, and other high MPG subcompacts in snowy conditions... Trying to think cool thoughts! Alexandria VA

Here are the small cars, nearly all front-wheel-drive, with the exception of AWD Subaru models, I've driven in snowy weather:

. Mini Cooper

. Nissan Versa

. Toyota Corolla w/snow tires

. Subaru Impreza

. Honda Fit Sport

Findings: No problems at all in moderate snow, especially with the Impreza; and the Corolla with snow tires.

Pop the mini into manual/snow mode and go.

Ground clearance on all of those models is somewhere around four+ inches.

That means you park them with snow falls of 6 inches, or more.

Wanted to say thanks to Warren for your chats and articles. Knowing my beloved 1998 Honda Civic would need replacing, I started reading your chats/articles religiously about two years ago. Over time I noticed patterns about your suggestions, reviews and reader questions. Infused with my own driving preferences and being a mom of a toddler, I came to my new car choice at a satisfying pace. This week I ended up with the Hyundai Elantra Touring SE, Manual Transmission and I LOVE it. Thanks.

Always happy to please. And please let us know what happens with your car. If anything goes wrong, you know who to call. Drive happy.

Why doesn't Audi offer the A3 with the quattro system, with a six speed manual (not S tronic) and the sports differential option?

Unfavorable exchange rates would make that one too expensive in the U.S. People already are complaining about the pricing of the little A3 diesel sedan, $30k+, and A3 wagon, $27+. How much are you willing to pay for a sports-oriented A3 Quattro?

The dealership damaged my 2007 Saturn while it was there for service, so they gave me a 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander. I absolutely cannot believe a 2011 vehicle does NOT have automatic headlights. I have to remember to turn them on and off when it's dark. Daytime running lights it may have, but I forget to use them. Aren't they required by law now, and hence should be automatic?

The argument on that one goes both ways. Some people disable the automatic feature because they want to contol the on-off action. And after doing that, some complain (usually to arresting officers) that they thought their lights came on automatically. Here's the deal: Automatic headlamps are NOT mandated by law. In most jurisdictions, actually, just about in all jurisdictions, the law says that YOU are responsible for the proper, safe operation and control of your vehicle.

At the end of our lease of a Toyota Sienna minivan, my wife scrapped and dented the side door and back panel backing up near a telephone pole (decent sized blind spot on this vehicle). Given the nature of cars and body work today, it ended up costing us about $4,000 to fix ahead of turning it back into Toyota (with a $1000 deductible). We would have been fine driving the van as is if we owned the vehicle. It makes me rethink leasing another car. Thoughts?

It all depends on your perception of automotive access. If you view a car as property, a kind of asset, buy. If you view a car as transportation, interchangeable depending on circumstance, lease or otherwise rent as needed. I personally handle the question by establishing a "personal transportation costs" column in our household budget. Takes care of everything, whether leasing or buying. Bottom line is that you are going to wind up paying one way or another.

Warren - With the arrival of our 2nd child, we have jumped into the minivan market. We love our 2006 Highlander Hybrid, but it doesn't have automatic sliding doors, or seating for 7 or 8 with two car seats, or quite enough cargo room for all our traveling gear plus the family dog. We are usually a Toyota family (our other vehicle is a 2001 4Runner) but several different friends of ours have recently chosen the Odyssey over the Sienna. I've read your Nov. 2010 post on the Odyssey but I think you last reviewed a Sienna in 2003. I'm less concerned with cost in a minivan as I am with: (1) Handling, Performance & Ride; (2) Safety; (3) Capacity and Cargo/Passenger flexibility, and; (4) Comfort & Convenience for long road trips. Can you help us compare the Odyssey and Sienna based mainly on these points? Thanks! The Millers

Congratulations on the arrival of your second child. You might as well establish the college fund, now, assuming you haven't done so already. Check with your respective state, which might have a deal going for resident families.

As far as the minivan goes, both the Odyssey and the Sienna are great. Many Moms don't like the back end of the new Odyssey, which they liken to a hearse. I'd go with the Sienna and be happy.  Don't forget to establish that college fund. It's amazing how fast these kids become sophomores in high school.

I was burned when I bought the first model year of the VW bug convertible! Nothing but problems and an extremely uncooperative dealership mechanics team. That being said, I've loved my car, and I want to see what the 2012 will look like. Any idea when those will hit the market?

It should be here in the Spring of 2012. Has that dealership improved? Or, are you now dealing with someone else? VW's US headquarters are now in Herndon, Va. And the execs there have been turning the screws on mid-Atlantic VW service departments, urging them to deliver better service.

Any thoughts on the new Civic? Trying to decide between the 2012 and a slightly used 2011 since there isn't much difference in the pricing between the two years.

It's a good car that bores me silly. Does anyone at Honda study design? We have a snazzy Hyundai Elantra, very attractive Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, an attractively packaged VW Jetta. And here comes Honda with the homely Civic, expecting us to love it simply because it's reliable. That's how good marriages go bad.

Can poster clarify: you used USAA to get a deal on the auto price, not just the loan? (I just found out we can use this insurce because my husband was in the Air Force. Now that I'm looking for a new car, I want to know how else they can help us).

Posted for reply. Thank you.

