Real Wheels Live

Sep 30, 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

Many cars have optional larger wheels with lower profile tires. I am concerned that this combination would make it easier to damage rims and would require more expensive replacement tires. Is this correct?

Yes, you are correct.

My mom is in the market for a new sedan. She is in her early 70s and is quite loyal to GM products. She and my late father have owned Chevrolets and Cadillacs, etc. Most recently she has owned the Buick Park Avenue and a LeSabre. My husband and I have suggested the Lacrosse but she feels like she needs a bigger (interpreted as wider) car having had some joint replacements. I have also suggested the Jaguar XF and XJ to her as an alternative. She would be driving this year round in a climate that is similar to the DC area. Can you assist us in providing suggestions to her? Thank you very much.

Frankly, I'd put her in a Chevrolet Cruze or Buick Regal--both high quality, reliable with comfortable seats for those of us with troubled backs and joints.

Hybrids have been around long enough now for people to have to have had to change the batteries. Is anyone doing that? Or do they just trade the car and let someone else worry about replacement and disposal?

Mostly, folks are just trading in their first and second-generation hybrids and letting someone else worry about battery disposal/reclamation. I'm happy you raised the issue. Historically, electronic junk like that has been dumped in what some call "Third World" countries. I will investigate.

Hi, Warren. I need advice on a mid-sized car or SUV that will fit three kids (at least 2 in carseats or boosters) across the back seat. My Passat will not fit them, and it's about at replacement stage. Don't need a minivan -- already have one. This can be a little smaller; sportiness a plus, and I'm open to manual transmission for the fun factor. Like everyone, I want a comfortable car with decent mileage, etc. But there are things I would love in a new car just because they'd make my life easier. I want to be able to charge my mobile devices when the car is off (can do in Passat, not in my Honda minivan). When I unlock the car, I want the trunk unlocked too, and I don't want the trunk to re-lock every time I close it. (Small thing, I know, but incredibly aggravating). I would LOVE a loaner car when mine is being serviced; a shuttle service that gets you to the office at 10 and picks you up at 3:45 doesn't cut it. I want a place to put my purse in the front when I have a passenger. Maybe I just am at the stage where I need something that is a little nicer than a VW. I'm not in the ultra luxury price range, but have some flexibility for the Acura, etc. range (maybe up to about $45K). You provided a great suggestion on a minivan (I had been skeptic) when Baby 3 joined us, and it has been terrific. Any brilliant suggestions here? I'd consider used models, too. Preference for an American car, but prior experiences with them have made me a bit wary. Thanks so much.

You are looking for a minivan, or crossover utility vehicle, or station wagon. Four minivans will handle all of your needs: the new Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Town & Country, or the new Nissan Quest. When buying, have the selling dealer write a loaner agreement into the contract. If the dealer does not want to do that, buy from someone else who will. With a need for at least two car seats or boosters, you are at the stage in life where you need a minivan.

My son mid 20's will graduate this year after a lot of hard work working part-time and going school part-time. We would like to help him replace his 1999 Buick. What would you suggest under $20,000, low mileage, used car that gets good mileage, is reliable and cheap to maintain but still a fun car.

The Hyundai Elantra or Kia Forte, the Forte if "fun" is a major concern.

Thank you for answering my question last week. This past weekend, I became the owner of a 2008 Infiniti G35x and I cannot tell you how pleased I am with the purchase. Smooth handling, gorgeous design and a very comfortable ride. You're the best!

Thank you! I am happy to have made you happy. Please stay in touch. Car ownership, like most things in life, is a journey. Periodically, we'd appreciate a progres report from you.

Hi Warren, Whatever happened to the good old days when you could go to your local dealer and order the exact car you wanted. Sure you had to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery, but you got what you wanted. It this a thing of the past or some hidden secret that the dealer uses to get you to buy from stock.

