Real Wheels Live

Dec 21, 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.

Good morning, everyone. Lou Ann and I are aware that many dangling questions remain. My apologies. My fault--the hazards of trying to be two places at once. However, we'll tryo to answer a many questions as possible today and in the coming weeks.

Warren & Lou Ann, I read your chats weekly and appreciate your views on everything car-related. I've been forming this question for a while and hope it's worth asking. Your readers talk about many different cars, but when the questions refer to more expensive cars, I find I don't understand why people would want to spend so much money on a car. I own a Honda Odyssey now, and it's fine for getting me to work, getting the family places, and getting stuff home, as my other standard cars I've owned over the years from various standard car manufacturers have been. What is different about my vehicle that a more expensive car (say, an Audi,  BMW, or Mercedes, but not limited to these specific models) offers in terms of a driving experience?

You raise a question that is troubling the luxury car market, about 12-18 percent of new-car sales in the United States. I just finished driving a Chevrolet Malibu LTZ. It does not do performance car 0-60 times. But I'll be darned if it does not offer practically everything else you can find in more expensive automobiles. My theory is that more and more people eventually will realize that they don't have to spend $50,000 to get a very good car nowadays. The Luxury segment is going to have to start offering more than prestige.

Most of them are common sense, aren't they? The one I liked the most was ask your dealer. Many times we think it's going to be a lot more expensive to have our vehicle fixed at a dealership, but when I got the estimates to fix my car at Roseville of Lexus it wasn't anymore expenisve. The one I question the most is always use OEM brakes. I don't know why they say that. Maybe someone else will know. I've sent the link to Warren for his reaction as well.

Why does BMW feel the need to come out with a 4 series?

Because the market is diversifying quickly. That means concepts of "luxury" and "prestige" also are changing. If BMW wants to build market share, it is going to have to find a way to capture those people who think: "Why spend money on a BMW when I can get all I want in a Kia Optima or Hyundai Genesis?"

Don't laugh. Muffle your scoff. The Koreans have caught on to something here. Offer luxury, high-performance cars at affordable prices. BMW and other prestige marques have to answer that. Enter things such as the 4 Series.

While this is a bit outside your normal commentary, I wondered if you had any thoughts about the reasons for the now 50-cent spread between regular and premium grade fuel (in Montgomery County at least). As the driver of an aging but much loved 1996 Audi A4, this has become really irksome, even as gasoline prices drop (yes, I am thankful for that but they have not dropped enough for premium). Is this simply charging what the market will bear, is it reflective of dropping demand for premium, higher refining costs relative to regular gasoline, a growing array of other fueling options such as hybrid, or what? I am very unlikely to buy a replacement car requiring premium, nor are several of my colleagues who are equally irritated by this. That can't be good for the makers of turbo-charged and high compression engine vehicles whose cars require - not recommend- premium grade. Your thoughts?

It boggles my mind as well--widely varying gasoline prices at service stations within a feww miles or blocks of one another. I have heard and read many explanations: It depends on the station's supplier. Different stattions have different costs. There are different delivery contracts, et cetera. None of it makes any sense to me. But, hey, Lou Ann used to be in the oil business (really). Maybe, she can shed some light on this.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann! I have a 2006 Volvo with about 28,000 miles on it. My car has recommended service at 7,500, 15,000, 30,000, 37,500.. etc miles. However, the problem is, because I have so few miles on my car, I annually get the 15,000 mile service, regardless of whether I've driven that many miles that year. I need honest advice that's not from a mechanic just trying to get my money. If I am not doing the mileage, do I need to do more than just the basic service every year? Thanks! Wishing you and yours a healthy, blessed holiday season!

Thanks for the lovely wishes.

I've got the same problem. I have a 1993 Lexus LS400 that has 82,000 miles. Of course she is my baby, completely garaged, not a scratch, original leather. But how often do I change the oil? Out of convention we have been changing the oil every year or two, but we probably don't need to.

When we do reach a milestone, such as 60,000 miles, we give her the royal treatment.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, Why do some auto dealers insist on making a photocopy of your driver's license before they will allow you to test a car? I'm perfectly willing to show them my license and insurance cards but in this age of identity theft I want to know what they are doing with that info. Credit reports or ??? Am I being overly concerned here?

Your concern is legitimate. So is a dealer request for government identity. You don't want your information misused. Dealer's have fiduciary, insurance and other responsibilities to make sure there vehicles aren't being misused.

It all depends on trust. If a dealer obtains your license/insurance information and appears to be sloppy in handling or protecting that information (leaving it on a desk, exposing it to too many eyes), take your business elsewhere.

Mr. Brown. Thanks for your Q&A. Have you seen or heard anything about the Hyundai CURB? It was showcased almost two years ago at Detroit as a concept Urban small SUV. Thanks.

