Real Wheels Live

Sep 16, 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've just returned from Frankfurt, Germany with a warning for those of you who might be tempted to buy  timepieces from the various car-componay-sponsored lifestyle centers. Be very careful! You could get stuck with expensive junk. I did, a Ford "Individual" wristwatch, a handsome piece of dysfunctional chronographic crap, supposedly #33 of a limited edition of 100, purchased at a cost of Euros 213.50, completely broken after one day's use. Seems to hearken back to the old Ford lifestyle days when FORD meant "fix or repair daily." Yes, a request for refund/exchange is in the works.

I recently replaced my OEM tires. the guy at the garage claimed I had to get tires with the same speed rating as the original tires. I ended up following his advice, even though V tires are not really appropriate for my style of driving (trips to school, work, grocery store). I would have rather bought something else, with better all season capabilities. Any suggestions? Thanks.

I assume that the garage guy was trying to tell you to replace a set of all four tires with four tires having the same speed rating (and presumably siping), which makes perfect sense. You don't want to mix tires. But you can replace those tires with "all-season" radials, such as Michelin Pilot, assuming the new set consists of four identical tires.

When looking for a new car for use in an urban area with its parking lots, what is the largest turning circle that would be practical? My 2000 Buick LeSabre to be replaced soon is a problem. Prefer midsize, not small, vehicle.

Seriously check out the new Buick Regal, which is an excellent Opel Insignia under another name. It has a turning circle of 37.4 feet, which means you can do "U" turns on most U.S. streets problem free. I prefer the Regal Premium 3 turbo, which starts at about $32,500.

Warren have you had a chance to compare the new BMW 535 vs the new Audi 6? If so, your thoughts. Many thanks

Oh, goodnes! My heart belongs to BMW, especially the 535i with the 3-liter, inline 6 (300 horsepower, 300 foot-pounds of torque), so wonderfully responsive! It's seductive. The Audi A6 is nice. But sometimes, when you're driving, you want something closer to naughty. The 535i never disappoints in that regard.

So your scathing review of the Ralliart begs the question why you didn't test drive the Evo model instead? Would you ever test a 5 series beamer with a 525 instead of a 550 or M5? C'mon, what's the point?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Evo, in terms of overall build quality, disappoints, too. My point is that the need for speed takes second chair to the need for consistent overall quality, which Mitsubishi sadly lacks in too many of its sedans. The competition offers consistent, overal quality. That's my point.

Hi Warren. I'm interested in learning how to operate the manumatic function in my car. I know nothing about manual transmissions so I've been hesitant to try out the manual function in my car for fear of ruining my transmission. I've searched through my owner's manual and, unfortunately, there are no instructions or mention of what speeds should be driven in what gear, etc. Any tips on how I can learn? Thanks!

You raise a good point: Manufacturers should stop assuming that everyone who buys one of their cars is on the staff of "Car and Driver" magazine, or some other buff-book, even when it comes to operating something as simple as a manumatic, which is really simple. To wit:

1. In automatic mode, shift as you would any other automatic. Moving from ""Park" to "reverse" or "Drive" with foot on brake, which is released after gear selection.

2. Manual mode usually means slapping the gear-shift lever to the left into a slot demarcated with "+" and "-" signs. Tap "+" for higher gears. Tap "-" for lower gears. Helps to give you more control of the car on curvy roads, for example.

My 12-year old CRV is still holding on, but I need to consider my options. I live in DC and only drive a few times a week. I also park in an alley, so the car is not protected. I've never bought a used car, but that seems like the right thing given the circumstances? Then, which car? I love the CRV, but it's a lot of car for me as I rarely use all the available space - only when people visit or I move. Maybe the civic, the fit? I'm confused. Any advice would be great (oh, and I hope to keep the CRV going for a while longer ... just trying to figure out the next step)

I'd go with the Civic, especially the new Civic, which is sleek and zippy. The Fit makes more sense in terms of an urban fit. But what probably makes more sense for you is to rent a Zipcar when needed. That way, you don't have to worry about what is happening in your alley.

Hi Warren, I've asked questions in the past about the's now off our short-list for when we finally join the ranks of adults. I drove a 2010 and it just didn't feel right. We can't spend too much so it will be a used van....Sienna, Odyssey or Quest?

I'd go with the Odyssey. Of those you cited, its owners have the fewest complaints.

