Real Wheels Live

Sep 14, 2012

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

How would have your driving experience been different if you had the manual and the sports differential option versus just the manumatic? Would you pick the S4 over a 335Xi?

I would've had to work harder, especially in urban New Jersey and New York City traffic. I much prefer the automatic.

Thank you for taking my question. I don't know much about cars, but I really enjoy reading this blog every Friday! My question: it's time to grow up and sell my VW bug because of my expanding family. Our other car is a Prius, which we love. It's the perfect size and has great gas mileage. I am thinking about a used Subaru Outback or something made by Kia or Hyundai (Elantra?). Our requirements: decent gas mileage (my husband has quite a commute), must fit 5 people, and a decent trunk size (able to fit a stroller and a large suitcase at least). Preferably around $20K. I respect your opinion, and would love some recommendations. Thanks!

You can get the Prius V wagon, which is ideal for small families. Or, if you are looking for a runner to supplement your current Prius, you might want to take agood look at the Chevrolet Spark or Honda Fit.

Hi Warren: So, your pick for best small SUV for the money? I like the CX-5. Your choice?

I have several, of which the Mazda CX5 is one. I also like the new Ford Escape, and the Chevrolet Equinox. The Hyunda Santa Fe also represents good value.

Do you have any reaction to this recent article, "To Get New Car Deal, Look for Big Stock at Dealers"?:

That's conventional wisdom, which may or may not be true when you get into the details. To wit: Why does a given deler have a big stock? Specifically, what are the cars in that stock? How are those vehicles selling elsewhere in the country, region? (Check,,, etc.) What is the average transaction price on those vehicles elsewhere? Did the dealer in question screw up in ordering cars and trucks? If the vehicles in question are selling today for a "steal," what does that means for their resale value?

Warren, I have been reading your weekly article in Sunday's paper since the late 90's and now it's time for me to ask you a question. I currently drive my '03 Honda Odyssey from my home in Rockville to Frederick most days of the week, about 38 miles each way. It is time for me to look into buying a new car. Before I ask, let me say that I'm not looking to get the most mpgs. I really am looking for a great ride at a great price. I don't want to feel the road, but I want a responsive car. I want to set the cruise and go and also have the power to pass a truck. I plan on keeping the van to throw the kids for car pools to sports or trips to the beach. Secondary uses for a new car is taking my wife out and not feel we're in the family cruiser and maybe take the long way there. So, taking all that into account, can you suggest three to five cars I should test drive? Thanks for your help. Reader from Rockville


2013 Honda Accord

2013 Chevrolet Cruze/Chevrolet Malibu

2013 Toyota Camry

2013 Ford Fusion

2012/2013 Buick Regal

Volkswagen CC

I think nothing on a car can be less informative than the check engine light. The last year when mine came on, they said the gas cap was loose. Well, it came on again this week. The first thing I did was tighten the gas cap... nothing. I topped off the tank, nothing... I drive to the dealer to have it checked, it goes out. Since the check engine light was no longer on, I left. Should I have had it checked out anyways? I have a long commute and had driven more than 100 miles before making it to the dealer. All of that for it to go out on its own. Can't the light blink or something to give an idea of what it thinks is wrong?

I join you in making that complaint. Most "check engine" light signals are less than informative. They can  mean anything from a loose gas cap to a real engine problem, which is why I always suck it up and have someone check the engine. It is an annoyance, but one that can save you from a lot of trouble if something, in fact, is seriously wrong.

I went shopping this weekend for a new low cost vehicle in the $16k to $22k range. Where did the horns on cars go? Horns that one can use quickly without out feeling around or hitting an area like a punching bag? The most interesting response came from one salesperson saying 'noise pollution". Are horns now considered non-essentials to safe driving?

Most cars and the salespeople who sell them offer owner manuals detailing all of the automobile's functions and the location of crucial gauges/buttons, such as those that  operate emergency signals, including horns. Nowadays, the "horn button" might be on  the end of  stalk on the left side of the steering wheel; on buttons left and right mounted atop the steering wheel; or in the center of the steering wheel. Check your owner's manual. The information with diagrams is there.

I have routine oil changes done at the dealer, because they bribed me to do so. This time, just after the 5-year warranty is over, they found all kinds of other stuff to do. Could it really be true that not driving a car much makes the rotors rust? And if my brakes have 8000 miles left and I drive 5000 miles a year, can I wait to get them fixed?

Inactivity can lead to the deterioration of cars and human bodies. But, what your dealer told you, in this case, sounds fishy to me. I'd take it to another repair shop in pursuit of a competent second opinion.

I've spent the last  decade or so digging into the development of alternative propulsion vehicles, especially those using some form of electrification. I've traveled worldwide, driven almost electric vehicle there is to drive, visited research centers and spent more than a little time in battery plants.

I was an early critic of electric cars until I invested a lot of my time and a lot of The Washington Post's money in researching them. I have concluded that electric propulsion is a valid, probably necessary technology--one of many forms of alternative prpulsion we need to explore.

So, imagine my surprise upon reading a recent sophomoric screed on The Post's editorial page attacking electric cars in general and the Chevrolet Volt, one of the best of the species, in particular.

