Real Wheels Live

Sep 09, 2011

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.

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

Thanks for having me back again. Warren and I will be at the Frankfurt auto show next week. Are there cars you want us to look at?

Hi Warren! What are your thoughts on the 2012 Fiat? It's awfully cute. How does it stack up next to Mini? How is it on its own in terms of fuel economy, handling, and reliability? I'm wondering if this should go on my list of potential next cars (also on that list: 2011 elantra, suburu impreza). I'm interested in something on the smaller side, with good fuel economy but good pickup and handling, too, and very, very good reliability.

It is a cute little car. It's fun--available as a hatchback ($15,500) or convertible ($19,500) in Pop, Sport, Lounge trim. But what is offered is a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder, 101 horsepower engine. Okay for commuting. But you wouldn't want a long road trip in this one.

Doesn't the fact that so many people are willing to spend 20, 30, 40 thousand on a car prove the Economy has never been better? If it weren't that Cash-for-Clunker destroyed so many reasonably priced used cars, wouldn't people be buying used or repairing theirs if they were broke? $20,000 could sure fix my old car up and even have money left over!!!

I'd like to have some of what you've been drinking. The economy is lousy, which does not obviate its chance for improvement. But it's lousy. Making it better will require lots of work and pain. The fact that so many people are willing to spend upwards to $40 K on a new car only indicates the growing, wide divide between haves and have-nots in this country. A decade ago, 100 percent of all new cars and trucks sold in the United States were bought by 22 percent of the country's population. Today, about 17 percent of the population is capable of buyin new vehicles. nothing to cher about.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, We are looking to buy a new car by the end of the month for my wife. She commutes ~50 miles per day, and we have two young children. Our short list consists of the VW Passat TDI, Infinity G25X and Audi A4 Quattro. The Passat diesel is the most economical and roomiest, although I'm concerned about reliability given that (1) it's a brand new redesign, (2) it's a VW, and (3) the plant is brand new. The Infinity and Audi have more creature comforts, and are hard to choose between -- reliability maybe favors the G25X, fun-to-drive the A4. Your feedback on these choices would be most appreciated!

Warren and I drove the 2012 Volkswagen full line a couple weeks ago. The same day as the earthquake in fact!!

We both love the Passat, and of course we love diesel. It's a great car, plush interior.It's new on the road, so you'll have a cool car that no one else does!

It's also built in the South, so you're keeping jobs in your area.

Volkswagen is working hard to change their reliability. I visited the Tenn facility and was impressed.

All three of these cars are great cars, but I would lean towards the VW.

Hi, Warren. I have somehow misplaced both remote entry key fobs to my 2009 Chevy HHR. While I have no interest in starting the car from inside my house, I'd like to be able to click open the locks in a parking lot, etc. Do you have any idea how much this is going to set me back? I know they haven't been stolen but despite my best efforts in cleaning up my house, I haven't been able to find them. Thanks!

I can tell you to do what my wife, Mary Anne, does. It's sort of a multi-denominational, including non-believers, prayer to St. Anthony. Goes something like this: "St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please look around. Something is lost and needs to be found." It seems to work. Otherwise, here's hoping you have access to about $300.

Good morning. Thanks for taking my question. If you were to need to decide between a used 2007, 2008, or 2009 Subaru Outback, which would you chose. And what are your thoughts on the 2008 Impreza Outback Sport? Thanks.

sooner to the sooner to the wine.(That's an old Janis Joplin song, BTW :)

Wine can change in taste every year depending on the weather. Cars don't.Cars get updated, or refreshed, every 3-5 years depending on the car manufacturer.

The 2009 might be bigger than the 2007, but I don't know exactly. I love the Impreza Sport because of ,well, it's sportiness.

Buy the best car you can with your money. Just because it's newer doesn't mean it hasn't been in an accident, or a flood.

Hi Warren! I am considering purchasing a 2012 Audi A6. It has a beautiful design and I love the features. I am concerned about reliability and ongoing maintenance costs. I have heard horror stories about Audi reliability. My current car is an Infiniti and I have owned it for 10 years. I would like to do the same with my next car, but do not want to break the bank with repairs and spend too many trips to the repair shop! Thank you for your insight!

