Real Wheels Live

Warren Brown
Friday, December 10, 2010; 11:00 AM

Live online discussion with Real Wheels columnist Warren Brown about car-buying and the auto industry.

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Warren Brown: of some repair shops by suggesting they would void Honda's warranties by using anything other than Honda parts in repair service. The repair shops counter that a quality in-kind part is just as good as a Honda part, but less expensive. This is an old play with new actors. The subject has come up before with Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, etc. Are the car companies, the so-called "original equipment manufacturers," right? Are the garages right? Let's discuss. Are you ready, Pat?

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Warren Brown: We'll have Pat Wirth, owner of Potomac Falls Express Lube & Car Wash, to kick off the discussion.

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Warren Brown: Of course, while we're waiting for Pat, the floor is open to any questions from all of you.

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TDI Sedan: Good Morning- I have seen your rave reviews of the Jetta TDI wagon and wonder if you feel as positive about the Jetta TDI sedan. It seems like a nice car, and I would like to take advantage of the tax break. So, wagon or sedan, or either? Thank you very much. You have guided me so well over the years.

Warren Brown: Yes. Essentially, you are talking about the same technology employed in different vehicle geometry. Same build quality, et cetera.

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Honda Aftermarket Parts: Hi Warren, sorry for the delay in joining you! All non-dealership automotive service businesses have been addressing this misinformation for quite some time, but given the current economy the issue has excalated to a level not previusly seen.

Warren Brown: Is this Pat? If so, the car companies have been saying for years, if not decades, that they can't be held responsible for the use of indepently sourced parts in the repair of their warrantied vehicles. That sounds reasonable. Where is it wrong?

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Electric Cars: Winter has come early to my part of the country which has got me wondering how these new elecric cars will handle these cold temps. Will they have draxtically reduced ranges? Seems like it could be a problem.

Warren Brown: Yes, electric cars have reduced ranges in extreme temperatures, hot or cold. Drastically reduced ranges? I don't think so. But is range affected by climate extremes? Yes.

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Snow tires for DC: Warren, I'm leasing a 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE, which has 18 inch all-season tires. I live and work in the District, and commute about 8 miles each way through the District, probably never exceeding 40 miles per hour due to lights, traffic, etc. Would you recommend that I get snow tires under these circumstances? I live in a condo, and storing the regular tires is going to be a big pain for me, although I promise not to let that influence me if you think that the safety advantages of snow tires outeight the nuisance factor. Thanks for any help.

Warren Brown: taken several winter-driving classes. I discovered the hard way that the best rubber in snow and ice is rubber actually designed for snow and ice. I've suffered so that you don't have to.

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HHR's and airbags: I don't want to drive a car with no airbags! Thanks for your help.

Warren Brown: That being mu suspicion, I'm posting this so that other tecchies, HHr owners, Chevrolet personnel can respond.

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Trade In Value: I received a post card from the dealership where I bought my car about four years ago. It offers $2,000 over blue book should I decide to buy a new car. Would it be safe for me to assume the $2,000 actually comes from the manufacturer - rather than the dealership? In other words are my chances low in trying to push the amount to $2,700?

Warren Brown: You can be reasonably certain that the incentive cash does not come from the dealer. Most dealers don't have that kind of money to play with. It's probably a factory program, easily checkable by looking at offers from other dealers handling the same make and model of vehicle.

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Leasing: Warren, do you see any value in leasing a car? I'm torn: on one hand, I don't want to deal with maintenance, repairs, and I don't really care about owning a car. On the other hand, not having a car payment (after it's paid off) is appealing too. I drive less than 12k/year, so I don't need to worry about mileage limits. Thanks, and happy holidays!

Warren Brown: problems stemming from poor maintenance. READ THAT LEASE AGREEMENT CAREFULLY!

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new Saab: Hi Warren! When will you get the chance to drive the striking new Saab 9-5? Lots of them at the local dealers now. Pity that GM dumped them - the new 9-5 is a GM based car and its truly gorgeous. Nice alternative to the 5 series, E class, and A6. Please let us know what you think of the 9-5 and new 9-4x when it arrives. Thanks.

Warren Brown: I'm planning on getting into the Saab 9-5 next week. Looking forward to it.

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Solid mid-size car under 25K: It was nice but lacked a real engine, and am going to test drive the Cruze and the new Elantra. Sonata is nice but a little outside of my price range, which is under 25K. Your thoughts on a good choice of cars that fits this area?

Warren Brown: also makes sense for purposes of utility.

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Computer Codes: Why cant my local shop find the prob?: Why do the car companies resist making the computer diagnostic codes available to shops like Pat's? I have dashboard lights on that need diagnosing, but im not willing to pay $75 at the VW dealer to find out that it may be a faulty sensor rather than a real problem. It be much easier to do it at a local shop. Gents, is this entirely about money for the dealerships?

Warren Brown: Increasing competiton against those dealers, by reducing the co0st of repair elsewhere, decreases the profits of those dealers. Unprofitable dealers are not a good thing for car companies.

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Everybody has a point...: If an aftermarket part is responsible for causing or contributing to a needed repair down the line, it makes sense that the vehicle manufacturer shouldn't have to cover that. Most times, it's very hard to prove a single-point cause of any needed repair, so a policy that excludes warranty repairs when aftermarket parts are involved makes sense. On the other hand, why should customers be forced to pay for over-priced parts when parts of equal or better quality can be purchased through aftermarket manufacturers for less money?

