Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, January 22, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, January 22, 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.


20165: I purchased as 2010 Toyota Rav 4 in early December, which at the time was not part of the accelerator recall, and now it is. Obviously once the fix is ready, I will take my car in. Until then, how worried should I be? Can I help prevent the issue by not running the heat?

Warren Brown: Best advice is to drive within the speed limit and watch your spacing behind vehicles. The situation requires maximum driver attention at all times. Be prepared to shift to neutral and disengage gears should sudden acceleration occur. DO NOT TURN OFF THE IGNITION. DOING THAT WILL CAUSE YOU TO LOSE ALL CONTROL OVER THE VEHICLE. Shift to neutral. Steadily apply braking pressure while retaining steering control. You have antilock brakes in most Toyota vehicles. They "pump" themselves.


Silver Spring, Md.: Read your review of the new Accord cross-over vehicle. Why can't anyone just make a standard station wagon? The Accord Tourer available in Europe is a nice-looking station wagon that in diesel form averages around 40 mpg. But like the Toyota Venza, the Honda gives a less-than-desired boost in cargo space with a large penalty on fuel efficiency.

Warren Brown: I've asked that question repeatedly. The answer I get from industry people, especially the marketing folks, is that station wagons are passe, old school. Young, hip family people supposedly don't want them, or minivans, or big 'ole SUVs. But a family is a family is a family. More than one person to transport. Often lots of stuff to carry. They need station wagons or minivans and, sometimes, big 'ole SUVs. In the case of crossover utility vehicles, the car industry is reinventing the steering wheel. Crossovers are station wagons, albeit often not as effective in terms of utility, by another name.


Oakton, Va.: Is there a proposed date for Mazda to update the Mazda5? I like this vehicle, but really don't like the appearance of the rear lights, so I was wondering when Mazda was planning a remodel as they recently did with the Mazda3.Thanks.

Warren Brown: Revised model coming for 2011, I think.


DC: Warren, please talk to me about the Kia Forte Koup. I love the look but I haven't yet checked it out in person. I mostly bounce around locally once or twice a week, but when I'm on the highway, I like to really DRIVE. For around $18k is there anything else reasonably comparable in a sporty(ish) two-door? Ten-year power-train warranty, and I just noticed five-year roadside assistance. Unbelievable...

Warren Brown: Hyundai-Kia (because Hyundai and Kia are a part of the same company) rose 40 percent year over in 2009 at a time when overall car sales in the United States collasped 21 percent. That translates to a gain of several percentage points of market share. The compact Kia Forte Koup -- smartly styled, fuel efficient, wonderfull pracical for urban use, and loaded with amenities found in more expensive cars, but priced (in round numbers) from about $13,600 to 19,000 -- is one of the reasons for that success. Hyundai-Kia is offering well-conceived, well-executed products at a good price via a common sense promotion (lose your job, bring back the car, no hit to your credit rating) in a very tough time. Bravo, Hyundai-Kia!!


Eastchester, NY: Warren, I heard BMW dealerships make their money servicing the cars, rather than on new car sales. Does this mean they have an incentive to make the cars so complex, only they can fix them?

Warren Brown: No, Eastchester. Conventional wisdom aside, dealer margins on most new-car sales historically have been thin. The real money comes through the back shop because cars and trucks, many driven every day, need routine service/repair. It's really no different from anything else. The real money in photography comes through sale of a constant stream of supplies for photography and photographic development. The real money in computers comes through sales of programs and computer repair/support. Do you own a printer? How much have you spent on ink or paper? What was the cost of the printer?

But more to the point, probably, is this: Cars have myriad government-mandated safety systems, anti-pollution systems, et cetera. None of that is easy or inexpensive.


Arlington: I am in the market for a Ford Explorer. I really want to wait for the 2011 but hubby thinks the preview glimpses online look like it won't be "macho," but more family-like. He wants to get the 2010. Do you have any idea how the 2011 will look or when the real pictures will be available? Love your chats and column. Thanks

Warren Brown: Hello, Arlington. You probably can get a better price on a 2010 Explorer, especially inasmuch as sales of that model are way, way down year over year 2009 over 2008. Heck, Explorer sales have fallen so far, you probably can get a good deal on a 2011 model, too.

As for the macho thing, tell your husband to forget it. Macho in family transportation slowly is ceding to common sense -- pleasantly designed, comfortable, safe, reliable, fuel-efficient transport with all of the electronic comforts of home.

That is why we have the rapid growth in crossover utility vehicles -- station wagons by another name.

Also, you might want to throw two facts at Mr. Macho:

1. Women influence the sales of 85 percent of all new passenger vehicles rolling into U.S. driveways. That means, if the woman doesn't want it, it usually doesn't get bought.

2. Women directly buy 45 percent of all new vehicles sold in this country. That means she wants it, she buys i t -- no man involved no how.


Anonymous: Where are the diesels in the U.S. like the wonderful cars I've rented in Europe? I drove all over Sicily in a Ford Focus on seven gallons of fuel.

Warren Brown: I know, I know. Problem is, the European Union has a common sense energy policy that favors the use of more efficient fuels (more work done per unit of fuel used). We don't.


People don't want wagons: Tell that to Subaru. They don't seem to have any trouble moving them. (And no, they don't really count as SUVs, crossovers, or whatever other term the industry wants to call them). They walk, look and quack like wagons.

Warren Brown: I suggest you read this Sunday's "On Wheels" column. It is Subaru's recognition of that simple fact, and its admirable dedication to serving that wagon-accepting audience, that boosted its sales 30+ percent year over year in an otherwise dismal 2009.


