Real Wheels Live

Nov 22, 2013

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond will discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

Every now and then, an app comes along that actually captures Warren's attention. This one made him go: "Wow! I can use that!" it is the CARbonga-SRI (Safety and Recall Information) app for iPhone and iPad that provides car owners easy access to the very latest recalls and tehnical service bulletins affecting their vehicles. Cuts out sensationalist headlines and TV "breaking news" and just tells people what is going on wth their cars. Produced by Atlanta-based Speedemissions. Available for $4.99 at Apple stores.

Good Morning Warren and friends

I've been in  Los Angeles all week for the Los Angeles auto show. On Tuesday a new day was added to the pre-show events called Connected Car Expo. All the infotainement, telematics, self-driving and autonomous car groups were displaying their wares and having group discussions. It's an interesting time for automobiles and event the architecture of automobiles.

I spent my time at the LA auto show talking to about 15 executives. Those interviews will be up shortly on driving the nation. We talked about marketshare and how it correlates to brand loyalty and if it does.

The LA auto show was very wonderful. The Honda Accord won green car of the year while Mercedes had the most beautiful car of the year.

I drove the new Cadillac ELR yesterday through the hills of Malibu and around Mulholland drive. If you saw the Cadillac Converje concept there is very little difference in the production car. The interiors are beautiful.

let's chat cars.

By the way - The Cadillac ELR is the Chevy Volt on Cadillac steroids. Think Ultra-lux with the ability to plug in or run on a generator fueled by gasoline.

Chevy says that all Volts combined  have driven over 300,000,000 miles of electric drive and saved millions of  gallons of gasoline

I like high-revving, normally-aspirated four cylinder engines. I read that Honda has announced three new turbo engines. Is this the beginning of the end for relatively high-performance small engines without forced induction? Thanks.

It is the birth of an aggressive new era for turbochrged engines as auto manufacturers race to improve fuel economy without compromising--too much--power. And I think something deeper is afoot: A radical culture change in the lore and affection for the automobile. Keep watching.

Warren, I believe you said earlier you were going to test drive a BMW 335i, wondering if that happened and if so your thoughts on that car--especially if the turbo six is worth the money over the turbo four? Thanks

My friend, Pierre, who handles things BMW in my second residence of Cornwall, NY, tells me that I should be in that one in about three weeks.

Hello Warren and Lou Ann, I recently moved to California from DC and went to a car dealership to have my car serviced for regular maintenance. I have a 2006 Volvo S40 with about 39000 miles on it. They told me that because my milage is so low, the tires have developed cracks in them (similar to dry rot). I have never heard of this...does this seem like a legit claim to you? Additionally, because I have no rapport with this dealership, I would like to get a second opinion before replacing 4 tires. Do you have any recommendations for finding a reliable mechanic/car repair shop? I've asked a few people but everyone I have asked seems to jump around from place to place based on price, not quality.

I have a 1993 Lexus LS 400. I love the fact that the car has been garaged it's entire life and serviced by Lexus. But I have to take it out of the garage every so often otherwise it's like a 100 year old person who never does anything but sit in a chair.

I would go to Costco. They're easy and they are fairly priced for new tires. They are a national brand so they have their reputation at stake. Other than that I would go to a local guy that you want to get to know because you're going to need someone to do your smog checks etc as well.

Welcome to California.

More of an observation based on my experience about the cost value. MSRP for auto TDI premium 25995. For SE similarly equipped with gas engine, 23165. So TDI premium is 2850 (without any negotiations) Using numbers for averages, TDI is at 40 at the peak of the bell curve (born out by my 39.9mpg over 25K miles) SE averages 28. Based on a 40cent difference between diesel and regular, cost savings for TDI per year over the SE ranges from $150 to 356$ depending on total mileage annually and costs of fuel. (12K v 15K) For a 15K annual driver, the premium between the two cars is paid back in 8 years. for the shorter mileage driver, its well over 10, presuming fuel prices remain about 40 cents different on average. I would hazard a guess that other diesel v gas or hybrid v gas are similar. Is it worth it? for me it was. Love the TDI torque and driveability, but somethign to consider for shoppers.

