Real Wheels Live

Nov 25, 2011

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.

Join Warren Brown and myself as we chat about cars at 11am EST
You can also congratulate Warren Brown. He will be receiving a lifetime achievement award on Sunday, January 8, 2012, at a black-tie gala, held in the Sound Board theatre at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit, during Press Week of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).

I know little about cars. I have a friend who collected old cars who kept them on my property. He passed away and his heirs don't want the cars, as most of them are pretty old and beat up. I have had strangers offer to allow me to pay them to tow the cars away as well as some who state they want to buy some parts from the cars. How may I go about finding someone honest who would be able to tell me which cars should be junked and which may have some parts of value?

Warren and I have people in the business who know people with money. Send me a list of the cars to and I will send them to people in the DC area, like Ken Gross. Ken knows everyone in the old car business, including Jay Leno. He  has written books on old cars and will know if anything is of worth.


Good morning, Warren and Lou Ann: Happy Thanksgiving holiday to both of you. In the spirit of Black Friday today and wanting to support the U.S. economy and auto industry, which American four-door sedan do you think is the best value on the market?

Both Warren and I agree on a couple of them, the Chevy Cruze and the Buick Verano. I like the Verano and will like it more when it comes out in the souped up engine.

The Lacrosse has e-assist that gives you 36 miles per gallon.

Also look at the Ford Fusion. If you need a CUV look at the new Ford Escape they just showed at the LA auto show.

Hi Mr. Brown, I recently totaled my 2001 Nissan Altima in July. I am in need of a vehicle very soon and would like to get back into a Nissan Altima or branch out into something reliable within this price range. Due you have any recommendations? Graduate Student in Need of Vehicle for a Low Low Price

The 2012 Nissan Altima is light years ahead of the one you wrecked in terms of safety, engine efiiciency, overall build quality. Also take a look at the new Chevrolet Sonic and Cruze, Ford  Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic.

I live in an area where almost all hell breaks loose when the local electric company announces plans to raise rates (again). How much longer will it be before cars have solar roofs and residential garages have skylights incorporated into their design? Or is that totally not feasible?

New technology comes out on expensive, luxury cars first than it trickles down.

Fisker automotive has a solar roof on their car, when it comes out. Other companies are looking into it.

If you buy a Ford Focus EV, when they come out, you can get 2.5 KW solar panels, installed with a monitoring system for $10,000.(I think that is after the federal credit but before the state credit) In California it would run $15,000-$18,000.

I wish we - in California - had a requirement that all new homes had to have solar panels on them, but the roof lobby squelched that idea. I'm not sure how the supply of solar panels would have hurt building either, but we people who believe in these things keep trying.

Buy a range extender or plug-in prius. Buy an EV if you can.  Put solar panels on your home.

Create your own energy policy. The government is not going to do it for you.

Hi Warren, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm currently driving a 2002 Accord with 135K miles on it - that guy really is a workhorse. I have a couple of questions. First, I'm hoping to avoid buying a new car for at least five years; is this a reasonable goal if we're putting around 20K on it a year? Second, if we do make it that long, I'm interested in the possibility of buying an electric car at that point, but only if it had become mainstream enough for it to be very trustworthy and easy to get repairs and maintenance on it. What's the chance of that being the case by 2016 or 2017? Thanks!

Yes, another 20 k miles or so, with any needed Honda service, is quite reasonable, money better spent in the dealership"s backshop than the showroom. Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you all. Be warned that from California to New York, cops are cracking down on speeders under the influence. 

Even the International Energy Agency (IEA) doesn't think EVs will be mainstream by 2016-2017. Best case scenario would be around 2050.

But plug-in hybirds or range extenders (Chevy Volt) are the next step from hybirds.

I always tell people who know their cars are going to go to metal heaven soon to start putting a small amount away every month. Maybe $100.When your car stops on the side of the road you have a decent down payment. You have done your homework to know what you want. You have looked at your credit rating and fixed any problems so that you can get the best financing rate available.

If you do all this you will enjoy the car you buy.

Good morning, Warren! You mentioned many times over the years how VW is improving reliability, durability, and service. As a VW owner and VW enthusiast I look to the day when my favorite automotive brand reaches the top of reliability rankings to match the fun to drive factor. But I don't see it! JD Power's has VW ranked near the bottom of its annual Vehicle Dependability Study for 2011. When will these changes VW has implemented be seen in automotive reliability rankings?? P.s. Any chance the VW Polo GTI reach the USA?

