Real Wheels Live

Dec 14, 2012

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.

I have the opportunity to buy a 10 year old minivan with only 50,000 miles on it. It's a Dodge Grand Caravan, and I know nothing about these vehicles. We would be buying it mostly for my mother in law to drive, and it sounds like a great deal with the low mileage, etc. Are these decent minivans? Thanks!

The Dodge Grand caravan is a good minivan, one of the best. But, for your peace of mind and the safety and comfort of your mother-in-law, spend a few bucks to have a certified technician check it out. Pay particular attention to things such as tire wear and seat-belt condition.  Also, of course, check the brakes.

Good Morning Warren and friends.

For anyone that owns a dog as a member of a family, thank you United Airlines for getting me on the next flight out of Detroit when we found out my dog had fallen and fractured his leg. He is resting comfotably next to me now.

I was supposed to be at the GMC truck reveal. You can see it here, featuring Mark Reuss, the President of GM North America,

You can see the Ford Transit reveal at

The 2013 North American Car of the Year finalists have been announced. They are, Cadillac ATS, Ford Fusion and the Honda Accord.

The 2013 North American Truck of the Year finalists are Ford C-Max, Mazda CX-5, and the Ram 1500.

Which would you vote for?

Let's talk cars.

With all the news of the new Escape, what's your buyer's advice? I really like the new model but I am concerned about the 3 or 4 warnings/recalls that it has had since its release. Thanks!

If you get a warning on a car always take it seriously. Having said that, you will see more warnings from now on. Car manufacturers are being extra careful about anything they find. They don't want the problems Lexus and Toyota had with the runaway car.

Did you see the Ford escape on the amazing race? Do you like the technology that allows you to kick under the back of the car and the liftgate comes up?

The C-max has the same technology. In fact, what about a C-Max? I love that little hatchback and last month it outsold the Toyota Prius V.

Hi, Mr. Brown, Thanks for taking my question(s). My wife has a 98 Jeep Wrangler which has been a great vehicle until this past summer when the rear differential blew. Our garage told us it would be about $4-5,000 to repair. For this price we figured it would be better to just get a new car. But what should we do with the jeep? Should we donate it? Or should we try to sell it or should we get trade-in value at a dealership when we buy another vehicle for her? We know we want to get a new vehicle for her. Would dealerships consider a trade in for a 98 Jeep with no rear differential and about 170k miles on it?

Hmmm. $4-5,000 remains considerably less than $20,000 or higher. Not to mention new taxes and fees and depreciation costs, the latter of which accrue as soon as you drive your new vehicle off the lot. That being the case, I'd get a second technical opinion on your Jeep Wrangler. If your Jeep is otherwise okay with the promise of a long, safe technical life, I'd get it repaired. If not, take it to Carmax for their usually fair assessment of extant value. if you simply want a new vehicle because you've fallen out of love with your Jeep, again, take it to Carmax and sell it off. They'll repair it and sell it to someone else, with warranty, at a handsome profit.

I am a happy owner of a 2007 Toyota RAV4 Limited with a V6 engine. I've been waiting for the introduction of the new 2013 RAV4, but was disappointed by the unveiling last week at the LA auto show because Toyota has decided that the 2013 will be made only with a 4 cylinder engine. As a result, I'm thinking about buying a 2013 Ford Escape Titanium with the turbocharged engine. However, after owning two Mercury Mystiques from 1996 until 2004, I am very wary of touching a Ford product, because both cars were unreliable. Moreover, when it came time for trading in my last Mercury, I couldn't get a price that came close to the money invested in it when I bought it. So right now, after 8 years of driving reliable foreign cars -- and looking at the high bluebook value of my 2007 RAV4 -- I wonder whether I can trust Ford in terms of reliability and resale. Any advice?

Your Ford angst is understandable, but factually unjustified. Neither Ford nor its products are the same as they were a decade ago. The  company and its vehicles are substantially better--much, much better, easily world competitive. That certainly includes the new Ford Escape crossover, especially the Titanium edition. Keep in mind that turbocharging simply is a way of pulling more air into the engine for a better air-fuel mix. The result is increased power without a comensurate increase in fuel consumption. That often means buying premium gasoline, too.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Season's Greetings. All car companies are offering Yuletide deals. The rule of common sense still applies. If you have a base Chevrolet income, don't take a "deal" on a Cadillac. Car costs include more than purchase prices. Maintenance, insurance and fuel costs can turn a "deal" into a nightmare. Ask yourself, financially: "What would Michelle Singletary do?" Act accordingly.