Is that what we now call the Kia Soul. (Hyundai and Kia essentially are the same company.)

Hi Warren..glad you're back! Looking to trade my 2004 Mazda 3, looking at the Kia Optima Sedan, or a new Mazda3. What say you??

Good to be off the road for a few weeks. Do you want comfort, lots of amenities, and okay performance? If so, get the Kia Optima sedan. Do you want zoom? Get the Mazda3.

Hi! Have you ever seen excess undercoating on the bottom of a car? Yesterday my husband pulled off a small loose piece of something rubbery from the bottom of our 2013 Honda Accord (near where one would position a jack to change a tire on the driver's side in the front). Our best guess is that it's a bit of excess undercoating but we aren't sure. Thanks!

Did you have dealer-applied undercoating, "environmental protection"? If so, it is possible that it was done excessively.  I've long been an opponent of dealer undercoating because it really is not necessary for today's cars and trucks. I've spent too many hours in too many car plants globally to believe otherwise.

I know used car questions aren't as much fun as new car questions, so, sorry! :-) Given the following scenario, which car would you choose (same model, same options-- Audi TT, if it matters): 2006 model, 48K miles, $19K asking price 2008 model, 56K miles, CERTIFIED, $29K asking price (same dealer) 2008 was the first year after a major redesign. The plan would be to drive the car for many years, hopefully 10 or more.

Previously, I would probably buy a used car before I would buy a new car. If there were one car I would buy it would be the Audi TT RS. Man, that car is fun to drive.

The difference is between the years and the word "certified" and no certification.

A car that is certified pre-owned by a manufacturer will have a better warranty, and because the manufacturer will be certifying it  one assumes that the car will be looked over more thoroughly. I said assume :)

Volkswagen/Audi have a great certified pre-owned warranyt, so if you want to drive the car for another 10 years I would consider the certified one.

BTW - I was talking to a friend at VW recently and he said that they will start offering certified on cars that are not VW, but are trade-ins on dealers lot.

I specifcally excluded Audi since they use VW platforms and engines BMW and Mercedes do not use platforms and engines from their down scale brands. Sorry neither Hyundia and Kia have the handling and braking of a BMW or the engine durability of a Mercedes. And that's just the everyday BMWs and Mercedes. Hyundia and Kia have nothing to compete with a BMW M3 and AMG C63 Black edition. Come talk to Warren when Hyundia has won Le Mans or a F1 race or better yet a round of German Touring Cup series. Some us appreciate what a BMW or Mercedes offers over a Hyunia, Kia, or Audi. You have to drive one hard to appreciate the difference. Clifton, VA

Oh, give me a break! "Down scale" brands. You are a marketer's delight. Do you really believe that any car company anywhere can survive without "down scale" brands. And Audi? Have you ever been to Le Mans. I've attended three of those races, one of which the Audi entry was kicking everyone's tails. The truth of the matter is that there's no manufacturer out there, no even Suzuki, making cars that won't last as long or run as far as everything else.

Warren and Lou Ann, The battery in my 2009 3 series is starting to go so I thought I would just get a battery from Interstate and do it myself. Oooops I cant. Battery has to be programmed in on my car. Sears cant do it either. Same thing on my dad's 2010 A8 and my sis's 2013 Mercedes GL. It cost me over $400 for a new battery and 2 hrs of book labor at my local BMW dealer. I could have purchased a similar Interstate battery for approx $150. No this is not saving the memory but having to program a new battery in. If you dont you can shorten the life of the battery and cause damage to the lectrical system. Priced a 3 series alternator lately. Sorry I dont need this much technology for no perceived advantage to me.

I feel your pain. But these are uptown cars that have the newest technology on them. Technology pulls energy from the electrical system. You don't want to mess up the electrical system and not be able to use your brand new Richie Rich technology.

It would be interesting to see if cars without the technology, or less expensive cars demanded the same.

I know my old 1993 Lexus Ls400 doesn't command that attention, but then I don't have the technology.


What do you think of GM's new half ton pickup trucks for 2014? There was no diesel option!

GM can be publicly coy about diesel if it chooses. But its executives kno that, sooner or later, it will have to offer a real diesel option, especially in its trucks. Diesel is coming to GM. You can count on it. I look forward to driving the company's newest trucks.

I wrote in last week about the hands free draining my car battery. I'm hoping for your thought since the service guy didn't give me a straight answer. How can this happen? I thought that once the car is turned off the handsfree is also turned off so how can this drain a battery and how can this be prevented? I was so mad at the car that I almost traded it in for another Acura (love the brand) but am scared this will happen again. Acura doesn't consider the parasite draw to be a safety feature even though it's hands free.

I'll put this one out there for Clifton, who can give you a more accurate and intelligent answer. Clifton, help!

There are a number of choices now by different manufacturers of hybrid cars. It is no longer just the Prius. Is there one that you think is overall better than the others?

