Real Wheels Live

Aug 10, 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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It is still a buuyers' market for car shoppers in the U.S. It is likely to remain that way for the rest of the summer. Start looking for deals on European models, whose sales are suffering in an economically troubled market. Still good incentives on Japanese models for sale in the U.S., which means that domestic brands are making deals, too.

Should I buy a (fairly expensive ) new car with the newest safety features (blind side warning, adaptive cruise control etc.) now or will they be available on less expensive cars by 2014?

Those advanced safety options probably will be available in less expensive cars in the future. That is the history of safety and other technologies in the global automobile industry. The questions are "When?" and "How long are you willing to wait?"

Mr. Brown: I just purchased my first car in 12 years, and after just using a plug in GPS unit in the past was amazed and a little appalled at the distracted driver potential on the display screen in my admittedly mid-level, mid-tech car, and realized if I am not careful, I could just drive into someone's rear end while reading and watching. Now I am upset with all the 20 year olds reading football scores on their digital displays--this is not much different than reading texts while driving. How can this not be a safety issue? At the risk of being a luddite, I suggest that just like how Tom Sietsema now chronicles noise in his restaurant reviews, you consider the "distraction index" in your test drives.

Warren and I do complain about it, but the reality is that the people (not just 20 year olds, I have a brother-in-law that is 60 and wants all that infotainment in his car) want that information in their cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is going to have a hard time regulating it.

You've seen the sales of cars go down with teenagers. Part of it is economics, part of it is because they see ipads and iphones and droids,etc as their freedom of mobility. Car sharing will become more prevalent because the mystic of owning a car, like owning a home, is not as great as it was when you were 20.

Warren, I'm trying to decide which hybrid to get next. I have an old Prius, and am considering a new one, a plug in one, a Lexus CT or even a Camry Hybrid. I want it for looks, comfort, great MPG and of course, to keep my hybrid plates. What are your thoughts? Which one is a good option or the standout option?

If your current Prius is working well, keep it and bank the  money. Also, with the possible exception of California, most states correctly have concluded that it is stupid to set up special lanes for hybrid cars. Here's why: The current generation of hybrids save fuel in the city. They use more fuel on the highway. Hybrid lanes work against "free lanes" on the highway, where their technologies use more fuel; and they also work against the reason for restricted lanes, which are supposed to encourage car pooling, as opposed to driver-only motoring. Before you buy another hybrid, figure out how you use the vehicle. If you do mostly local commuting witrh occasional long trips, a plug-in, Volt-type electric vehicle would serve you well. If all you do is local driving, an all-electrric can handle that job. but if you are constantly running, mostly in the city, consider a gas-electric such as a Prius.

Have you driven the 2012 Cadillac SRX with the new six cylinder engine? If so, what is your evaluation? Thanks.

Not yet. I'm supposed to do that in two weeks in New York.

Looking to downsize from my current Honda Pilot since no real need for family vehicle anymore. Must-haves: room for a golden retriever (preferably in cargo area), something that will get me through all but the worst DC snow, and something reliable that won't have costly repairs down the road. Would like to stay around the 30k mark, and would like to stick with the Japanese models since I've had bad experiences in the past with others (I know, I know, they've improved, but...). Read your column religiously and will go with what you advise (no pressure intended!). Thanks!

The RAV4 is fine, but as your golden retreiver gets older you may want to consider a lower to the ground vehicle. Sounds like you might be more interested in a hatchback, or even a station wagon.

Subaru has a great station wagon, but have you looked at an Audi all-road? It's a little more than you requested price wise but I want you to know what's new out there. You can also go for an older version.

Subaru has the best vehicles for animals still, especially something as big as a golden retreiver.

It's interesting, older dogs need more room than younger dogs. Just like us, as we age it's harder for us to manuever in smaller spaces.

Watch out for the SUV (like your Pilot) that has open latches when all the seats are down. The dog can get their paws stuck in those latches. ouch.

I'm liking the outback or the RAV4, but consider a station wagon/hatchback.

Hi Warren. Our 1999 Mazda is ready for retirement, and I'm starting to think about our next car. High fuel efficiency and the possibility of handing it over to a college-bound kid in 2 or so years. I've never gone to a dealership to test drive a car. What's the protocol? I want to take my time making a decision across a few manufacturers and consider used as well. Will I be hounded by a sales team after a test drive? I can't imagine they'll stand for "don't call me I'll call you"?

Intelligence is the best defense against pushy salespeople. Intelligence and a mental "do not cross line," as in you will not suffer fools lightly; nor will you countenance discourtesy, condescension, or insults of any sort. That said, just do your homework before you enter a dealership. Many sources here, including,,, Consumer Reports, Consumer Digest, Washington Consumers Checkbook, to name a few.

Check your finances--credit report, if you are borrowing; bank accounts if you are paying cash.

Self-check: What do you want? Why do you want it? What do you really need? Why do you need it?

Keep in mind that today's prestige is tomorrow's foolishness.