I pulled into the gas station the other day, and saw a new midsize 4 door sedan from what I guessed was Lexus or Infiniti, etc. I was shocked, when I got closer that it was a Kia Optima. It was a high-end model, but still. With styling like Sonata/Optima (and other models), the other automakers had better watch out. I know you've been saying that for a while now, and I've always agreed, but this last set of designs is really really good.

yes, both warren and I have been saying it for a long time. I forget which Hyundai vehicle I just drove that had a heated steering wheel. A heated steering wheel on a Hyundai! Who would of thunk it?

Did you know Hyundai/Kia owns their own steel company?

I'm wondering on your take on this. I have a 2006 Acura TL and just had to replace my 3rd battery in the 6 years I've had the car. This last time (Monday) I had to have my car jump started since it wouldn't turn over. This battery was less than 1 month old. I drove out to acura who did a diagnostic test (to the tune of 130) to find out that it was a "parastic draw from the hands free link control unit". I had NEVER heard this before. My options were to disconnect it or pay $400 to have it replaced. I chose the disconnect route. When I questioned the service department they told me it can be ccaused from the blue tooth in the cell phones being turned on. Mine is rarely turned on so I'm a bit sceptical. Your thoughts? They said this will not be a recall issue since it's not a safety feature. I thought hands free/blue tooth was a safety issues especially in VA that's no texting etc.

It might be a "parasitic draw" in truth. At any rate, you should have it checked out. Today's cars are rolling computers with all sorts of opportunities for electronic misbehavior. Take it to another tech, assuming you are suspicious about the competence/honesty of your current provider, Have them check it out.

Good afternoon. My mom and I are in the market for new cars, she a small suv and I'm looking for a small sedan. We were thinking of shopping together to get the best deal. Considering a Nissan Rouge and Sentra or Corolla and Rav4. We like the CRV but the recent Civics seems to be stinkers. I'd love you thoughts and suggestions! Thank you.

Your idea for buying two at reduced price is a good one. And, yes, I would go with the Nissan Rogue or Nissan Juke, and the new Sentra. That's not because the new Honda cars are stinkers. They're not, not at all. It's because the new Nissan models are good, well-priced, and usually enjoyable vehicles. As for Honda, it's only real flaw is that it allowed the competition to catch up and, in some cases, surpass it. Buying two at the same time gives you bargaining power. Deal accordingly.

How would you compare the Mini Cooper and Fiat for a senior who wants a small but comfortable car to use in the city. Any other suggestions, I now drive a large station wagon and definitely want to go smaller..

I'd also consider a Chevy Spark or a Ford C-Max, Fiat 500L. Mini Cooper is a tad more expensive and, as Warren has chronicled here, will cost to repair.

The Fiat 500 I would get is the Abarth, which is way more expensive, but more fun. The regular 500 is too small for my taste so I would wait for the 500L.

The two cars above take premium gasoline.

The Chevy Spark only gets 85 horsepower but it is so fun to throw around. It also runs a little over $12,000.

The Ford Fiesta gets around 120 horsepower, costs under $15,000 and gets decent gas mileage from regular unleaded gasoline.

You could also look at the Toyota Prius V or Ford C-max

Frankly, I would buy neither. My reason: Too many other small, good, affordable cars. Starting with the new Ford C-Max Hybrid, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta Tdi, or even the city-happy Chevrolet Spark, or the Chevy Cruze or Ford Focus. Shop around on this one. But, no, not the new Dodge Dart. That one needs a rewrite.

Warren, due to the preferences of my spouse, manual transmissions are off-limits for our cars. Yet it's important to me that my car be fun to drive with as much zip as can be had in our price range. What would you recommend in the $20K-or-below category that would be fun to drive and not horribly slow even with an automatic? Thanks.