Good morning to you! This is frustrating. I talk to executives at VW's USA headquarters in Herndon, VA, look at there proposed fixes and am impresssed. I visit regional VW dealerships and am impressed at changes being made. Yet, VW's message seems lost in space. The company needs to come back to earth and prove beyond a doubt to consumers, and not just to the media, that it truly is trying to practice what they preach. I belive them. But that means nothing if you don't believe them.

Rankings in any of these groups can take time, especially if the group has had an extended, protracted reliability issue. VW has put more emphasis on consumer concerns with the reliability issues. We'll see if it pays off in the rankings.

No matter how much you tout improved VW reliability, the argument will be "no sale" as long as they have issues like common TDI fuel rail issues (which they tend to belittle or try evade based on what I've read), the common problems with the former 1.8 Turbo (sludging & coil packs), etc. We had a '98 Passat that was a wonderful car to drive til it met it's end at 130k miles (still drove like new), but reliable it was not (didn't strand us but expensive repairs somewhat often). I keep wishing for better but right now am very glad I passed on the Jetta TDI wagon in '09 given what I'm reading. VW and Audi (I owned 2 Audis, again, great driving cars, HORRIBLE long term reliability and huge repair costs) just don't seem able to match the execution/build of their designs to the superb design elements, etc.

There in is the catch-22. VW, and Audi, are beautiful cars to drive. Spectacular engineering, great design. But not reliable according to you and the groups that rank these cars.

It's a shame really. I love to drive these cars a lot more than some of the others that are deemed reliable.

But in our fast pace lives we don't want anything that keeps us from where we need to go.

VW is better than this.

It's a great weekend to get out there and shop for cars folks. Lots of great sales. But the Rules of Common Sense still apply. If you are living on a Civic budget, don't buy an Accord or high-end Acura just because prices have been dramatically lowered on those for the moment. Buy within your economic range. All cars have different long-range insurange and operating costs. Make sure that the car you buy today is likely the ones you can live with tomorrow. Also, checkout dealer inventory. Higher prices likely will be found at dealerships with short stocks, especially on popular models. Check the back pages of Automotive News (available at most libraries and specialty periodical stores) for national inventories of the model you are seeking. Lou Ann probably has additional advice.--Warren

Having researched Electric vehicles (EV) for possible, purchase seems that there are numerous drawbacks to the concept; 1). The U.S. does not have power grids to charge EVs if the majority of the population would own one 2). It takes about 50 gallons of oil to produce most EV batteries 3). EV batteries are volatile in severe car rashes 4). After the EV battery life span of about 5 -7 years, battery disposal poses a environmental risk to our planet. In any case, electricity is not a source of energy (unless using wind/solar/ generators) but a byproduct of energy, as you need to create energy. What do you guys think? Is hydrogen the clean alternative?

Electric cars and their various derivatives constitute a part of the answer, a valid part. There is no single silver bullet except, perhaps, a Congress more interested in coming up with a sensible, usable national energy policy than it is in paying homage to campaign donors and conficting ideolgies.

No, hydrogen is not the answer NOW. Maybe later.

The grid is the issue for EVs. Old houses, like mine, are an issue. Don't  throw the baby out with the bath water. Fix it.

EV batteries are energy sources. Even NHTSA didn't give the battery, full of energy, the respect it should have when they crashed the Volt. Had NHTSA crashed an internal combustion engine they would have drained the fuel tank. They didn't drain the battery.

This is a good lesson for NHTSA - the purveyor of all safety regulations and requirements for automobiles - and first responders. Treat the battery as energy - with respect.

Batteries are one of the top recylced products - like 97%. Expect the advanced technology batteries to be recycled.

Make it a good weekend by not drinking and driving. The cost of a taxi is cheaper than the cost of a ticket, jail time and someone, or your, life.

Watch your speed limit, the state doesn't deserve anymore of your money. Don't give it to them needlessly. :) Slow down, save a ticket.

And remember -

Never drive faster than your angel can fly.

Thank you, Lou Ann for your valuable participation. Look forward to wrking with you on the road in December. Thank you, Gaurav Jain and Dominique Vu, for guiding us through the Post's new communications technology. And for godnnes sakes, Ria Manglapus, I didn't expect you to come into the office Thanksgiving Day and Shopping Friday! I thank you. But please< Lady, grab some lunch and take a break!!!

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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