I agree. Diesel torque isseductive. Diesel fuel economy is better than most things gasoline. I'm seduced.

Of those you mentioned as alternatives, the Ford Flex and Kia Sorento are my favorite for families. Crumple zones (area that aborbs crah energy before transferring it to occupants) in both vehicles are good. Both vehicles are family friendly in terms of storage and seating.

Greetings, Warren. We really enjoy your writing and appreciate your guidance. We've followed your writing about having adequate vehicle length for a safe 3rd row in vehicles, and have reached the point where we need one for multiple weekly carpools to kids' soccer, dance, etc. We know that you think the Enclave, Acadia and Traverse have adequate length; we'll test drive these. Do any of the following also have adequate length from your perspective? We'll only consider those vehicles that you believe have it: Explorer, Flex, 2014 MDX, Pilot, Lexus GX, Hylander, CX-9, Q7, Sante Fe, Sorento, 2015 Yukon, Odyssey or Sienna. Are there any others not listed here that have adequate length? Thanks very much for sharing your thinking! Arlington, VA

That is the bulk of them. Please, please. When you are considering a large vehicle make sure that your vehicle has a backup camera and sensors. Two children every week are killed because they are run over when someone is backing up. Cameras allow you to see, but just like seat belts, you put them on when the dingin starts. Sensors will alert you to a new obstacle after you have looked in the camera and looked away.


We are debating between the Highlander's 4 cyl and V6 models for our family. While I appreciate the slightly better mpg on the 4 cyl, I'm worried the small engine will be too sluggish for that vehicle, plus I like the 4WD option that comes with the V6. What are your thoughts?

I would go with the four. We all tend to overestimate the amount of power we need to move around. I'd go with the six only if i were hauling stuff regularly.

Have headlights become substantially brighter in recent years? I find them to be almost blinding and I sometimes momentarily lose sight of the road. Particularly annoying are the headlights on the huge SUVs behind me that seem to shine almost directly into the car and the sideview mirror. Does anyone else find this to be a problem?

Everyone. It's not just the brightness but the height of the vehicles that are right in your eye sight.

I just heard of a technology that allows you to set your brights on and the car is able to detect when another car is coming and will dim them for you.

I thought Acura was discontinuing the TSX this year and "blending" it with the TL to produce a new TLX. Haven't seen anything though . Have you ?

I heard the new sedan was supposed to come out in 2015 which maybe why you haven't seen anything yet. They unveiled the acura rlx so maybe in detroit they will show the tlx?

Soon to be buying a new 2014 SUV that comes with a 3-year, 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Since that is not a long period of time, does purchasing an extended warranty at time of purchase of the vehicle make sense?

Thre years /36,000 miles is long enough to determine if you bought a sweetheart or a lemon. If you bought a sweetheart, it is a waste of money to buy an extended warranty. If you bought a lemon, no extended warranty will make you love it.

Is there an Android version of CARbonga-SRI?

yes, it is many smartphone app available.

Just curious whether, at the big auto shows, manufacturers lay out for you specifics of upcoming models, but do so under non-disclosure agreements. There are so many companies and so many models, one wonders how you can keep up.

Yes, we get embargoed information and some photos. But there is nothing like being there and talking to the designers and engineers and executives to capture the flavor of their industry.


Hi Warren and Lou Ann! When do you think the mass-market will see the first hydrogen-powered vehicles come out? I've heard at least one carmaker has one slated for 2015. Also, how long do you think once introduced, that it will take for prices to come down so that they are affordable for the average consumer?

Word out of the concurrent Tokyo and LA shows, and displays at both, indicate that hydrogen fuel cells will be a marketable reality by 2015. Keep a close eye on Hyundai. Honda/GM, BMW. They're in a race for first/best marketable hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

These cars have been powered by big V8s, but now have a turbo V6. Have you driven the new incarnation? Does it have the power that a car like this should have? The Supercharged and the Supersport still have V8s, but they almost see like overkill. Is the V6 just right, or not enough?

It is just right. I recently drove the F-type and loved the design and the drive. TATA owns Jaguar and Land Rover and they have put the money that is required into the companies and yet given the freedom to the company to do what is right. It is wonderful to see two unique brands make it out of the recession and thrive.