I agree with your spouse. On average, I drive about 35,000 miles annually all over the globe. I've been doing that for three decades, at least. And in all of that time, all of those vehicles, over all of those miles, I've never understood the linkage between "fun to drive" and manual transmissions. Too me, it's like saying a pay phone in an urban phone booth is more "fun to use" than my iPhone. Not!!!

Modern automatic transmissions, many of which also can be operated manually, also are fun to drive...and easier to to drive in congested traffic. Advantage--your spouse.

If you had to choose between the coupe versions of the BMW 328 and the Mercedes C class 250, which would it be? same answer if the six cylinder versions are the choice?

Oh to have your problems!

Let's go through the checklist;

They're both rear-wheel drive, they cost about the same on MSRP.

If I'm correct the 328 doesn't come as an automatic, only as a 6-speed? That's no problem for me, I like a manual, especially in a sporty car. The C250 comes with a 7-speed automatic so it's going to get better gas mileage from the premium fuel required.

The BMW gets better horsepower but the Mercedes gets better low-end torque.

Those are the specs, but for either of these cars it comes to driving the car. Mercedes have typically been heavier than BMW, so I like the lightness of the BMW better. But I love the interior feel of a Mercedes.


Explorer or Enclave for family of 4 that at times will use the third row? Have you driven the new Explorer Sport?

Enclave. Yes, I've driven both and the level of refinement on the Enclave is just wonderful.

Here's the Enclave group, including Michael Burton, the designer, talking about it

I really enjoyed the Enclave.

Warren, is it too early for some tips on things to look forward to at the 2013 Washington Auto Show? Thanks.

Not at all. The focus is on technology--safety and fuel technology, of course. But, increasingly, there is a major emphasis on telematics--mobile, electronic communications. Look for Cadillac CUE (Cadillac User Experience) in the new Cadillac ATS and several other Models.  Check out the Honda LaneWatch system in the new Honda Accord. And  telematics no longer is just for high-end stuff. look at the new Ford Focus, Chevrolet Soark, Hyundai Elantra. I could go on. But there's not enough space or time here.

Also, I'll be conducting tours at the Washington Auto Show. More on that, soon. People who rank considerably above my pay grade arranging these matters.

It's also worth considering that where you park has an impact on battery life--outside in the sun or outside in the snow will reduce battery life, and with all the stuff those batteries have to power, you may have to live with 24-36 months instead of 48.

You are so right! It's hard to conceptualize how efficient batteries are and how important they are in our lives.

At we do a lot of videography, which takes a lot of batteries. We have gone to rechargeabe batteries because of it and yet we can use their full life as well because we ask so much of them.

Lead acid batteries are (or used to be) the number one recycled product in the world. I love the person that invented the battery.

Saw your recent good review of the Sentra. How does it compare to the Mazda3? Does it have the same zip as the 3?

The Maxda3 is more of a driver's car--meaning, yes, it has more zip. The new Sentra is more of a commuter, a darned good one, surprisingly (to me) well crafted. But I would not trade it for the Mazda3 for "zip."

My sister-in-law w/ 2 children wants to purchase a used Ford w/ AWD and has asked my advice. Based on reviewing your chats, you seem to be a big fan of the Ford Edge. It seems to be a good vehicle for her needs. She previously had a VW wagon with AWD. My question: is AWD better than 4WD? She lives in the Pacific Northwest and wants to be able to drive in any weather she may face. Warren, any guidance would be appreciated. Thank you for all of your hard work.

The Edge is a good vehicle. I think the Flex is also 3rd row, isn't it?

The Flex is huge in California. California is so important to Ford (and all car companies) that when the Flex started doing well, and not so good in other parts of the country, Ford kept it.

Here's Mark Fields, newly appointed COO of Ford, talking about the Flex and how important California is to Ford.

What are your thoughts on this, especially in AWD? I live on the snowy Plains (well, not this year) and have been waiting for several years for BMW to come out with something that can handle a dog, a kayak, the snow, and offer handling and decent mileage to boot. If I were to buy this in Germany, could I get it in a stick or a diesel, or can I only import what they already sell in this country?