No need to worry about Audi's reliability. It's competitive with everything in its price category, if not better. The horror stories you're hearing are history. The company is now on a mission to become (via its Volkswagen corporate parent) one of the biggest and best vehicle manufacturers in the world through providing world-class products and service. Audi is a good buy and is highly recommended here. And I don't make such recommendations lightly. Contact me at if you have any problems.

Warren - folks in my family have always bought their cars new. I am not really sure why, but it's always been that way. More and more, I find friends and colleagues buying used cars, usually from places like CarMax, Enterprise, or authorized used cars from dealers. Has my family simply been overpaying all these years, when a perfectly good car but used car can be purchased? What should my spouse and I do for our next car purchase? We'll have a budget of $25k but like Audis and VWs. Thank you, Warren. Hope Rosa Parks doesn't mind walks out in this terrible weather we've been having!

(I'll tell Warren to look at this question as well) It's a cultural thing. A status symbol for many people. I always urge people to buy the best car they can without going into debt. Newer cars are very reliable.

And, please everyone, when you go into the finance dept and they tell you your FICO score is a certain number, tell them to show you the actual score. Warren and I have heard stories.

Audis and VWs are great cars. You can buy a VW Jetta or Passat for $25K.

And Rosa Parks has a great big yard to play in and two loving grandparents.

I'm slowly contemplating my next car purchase, and the new Fiat has piqued my interest. It's cute and inexpensive. But given Fiat's past reputation for reliability, when do you think consumers will have a better idea of how the new model will hold up? No car is cute or inexpensive when it's sitting in the repair shop. (Side note: I remember my father's Fiat from when I was a kid. It seemed cheap and tinny, even to a 7 year old. We were always that weird family on the block driving foreign cars when foreign cars were -not- cool.)

I used to own a Fiat 124 many moons back. Loved the car. Drove it cross country from California to South Carolina, up through Ogden, Utah. That's where it broke down. It only broke down twice, both times within 20 miles of my father, who then fixed it for me.

Yes, I know it has a reputation "Fix it again Tony" but, hey, at least Tony could fix it. (or my father, English - yes that was his name)It didn't have to be sent to the repair shop and hooked to a computer.Ahh the cars of old.

If you love being the quirky car on the block and are going to do a lot of urban/city driving it's a great little car.

The fit and finish isn't perfect, you only get a squich of 100 horsepower, but it's a fun and cute car.

And it will bring back memories of your childhood.

More and more people are buying used because, more and more, they simply can't afford to buy new, which, when you think about, has been the case for decades. The percentage of the U.S. population buying new cars and the trucks has ranged from about 22 percent a decade ago to an estimated 17 percent today. The percentage of the population buying used vehicles easily doubles the figures for new-vehicle purchases. It has more to do with income, or the lack of it.

A mythology has grown up around this trend, a kind of reverse snobbery that has some basis in fact. For example, used vehicles quickly lose a hefty percentage of their value as soon as they roll off the lot. Taking that into consideration, it seems smart to buy used.

But car-buying is an emotional thing, a prestige thing, a face thing. People who buy new, who can afford to buy new, simply feel better having the newest stuff, gadgets, whatever. They also have the newest warranties, safety equipment.

It's no different from buying clothes. Not too many of us are anxious to tell the world that we got this pair of shoes from Goodwill, even though they might be a perfectly beautiful pair of shoes.

I just ordered a base model (Cooper) 2012 Countryman what is your take on this vehicle?

You'll be happy.

I have a 1999 Toyota Corolla with 103,000 miles. No big problems, just wondering when you make the move to replace. I want to wait until I really need it....what would make you get a new car to replace a car such as this? what would you replace it with? Thank you

You're just breaking it in!! 103,000 miles is nothing to a Toyota.

This is how I would do it:

What would your monthly payment be? I would start putting half that away in a savings account now. I would wait untill the Corolla literally stopped on the side of the street before I bought a new car.

I would have it already figured out which car I would want, a hefty down payment for the car.

