Real Wheels Live

Oct 26, 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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The Car of the Future will not be the same everywhere at the same time. Coming changes--both the kind and the rate--will depend on individual market changes. But there will be a common theme--smaller, safer, more fuel-efficient automobiles. Goodbye to big V-8s. Let's talk.

Warren and I are back from Sao Paulo, Brazil, attending the Sao Paulo auto show. It was a Carnaval! Emerging market auto shows are always interesting, but it says a lot about Brazil that many CEOs from car companies, such as General Motor's CEO, Dan Akerson, and the Chairman of the Board of Management (CEO) of Volkswagen AG, Martin Winterkorn attended the auto show.  Even President Dilma Rousseff, former President Lula's anointed heir, first woman to be President in Brazil, attended the show as well.

What would you do?

On my intro can you change the first paragraph to
There are so many cars in Sao Paulo, Brazil that the government has mandated that certain cars cannot be in "the ring" of the city on certain days. If your license plate ends in a certain number your car cannot go into the city on a certain day, in the mornings from 7 to 10 am and in the end of afternoons from 5 to 8 pm, otherwise you will be fined $45 and lose 4 points on your license. $45 may not seem like a lot to us, but most people in Sao Paulo make between $350-$500 a month. And if you get 21 points on your license your lose your license.

Look at your license plate, what does the number end in?
You can't drive in the city on Monday if your car ends in 1 or 2
You can't drive in the city on Tuesday if your car ends in 3 or 4
You can't drive in the city on Wednesday if your car ends in 5 or 6
You can't drive in the city on Thursday if your car ends in 7 or 8
You can't drive in the city on Friday if your car ends in 9 or 0

What would you do if you couldn't drive your car to work one day out of the week?

I test drove a couple small, city cars this weekend. I liked how the Fiat drove, but am a little put off by the huge blind spot on the driver's side. The dealer said that the weird "blind spot mirror" really helps and that I would get used to looking at the mirror rather than over my shoulder. Do you have any experience with that? Do those mirrors actually work? Other than that it was a great car. I really wanted to like the Fit, but my legs were uncomfortable with the pedal position. Mini is up next.

Like or dislike, if your leg id uncomfortable with the pedal position, don't buy the car. The blind-spot mirror does work. However, based on what we saw at the Sao Paulo car show, Fiat and its rivals seem to be coming up with a better idea--see-through A-pillars.

Hi Warren, reading your increasing level of frustration regarding your (once) loved Mini, I'm wondering what advice you'd have for someone considering buying a 2010 Cooper S with 42K?

It could cost you more than you're planning or willing to spend. Get a tech to check it out before turning over the cash.

Warren, I asked you a couple of weeks ago for a recommendation for a fun sporty but smooth riding car. I had mentioned that I had, at one point, had a Volvo and was looking for the same kind of ride. You recommended the S60 T6 R-Design. While it was over my budget, I did try the T5 and fell in love. It's a beautiful car and it fits all my requirements. It's now in my garage. Thank you for a great recommendation. You have never steered my wrong. I was thinking of a Mini at one point but gave up on the idea after reading of your experience. I'm glad I did. Thanks again.

My pleasure. Soon to be yours. Enjoy!

Is that a good car buying day? Also, I want to buy a Mini and they are offering 0.9 percent financing, which is better than what I can get from my credit union. That said, I've never done financing AT the dealer and admittedly I'm afraid of getting snookered.

It's only a "good buying day" if you've done your financial homework. What can you realistically afford? What are the actual out-the door costs? Repair and maintenance costs? Check with, and, among others. Also, check with Consumer Reports.

Wow, last week's letter about the GPS battery is so totally wrong, and I'd bet I'm not the only electrical engineer who responds. For a quick layman's explanation, there are three reasons: One is that the cigarette lighter/power receptacle in a typical care built beyond 1985 or so turns off with the ignition, which cuts off any "open pipe" back into the vehicle's electrical system. Secondly, all devices with built-in batteries that charge when connected to an external power supply are designed so that the voltage from the battery is electrically isolated from flowing back into any external source. Thirdly, all batteries, rechargeable and non-rechargeable have a finite shelf life because the internal chemical compounds eventually break down through use and/or disuse. The question is how old is the GPS unit? If it's still under warranty, get it replaced. If not, there are websites that will sell you a replacement battery and lots of you-tube tutorials on how to replace the batteries, but they're not for the faint of heart, so the other option is just to replace the GPS.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer this. If the person who owns the GPS system is reading the chat today they will greatly appreciate it.