I'm thinking the BMW X3 or X5, not yet, according to my notes, available in the U.S.  with diesel. Keep in mind, as difficult as htis might seem to some of you, that sticks are no longer more fuel-efficient than automatics. Computers and electronics have change all of that.

But, on your larger question, you sound like a member of Congress discussing the federal budget.: "Give me everything I want AND a reduction in the federal deficit."

Can't be done on the Hill and can't be done in cars and trucks, either. Something that can handle a dog, kayak and  snow with good road performance and mileage usually will do one or two of those things better than others...and at a steeper price. I'd stick with the  gasoline X3 or X5 and be happy.

Will Audi Q3 come stateside and, if so, when?

It was announced at last years Detroit auto show that the Q3 would be coming to America, just not the timing.

2014 would be a good bet.

I recently had a bad accident and totaled my Volvo s40. I loved it and it's the second Volvo that has saved my life so I'd love to get another Volvo but not sure what to do since they don't make the s40 anymore. I love the small size and am hesitant to upgrade to the s60. Should I try a used s40? Go to s60? Try something else? Safety is extremely important to me.

First, I'm happy that you survived your crash in what seems to be pretty good shape. Calls for a celebration!! Which the new Volvo S60, one of the safest most complete little cars on the market. Explore all of the new safety advantages of the S60--talk to a Volvo technician. You'll be happily surprised.

Hyundai Sonata or Honda Accord. I've had a Honda in the past and loved it; the Sonata seems to do better in reviews and it costs a wee bit less. Can I go wrong with either model (2013)? And if no, can price be my only deciding factor?

The 2013 Honda Accord has a first for the auto industry.

John Mendel, Executive Vice President, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., talked about the newest safety feature at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI, “the 2013 Accord will get a new, Honda-exclusive blind spot display we will call “Honda Lane Watch.” With a camera mounted in the passenger side-view mirror, … the driver can use the display to identify vehicles in their blind spot through real-time video without the risk of false warnings found in some other systems. And Accord will be the only vehicle in its class to make this feature available.”

Lane watch is invaluable to people who have lost the ability to swivel their neck to the right to see if it is okay to move to the next lane. It is as simple to understand as blind spot and doesn’t appear to carry much more weight than blind spot. There are three lines on the nav system (or in the side mirror) that give a guestimate as to how far the car is away from you, and how far the car after that is away from the car in the lane you’re trying to get in.

I think insurance companies should give a discount to anyone that buys a Honda with this technology on it.

I took my GTI in for scheduled 2 year maintenance; the dealer servicing the car said I should have a fuel system flush for $300. Is this a scam like undercoating, or should I have done it?

Why did he say you needed it?

but not as much as I love my dogs. Glad United came through for you. Healing thoughts and best wishes sent to your pup. They're the best family members :)

ahhh. thank you.

He's 13 1/2 years old, he doesn't see well, his hearing is going, but he's the sweetest little boy in the whole world. I, literally, buy my cars around my animals. Many of us do. I tell people the difference between a home and a hotel are my animals.

Thank you for the kind words.

Mr. Brown, I've always been a shift-for-yourself guy, but I test drove a VW Golf TDI with the 6 speed DSG tranny recently (sweet little ride, cornered like it's on rails) and was amazed at how smoothly and quickly it shifted. It was completely different from any automatic I've ever been in. The car was always in the right gear for the situation, without me ever even knowing that it was working. Really has me thinking about freeing up the right hand. My question: do you have any thoughts or info on the long-term reliability of these systems? Thanks.

I have no doubts at all about the longterm reliability of VW's 6-speed DSG automatic tranny and many similar systems. It is the way the automotive world is going--using computer and other electronic technology to do better than what most human beings can do for themselves.

In the past, you shifted for yourself because that is what you had to do. Understandably, there was a certain pride in that. Pride morphed into romance, which means truth got trampled in the process. Today's truth is that today's automatics--manumatics, such as the DSG, actually--shift better, or certainly as well, as the most competent humans.

W & LA, love the chats, thanks for doing them, always learn so much. What are some good online sources of used car reliability information?;;; Consumer Reports (Google or Bing "Consumer Reports" for proper reporting platform);; Google or Bing the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,

Hello Warren & Lou Ann, can you direct me to some good sources of information about used car reliability, performance, etc? There are so many different options on the internet that I'm just not sure which is the most reliable. Thanks so much!