Check JD Power and others. Problem with the A4 is it based on the Golf Platform while Mercedes C class and BMW 3 series do not share engines or chassises with economy cars. Audi's dealer network has improved and Mercedes and BMWs are not that great when compared to Lexus and Acura. I would seriously look at the Acura TSX and TL. 3 series is due for replacement in next 12mos. 3 series still has serious safety issues with rear subframe failure and doors which dated back to the E6 chassis. Clifton, VA

Ahh, Clifton. I don't buy that. A good platform is a good platform, regardless of whether or not it is an "economy" platform. The Golf platform is a good platform. The Audi A4 is a good car. I'd look at the TSX and TL, both of which are based on the Honda Accord platform, right? But I'd drive off in the A4.

Warren, Last week the review was about a convertible car. You didn't mention anything about rollover control, i.e. software, or anything like a pop up rollbar to protect occupants should the car roll. Does it have that sort of thing? And, how many other convertibles have that protection?

I'm writing convertibles for the next several weeks. Nearly all of these cars have electronic stability and traction control. Some, such as this week's BMW 650i, have Active Roll Control, hydraulic-electric actuated stabililizer systems. But I suspect you are talking about roll bars and the like. Keep this in mind: If you fail to wear seat belts in a convertible, those roll bars are useless. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I assume that people who have the financial wherwithal to buy convertibles also have the intelligence to follow basic convertible safety and buckle up. The roll bars are a supplemntary safety system.

I wrote in a couple of weeks ago and Lou Ann recommended the VW Golf. I bought the diesel - a smooth ride and it gets CRAZY in-the-city MPG. Am headed to New England next week and am looking forward to see how it does.

Please keep us posted.

I like the look of the new Juke, but NOT the fact that they recommend premium gas. Do I have to use premium (I have some memory of someone saying no because it's fuel injected or something)?

The "not-necessary-to-use-premium" argument acknowledges the prevalence of computer-controlled engines which tend to adjust engine performance parameters to comply with fuel grade used. My tecchie betters tell me there is some truth in that. But they also say it makes more sense to follow fuel grade recommendations in the owners' manuals. If the recommendation is "premium," use "premium."

Is Honda planning to replace the Element with a similar type vehicle when it is no longer produced? Where can I get a boxy, utilitarian vehicle to haul my kids, dogs, and hockey gear? The Scions are too small and most SUVs are too big. Oh Element, why have you forsaken me?

You can buy a used Element. Shop oyur local Honda dealer...or Carmax. And seriously take a look at the Kia Sorento and Chevrolet Equinox.

Do you have any thoughts or advice as to whether to purchase a slightly hail damaged car? My Subie was severely dinged in a hail storm, but not totalled by the insurance company. The body repair shops are booked for months. Most of the local car lots are having hail damage sales, and it's tempting to use my trade-in and insurance money to just start all over. Would these cars be good deals or disasters waiting to happen?

Embrace the inner beauty of your Subaru and avoid the expense of making a purchase primarily for cosmetic purposes. Meditate on the mysteries of FATE (that's fate, not faith.) You dump your "severely" hail-dinged Subaru for something less-dinged. Along comes another hail storm. Ding, ding, ding. Understand?

USAA has a car buying service by which pre-arranged prices can be obtained on most makes and models from partner dealerships. It's listed on their homepage under the "Products" link. For the few vehicles I've looked into, the pre-arranged price seems to be right at invoice price. So it may be a good deal or not, depending on the type of car and where you live.

Thank you.

Hi Warren -- I'm in the market for a new car, am very specific about the color and features I want. The dealer was able to find a car in their inventory that is a near match, but is missing some of my preferred features (moon roof, heated seats, remote start). I was told that these things can easily be added at the dealership (and that they are always added after the car is built anyway). Is there any reason to be concerned about this? Ideally, I'd rather factory order the car and have it built to my specifications, but this is a popular model and the dealer didn't seem interested in doing that. Thanks!

They can be added at the dealership, or by an authorized dealer-manufacturer agent. No. They are not always added after sale. Computer assisted manufacturing and design has enabled car companies to add all of those things in "packages" at the assembly plant.

Warren, what's your take on whether to get an extended warranty on a used car? We just bought a very reliable model with a year to go on the warranty, and it would be nice to have peace of mind with another couple of years, but not if these things are not worth it. Thanks.

I've never dealt with an insurance company that sold coverage because it was losing money on the policy. Extended warranties are a gamble, with the odds against you. If something goes wrong, the policy may or may not cover it. If nothing goes wrong, you've spent money for nothing. If something goes wrong, but is efficiently repaired with less expense at a non-warranty shop, what have you paid for?

USAA, your credit union and even the NRA all offer car buying services to their members.. Look at several for your best price. Clifton, VA

Thanks, Clifton.

For what it's worth, I read that in 2014, Audi will have the S version of the A3 for sale, but not with manual.

Thank you. I'll check this, too. I know that there's been lots of grumbling among the Germans about how unfavorable exchange rates have been affecting some of their product plans.

Any suggestions for how to rekindle the flame with your ride when a bit of ennui sets in? I'm very happy with my car and don't want a new loan or anything, but I'm just bored. Is it time I start seeing a two-seater on the side? Any service like Zipcar that gives you access to fun to drive cars and convertibles?

That's an idea. Rent a convertible. Then, consider: Your old standby gives loving service without an accompanying bill. What's the cost of that rental? Was it worth it? Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, Anthony Weiner, and The Last Great Governor of California. All of that should give you some insight.

Info can be found at

Thank you.

99 Accord is beginning to show rust along the edges. The paint is drying out as well. Is it worth fixing or should we start to looking to replace this? Thanks.

Fix it.

And thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you Dominique and "haley.crum" for another fine production. Thanks, 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.

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