Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, January 8, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, January 8, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry. He also gave purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.


Arlington, Va.: Hello! I'm a new reader but have been enjoying your advice. We're expecting our third child soon and looking to get a minivan, since I want the seating for 7/8 and I like the sliding doors. We're looking to spend about $15K, and there seems to be a good market in our area in that price range. I'm finding we could get a Caravan with 15K miles, a Town and Country with 25K miles or a Sienna/Odyssey with 45K miles for that price. What do you think is the better value? We plan to drive the car for 100K miles, so resale value is not a concern, although long-term maintenance costs and fuel economy are. Thanks!

Warren Brown: Happy New Year, Arlington. And congratulations on your expected third arrival. Take it from the father of three. In your senior years, nothing gives you greater pleasure than children well reared.

As for the minivan: All of those are great values. And now is the time to buy used. For a variety of reasons, many of them having more to do with image than common sense, consumers have been dumping their minivans on used car lots. Carfax outlets are awash with them and have all of the brands you are considering, including the often sought after Honda Odyssey. I'd first visit Carfax and do the math. In this segment, look for the vehicle that best accepts child safety seats. Good luck.


Bowie, Md.: My stepdaughter recently bought a used car, but upon doing some minor repair work we couldn't get the wheels off as they were rusted and we think this may have been a "Katrina" car. Do we have any recourse as she was never told about this?

Warren Brown: I'll bet it was a Katrina car. Go back to the dealer. Explain the problem. Express your concerns. Here's hoping that common sense (your daughter will buy other cars in her lifetime) will lead the dealer to a just and amicable settlement. If it doesn't, contact Carfax (I might've confused Carfax with Carmax in my previous response. Carfax checks titles and historical vehicle damage using Vehicle Identification Numbers and other serial information. Carmax sells cars.) If Carfax smells flood water in your vehicle title, contact a lawyer. Sue.


Ottawa, Canada: This morning my newspaper has three pages of large General Motors ads extolling the fact that a large number of their automobiles and SUVs won Consumers Digest "Best-Buy Awards". Do GM executives consider all consumers so stupid as not to know that Consumers Digest is a faux magazine designed to appear similar to Consumer Reports, and makes its profits from publishing favorable reviews for auto companies? When will auto companies like GM credit the public with a little sense? Will it be after their next bankruptcy?

Warren Brown: Good morning, Ottawa:

First, Consumers Digest is a legitimate, quite reliable consumers magazine. I read it regularly.

Second, nearly all car manufacturers who get favorable recommendations from Consumers Digest cite those recommendations, just as they do when they get similar recommendations from Consumer Reports, which is not the only game in town when it comes to consumer advice.

Third, most of the consumers I come across know that Consumers Digest is Consumers Digest and that Consumers Reports is Consumers Reports. Many of them often cross-reference the two.


Annapolis: Warren, my '94 Saab is sending signals that I might want to start thinking about a replacement. I love the Saab because it's fun to drive,has a lot of cargo space, and also has a closed hatchback. I'm not crazy about the idea of an open trunk. But all the newer hatchbacks I see on the road are a lot smaller. What should I be looking at? (This wouldn't be our primary car, and there are only the two of us, but I want something comfortable that will last a long time. We run our cars until they drop.)

Warren Brown: Hello, Annapolis:

I'd go to a struggling Saab dealer and get a 2009 9-5 SportCombi at a sweet price. Because GM is divesting Saab and no one seems willing to buy the company, Saab dealers are in a must-sell situation. And not to worry, after Saab closes its doors, assuming that will happen, there will be plenty of people around to repair Saab cars and supply Saab parts, including people at GM. Carpe diem!


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi, Warren. What are your views on the Toyota Highlander, since it's been redesigned in the last couple of years? What are some comparable mid-sized SUV crossovers that we should also take a look at? Thanks!

Warren Brown: Assuming that you are considering the popularly equipped Highlander SE, I'd advise you to shop around. The reason is that Toyota no longer dominates top quality ratings. Other companies, including Mitsubishi (check out the 2010 Outlander) have stepped up their a lower price. Also check out the 2011 (right year) Kia Sorento, Honda Pilot, GMC Terrain, Ford Edge.


Chantilly, Va: Warren, Sunday's review of the Hyundai left me a bit confused. The article mentions 4WD, while the Nuts and Bolts says AWD. Which one is it already, and who proofs these articles?

Warren Brown: My mistake. My apologies. It should've consistently referred to "all-wheel-drive." Who proofs these articles? Human beings such as you and me. We're all fallible. There's a whole book written about that fallibility and the extraordinary measure that was taken to save us from its eternal ravages. Christians call it the Bible.