We have a couple questions about used car info.

Consumer Reports can give you information, but from what I understand it is supplied by their customers that have had the cars.

Autotrader has many articles on "reliable cars under $X". is a guide for residual value. They are owned by which has interesting information on their sight.

My husband is a mini fanatic and follows for anything mINI related.

Warren-- I have a 1998 CRV, which is starting to struggle up hills, etc. I'd like to downsize, but am a large fellow, and can't fit in my wife's VW, for instance. Any reason not to go for another CRV? Thanks. Your columns get better weekly.

Several. One of them is the new Hyundai Santa Fe. the other is the new Ford Escape, Titanium edition recommended. At Volkswagen, you might be happily surprised by the VW Tiguan.

Last year, it was time to get rid of the 1995 Subaru that my son drove during his college years. It was in poor shape: dented both front and rear, had no airbags, steering components were worn out, etc. etc. I donated it to a charity, and a few months later got a statement that they sold it for $700! This is a win-win for a car that was clearly not worth fixing. The charity got $700 and I go a $700 charitable deduction.

Good news. Let's just hope that the  driver/user at least got the seat belts repaired.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, My husband and I are determined to get a diesel as our new commuter car (sometime summer/late summer 2013). While I think we'd be happy with the Jetta, frankly, we've gotten used to the higher ride we have in our current 2010 CX-7, and 1999 Jeep Cherokee. Plus, we have a second kid on the way, and putting that portable carseat in would be much easier in a higher situated vehicle. All that to say, we're hoping that the VW Tiguan might be offered soon in a diesel - do you have any insight into timelines on that? If it won't be available by late next summer, would you suggest sticking with the diesel Jetta, or going with the gas-powered Nissan Rogue?

I love the VW Jetta diesel, but there are plenty more vehicles coming out in diesel. The problem is I'm not sure if the timeframe meets your needs. 

What about an Audi Q7 diesel, or Audi Q5? Mercedes M-class has a diesel SUV, and I think there is a GLK available now. I'm getting the Porsche Cayenne diesel to drive today, and I think there is a cajun diesel coming out. the VW Touareg is a diesel.

stay diesel, keep looking.

I've owned a VW AWD in the midwest and the south, and it's never been anything less than tightly-gripping. Assuming the driver isn't trying to plow through heavy snow, AWD is preferable because it helps in the rain too, if you have good tires.

All-wheel-drive makes more practical sense, for most of us, than dedicated four-wheel-drive. Here's why:

All-wheel-drive is more circumstancial. Through a variety of systems, it shifts more power from slipping to gripping wheels on an as-needed basis. In "normal" drive conditions, it sends most of its power to one set of wheels--front or rear depending in vehicle platform. It provides needed traction and helps to save energy (fuel) by not simultaneously powering all four wheels.

Dedicated four-wheel-drive is designed to power all four wheels at the same time, using more fuel...and not providing the best ride or handling on dry, improved roads. 4WD is best for off-road primarily.

It's time for my wife and me to say a fond farewell to our 2000 BMW 323I and replace it with another BMW "300" Looking on-line, the maintenance packages offered as a part of the purchase of a new BMW look great, but I still think that $-wise, we come out ahead buying a certified used BMW in the 2009 - 2011 range. Do you agree? Also, any other cars we should check?

Seriously, mind-check your wife. If you buy a "certified" used BMW versus the new one she really wants, you're wasting money. It would be like me remodeling Mary Anne's kitchen or bathroom. Not a good idea. Also, if you want a BMW, get a BMW. Psychologically, there is no real substitute...unless the both of you are willing to open your minds to the wonderful new Cadillac ATS.

Hello! My mom and I are both in the market for new cars (still driving a '97 Caravan and a '96 Sentra, respectively). We are thinking of shopping together in hopes to get the best deal. We are thinking of looking at Corolla/RAV4, Civic/CRV, and Sentra/Rogue - any thoughts? Thank you for the chats - read them every week!

