Real Wheels Live

Dec 23, 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.

Mr, Brown, I'm very interested in being one of the first owners of the new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan once it is introduced in the U.S. Do you have any information on when Fiat will bring this car to the U.S.? I have heard various accounts as to when, maybe 2013 or 2014. Thank you, Marty Alford.

Dear Marty: I think you'll have to wait about another year. Things aren't going so well for Fiat brand vehicles in the United States at the moment. The Fiat 500 minicar is a bit of a flop in terms of sales and customer enthusiasm. Fiat now is trying to fix that. Good luck, with declining gasoline prices in the United States. It's a good thing that Fiat bought Chrysler/Jeep. Jeep sales are soaring.

I'm looking for Affordable family SUV. Is 2012 CR-V is a good option or 2012 Mazda5. Thank you in advance for your opinion.

I'd go with the longterm proven quality of the CR-V.

Kudos for all of your sage advice. Perhaps you can help with this. I'm torn between the latest Passat TDI and Focus. I drove the equivelent of the Jetta TDI in Europe and absolutely loved it, but I have not been hearing very positive feedback on VW TDI's long-term costs due to repairs after 70k or so. Both the newer Passat and Focus have the size I want. I take good care of, and drive cars a long time to max the value, so would the Focus be a better choice for this? I love the efficiency and high tourque of the diesels, but am reluctant due to what I'm reading. Is it smart to base the current expectations on past history?

Good Morning! Both of these cars are in the running for North American Car of the Year, as is the Hyundai Elantra. I am also driving a VW Passat TDI as we speak. I just drove it from Auburn, CA to San Francisco, CA yesterday and it used about 1/3 of a tank.

VW is making great strides in reliability. The diesel is a wonderful machine. The Passat is built in your backyard, TN.

The Focus is great, but I would recommend the Passat.

I am thinking of purchasing either RAV-4 or CRV but I cannot decide on which to purchase. I have two children-6 and 8-not too concerned with appearance. Which would you recommend?

Again, the CR-V is an all-around better family package.

Do you consider Jaguar quality and reliability behind or on pare with BMW or MB. If behind, how much? Thank you

Jaguar quality has improved tremendously, but still has a way to go before it overcomes Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

How much should one expect to pay for leasing a compact car for a year? Over $3,000?

Yes, over $3,ooo. Do the math at about $150 to $200 X 36 months equals (with the most likely$200) $7,200. It makes not much fiscal sense to lease low-cost cars. In addition to the lease price, you are still paying insurance and other costs. Might as well buy and recoup, or try to recoup, on resale.

I am considering downgrading (or upgrading in my case) from a 2011 Elantra to a 2012 Accent SE hatch with manual transmission, primarily for a better driving experience, and a much better looking car (plus the Elantra only averages about 30mpg overall). Have you or Lou Ann driven this new Accent, and if so, what were your thoughts? Thanks!

Not me. Not yet. You, Lou Ann?

I have driven both cars. I like the Accent styling, sort of Sonata-like. The Accent has the 1.6-liter engine, the Elantra the 2.0-liter (I'm thinking hatchbacks, which have become my favorite all-around car) The Accent has the 6-speed, the Elantra a 5-speed.

Accent gets better gas mileage, both take regular unleaded.

Both drive fine. The difference is in room. If you are going to use this car as a commuter car with only one person save some money, on the price and fuel, and get the Accent. If you need more room, and a little more torque, get the Elantra.

Both are good cars with a 5 year/60,000 waranty on the basics and a 10 year/100,000 on the drivetrain.

Warren, Have you investigated the cost of replacing the Urea in a modern diesel powered vehicle? I believe it has to be done every 5000 miles or the vehicle goes into limp home mode and then wont operate at all. Replacing the Urea ie processed urine can run anywhere from around a $100 to around $500 at your local urban purveyor of fine German luxury machines with Audi being the most expensive, I haven't seen Urea at NAPA or Advantage Auto parts yet. It can ruin a trip if you are not aware of your mileage and when the fluid needs replacing especially if you aren't within 800 miles of an Audi dealer. For the New year I suggest you list costs of an oil change or oil service and then cost of a service 1 and 2. You should also include costs to replace pads and rotors front and rear an Urea replenishment for diesels. Put those interns to work. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Clifton, VA

It's a great idea to do a story on replacing the Urea in the car.

For anyone that doesn't know about Urea I will give you a couple videos to watch on my site.