My "NO" list:

No extended warranties.

No "environmental protection package."

No undercoating.

Good luck.

Have you tested these two cars? Why did Acura only use an 111HP engine in a luxury car? Do you find both of these two cars to be too slow to purchase?

It's all about fuel economy and low end torque. The electric motors give you low end torque and better fuel economy.

Acura starts out low but can get pricey when you want options.

Both are good, but price out options on what you want before you buy.

I need to get a car fairly quickly, and I have what seem to be unusual requirements. Can you go through your mental list of cars and options and let me know if you can think of something that fits my specs? 1. I'm allergic to car exhaust, so I need to be able to set the ventilation system on recirculate and have it stay there. My (old) Honda Accord would do that, but it seems like very few cars I've rented lately will. Also, cars that think they know better than me get on my nerves after a while. They may actually know better than me, but they need to find a different way to show it. 2. I'd like a seat that's as high as possible, because headlights shining in my eyes make it that much harder to see at night. 3. Excellent safety features. 4. High gas mileage. 5. 4-wheel drive, if not all the time at least when I need it. 6. Not expensive. 7. Either new or used. 8. I prefer standard transmissions to automatic. Really, the only requirement that isn't negotiable is the first one; I don't love the smell of exhaust in the morning. Thanks!

If you want to drive exhaust-free most of the time, please consider a Chevrolet Volt or Mitsubishi i-Miev.

Nearly all major vehicle manufacturers nowadays load their cars with safety features. Also consider these items, often sold as options: lane-departure warning system, blind-side protection, backup camera, proximity warning system back and front.

As for transmissions, buy an automatic that also can be operated manually. Those cars tend to have the highest resale value.

Hi Warren, We've got a one-year-old baby, and we're looking to move out of a sedan into a crossover unit. Do you have a preference between the Hyundai Tucson vs the Honda CR-V? We live in NYC and do mostly city driving. We're more interested in safety and fuel economy than cargo capacity. Or should we be looking at a completely different crossover? Thanks.

I like the Honda CR-V--great quality, reasonable fuel efficiency, and one of the best four-cylinder engoines available. But in NYC, i'd go with the Tucson--also good overall quality, but a vehicle that hurts you less mentally when it gets dinged, which is bound to happen sooner or later in NYC. Check with local fire and safety officials for the best child-safety seat for your vehicle.

The time has come to get rid of our 2007 Saab 9-3, before our extended warranty is up and before the electrical wiring problems I've been warned about happen. What are the chances we can get rid of it without losing our shirt? At this point, all I want is to break even and start over with an inexpensive domestic-made sedan, or at least something that won't cost an arm and a leg for basic repairs. Done with European cars!

Saab was a general motors product, so I would take it to a General Motors dealer to see what price they will give you.

A good used car is getting a high premium right now. A GM dealer can get parts for a Saab easier than other manufacturers might.


I will be making a used car purchase in the near future. I have come across situations where I will find two similar cars at similar price points but one is a model year or two older with less mileage than the other. If my highest priority is keeping the car until the wheels fall off do I go with the slightly older model with less mileage? (This is assuming body styles are exactly the same and the earlier model isn't the first year that style was in production.) Thank you!!!

I'd go with the older vehicle with the lowest mileage. I'd also have a certified mechanic check it out. Then, I'd pay.

Judging from your question, you're not the least bit concerned about "prestige.' That being the case, I'd buy accordingly--remaining value (lowest mileage), price, history of reliability (check Consumer Reports and

Warren, Hi. Was wondering if you tried the dryer sheet to clean front hood? Thanks.

No. Never did that. Did you?

Warren, I have a budget of $12K for what I hope is a fairly reliable used car. I am thinking of an 07 or 08 Altima sedan with around 70k to 80k miles. Usage-wise I carry a smaller dog once in awhile and would be using the car mostly for highway driving. I want to keep the car for quite some time and felt like an Altima is a step up from say a Sentra. I also like the newer Hyandai's (both Elantra and Sonata) but can't find any of the recent body style in my price point. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Altima and alternatives I should consider. Love these chats!

Thhe Altima is a good car in terms of reliability and overall quality. Pree-2005 models, or thereabouts, have cheesy interiors. But, yes, the Altima generally makes for a good used car.

It's nothing new. Nor is it originally Google. For the skinny on that, turn to our beloved Defense Department. The idea is to come up with military vehicles that can do pickup and delivery in a theater of war without risking our military people on a routine errand. This technology, part of which so far has yielded automatic parking, will mature. Future wars will see to that.

With the hot weather in July, I seemed to walk into an oven when I got into my car at the end of the day. I have never bothered with those sun visors some people deploy in their cars. Do they work? Are there other ways to keep a car cool when parked in a parking lot without shade?

Sun visor effectiveness vary with sun visor quality. The best visors--chech thickness, reflective surface, area  coverage--work well. This also works: Open you car's windows. Wait a bit. Enter and drive.