Most dealers will try to get you to buy from stock because what's in stock is what they've ordered, what they've invested in. All investments are chancy. The dealer's investment in his/her acquired stock is based on his/her estimation of what the regional market wants and needs. If what you want/need does not comply with the dealer's estimation, you have the right, as well as the obligation to ourself, to order exactly what you want. If your dealer does not want to do that, find one who will.

The New Range Rover Evoque Clifton VA

I'll be driving that one in Vancouver next week, Clifton. I'll let you all know what happens.

Lets put in the Jag XJ which is best luxury car out there bar none. beats the 7 series S class, Ls460, and Audi A8. She needs to live a little. a Chevy Cruse come on Warren if she can afford a XJ go for it supercharged and the standard version rather then the L. XJ beats the A8s interior and is a nice medium between the 7 series , A8, LS and S class in performance and handling. We can change the words a little on the old Beach Boys hit Little old lady from DC. Go Granny Go. Clifton VA.

Clifton, my friend, you are the reason why so many auto buff books are irrelevant to the real world. If I recall correctly, the Esteemed Granny, God bless her, is in her seventies. You want to put her in a luxury sports car (hard to get in and out) with a base price of nearly $74,000 and a 385 -horsepower, five-liter V-8. To do what? If she gets that advice from her children, I'll advise her to hire a good senior citizens' lawyer. I'd be worried that the childen are buying that "granny" car for themselves, using her money.

A used Hyundai Elantra. Just disappointing, Lets try a used Civic Si or GTI. Let the kid live a little. And maybe attract young ladies. Clifton VA

Pardon me if I said "used" Hyundai Elantra. I was suggesting a new Hyndai Elantra. As far as the kid "living a little," he can do that when he is fully, gainfully employed...and give his parents a break. It seems to me that they've already done their share for him along with, and he deserves congrats for this, his assistance.

Good morning, Warren. My wife is a dog trainer. She doesn't have to transport animals regularly, but she takes a good deal of equipment with her to clients' homes. Her 2003 Honda Element is extremely utilitarian, the fold-up rear seats being especially useful. She's finding of late, though, that she's running out of cargo space. Wondering what you'd suggest she look at for an adequate cargo--and occasional canine--hauler.

Assuming she wants to keep her operating costs down without sacrificing safety, comfort or reliability, I'd check the Kia Sorento EX at $25,950. She might also like the Volkswagen Tiguan, which starts at about $23,000.

We're in Brazil, but the car (Azera sedan) is from South Korea. The manufacturer requires, of course, regular mainteance, on the basis of time if not enough miles are driven. But we drive that car so little (6,000 km in 2 years), some of the service (e.g., over $400 for 24 mo. service; normally 20,000 km) seems outrageous. They even say we "must" have the entire a/c system cleaned. Is there any circumstance where we'd be better off just giving up on the warranty and keeping the car maintained on our own (i.e., non-Hyundai mechanics)?

If you are a mechanic, or you have a mechanic who can do the job for less, go ahead. Think about it: You are already out of sorts with the warranty, because you think the warranty is too expensive to maintain. If you can do as good or better job for less, go ahead. If that somehow voids the warranty, so be it.

Good morning Warren: I assume you have been following with interest the national labor agreement talks going on in Detroit involving the United Auto Workers (UAW) and G.M., Chrysler and Ford. Can you explain what is at stake for the automakers and the union as well as the effect on auto consumers? Are there any winners yet? And, you thoughts about Sergio Marchionne's posturing on behalf of Chrysler?

I have written on this  matter for, for which I serve as Washington columnist. Here's the deal:

. Congrats to the UAW's GM wing for having the good sense to settle without a hassle.

. The union's Chrysler and Ford wings had better be careful about what they seek, and how they go about getting it. Here's why:

-The UAW has failed miserably in organizing any company not based in the Detroit area. That puts UAW-represented companies at a potential cost disadvantage with Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Honda and any other company building cars in the United States. Indeed, Hyundai already is bragging on national TV that NOT ONE OF ITS EMPLOYEES at the company's Alabama assembly plant has been laid off in the Great Recession. No UAW-represented company can make that claim. How is the UAW going to organize workers at Hyundai Alabama who are featured in the Hyundai ad and who seem quite happy working union-free?