We have two cars a 2003 Honda Odyssey and a 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid. We also have 15 and a half year old twins who are getting their learning permits at the end of the month. I would prefer to teach them to drive on the Honda since, 1. it is old and if it gets a dent or ding - it just adds to what is there already; and , 2. it has a lot more steel in case they make a big mistake, so it should be safer. On the other hand it is much bigger so I am concerned that it is harder to drive. What car would you have them learn on the midsize sedan or the minivan. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated. Thanks

Either one. The car isn't the problem. It's the attitude. It has to be made clear to the twins that driving is more of a responsibility than it is a right. Rules: They may drive one another, but no one else. Certainly no groups of teenagers. The car cabin is a sanctuary. You don't make a ruckus in a church, mosque or synagogue. You treat a car cabin, especially when the vehicle is moving, with similar respect. No speeding. No drinking and driving. No texting and cell phone chatter when behind the wheel. Tie them to a contract. Lousy grades, no car. Bad behavior behind the wheel, no car.  Deliberate failure to abide by the rules, no car. Driving without seat belts properly buckled, no car. Period. That will keep them alive long enough to buy their own Honda or Toyota. What they drive now borders on the irrelevant.

That's what brakes are made for. Lot cheaper to replace than a transmission. Downshifting is for sports cars. Use the brakes and there's less chance you'll slap the tranny down 2 gears by accident and leave a trail of pieces behind you.

You can wear out brakes, too. Downshifting in a manumatic is easy on the driver and the transmission, much easier than it is on the brakes.

Warren, you missed the boat on this one. Most people don't need V rated tires. And, it's ok to have tires of different speed ratings on your car. What the guy did to the customer was to sell him tires that cost more than what he needed. Probably between $20-40 more per tire.

I didn't miss the boat--wasn't even trying to board one. I did not say that most people need V-rated tires. I said that if you are going to replace a set of tires, be they V-rated or anything else, make sure that all tires in the replacement set of four are identical.

I am looking for a mid size crossover, would also consider the GMC Terrain. I don't need a third row, but would like comfort & cargo space. Any thoughts you have would be great - hitting the dealerships tomorrow!

The GMC Terrain is a good compact crossover. The Chevrolet Equinox, a Terrain in jeans as opposed to top hat and coat, is a better deal.

New brakes $300 per axle. Transmission rebuild starts at $4000. Only girlie men would compensate with this method of shifting.

Oh, knock off the "girlie man" crap. Point is, manumatics are built for that kind of shifting, which helps to avoid manly transmission repair and brake costs.

Hi. Thanks for your response. I was always planning to replace all four tires simultaneously (AWD). But that's not what the guy was saying. He said that I had to keep the same rating as the OEM tires (i think they carried a V rating). I'm sure they handle nicely at crazy high speeds but they weren't what I wanted (Goodyear Assurance TripleTred, H rated). Do I have to maintain the rating of the original tires?

Weel, the garage guy is full of baloney on that one. You don't need to replace V-rated tires with V-rated tires. What if you are running in a heavy-snow area? Are you going to shod your car with V-rated tires? I hope not. You are going to choose good "all-season" radials or, better, winter/snow tires, which usually aren't "V-rated."

Audi S5 V8 with sports differential or BMW 335Xi coupe

My heart belongs to BMW. But I'm not crazy. In that cited lineup, of course I go with the Audi S5 coupe, 4.2-liter gasoline direct-injection V8, 354 horspower, 325 foot-pounds of torque, 37.4 -ft. turning circle. But someone would have to give me the nearly $54,000 base price it takes to get into the thing.

A good buy? We are thinking of going with the hybrid version. My husband drives 90 minutes round trip to work and we have a Honda Accord which, while a reliable and great car, we are bored with. We want a bigger and more comfortable car and like the MKZ look.

Go with the mechanically identical Ford Fusion hybrid and save money,

I've only used the autostick in manual when towing trailors. However, I saw that Chrysler did a survey on Twitter and Facebook that says manual transmissions are preferred by a 4:1 margin primarily because people feel more connected to the vehicle and find it more fun to drive. (Some also said because it makes you put down the cell phone/fast food/whatever and drive.) Any thoughts on that subject?

Yeah, yada-yada, "feel more connected," twitter-tweeter baloney. Traditional manuals are barely 11 percent of new cars and TRUCKS sold in the United States...and falling. What does twitter-tweeter, overbooked face say aboout that?

I started early today and will close early to allow producer Dominique Vu to get going. Travel safely, Dominique. The rest of you: Thanks for joining us today and please come back next week. To Ria: Eat lunch lady:

To the Ford Lifestyle people: What deep disappointment!  More than Euros 200 for a wristwatch that worked one day---and worked that day imperfectly. What crapulous nonsnse! Somebody from Ford Lifestyle please get in touch with me at warbro70@aol. com. The absolutely worst watch I've ever purchased!!!

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

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