What was your reaction to the Ombudsman's column on Sunday?

I liked it, of course. He captured the way I think and write. Not everyone likes my approach. I understand and accept that. But I'm not likely to change a darned thing. Facts are: Cars exist in a social, political, environmental, and economic context--none of which can be ignored in discussing them. I don't write technical or promotional brochures, or wrote-think, zoom-zoom, "car-guy" stuff. I write about cars in context.

I drive 40 miles a day commuting, but also plan to have a kid or two in the next few years. What family friendly, efficient commuter cars do you recommend?

So many, including the Ford Focus and Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, Hyundai Accent and Elantra. So many more.

A relative of mine who spent a few years selling cars said the last day of the month, and the last few days of December, especially Dec. 31, are the best days to buy a car. Salesmen at the end of the month have only one day to meet their monthly quotas and goals. December 31 is the last day they have to meet their annual quotas and goals. Further, sales drop dramatically after Xmas because people have spent a lot on Xmas gifts, including cars. The odds are you will see few, if any, other customers on the last few days of December. If a salesman gives you the usual BS, you can just tell him to attend to all the other customers who are NOT there.

All of which is a nice wives' tale if you don't do your financial homework before shopping. Know your financial position, credit rating, et cetera BEFORE entering the dealership. That always puts you in the driver's seat ANY DAY.

"Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" finally came up in the presidential debate. I don't mean for your chat to go all political, but is there anything you'd like to say to fact-check (a) what really happened in the bailout, and (b) whether (or how well) it worked?

Dan Akerson was in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the auto show and I asked him about the Presidential debates and the car company being mentioned. He harumphed! Car companies, he said, only a couple have been mentioned. I knew he was talking about GM and Chrysler, but he wouldn't comment any further.

The rest of this is what I remember and my opinion

The reality was, there was no financing. Ford had refinanced everything they owned, including the blue oval, before the economic freefall. They didn't need a loan, but they stood there in front of Congress asking Congress to give the others a bailout/loan. Why? Because the auto suppliers would have failed if GM and Chrysler had failed.

I've spent a lot of time with auto suppliers lately and the big ones are still in business. Some of the little ones are no longer around. If you don't have someone to buy a car seat from how are you going to make a car?

We saw that when Japan had their catastrophe. Black cars were on the endangered list because there were only a couple places that made the pigment for certain black cars.

But the bigger question is what would have happened to General Motors if there were not a bailout/loan to them. China owns 51% of General Motors in China. Do you think China would have let them go bankrupt, or do you think they would have purchased the assets of GM-US?

As our car companies (and all companies) go more global the United States has to understand that other countries are a lot more protective of their companies, and the dometically  produced product by local voters/consumers, and 0ther countries will protect said companies.


The auto bailout worked. Period. It gave the domestic companies the breathing room they needed. It saved thousands of jobs. It was no different from what other countries have done for their core manufacturing industries...or for what many states in the United States have done to help establish forein-owned car manufacturing plants in their communities.

I figured you might know the answer. If I get my own financing for a car, how do I actually pay the money to the dealership? Does my bank give me a check? I've never done this before so I'm confused about the practical parts of the transaction.

Not crazy at all. If you get your own financing  for the car--either through bank or credit union--you give the dealer a check from the funding source.

good question. I don't buy financing from car companies, I buy from my credit union as well.

But - sometimes the car company will have better finance rates, depending on your FICO score, than your credit union, so make sure to check.

At this point I go online and fill out a form and they send back an email telling me if I am approved and what the rate is and the monthly payment. It's been awhile, but I remember them sending me the check once, and sending the dealer the check once.

Since you are getting a loan on an asset that has collateral they will could send it to the dealer, but I'm not sure.

If you were getting a loan on a house, for instance, that you wanted to do upgrades to they would send it to you.

In either case:

If you geta loan from a bank for an asset (i.e. car) and they send it to you make sure to give that money to the car company, otherwise it is fraud.