And, please, make sure you have your credit in order. Know what your FICO score is before you negotiate with a finance company or a dealer.

If you are paying more for the same car than anyone else that is not a status symbol to be proud of.

Hiya Warren and Lou Ann- When you are in Frankfurt for the auto show next week, make sure to try one of those pork sausages that they serve in a sliced bun. I forget what they call them, but they are delicious. Also, would you please find out if VW is planning a new 2012 (or beyond) Passat Wagon with the TDI engine? Thanks for doing these chats!

VW is planning to deliver the Passat wagon and several other offerings with Tdi technology. We'll check with the VW folks to find out when and what. But I can't eat the sausage. Bad for my health. And traveling with Lou Ann is like being "in loco parentis" with Mary Anne. Lou Ann is a lovely business partner, but she's also a lousy snitch. She'll be on the phone with Mary Anne, even from Frankfurt, reporting my culinary sins. Worse, Lou Ann is not above embarassing me at the dining table with a curt, nasty: "You can't eat that!"

Good morning. Do you have any strong feelings about the Hyundai Santa Fe? Is it just as safe as other cars in its class? Thanks.

Yes, it is just as safe as other cars, and it has a 10-year 100,000 warranty on all Hyundais.

I just got home from Korea with Kia, Hyundai's sibling. Kia's (and I presume Hyundai) biggest problem is getting too big too fast and losing quality. It's not just a problem because you wouldn't like it, it would be a problem because it would cost those two companies a lot of money on warranty costs.


Still amazes me how such widely-varying cars can be considered in the same general categories. We recently rented a "full size" car, which turned out to be a Mitsubishi Galant. Isn't that mid-size at best? In two other cases on the same trip, we paid for full size but paid to upgrade (in one case to a Buick Lucerne, and to the other to an Imapala that had leather seats).

It's the bone structure :)

Cars are rated on the outside measurements, not the inside. You will see car manufacturers boasting about how the car is as small as, but the interior is as big as.


It is a good, competitive compact crossover utility vehicle, one of the best values in the segment with a starting price of $23,225. But the GLS version of the Santa Fe, equipped with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine (175-horsepower, 169 foot-pounds of torque), has been knocked as "underpowered" by some owners. If you are worried about that sort of thing, go for the SE version with the 3.5-liter V6 (276 horsepower, 248 foot-pounds of torque). You'll be trading fuel economy for more zoom, and increasing your operating costs in the process. But you won't be losing--or gaining--anything in overall vehicle quality.

Warren, just a word of thanks for your review this past Sunday. I, for one, am grateful for your "bloaviating," as you called it, to remind us that enjoyable motoring can still be responsible to our planet.

Thank you. And the word is "bloviating," an old Midwestern farmer's term for "blowing in the wind" while deviating from the hard, fast truth. Same as "high-falutin'" and "balderdash" and..."B.S."

I am looking for a used midsized truck. I like the Chevy Colorado but reviews seem lacking. I dont really care about nice finishes in a truck. I want reliability toughness. Towing capacity of about 4000 is fine so i dont need a full sized. How do the Tacoma and Frontier stack up?

Go with the Tacoma. Colorado should sue Chevrolet for using the state's name on that basically competent, but overwhelmingly lackluster compact pickup truck. Go with the Tacoma. The Frontier is okay, too.

Thanks to commuting by public transportation, I drive very little. For example, the last 3 years, I've driven approx 2200 miles, 2800 miles, and 3100 miles, respectively. My owner's manual says the oil needs to be changed every 5,000 miles, but that would mean going about 2 years between oil changes & that seems like a long time. Do you have a suggestion of what would be best to do to keep my car running in top shape? (I have a 2000 Subaru w/ about 89,000 miles on it, if that matters.) Thanks.

I have the same problem. I own a 1993 Lexus LS400 with 80,000 miles on it. It has been garaged all of its life, not a scratch on it. She's my baby.

I change it every once a year. I also check the air filter because it can be dusty.

the manufacturer's books are for people who drive their vehicles normally. We dont'.