Good Morning Warren and Lou Ann, hope all is well with you and yours. I've been looking at the Volkswagen GTI. Any reasons I should look at something else?

Good morning: Not trying to be snarky, but there always is a reason to look at something else. It's an extremely competitive industry. heck out similar offerings from domestic and foreign manufacturers. But, yes, the VW GTI is a nice and enjoyable piece of work.

Hi Warren & Lou Ann, any chance either one of you will be sitting in the driver's seat of one of these any time soon? Very curious to hear your reviews on this one!

I drove the Tesla Roadster and loved it!

I just drove the Toyota RAV4 EV that has the Tesla powertrain in it.

It is beautiful, it will drive well if the RAV4EV is a comparison. 


Toyota and  Daimler own stock in the company.

The federal government has given Tesla a loan.

Other car companies are paying Tesla a tax credit payments, according to CARB, because those car manufacturers aren't meeting California ZEV requirements.

If there is a company that should make it, it would be Tesla.

Are there any early reviews on the new-to-the-US BWM X1? It looks like the machine that will give the Mini Countryman a run for its money in the micro-crossover segement. With the larger 3-series chasis in 2013, is the X1 closer to an old X3 or is it significantly smaller?

I am reasonably certain that either,,, or have on hand a review of the BMW X1. I'm also show that the X1 shares much with the Mini Countrtyman.

One more hint...don't be afraid to walk away. I told a sales person that I wanted to test drive a car and then even though they didn't have the sedan I wanted (only the hatchback) tried to sit me down with the manager to discuss the contract. The manager was surprised when I said I had no intention of buying the hatchback I had test driven. The salesman thought that a test drive equaled a purchase.

Point taken. Thank you. True:  YOU dtermine if there will or won't be a sale.

We are about to buy our first non-hand-me-down car ever. So adult! Since this is our first time, we have no idea what to look for. We know what's important to us- safety, low mileage, good mpg, room for our family to grow. And our budget- 12-14k. But we are stumped. Where do we start? What ARE good numbers for mileage and mpg? Total newbies. Thanks!

I put this list together just for my chatters. There are so many of you that want to buy within your budget, but don't know what is out there.

2012 Cars under $15,000

I don't think you quite understood the original poster's request. They were not looking for an exhaust free car, just a way to keep the exaust from other cars from infiltrating their passenger cabin. Many cars now have recirculation/max buttons that deactivate when the can is restarted. So the poster was looking for vehicles that do not shut off the recirculating function of the climate control system every time the car is restarted, which has absolutely nothing to do with the drive-train of the vehicle, be it electric, hybrid, gasoline, or diesel.

Thanks for the correction, assuming you are correct. I assumed that the poster was referring to fumes produced by his or her car. To me, the only other way to avoid multiple, ambient exhaust fumes is to stay inside with the windows closed.

Not as bad as the EU and Uk where these displays can be used to watch movies and TV. In the US you can jailbreak the system and do this but it voids the warranty etc. It will get worse w/ our gov't wanting to protect us all from our foibles and mandating back up cameras. Sorry if you can't back up a car sucessfully with just mirrors, you shouldn't be driving. I can put a 18 wheeler 50ft + trailer into a 11ft wide space by backing up w/ just mirrors or a 40ft gooseneck with a dualie filed with hay down a 9ft wide road backing up. Clifton VA

Baloney. The fact is that back up cameras have helped to avoid or otherwise mitigate accidents. They work, period.

For comfort and good MPG, get a Camry hybrid. We love ours. Plenty of room and comfort, and 33 mpg city / 40+ highway. My only complaint is the huge amount of power. On the highway, you can be doing 80+ without even knowing it. (Though at that speed your MGP will be sub-40.) For most folks, all that power is a plus. For me, I think they could have scaled it back and achieved even greater MPG. I know the EPA and the car companies tell us hybrids get better mileage in the city and not so good on the highway. In driving a Prius since 2001 and a Camry since 2006, my personal experience says that's just not true. Highway mileage is outstanding--40 average in the camry (up to 45 if you stay at 55 mph), and high 40s in the Prius (up to 50+ if you drive 55). City mileage less good (5 mpg less in the prius, 7-8 mpg less in the Camry), just as you'd expect driving an ordinary car. Personally, I'd like to try an all-electric for city-commuting, but am waiting for the next "new car time" in my personal budget.

Thank you.

Why is this car getting bigger? I know BMW finally introduced the 1-series in the US, but the 3 was near perfection in 4-door small sports sedans. Now it's almost as big as the previous generation of the 5.

It's getting bigger, which is the case with many non-BMW cars, because buyers un the U.S. market are getting bigger. We have a serious obesity problem in this country.

Does Volvo have any plans to bring the redesigned V40 to the US? It's a gorgeous car that would give VW a run for it's money in the small wagon segment.

I don't know. But I will check with Volvo.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production. Thanks also to Lou Ann Hammon and Ria Manglapus for your many contributions. 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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