The Chevy Volt is considered a hybrid, though I still call it a range extender.

The Volt allows you to use electricity for  the first 35 miles. Shad's Mom has 11,000 miles on her Volt. She has used 7 gallons of gasoline.

She gets her electricity from solar panels.

I can imagine a world where people energize their car with solar panels on their homes, and use gasoline only when they are on a long road trip.

The United States spends around 1/4 trillion dollars a year on imported oil and then refines it and sends it to a gasoline station near you.

That way of thinking is antiquated. We need to find answers for our domestic energy for the 21st century.

No, we just have the factory-applied undercoating. I am wondering if a robot sprayed a little too much and that just wasn't caught in whatever final quality- control steps Honda has at the factory.

It is possible that a robot sprayed too much. But those kinds of errors usually are caught on the factoty touch-up line before the car leaves the plant. I humbly advise you have a company tech look at the problem. Also, obtain a sample and take or send it to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for examination. Google or Bing IIHS for contact information.

I'm no cheapskate I have been looking at cars (time to replace a 2001 Saab), and searching - without much success - for a nice car with a manual transmission and at least a bit of luxury. I can get a manual, but only at the bare bones level. Manual AND a sunroof? Forget it. I have concluded that car makers believe that the only reason anyone buys a manual is that they are too cheap to spring for an automatic - not because it's more fun, or more economical, or a greater theft deterrent. I'm willing to spend as much as $30K, but I have to say, there isn't much out there to spend it on.

Manuals now account for about 12 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States, assuming I'm remebering my market share numbers correctly. I doubt that segment is growing, anymore than the segment for dial phones is growing.

That's not meant as an insult. It's a bow to technology, which is changing the car and how we relate to it. Today's automatics, via electronics, are as fueel efficient and reliable as traditional manuals. Increasingly, traditional manuals are being supplanted by automatics that also can be operated manually.

Widen your search for affordable manuals. Reconsider Volkswagen. Hunt for a Suzuki Kizashi, a remarkable little car. Check out the manual Buick Verano. Don't remain a priosner to yesterday's myths about automobiles.

How concerned should a potential/current buyer be of Camry failing the most recent insurance crash test? I believe the PRIUS V did poorly also.

Toyota will fix this. It is a new part of a test. I heard that about 1/3 of fatalities happen when the front quarter panel rams into a solid barrier, like a telephone poll or tree.

Continental, one of the top global auto suppliers, was given approval to start testing semi-autonomous vehicles on Nevada's highways and streets. Why does this apply to you? Because these will  be the  sensors used to keep you from having an accident.

Seventy percent of all serious accidents could potentially be avoided if all cars included the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) systems, according to Continental. Why does this matter to you?

Your insurance rates could go down. There would be less fatalities.

I wouldn't be going to a funeral today for a 21-year old. :(

Warren and Lou Ann, yesterday when I purchased the "required" premium gas at a no-name station, the differential between regular and premium had risen to .50 a gallon.  Isn't it about time for y'all to do an investigative report and publicize this rip-off by an industry that still gets oil-depletion allowances and other tax breaks thanks to its paid legislators in Congress?????

Yep. I agrre with you that we need to stop subsidizing oil companies. They don't need my little money, although they're more than happy to take it. But gasoline pricing remains a mystery to me, as it apparntly does to everyone on Capitol Hill and in the White House. I challenge anyone out there to tell us exactly how gasoline pricing works.

Hi, Lou Ann and Warren, and Merry Christmas from Canada! I'm surprised your reader's battery is going on his 2009 BMW. FWIW, I managed 8.5 years and 192,000 KM (almost 120,000 mi.) on my original battery living in Ottawa with our brutally cold winters. A nearby BMW garage replaced the battery in late 2010 for $228 + $25 labor. He should look at non-dealer options.

But that was in Canadian money :) (For anyone who doesn't know, my Mother was Canadian, Newfie actually, and we grew up with everyone always saying that phrase)

If I remember the chatter said he did try to go to a non-dealer but he had to go to a dealer.

Happy tibbs day.

My wife wants to replace her 2003 Odyssey with a new one. I'm OK with that but wonder what non-minivan options could be a viable replacement with similar room for a family of five?

If your wife wants an Odyssey, get her an Odyssey. But the rivals are good and many including the Mazda CX9, Chrysler Town and Country, Kia Sorento, Ford Flex, among others.

Season's Greetings to all of you. Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and Bah-Humbug to those of you who prefer that. Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next year. Thank you Dominique Vu, Lou Anne Hammond, Victoria Manglapus, and Matt of the elusive surname for all you all do to keep this enterprise going. Have a good and peaceful Holiday.

For those of you who will visit a house of prayer this Season, please put in a few words for our friends in Newtown, Connecticut.

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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