The nitrogen oxides are converted in the DeNOX catalyst using an organic matter that is a synthetically produced aqueous solution that contains 32.5% urea, known as AdBlue. The AdBlue tank is a four and a half gallon auxiliary tank located under the spare tire. The urea-based solution is continuously sprayed upstream into the exhaust gas stream. It is metered according to the mass flow rate of the

exhaust gas. The exhaust gas changes depending on the driver. This means the urea will be used differently depending on how you drive. VW says the urea should last 6,000-10,000 miles. The AdBlue additive is nontoxic, odorless and biodegradable.

Is this one of my favorite engineers, now at Porsche, talking about diesel:Wolfgang Hatz, executive director of engine and powertrain development of Audi discusses technology, direct injection and urea and clean diesel

The EPA has mandated that in 2006 the United States oil will have 15ppm of sulfur in their diesel fuel. Once the diesel fuel is cleaned up European Manufacturers will start bringing in their clean diesel engines. California and six other states have more stringent requirements than Europe, at 50mg/km of NOX. Diesels still won’t be able to be sold in those seven states without an additive that reduces the NOX emissions. EPA is neutral on specific diesel and urea additives, as long as the Manufacturer meets the requirement of the urea being added for the first 120,000 miles.

You are right, that Urea does need to be changed, but it is not that different than changing your oil, or replenish the power steering fluid, etc. Car companies have to meet these requirements in order to bring these cars to you.

Some car manufacturers allow you to change it yourself, others say you have to change it with them.

Hard to price in terms of replacement. Depends on vehicle in which it is used. But: Most manufacturers I've spoken to  say that urea-based exhaust systems will be checked regularly with the catalyzing agent, urea, being replaced when needed.

Hi Warren & Lou Ann, buying an excellent 1988 RX7 for a fun-in-good-weather car. Apparently it has a rotary engine. ?? I'm not familiar with what that means to me as the driver. Do I need to do anything differently? Thanks and LOVE the column!

It does have a rotary engine, much improved over original rotaries, which means better fuel economy and reliability. Rotary engine--basically, the crankshaft remains stationary with entire cylinder block rotating around it, e.g. Otto cycle for more information.

What's stopping Honda and Toyota from raising the Prelude and Supra from the dead? At least Nissan has Godzilla (aka GTR) and the Z.

You're right.  So many other car companies have brought back names of old cars, why not the Supra and the Prelude?

I think it has been long enough that people still remember the names. We'll have to see if this sparks some car executives to think about it.

Be careful--for life, limb, and pocketbook.

Life and limb are easy to understand. Pocketbook has a new twist in our down economy. A lot of jurisdictions in our nation are broke. Politicians are loathe to raise taxes. But they have become increasingly enthusiastic about stripping your pockets legally--parking fines, speeding fines, higher court costs and penalties. Save yourself the hassle. Drive safely. Park wisely.

Japan, fighting back from lower sales and market share caused by natural disaster, corporate screw-ups and recession, will be super-aggressive with new products and sales incentives in 2012. Supplies are being restocked. Aerican and Korean rivals have gootten cocky with better products and sales. 2012 will be a heck of a buyer's market.--Warren's prediction. Note it, now. You might get to laugh at me all year.


Think of an old airplane where the cylinders rotate around the crankshaft.

I'd heard the new Dodge Dart that will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show is based on the Alfa, perhaps the person asking the question could check one of those out?

Good point.

You are correct that the Dodge Dart will be making a comeback on an Alfa architecture.

The rest of the information about the car, including pictures, can be seen on the website after the Detroit auto show. That is when Dodge makes the official announcement.

The questioner who wants the RX-7 should be sure to have the car thoroughly checked by someone who knows the RX-7. The tip seals in the engine are the wear point and it is expensive to rebuild. In fact, originally they didn't because of the expertise required to do the rebuild. Dealers and repair shops just replaced the engine. Other weak point was the power windows. The plastic actuator tape they used easily broke. Not an expensive repair and a DIYer can do it. The car does require a lot of RPM to go because of low torque at lower RPMs. Just requires a change in driving habits that some people didn't like. I had an '87 RX-7 and it was a great car but go into it with your eyes open. And get it thoroughly checked. If it's good, I predict you'll love it.

The best point you make here is that a lot of the work can be done by someone who likes to work on their own car.

I have some video of the Mazda engine on my site.