Clifton, Va.: Bowie and Warren: Maybe it's a Katrina car, but the chances are it probably isn't especially if the car has alloy wheels. If you don't remove the wheels in this area every year -- or more like six months -- normal corrosion, dirt and grime cause the hub and the wheel to form a bond. Alloy and the cast iron in the hub form corrosion because of the dissimilar metals, and dirt and road salt make it worse. You can sit on the ground and use your legs to work the wheel and tire back and forth or hit it with a rubber mallet on the wheel to help it break lose. Anti seize on the wheel and the hub prevent this. Common occurrence on BMW, Audi, VWs, Mercedes etc. Ninety-nine percent chance car is not a Katrina car. Happy New Year, Warren, and remember the shinier the road surface is wet, dry or frozen, the slicker it is.

Warren Brown: And Happy New Year to you, Clifton. And as always, many thanks for your routinely informative and valuable views. Hey, in the spring, why don't we get together for a beer. My back yard. And I have White House-type yard tables.


Yarmouth, Mass.: Among the cars in the same class with the Honda Civic, which would you recommend to a couple looking for a good handling, all wheel drive Sedan in the $30,000 price range?

Warren Brown: Audi Quattro/A4. Hard to beat.


Washington, D.C.: My garage crew tells me my tires have dry rot. Is this a real thing? What causes it? They are Pirellis on a Saab 9-3. It's a 5-year-old car with 28 K miles.

Warren Brown: Yes, Washington, that's a very real thing. Tires are physical items. They interact (negatively) with weather and time like all physical things, especially if they are seldom used/maintained. Visually examine them. Are the surfaces cracked? Are they a kind of powdery gray? Are they less than flexible? Chances are they're dry rot.


Annapolis: Happy New Year, Warren. I want a diesel because I'm not interested in hybrids with batteries. I don't NEED to sell my car because it works well, even with 108k miles on it. But if I do buy, I want good mileage, some room and some trunk space (current car is a 2004 solara, six cylinder). The BMW 335d diesel has those awful run-flats and is awfully pricey. What do you think of the Jetta SportWagen diesel?

Warren Brown: As soon as I read the top of your question, Annapolis, I was going to recommend the VW Jetta TDI, which Ria and I have just fininished driving and would like to have back for, ahm....How about two more weeks, VW? Please? Pretty please?


Arlington, Va.: Warren, I have been hearing a lot of good things from you about VW and their Jetta. But what about the Passat? How does it stack up against its rivals? I really like the clean, open feel inside of the Passat more than any of its competitors, but I never hear of the Passat when people talk Sedans. It's almost an afterthought. Have you driven one, and what are your thoughts on purchasing one? Thanks.

Warren Brown: It is almost an afterought, Arlington. And that's VW's fault, because it has come out with the superb, not terribly more expensive Volkswagen CC sedan. Here's betting that if you drive the CC before you drive the Passat, you'll take the CC. But if you really want the Passat Komfort Sedan (2-liter, inline 4-cylinder, 200 hp, premium gass recommended), here's suggesting that you DON'T drive the CC after making that choice. The Passat Komfort is a nice car. But driving it AFTER driving the CC will give you a very bad case of buyer's remorse.


Manhattan, Kan.: Hi, Warren. I always appreciate your unvarnished views on the auto industry and normally am in agreement with you. However, it seems that we will agree to disagree on Saab. It appears there are businesses interested in purchasing Saab but GM doesn't seem to want to do this. Some in the industry have said they're pulling something similar to what they did with Opel (having it on the block for sale and then pulling it back into their fold) but in this case want to keep the new 9-5 in their stable as potentially a Buick. I hope they let someone else nurture Saab as they never did but fear the worse. What do your insiders believe?

Warren Brown: Yes, GM would like to keep the 9-5. Why not? It's a darned good car and would do nicely as a Buick, which is doing quite nicely worldwide, especially in China. Makes perfectly good sense to me. Just as it made perfectly good sense for GM to keep Opel,which is making lots of fine cars, especially small ones. I breathed a sigh of relief when GM chose to hold on to Opel. Getting rid of it would have been a very, very big mistake in my book. Is GM playing a game with Saab to strip it of its most valuable parts at the lowest possible price? Perhaps. Business is heartless. GM is in business. Fiat is doing the same thing with Chrysler. Fiat wants Chrysler's trucks far more than it has any real interest in selling Chrysler-badge Fiat econocars in America. It's business.


Warren Brown: Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Your suggestions for improvements are always welcome.

Thank you, Delece Barrow, for another fine production.

Welcome back, Ria. Eat lunch.


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