Congrats on taking public transportation. I was in DC a couple weeks ago and got to see the highway mess because of the rail they're putting in for transport to the airport. I love the idea of being able to go to Dulles by rail, and you guys are troopers for putting up with the mess.

Hello there. You always say to buy the best car you can - presumably to avoid 'hidden' problems like the car experiencing a flood or some other catastrophe. Don't thinks like CarFax and certified pre-owned programs address that worry? Should we not trust those resources? Thanks.

My first recommendation would be to get a full carfax report. 

I just worry about the recent flood and whether those cars  would be reported this quickly.


The 10/100 warranty is only on the drivetrain. Full warranty is much lower.

Thanks for the clarification. 

But, to put that much warranty on a drivetrain is unheard of, and impressive.

You can check Hyundai, I know Kia's car warranty is not transferrable. :(  and it won't be in the near future, says Kia execs.

Why do you close the comments to the car review after only one day?

Producer Dominique here. The reviews should be open for commenting 7 days after the article is published.  I will look into this for you.  Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Probably a little late with this but the penny and Lincoln's head is out for checking tread depth of your tires. Use a quarter and if you can see the top of the head its time for new tires. Also remember tires age of tens after tens of thousands of heat cycles and dry rot can can cause problems. Heat cycles bake the tread compounds out fo the tires and they just become round stones like Fred Flinstone had on hsi wheels. Dry Rot can cause a tire to disintegrate at speed or just not hold air anymore. After 5 to 6 years of use its time for some new ones. Clfton, VA

Clifton you are a ton of knowledge.

Thank you

Lou Ann got this one. I'l just add that she's right. Humans will do what humans do, which means there are always some of them that will try to take advantage of a bad situation. Heck, we had people ripping off their fellow Americans using the 9/11 tragedy. Of course, with all of the fllod-damaged cars out there, someone will try to make a buck off of them. What to do? Use common sense. To wit:

. If a deal is too good to be ttrue, someone offering you a 2012 Cadillac at Chevrolet prices, it is.

. Pop the hood. Hmm. What's that residue all over the manifold? Why is there crusted deposits in underhood seams? What's that smell?

. Lift the carpet..gently. If there's dampness or odor, don't buy.

. Check the trunk. If it's carpeted, lift the carpet. Investigate the spare wheel compartment. What's sediment doing there? Don't buy.

. Don't buy without checking CARFAX. And, no, you cynical sorts, I neither work for, nor am I in any way compensated by CARFAX. My recommendation is based on your voluntary reports to me. And the vst majority of those reports say that CARFAX works in helping to sniff out bad cars. Good luck.

It's a safe bet that recent flooding has hit some car dealers' lots and garages, and not all will be scrupulous about telling customers that the shiny new Belchfire they have their eyes on was sitting in water up to its windows two weeks ago. I wouldn't knowingly buy a water-damaged car no matter how well it's been cleaned up. is there a way that I -- or a mechanic -- can tell whether a car has been flooded? It's not like spotting body work or mechanical repairs.

Yes, so be careful.

I doubt carfax can have all those cars reported.

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

And if you run into a car that you know has been damaged or has been flooded go to and see if you can report it by VIN number.


Warren, Can you talk to land Rover folks and convicne themm to bring their new Defender to the US!!! Please, please,please. Us dog owners and herding trialers need a real SUV not the Evoque fashion statement! Clifton VA

We can ask. I saw some Evoques on the road the other day and they're very nice looking, but you are right. My black lab wouldn't fit in the back.

My favorite vehcile for my dog is the Honda element dog edition. Have you seen it? The back seats fold up and they have a pet ramp built in.

How cool is that?

Warren, I'm in the market for a new car and I was thinking along the lines of an Acura TL. What else should I be looking at in its class ?

Lots of company for that one, including the Volkswagen CC, Infiniti G37, Audi A4 and A6, Dodge Charger, Cadillac CTS.

The Fiat 500 was one of the subcompact hatchbacks I had in mind last week when I questioned manufacturers' motivations in eliminating rear overhang "crush zones". A couple of others (but not all) are the Chevy Sonic and Spark. OK for front seat occupants, with (expendable) packages only in the back seat.