Warren, Will anybody really trust a car to self park? Maybe I am old schooled but I would never trust this feature on a car. Thanks.

Self parallel parking is already on some of the more luxury cars and they do it better than some people. I was at a Bosch event and Ron Fascal from airport high school parked a car for us and then let the car park it.

Here's the video

How about taillights? I've been around a few recently that light up the night so that you can't see anything else. Last night it was a Ford Fusion. I blame LED lights.

lights have become the bling on cars. The design, the array, the diamond that makes the car have another dimension. They are no longer just for seeing at night time.

Who wins? Shame we dont hear more about how much pollution and environmental damage is done to find Lithium and make a lithium battery. Way more than any gasoline powered vehicle does in its lifetime from the creation of its components, to drilling for oil and production of gas. AN electric vehicle despite all its claims is way dirtier than any internal combustion powered vehicle.

You know what? There is no such thing as a free lunch. Movement requires energy. Energy is produced by the consumption and expenditure of fuels. It all involves waste somehow somewhere. We know the damage the burning of fossil fuels is causing. We also know the supply limitations of fossil fuels. We need something else, something extra to keep going, assuming you are not arguing for us to just stop.

I've been spending time on the automakers websites looking at my hot hatch options. Where did all the colors go? It seems almost every one is available in grayscale, maybe a dark blue, or something else dark. Ok, Ford is the big exception. Even Subaru only has their traditional blue as an option other than something...ummm... dull.

We were just commenting on that the other day. The top three selling colors have always been white, black and silver(gray). If you're buying a vehicle with selling in mind you're going to buy one that will sell the easiest. If you want to fit in, those colors are the easiest. If you're a manufacturer you have to decide which colors to sell and those three are the easiest to justify.

Hi Warren, I really enjoy your chats and advice. My family is looking for a 7-seat SUV with captains seats that will allow us to access car seats and for the dog to have space. What do you recommend? I have my eye on a Toyota Sequoia. Thanks.

The Sequoia is a good choice--very people and dog friendly. I'd also look at the Kia Sorento and Cheverly Traverse. Hint: shop with your dog. can he/she hop in and quickly find a dog-comfortable space for stretching out? That's important. Miss Rosa Parks, our chocolate Labrador, will actually refuse to get in some vehicles.

When do you think self-driving cars will be in the mainstream?

I'm thinking 2020/2025.

60K miles is about the end of tires useful live. Go to Discount Tire or go on the internet and find your local Porsche, Volvo or BMW Car Club chapter and go to local car club site and find out in the forums what tire store they use. Try there for a 2nd opinion. In most cases dealers charge way too much for tires. I would go with Michelin, Toyo, or Yokohama. Clifton, VA

Many thanks.

Just bought a new 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium. Love it, but am noticing around the mirrors/front windows that wind and road noise are more pronounced. Is there anything I should look at, aftermarket or otherwise, that might solve this problem?

There are a couple places out there that say they can help with aftermarket road noise. You can search for them on the net, but I haven't tried them.

Only vehicles that might be safe are the Surburban, its GMC and Caddy equivalents and if they still make it the Ford Expedition. Most 3rd rows are in the crush zone ie Explorer, Flex and mall the ones you listed. You take your chances with the others. Clifton, VA

 I respectfully disagree with your assessment that the only vehicles that might be safe with third-row crush zones are the ones you listed. The GM triumvirate--the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, and GMC model offer ample crush space in the rear. The Ford Flex is good.

In the UK, EU and Ireland they have adjustable headlights where you can adjust the height. NHTSA doesnt allow it here. With SUVs and other vehicles they may have been lifted and the owners didnt adjust the headlights Clifton, VA

I'm not so sure that you are correct about that, Clifton. Adjustable headlamps, some of them automatic in oncoming traffic (high beam to low beam, for example) and many of them steer-directed, are all the rage on modern cars in the U.S. What are YOU talking about?

Thank you all for joining us today. I suspect that we'll be off Thanksgiving Friday. I am grateful for all of the people who help to keep this enterprise going: Matthew James Mnahan, Lou Ann Hammond, Victoria (Ria) Manglapus, and Michelle (Chelle) Dawson. Thank you all. Have a great Thanksgiving.

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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