Have you had a change to try any of the reconfigured 2013 Subarus or the XV Crosstrek crossover that will now be available in the US. If so, what are your thoughts? I understand that the Forester has not fundamentally changed this year but that it will have a major redesign for 2014. I'm hoping for a six-speed transmission.

Not yet. But I'm looking forward to it.

In general, they can be a real plus. I buy the "aftermarket" $2 ones at Wally World every couple of years (as the adhesive wears off) and stick them in the lower outside corner of the side mirrors. You can still get the benefit of the side mirrors, but you get a second look at the blind spot--plus you can lower the angle at night and be blinded less by the headlights of the car behind you.

Thanks for that information.

I'd like to know your thoughts about the NHTSA's "voluntary guidelines" for navigation systems (no regulatory rule has been issued yet), under which Acura and other car makers have already begun removing functions from the nav system if the car is in motion. I have the new RDX and its nav system seems to be nearly useless for making any decisions while under way; even the passenger cannot use it. Voice control doesn't work that well and using it is more distracting to me personally, and where do you "pull over" in city traffic so the thing will work? I believe in most states pulling over on the interstate is not legal unless it's for an emergency. I understand the concerns over distracted driving, but it seems to me that these systems aren't worth having any more.

Effectively, all of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's guidelines are "voluntary" in terms of actual execution. NHTSA does not tell manufacturers exactly how to achieve a desired goal, which is a very good thing, I think. That way, we get different and often better approaches to arriving at the same solution. For example, some navigational functions should be set BEFORE driving begins. The RDX's system requires this. I agree.

I am sure there are people that would abuse this, but why can't car comanies make the system usable if there is a passenger in the front seat? Some do.

I will have to check out the options to replace the battery. Having it power down due to a low batter, even when plugged into the lighter, is a serious problem when I need it to work. When my old laptop battery died, I just removed the battery and continued to use the laptop plugged in without problem. I wish I could do the same with the GPS. I don't see too many times when I would need to use it without being in a car with access to a lighter (Unless I also need to charge my phone and other devices at the same time).

Have you checked with the GPS supplier? What did they say?

Increasingly, everything is packaged so that it is hard for us to take it apart and fix it.

Heck, I remember when I could click a few buttons on my computer and go into DOS and fix things. :)

Which one is a better car? I really like Audi A4 because of its LED light. I also like BMW 328i. BMW offers 4 years of maintenance free. It would make more sense to go with a BMW. What is your thought?

I'd go with the BMW. But you won't be wrong togo with Audi, either. Both are excellent, thoroughly enjoyable automobiles.

If DC adopted the Sao Paulo approach, I could not drive on Thursday. I guess I would telework and hope that I don't need to go to the doctor. Look, the only reason I take my car downtown is because I've completely given up on Metro. My car is a more reliable and more comfortable and more safe mode of transportation, so I ditched the subway and now drive. If public transit options were better than my car, then I wouldn't have to worry about no-car Thursdays.

Dear 7 or 8,

Do you think it is a good idea to adopt such a system?

As we were driving around we what looked like an overhead transit system being built in  Sao Paulo. That would help there.

What about if you took the transit one day a week, perhaps every Thursday?

If DC had Sao Paulo's horrific traffic, we'd all be putting pressure on our political leaders to improve mass transportation, which is something that Sao Paulo also is doing.

I want to piggy back on the Nav system topic- my Ford Edge has a nav system that is pretty much not useful when driving- above 10MPH most of the touch screen is locked out and voice commands are dicey at best. I get that you don't want the driver punching stuff in the screen while moving, but the passenger as well? There is already a sensor in the seat that turns the airbag on/off depending on the weight of the occupant, why not turn the nav system lockout on and off as well?

Yes, the passenger as well. Realistically, the passenger punching stuff into the Nav while vehicle is in motion also creates a possibly dangerous distraction. Set the Nav BEORE taking off. If there is a problem enroute, pull over to a safe spot. Reset the Nav.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. We love chatting with you. Thanks to Dominique Vu for another fine production. Thanks to Lou Anne Hammond for her always fine contributions. And thanks to Ria Manglapus for keeping everything going in our absence. Time for 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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