I haven't driven the Sonic yet - I will on the 21st. I will take notice and ask the engineers and marketing folks.

There are so many cars, even sedans, that have room for four, but I wouldn't sit back there. I'm claustrophobic, so sitting in a coupe without my own door to get out of is a nightmare for me. I literally break out in sweats.

That is the way I see the Fiat 500, great for two people with packages in the back.

Warren, My husband and I are hoping to have a third child and are thinking about minivans (8-seaters, specifically, so that we can take family/friends in one car). Do you know when Toyota and Honda are looking to bring out hybrid minivans? We keep cars until they die, so we'd rather not buy a new/lightly used minivan when hybrids will be available within a year or two. Thank you so much for this forum! I don't know anything about cars but I love reading this chat!

I have emailed the question to each manufacturer. I will find out for you. Have you seen the new Mazda minivan? Love the design. It might be a little small for you, but drive it and let me know.


Lou Ann, Have had an Element since July 2006 for two herding collies. My herding girl being of Scottish descent wants a Defender or Range Rover Biography edition.

Love it! What we do for our animals.

I used to own a smaller car, but my full-size Collie wanted a Lexus sedan with a large backseat and her own air conditioning!

I understand. :)

Keep an eye out for new convertibles, especially affordable ones (under $35K).

got it.

Have you seen the new VW Eos? hard top retractable. sweet.

do you care if it is soft top or hard top?

Good morning, Warren ... Faithful follower of the Real Wheels discussion the past year but just curious: Are you still an employee of the Washington Post? Are you and Lou Ann in business together? Thanks.

I retired from the fulltime staff of The Washington Post in  June 2009. The company made a generous pension and "continuing services" offer I could not refuse. I now write for The Washington Post on contract via my freelance company, The Utility Shed, based in Arlington, Va.

Lou Ann and I work together on different projects through her company, Drivingthe It's a good fit.

Also a good fit is my coming alliance with the, operated by  The Righteous Paul Eisenstein.

I have a longterm alliance with Decisive magazines, especially African Americans on Wheels.

I am a writer and a businessman, not unlike the people who run The Washington Post or, for that matter, AJR. Except, I firmly believe that I am a better journalist and, apparenly a better businessman, than anyone at AJR.

Any prospective car buyer should check the costs of an oil change, repalcement of front and rear brakes including the rotors, fluid changes etc before purchasing any vehicle. Audi's problems is it doesn't ahve a hsitory of builing vehicles that can go 250,000+ miles like Mercedes and BMW. How many 10 year old Audis do see on the road! Many BMWs also see 20 track days a year. Same cant be said for Audis.

Baloney. Based on what? And what particular phase of Audi history are you talking about?

Hi Warren, I'm thinking of buying a new car, and so many offer lots of "safety" options. I cannot afford them all, so how would you rank the following in terms of which I really ought to buy? all wheel drive anti-lock brakes traction/anti-skid control side airbags Mmany thanks.

side airbags. I have a reason - an old friend had an old truck. He and his 12 year old son were in a car accident. They were fine till the truck hit a telephone poll and the child's head hit the window.

nuff said

I see Lou Ann is answering this one. But I'm happy to join in. Things currently being offered as safety options that I would buy:

. Lane-departure warning.

. Blind-side approach warning.

. Rear-view camera

. OnStar emergency contact, which increasingly is being offered as standard equipment on GM vehicles.

I would not buy anything without electronic stability or traction control.


I like living. I like my little body. Those things help to save lives.

Hello! Quick car purchase question - if you had about $10,000, to purchase a new or used car and all you cared about was reliabity and comfortable seats (my husband gets cramped in our 1999 honda civic) what would you purchase?

A Hyndai Elantra Touring Hatchback. But I'd bring $6,000 more, or secure financing for that amount.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please come back next week. Thanks, Dominique, for another fine production. Thank you, Lou Ann, for your usual sage contributions. And thanks, Lady Ria, for keeping the cars running.

My prayers for all of us who lost loved ones in the  terror of 9/11. May they all rest in peace. And may none of us hold onto the hatred and bitterness engendered by that event. Be safe.

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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