The thrust of the edidorial seemed to be that the Volt and other electrics, such as the Mitsubishi i-Miev, aren't selling very well. Thus, the editorial reasoned, the U.S. government is wasting taxpayer money investing in cars such as the Volt.

Duhhh. How foolish!

Of course, electrified cars aren't selling well---at the moment. We live in a country that subsidizes oil, gasoline, diesel--stuff that is selling in the United States at the lowest prices in the developed world.

Can we continue doing that? The Post's editorial did not bother to ask.

Cars such as the Volt are at the vanguard of the direction we should be heading in personal transportation. They represent one of many forms of alternative propulsion.

Turning back from that research and development now would be the equivalent of the publishing industry turning away from the Internet. It would be dumb.

My husband is looking for a new car, after finally running his ancient Lexus into the ground. Because he has a very long commute (mostly highway) he is considering getting a Prius. Is it worth it to get the hybrid, or would there be a better cost savings over time if we buy a cheaper-to-maintain gas sipper like a Mazda3? Our budget is max 25K, and my husband prefers new vehicles (though I would be okay with a certified preowned car). As an FYI, he would be the primary driver of the car, but it would need to be something I am also comfortable driving (and I loathe large, clunky vehicles). My concern is that the Prius will feel bulky and slow when I'm driving it - most reviews are saying it's underpowered. What do you think? Spring for the hybrid or buy a regular, but gas-sipping, option?

I certainly would investigate the Mazda3, as well as the diesel-powered Gold TDI. I'd also look at what I consider to be a more comforatble hybrid (for long road trips), the  Ford Fusion Hybrid. Also, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which, however, strikes me as being a bit weak in the power department.

I have a low mileage (18K) 2010 Honda Accord. From what I can tell, I'd be ahead by about 4K if I traded it in now (I owe about 14K on the loan). It's a good car, but I am bored out of my mind with it, and I also don't like having to put our dog, who we got after the Accord, on the back seat next to my child, instead of in a cargo space of an SUV. Stick it out for a few more years, or trade it in for a small SUV? What would you recommend? For what it's worth, my car before the Accord was a 2007 BMW 328xi, and the one before that was a 2004 BMW X3. Those were both leases - which I won't do again. Thanks!

If the Accord works, I'd stick it out for a few more years. Most of the dogs in my life are people friendly, especially with children. Is that not the case with your dog? Is your child complaining? Your main complaint seems to be that you are bored. Possible remedy: Imagine all of the neat things you can do with the money saved from sticking it out with your current Accord.

The Nissan dealer has replaced all the parts associated with the latch and it still isn't opening. Any clue what could be wrong that the dealer hasn't thought of? 

Is it an automatically operated latch? If so, did the dealer replace the fuse? It it's a manual latch, did the dealer check to see if it is impeded somewhere by something like gum?

Hi Warren, Do you have any more definitive dates for when these two versions will be available? Thanks!

No. Hope to find out in a couple of weeks at the Paris Auto Show.

Morning, I like the Honda CR-V type of auto but it has a 4 banger and CVT coming to it. I do not like CVT. My other auto was a Saturn Vue V6. Not sure why Honda does not put a V6 in it. I got good gas mileage with it too. I tow a small trailer at times when in the mountains and the V6 engine is handy. Also,I  need the ground clearance that SUVs offer since I can not find a high clearance on any sedans. Subies are CVTs and I'm not sure I want a full time AWD vehicle when you have to replace all the tires because one goes bad. As always, I appreciate your insights and comments. Any suggestions????

Honda is moving to a geared, six-speed automatic transmission in versions of its upcoming Accord. The way this business works, that means geared automatics also are likely to find their way into  four-cylinder CR-V models. As for continuously variable transmissions, CVTs, they will continue. They enhance fuel economy and are likely to remain a key technology for the automobile industry in pursuit of 54.5 miles per gallon (fleet average) by 2025.

How did your ownership of your Mini change through the years? What's up with the reliability?

We did not have acute reliability problems. But we had ridiculously expensive repairs when problems arose. We are now tired of it and are looking to dump it sometime in February.

Hi, Warren -- I have a feeling that editorial was a hamfisted attempt by the editorial board to counteract the very accurate criticism they have recently faced for being too much in Obama's pocket. The Volt is his signature achievement (an unwanted technology that costs too much, is being forced on taxpayers, and catches fire), so coming out against it makes the editorial board feel "balanced."

Several things:

First, the Volt is NOT Obama's achievment. Research and development began on the VOLT even before Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Second, car companies, including domestic car companies, are not stupid. They began developing alternative propulsion systems for a very simple reason. Their own intelligence told them that cheap oil is not forever.

Third, also: Governments worldwide have been pressuring car companies to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, to clean up tailpipe pollution, and to develop alternative propulsion systems.

Several governments have been investing in their universities and automobile companies to that end. They include Japan, China, Germany, France.

What was contained in The Post's editorial was simply ignorant--advising, in effect, that we abandon the electrification of the automobile.

It reminds me of some of the thinking that was going on in the publishing business at the dawn of the Internet. Scary!

P.S And the Volt does not "catch fire." The immolation you referred to occurred nearly two wekks after a Volt (production car, I think) was brutally crashed and left sitting.

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks to Dominique Vu and Victoria Manglapus for  your usual wonderful service. Eat Lunch.

In This Chat
Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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