washingtonpost.com
Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, March 5, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, March 5, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry. Plus, he gave purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

The transcript follows.

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Annandale, Va.: Have been considering MB CLK 550, BMW 335, Corvette convertibles. Thoughts/preferences?

Warren Brown: Of the three, my top two choices are the Corvette and the BMW 335. The Mercedes-Benz is nice. But it has neither the swagger of the Corvette, nor the super-crisp handling of the BMW.

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Milwaukee, Wis.: Good morning, Warren. I am getting ready to buy my first car (used). I have appraised the car I'd like to buy using NADA, KBB, and Edmunds values, and the price the dealer is asking is in the middle of this range. To me this seems fair, but others have told me I'd be crazy to pay what any dealer asks without negotiating the price down a substantial amount. I don't feel entitled to a "great deal," I just want to pay a fair price. Am I being naive?

Warren Brown: Let's just say that you are entitled to a great deal. The NADA, KBB, and Edmunds values are fair prices, and the dealer knows it. I'd try to get as close to those posted values as possible. Dealers can still make decent profits at those values. Remember, NADA stands for National Automobile DEALERS Association.

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Sterling, Va.: Mr. Brown,

A couple of weeks ago you reviewed the Chevy Equinox. I currently have a '05 Trailblazer EXT with 112K miles and am considering replacements. The Equinox looked interesting. I no longer need the seven passenger seating, as we also have a full size Ford E150 Chateau van to haul the kids, camping gear, dogs etc. I do want to keep the 4WD/AWD after the experiences this winter when it was needed more than once. I also don't need the zoom, zoom that you mentioned that some people look for in an SUV as I have a Corvette for that. Do you think the Equinox will be a good fit for what I am looking for, or do you have other recommendations.

Warren Brown: In a word, Sterling, "Yes." Take it for a spin. Compare it with the Toyota Rav-4 and Honda CR-V. Check the prices. You'll see that my "yes" holds up.

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Alexandria, Va.: Posting a second time... I just finished driving a 2010 Ford Fusion for a week while my 2007 Camry Hybrid was in the shop for bumper repair. The Ford had a terrible time going uphill from a stop - chug chug jerk jerk wheeze wheeze. Also, little things were unexplainable - the sunglass holder on the ceiling was too narrow for sunglasses; the controls to the right of the driver's seat went so far down to the right I couldn't read the display to figure out what they were. All in all, I won't be buying a Ford based on this experience. And I'll trust Toyota to make its fixes as they're still the best cars out there.

Warren Brown: I can't vouch for your experiences, Alexandria. Mine were remarkably different. I had no trouble going up hills in the Fusion Hybrid--not even going up Mine Hill Road in Cornwall, N.Y., and that's one heck of a hill. The Fusion felt like more of a car than did the Prius-- a nice car, but not as nice as the Ford Fusion. Inasmuch as we have profound disagreement here, let's throw it out to the public. Why don't you all go out to Ford and Toyota dealerships this weekend. Drive the Ford Fusion and the Toyota Prius. Come back here next week. Let's talk about your findings.

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2010 Accord: What do you think of it? Should I consider the hybrid Accord too?

Warren Brown: Yes. Nicely crafted. Good ride, handling, acceleration. Excellent safety. The hybrid technology works fine, but does not intrude on the car-ness of the car.

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washingtonpost.com: Geneva Motor Show

Warren Brown: This shouldprovide the link to the Geneva Motor Show.

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washingtonpost.com: The above is a photo gallery produced by the Washington Post. The official site for the Geneva Motor Show is at salon-auto

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: What are your thoughts about the economics of using a Zip Car vs owning a small car in the city?

Warren Brown: I favor using Zip Car, especially if you are conveniently located to a Zip Car station. No high urban garage fees--which is a waste of money if you use your car only on weekends or for special trips.

My daughters have been happy using Zip Car on weekend trips from Manhattan to our home upstate. Manhattan's garage fees are horrendous. The huge amount of money they save not paying those fees pays for Zip Car and some very nice dinners.

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Ford Fusion again: I don't think it was a hybrid I drove; just a regular Ford Fusion.

Warren Brown: Okay. Fair enough. Now, go to a Ford dealership and test-drive a Fusion Hybrid. Compare that to your Prius. Come back and tell us what you think, favorble or unfavorable. It's how we learn things here. Cheers.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: It seems to me that there is a consistent pattern of KBB being most favorable to dealers (highest retail values, lowest trade in values) and Edmunds being least favorable with NADA falling in between. That has always struck me as odd given that NADA is the dealers' organization. Any thought as to why this is?