DC: I read recently about a Consumer Reports poll that purportedly showed the best/worst brands as perceived by consumers. Mazda was third from last; Saab was second from last. I can understand Saab to some extent given that people are worried about it being shut down. But Mazda? Reviews for their cars have been darn good across the board. I'm no Mazda fanboy, but I am perplexed that a major publication can put together survey criteria that lead to this result. Thoughts?

Warren Brown: As am I.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Warren. We are thinking about buying the 2010 Tahoe. What are your thoughts on this SUV concerning quality? Is it up to par with the imports? Is it a good purchase?

Warren Brown: The Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon essentially share the same platform -- bulding structure. They are two of the best full-size SUVs available, foreign or domestic. Some models have been updated to perform as dual-mode hybrids -- gas-electric drive systems with strategic cylinder deactivation (example, eight cylinders working at high speds and heavy loads, four cylinders working at low speeds with light loads).


NoVA: I have a comment on SUVs vs. station wagons and vans. My husband wouldn't be caught dead in a station wagon or van. Silly, but there it is. So the car companies do have valid research to back them up.

Warren Brown: Yes, they do. No argument there. Thanks for writing.


Alexandria: Good morning. My husband and I want to by a used car, but we want it to last a while. How old a car should we buy to still get the most from our money? For instance, we'd like a Honda accord. Is a 2009 the best idea? 2008? 2007? We are just looking to avoid losing so much value from taking a brand new car off a lot but still trying to get great lifespan. Thanks.

Warren Brown: Longevity in cars in many ways mirrors longevity in life. It's how you use it, take care of it (or don't). It's part luck -- accident, no accident. It's part fate -- Katrina, Haiti.

That said, a 2009 or 2008 Honda Accord should serve you well. Keep in mind that a 2009 Accord that actually is a leftover from the last model year (no buyer, no consumer-held title) could probably be sold as a new car.


BMW service: Re: the question about BMW repairs. What BMW really wants is to only do warranty repairs so they can charge the exorbitant bills back to BMW. Try taking your out-of-warranty BMW back to the dealer for service. They treat you like a pariah. Find a good independent BMW mechanic and be happy. That's why BMW owners call the dealer, the "stealer" instead!

Warren Brown: Hmmm. I'm not going to join in your blanket criticism of BMW dealers. But I am posting this because too many dealers, BMW and otherwise, often behave that way. Smart dealers don't. And, thanfully, those are in the majority.


Baltimore, Md.: Warren, I really like the Mazda CX-7, but I have read that it requires premium gas. Do you know if this is true? Also, is it a vehicle that you reccomend? Thanks!

Warren Brown: If memory serves me correctly, I think that's premium gas "for best performance," which means you can use lower octane fuel without harming (or getting the best out of) your engine. Easy to check. Go to or and search for your intended model.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: I will be shopping for a 2010 Jetta S over the weekend. My preference is a manual transmission, but I'm having a hard time finding one. Do you know why they are so limited? Also, I would appreciate your thoughts on this car as this will be my first car since buying my 1996 Civic. Thanks.

Warren Brown: They are limited because manual transmission cars in the United States have what the industry calls "a low take rate." Translation: Not many people buy them. Translation: Manual gearbox cars here barely constitute 11 percent of the overall market; and that's being generous. What the people don't take the car companies don't make.


Chesapeake Beach, Md.: Hey, Warren. What are a few "must see" cars at the upcoming Washington, D.C. car show?

Warren Brown: It's going to be a "green scene" Chesapeake, just as it was a green scene at the Los Angeles and Detroit shows. It's also going to be a "small is sexy" scene.Look for the 2012 Ford Focus, the not-ready-for-U.S.-market Tata Nano (from india), Honda CR-Z hybrid, GMC Granite concept, that sort of thing.

but if you remain power hungry in these trying times, there's no need to weep. The $375,000, 552-hp Lxus LFA (of which only 500 copies are expected to be sold over the next two years) should be interesting.


Arlington, Va.: I'm interested in doing European delivery on a new auto (BMW or Mercedes) and wanted to hear your thoughts on the matter. I've heard it can be a little cheaper (skeptical), though I suppose it depends on manufacturer and whatever deal they may have. Thanks.

Warren Brown: Don't -- unless business or other obligations put you in Europe for a while. I know it sounds like hostage-taking, and it probably is, but it's generally best to buy where you're going to also buy routine service. Besides, the hole homologation thing -- making sure that there specs meet out specs for safety and clean air, which they do -- can be a pain if a dealer here, or service shop here tries to give you the runaround on repairs affecting safety and pollution control. Also, if you are going forward with this, check with U.S. Customs and your local DMV to see what they require in terms of fees, deposits. Good luck.


Anacostia: I just heard mention that Hyundai was coming out with a hybrid version of the Sonata this year. Is this one of those questionable announcements or will this really happen soon? I know that you are not a big fan of hybrids, but do you think this would be something for someone looking for a new car to wait for?

Warren Brown: I have to check that one, Anacostia.


Gainesville, Fla.: Warren, what's up with the Toyota recall mess? Is it the Audi 5000 all over again? Just as then, no one with a manual trans has this problem. Because if a throttle sticks, you'd just push the clutch in and brake to a stop. Are folks mashing the gas and the brake together in panic even if there is a sensor problem?

Warren Brown: You may be right. But the whole thing proves that men and women -- be they European, Asian, Anglo, African, Indian -- aren't omnipotent gods. We're all quite human and limited. We all make mistakes. "We" has always included Toyota, as any review of federal recall statistics will show.

Thanks for joining us this week. Thank you, Ms. Delece Smith-Barrow, for your patience, guidance and another fine production.

And as always, Ria, thank you. Time for lunch.


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