Mazda has been making rotary engines since the 60s. Mazda is the only company in the world mass-producing rotary-engined production cars. It performs the four processes of intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust in succession by turning a triangular-shaped rotor in a cocoon-shaped combustion chamber to generate the engine power. Compared to traditional internal combustion engines, it is significantly smaller and exceptionally smooth and high revving.

Good morning and happy holidays! I'm not a car person, but I'm hoping you can answer this questions for me. Three times this winter I have been on the road in the evening/night with cars that have their headlights on but no taillights, on either side. It's hard to believe so many cars have both taillights burned out. Is this some feature on newer cars? It's confusing to me. And incredibly dangerous. Thank you!!

I think it's the recession, really. Many people holding onto their cars longer without doing routine maintenance. It's not cheap replacing those lights, front or rear. Main headlamps went bad on my 2001 Mini Cooper. Replacement: $40, including labor. And that was considered "cheap" by my tech.

Why do they not require premium? What about the Ford Ecotech? Isn't that a turbo motor? Does it require premium?

Most turbo motors carry the note: "premium for best performance," which gives both the manufacturer and buyer a convenient "out." Car manufacturers, like many politicians, don't like talking about anything that will cost consumers extra. Consumers don't like paying for anything extra. Computer technology, which does  a pretty good job of adjusting engine performance to fuel grades used, gives both manufacturers and consumers some cover. With a turbo, high-compression engine, I personally always buy premium.

Warren, Cool that you were in Auburn, that's the town of my birth (although I've been an East-coaster for 36 years now). Did you get a chance to take that Passat down and back up the American River canyon on Rt. 49? Best wishes for the holidays, Steve

Hey Steve,

Lou Ann here. I live in Auburn, CA! Warren takes care of the East coast, I take care of the West Coast. :)

I drive 49 almost everyday, and if you look out the front window of my house you see Folsom Lake and Sacramento Valley. To the left is the American River.

It's all waiting for you to come visit.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Warren, your description of the rotary engine in the RX-7 is not correct. You can't have a spinning engine block! There is a (from the front view) basically triangular-shaped rotor that spins in a block shaped somewhat like an oval with a pinched middle. Look up "Wankel engine" and you will see a diagram. The reason that rotary engines haven't really caught on is that they tend to have worse fuel economy. Also the seals at the ends of the rotors wear out and have to be replaced (usually sooner than piston rings in a conventional engine). But Mazda has sold a lot of rotary engine cars over the years, and in direct respone to the question, they don't require the user to drive any differently.

We're arguing over semantics. The point is that rotary engines historically have been designed with cylinders revolving, spinning, moving, whatever, around a single crankshaft. Do we at least have agreement on that. Downside, you're right, was lousy fuel economy--improved with Mazda's latest interpretation of the Wankel. Rotary engines were desirable in aircraft and race cars because they were powerful and light.

I would bet that the "headlights" are daytime running lights, which are on all the time without the tail lights and side markers.

I would bet you are correct.

Do we have some Canadians out there? Isn't it a law that cars in Canada have to have daytime running lights on?

Help me here.

Thanks for all the info! the car has a new engine in it so.... fingers crossed!

Fingers crossed. Enjoy!

Mr. Brown - I need the space of a small SUV, but, unfortunately, I have the heart of a racer. Is there anything affordable out there that will satisfy my schizophrenia? Thanks

Just answer the question: Can your heart move or carry all of the stuff a SUV can?

Neither can a sports car.

Content yourself with a small, gutsy SUV--I'm thinking the Nissan Xterra starting at $24,500.

Avoid it. It only leads to unhappiness of one sort or another--wrong gift, return retail line, hurt feelings, possible costly traffic accidents. If you don't have the gift you want to give, make a happy present of yourself. Help out with cleaning the house, et cetera. It' all about loving, anyway. Chill out. Relax. Enjoy.

My husband owned an Alfa Guilia in 1970 when we were married. Details escape me but it must have been several years old for him to have been able to afford it. Darling little car but cost the bloody earth to keep running! "We" (me, not so much) used to laugh and say that Italian sports cars only run on alternate Thursdays - if it's not raining!

"New" to the modern U.S. market, as is the Fiat 500. Perception of Fiat lack of reliablity seem to be dogging Fiat's reentry to the U.S. Fiat has to fix that.

We are seriously affected by Holiday Cheer. We would like to get out of here. Best wishes to all of you. Please join us again next year.

Thanks you Lou Ann, Dominique, Ria. EAT 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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