Warren Brown: You are perceptive, Minneapolis. The early competition in auto-values info was aimed at dealers. The National Automobile Dealers Association led that business. But many independent used car dealers--those not affiliated with NADA, not selling franchised new cars and, thus, selling used cars as their primary business--wanted another source for values evaluation. Enter KBB.

Both NADA and KBB initially overlooked the most important business, which is what consumers want and need in terms of auto values. Autobytel.com, Cars.com, Edmunds.com, et cetera, filled that void.

Kbb, as a result, has made itself more consumer friendly. So has NADA.

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Ford Fusion : My dad bought a Ford Fusion last year. I'm a Ford gal, love my Explorer, but can't figure out why the Fusion has garnered such high praise. The handling is mediocre, the headrest pains my neck. Acceleration in the V6 is good but the cloth seats look cheap. I for one was not impressed.

And for fairness sake, I wasn't impressed with my last rental of a Camry either.

Warren Brown: You are tough to please, which is good. What do you want from either Ford or Toyota, and at what price?

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Baltimore, Md.: I'm 22 years old and have never owned a car or purchased auto before. I currently ride public transit to my job which saves me a lot of money. However, despite traffic, driving would be a quicker route. Plus, I'd like the benefit of being able to... well... go places at will.

The obvious issue is that I'm in the absolute worst insurance demographic: male, under 25, and living in a heavy crime city (even though my neighborhood is quite safe). Adding together monthly insurance payments, auto loan payments, fuel, and maintenance, owning a car is something I CAN afford, but it would completely wipe out my entire discretionary income. I wouldn't be able to save any money nor enjoy the benefits of a car anyway.

I'm rather new to the insurance buying game, so any advice here on what to do to bring down the cost would be very helpful. I'd ask my parents, but they've had the same insurance for 20 years and don't know much more than I do... Thank you!

Warren Brown: Hello, Baltimore.

You forgot to mention parking in Baltimore, even in "safe" neighborhoods.

Keep taking the bus, assuming that remains convenient. You save fuel, help the environment, and relieve unnecessry traffic congestion.

Check out Zip Car, or some similar service, for your apparently occasional go-where-and-when-I-want personal transportation needs.

If you insist on buying, check with insurers first for costs in your demographic group. Google the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for best non-biased info.

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Richmond, Va.: I've been a long time Saab enthusiast. Which one is your favorite??

Warren Brown: I wish Spyker, which now owns Saab, would give us a modern, but funky rendition of the Saab 900.

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Washington, D.C.: I liked Saturn and thought GM made a good turn over th past few years on styling and performance. Where do I go now?

Warren Brown: I think Saturn remains in play, despite GM's public plans to shutter the division in lieu of a buyer. Remaining Saturn dealers, a decreasing lot with rapidly decresing inventory, sill have some good deals. At any rate, any GM dealer can service any Saturn.

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Alexandria, Va.: Between the Passat Wagon and one of the upper trim levels of the Subaru Outback, which would you pick and why? We are a couple rounding the curve into our 60s, tend to keep cars for about a decade. Plans for the next 10 years include traveling throughout the U.S., with our two dogs and luggage. Priorities include comfort, fuel economy, pleasure to drive, and long-term operating costs. And the ability to fit two smallish dog-crates in the back, tied down for safety.

Warren Brown: I'd take the upper-trim level Subaru Outback for all of your listed priorities.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr Brown, my wife and I are considering purchasing a crossover vehicle. Given the recent safety recalls from Toyota, would you feel comfortable purchasing a RAV4?

Warren Brown: Yes, I would. Look, it is troubling that Toyota has a defect alleged to have caused 52 deaths. But, in fairness, those remain allegations.

Does Toyota have a problem? Yes.

But it's pretty much the same problem that plagued the old GM and Ford, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, et cetera. It temporarily sacrificed quality in pursuit of market share, made serious errors, and was royally embarrassed.

In short, Toyota is human, too.

Now, it needs to follow the good examples of all of the aforementioned automobile manufacturers and admit its screwups (which include significantly more than braking and acceleration problems), pull itself together, recommit to quality, and start building cars. Toyota was never a god. Its rivals were never devils.

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Warren Brown: Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Sakina. Eat lunch, Ria.

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