--Ford did not take federal bailout money. Frankly, it could not afford to do so. It was way too deep in debt when the federal bailout was offered. Another loan would have done more harm than good. But Ford is to be congratulated for cutting costs, rehifting product investents, improving product quality and appeal, all with the cooperation and co-investment of the UAW. The  American public likes that, which largely is why Ford's products are selling so well in the United States today. Ford is a genuine American hero. The UAW and company management have to ask themselves if they want to spoil that very real public goodwill with a nasty contract fight. Here's hoping not. Those good Hyundai folks in Alabama are ready to build all of the non-UAW Sonata sedans America wants.

. Chrysler's management says it can't accept the GM deal because it's too rich for their blood. Chrysler's UAW leaders say they want payback for past concessions. Both Chrysler's managers and union reps had better get their collective heads out of their butts. Chrysler took a bailout. America's taxpayers want payback, too. The only way they can get that is if Chrysler continues building great cars such as the new 300 sedan. A labor impasse at that company will do nothing to engender needed, continued public good will.

Bottom line: Until the UAW organizes someone else besides a Detrit car company, especially in this economic environment, it has no game. Period.

If 'new' is an option, the New Focus hatchbacks seem quite nicely appointed for under $20k

You are right. I should have said as much. Thank you for the heads-up.

Looking to move into a larger vehicle and the Genesis has caught my eye. What do you think of it and what competitors should I also look at? Thanks!

A beautiful car, competes nicely agains the Lexus ES350,  BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Really.

The new Explorer looks fantastic, but seems just a bit too big, and doesn't come without a heavy and unneeded 3rd row of seats. According to it's measurements it will barely fit in my standard sized garage. The original Explorer was the right size, IMHO. Your thoughts?

Order it without the third-row seats. Or, Order something smaller: Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV-4, or the wonderful Honda CR-V.

What do you think of Smart Cars (more specifically, a used Smart Car) for someone who has never owned a car before? Looking for a relatively inexpensive, but still relatively new car (not eager to drive a car from before 2000 with 50k+ miles or pay 10k+ for a used car) .

I love the Smart car--as a commuter. I once tried driving one across country using major highways, starting drom deepest Texas.. I made it to Detroit--my body completely worn out. The little car is no bulwark againt Midwest highway cross winds. But as a commuter, it's perfect. Fits neatly in almost all city parking spaces. Reasonable on gas. And, believe it or not, safe with its high-strength, low-weight roll-cage construction. I am happy to see that Smart FINALLY is beginning to tout its stuff in the United States on National TV ads. Just keep it off the high-speed interstates, or, at least, keep it in the slower right lanes of those roads.

Check out the Honda dealers lots for a new 2011 Element nothing else comes close to it. I would recommend a Equinox AWD and if she only keeps it for 3-4 years a Dodge Caravan with the seats that fold into the floor. Tiguan has reliability and dealership issues, I have a 2006 Element for hauling dogs to herding trials. Next vehicle the new CRV, GLK, LR2 or maybe if we hot the Powerball a rsetored repowered Defender 110 at $140K CLifton VA

I think the Element has been taken out of production. But I'm sure that there is a Honda dealer somewhere with Elements still in stock.

My seven-year-old Elantra was apparently not a hindrance when I asked the woman of my dreams to marry me last year. Oh, no doubt I'd have more fun driving the GTI -- but if you require a car to get a woman's attention, one might suggest that you're doing it wrong.

Or, if she goes with you because you have a snazzy car, one might suggest that you've chosen the wrong mate. The current recession is interesting for showing what's important in life, what lasts. I'm thrilled by the many couples I meet who are making it through these tough times by working with, loving one another. There are a lot more of them than what we hear about, see, or read about in the media. Hanging with a good spouse in a car like the Elantra in this miserable economy is what eventually gets you to a BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, or Hyundai Equus when the economic fog lifts.