Your Mom has a van and you have a sedan. Your mom has a Dodge and you have a Nissan. Now you want to go either Toyota, Honda or Nissan.

What does your Mom use her van for? She doesn't have children, though she probably has grandchildren. You probably borrow her car when you need to haul a big load, but perhaps you commute to work and like the extra fuel economy?

I ask all these questions because I really love a van and there are some great vans out there.

give me more information. we will narrow this down.

I need to buy a new car because my beloved 1996 Toyota Avalon is on its last legs. (I described its problems to Lou Ann and she begged me to buy a new car.) But this requires some research, and I have NO IDEA where to start with this. We'd like to stick with Toyota and would like an SUV. But where do I look for car reports? We'd likely buy used, so getting a reputable model and model year is important. Any guidance? Thanks much.

I would tell you to buy a new Avalon because I love it.

What size Toyota SUV do you want and for what function?

We'll be back next week. Ping us and we will help you.

I'm in need of a replacement for my 2003 audi allroad with a sedan or wagon capable of carpool duty, and am looking to stay under $35,000. And further under is better. It seems there are a number of 2009 or so vintage cars along the lines of an Infiniti M37 or Audi A6 that fit the bill, as well as new cars like the new Focus or a Passat. Which direction would you go?

I would get a new Focus, Passat, Prius V, or Ford C-Max. But if its flawless, affordable all-wheel-drive you want, I'd head toward the nearest Subaru dealership.

We'll be moving to Falls Church soon, and my walking commute into DC will become a drive. I'm lucky enough to have free parking at work, but the space is VERY small. I can squeeze my Subaru Outback into the space, but if I don't line things up just right, I have to get out on the passenger side. I'm waiting for the day I have to exit through the window, a la "Dukes of Hazard" style. My son (and another on the way) will commute with me for daycare. Since we're considering second car I'd love to hear your three top picks for good commuter cars that have low gas consumption, are as small as possible, while still being able to fit two car seats, and have high safety ratings. Price is currently up for discussion, but the cheaper the better (if you're wondering, we're open to used cars). I look forward to your response.

Here you go, my three top picks for small cars as of today:

1. Ford C-Max Hybrid. Main drawback may be price. But drives wonderfully fell, very maneuverable in the city, parks easily, and gets a combined 47 mpg using regular fuel.

2. Chevrolet Spark. Fits practically anywhere. Good craftsmanship and small-car safety. Good mileage. Affordable. And with Chevy's MyLink system, as telematically capable as many more expensive automobiles. And did I say "affordable'?

3. Thehe new Nissan Sentra. Affordable. Darned good looking inside and out. Comfortable. Great telematics. very maneuverable.

What do you think of the Mazda 5 or the CX-5? The MPG on the CX-5 is pretty appealing. What other vehicles should I consider if I like these two?

Hyundai Santa Fe; new Honda CR-V; Chevrolet Equinox; new Ford Escape; new Ford C-Max, my favorite "urban wagon," Nissan Rogue or Nissan Juke.

How long should the wipers last? As we enter the winter season, roadspray and salt are more common. My wipers usually do good when it is really raining/snowing but are much less effective in mist or roadspray conditions. I don't know if the issue is that I don't change them often enough or if they just aren't well suited for anything other than real rain.

"How long" is hard to answer. But check out Bosch for best chances at longevity.

Please supply me with reasons NOT to think seriously about purchasing one (used!) next year... Diesel fuel in my area is very reasonable, certainly far less expensive than premium, it can tow what I need it to tow, it is even more fuel efficient than the 2011 & 2012 models and it can move around the people and the dogs in the family without any difficulties that I can forsee. I don't like automatics but it appears to offer me a reasonable compromise. Far less expensive urea can be obtained from Pep Boys. Okay - go!

I can't help you with that one. Get the diesel.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. My apologies for missing lats week's session. I did not check my flight schedules until the last minute. Of course, I was leaving when I was supposed to be chatting. My humble apologies to all, especially to my wonderful colleagues, Dominique, Matt, Lou Ann, and Ria. I owe one to all of you. Thanks. Eat Lunch.

P.S. Hey, Dominique and Mat, can we start a little earlier next week to get in more questions?

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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