If she is making the decision and can handle an Xj with 500 supercharged hp she should go for it. Come on your only live once. She should buy the car and then in her will make sure the car is sold and the proceeds go to her favorite charity or the NHRA. Go granny go. XJ's are 4 seaters Warren not coupes. An XJ is as easy to get in out of of if not more easy then a Cruze or any Buick, XKs are the coupes in Jags. All the cars I mentioned are geezer 4 doors. Now the other option if BMW has any left is 7 series Alpina. Definetely non geezer 4dr. If the lady has the finances then she should go all the way in English luxury and performance to an Aston Martin Rapide 4 doors and easy to get in and out of for about $180K. Clifton Va

You are hopeless. I'm willing to bet that Esteemed Granny got to be 70, or older, by living with more common sense than your suggestion implies. She probably understands that common sense isn't anithetical to fun. She needs 500 horsepower at this point in her life? Really? To do what? She's going to be burning up the highways at 70? Flirting with state troopers, or maybe lawyers anxious to sue her estate for wrongful injury to someone else in a car crash? I doubt it. She can have as much fun in a Buick LaCrosse or Toyota Avalon--both of which would allow her to make a substantial donation to the charity of her choice right now.

Warren, Have a new Forester which I love but the rims are tough to clean. Any suggestions?

Take it to Pep Boys for a suggested rim cleaner, or to another auto supply tore. Or take it to a car wash that does detail work, including rims.

UAW will Chrysler/Fiat off if they are not careful. Chrysler is having big problems launching cars that can compete in this country. The 500 is cute but not mainstream and Sergio is smoking something. The 200 is barely competitive and Chrysler is still plagued with questions about its reiiability. Chrysler needs buzz and product. having some alfa models for sale in the US would help.

Baloney. Even Consumer Reports, no historical friend of things Chrysler, ranks the Chrysler 300 sedan as one of the top 10 sedans in terms of quality/desirability in the United States. Chrysler does have to continue turning out such cars. And the UAW has to do more to win production of Fiat models in U.S. plants. The current focus should be on product, product, opposed to contract wrangling. The UAW can focus on the latter after it organizes someone else besides GM, Ford, and Chrysler. It's put-up or shut-up time for the union.

Hello. I have a Volvo XC90 with 150k miles. Kids are grown. Would you recommend a Honda CRV as a replacement? Not sure I'm ready for a sedan. I'm also thinking of a smaller Volvo. Thank you.

Check out the Volvo C30 T5 hatchback--surprising utility, maneuverability; traditional Volvo safety.

Hi Warren, I am thinking about buying this hybrid, however worried about how long the rechargable battery will last. I am afraid the replacement cost of the battery. What is the life? Would you recommend? Or should I just get a regular gas version, RX350?

It gets a recommendation here. The battery will last (in terms of rechargeability) about eight years. No need to worry about reliability. Toyota/Lexus seem to have fixed quality problems. They have that covered.

You hit the nail on the head: preserving safety, comfort and reliability in a reasonably priced package. Do you think there is any chance we might see a diesel version of the Tiguan coming to the U.S.? about 2014. Diesel remains a hard sell in these parts.

I ordered a new Subaru Legacy last year through my local dealer. Sure, they wanted to sell me what they had on the lot (1st choice on their part) or what was already ordered and on the way to them (2nd choice on their part), or what they could find at another nearby dealer they could trade for (3rd choice on their part). But I didn't want any of those. After ruling out those options, my very nice saleslady said I could order a new Legacy and it would take 4 to 12 weeks. I ordered exactly the color and options I wanted, and it came in 5 weeks. She gave me a price right around invoice, which was the same deal she was offering on a car they already had. I'm not saying all makes and dealers can or are willing to do this, but some obviously do.

My point, exactly.

Thank you all for writing today. Please come back next week when, it is hoped, Lou An Hammon of, will join me. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production. Please ask your parents what "Vu" means. Hey, Ria, thanks for keeping me plugged into the car shipments. Eat Lunch.

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

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