Warren Brown: Ah, a very wise member of the audience. You are right. Not one of us wants to be blamed for someone else's mistake--e.g., a bad, non-OEM replacement part that leads to vehicle malfunction, or worse. On the other hand, not one of us wants to be price-gouged on an OEM part that is no better than a non-OEM part. Also, there is the very real possibility that a non-OEM part actually is superior to one sponsored by the manufacturer. Bottom line: You have got to do some investigation on your own. Example: Ask your service provider about the reliability of given parts used. You can also check with the good people at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about whether a given supplier has an egregious failure history. And then, of course, there's always our Clinton and the Right Rev. Pat Goss.

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More on the TDI: I am glad I bought the 2010, based on what I'm hearing about next year's Jetta. My only regret is diesel costing $3.29 a gallon, but I've just about convinced myself that the ride and the MPG are worth it. I'd advise today's poster to go for it. Thank you for your good counsel.

Warren Brown: I am happy that you are happy. And I make the same offer to you that I made to buyers of other makes and models. If you have any lemon-type problems, difficulties beyond usual wear and tear, write to me at warbro70@aol.com or orleanslatete@gmail.com. The sooner we know about problems, the quicker we can go to the manufacturers. Good luck and enjoy.

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Saab cont.: That's great news, Warren. If you can, for us, drive the less expensive four cylinder turbo (sure to be the bulk of sales in this economy and gas price situation) instead of, or at least in addition to, the pricier 6 cylinder. Thanks! Looking forward to the review.

Warren Brown: But here's promising you a forthcoming run of affordable 4-cylinder jobs.

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Honda Aftermarket parts: Aftermarket parts are made to meet OEM specifications and do an identical job in keeping a vehicle working in tip top condition. I've been in the fast lube industry for over 25 years and my shops have serviced literally millions of vehicles using only aftermarket parts. In all of these years, I have only had two "parts" fail. The consumer pays far less for these parts and service than at a dealership. In addition, most, if not all, automotive service providers warrant their parts and service. In the nid-70's Congress passed the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act that essentially says that you do not have to go to the dealer to maintain your warranty and if the dealer says that you do, then they have to provide the part for FREE.

Warren Brown: You are right, too, Pat Wirth. It's also true that neither you nor other independent garages would be in business if you somehow routinely sand-bagged your customers with bad non-OEM parts. That kind of stuff just isn't in your best interest. It seems there ought to be some middle-ground here. On the one hand, recession-burdened customers need every break they can get. If a non-OEM part is just as good, if not better, than an OEM part, and it is available at a lower price, they should have access to that part. Car manufacturers sharing parts codes and diagnostic data can help that process.

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Computer Codes: While non dealerships don't have the full gammat of equipment to test a vehicle when problems occur, we do have scanners that can diagnose most problems when the dashboard lights illuminate. This is a free service at my shop. Our goal is to partner with our customers to keep their vehicles running smoothly. -Pat

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Car Dealers: Twice now you've defended car dealers, and I'm trying to figure out why. Dealers are the reason the car industry has so many problems. Dealships deliberately overcharge for service, they are vague about what they do to your car when you do have them service it, they give you the runaround when you want to buy a car (the "let me check with my manager" nonsense), they force you into buying things that you don't want (undercoating, pinstripes, tinting, etc...), and they just don't care, not to mention their properties are unsightful.Dealers know they have you by the wallet, because there are not many options if you've already chosen the make and model of car that you want. Even when trying to buy a car over the internet, which was supposed to eliminate the hastle of the dealer, turned into a 3-hour ordeal that cost us more money than originally advertised (dealer stated they tint and undercoat ALL vehicles that come onto their lot, which was not included in the online price).Why can't car companies find a new way of distributing their vehicles that eliminates the dealer? I would be fine buying a car from the manufacturer online, and paying for delivery to my front door.

Warren Brown: as well as I am supported by indepndents (by advertising). It's the way capitalism works. And I'm darned sure a capitalist.But, in terms of my responses, I'm just telling you the way things are. Car manufacturers have a financial relationship with their dealers. They have a major stake in keeping their dealers financially healthy. They do that by doing everything they can do to give their dealers an edge in the marketplace--including providing "genuine" replacement parts, usually at a higher price than is charged elsewhere.Independent garages have a vested interest in providing quality service at a lower price than is charged by OEM dealerships. That makes perfect sense. It's how the independents build and hold onto a customer base.Perhaps it is my Blessed Sacrament-Josephite-Jesuit training, but it seems to me that there is reasonable room for compromise here. Neither the OEM-linked garages nor the independents can stay in business by displeasing customers, which is what the current brouhaha is doing.Perhaps, the OEM-linked garages can hang ontocustomers longer by treating those customers right on certified warranty repairs. But after the car is out of warranty, maybe, the balance of quality service should shift to independents.

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SUVs & Americans: I just read a story that GM had its best November sales in several years based on SUV and Pickup truck demand. When are we gonna learn and stop buying these things? I'm so disappointed in the government who had a great opportunity to get GM to start building better, more fuel efficient cars. Sure the Chevy Volt is a step in that direction, but I have a feeling it won't sell very well while gas is still cheap. Why can't our government slowly, but steadily raise the gas tax so that people will be forced to conserve? The aftermath of Katrina showed that when gas is $4/gallon people buy more efficient cars and drive less. Ugh, we're doomed.

Warren Brown: deliberately produces vehicles that consumers don't want. Domestic SUVs and pickups are selling because consumers are demanding them. That's why the Ford F-Series trucks have ben the best-selling vehicles of any sort in the United States for the last 30 years. office by ignoring the demands of the electorate. The American electorate has the mentality of the average American teenager. The electorate demands more fuel-efficient vehicles, while at the same time insisting on access to the cheapest gasoline in the developed world. It wants a national energy policy as long as no one asks them to pay for it. It wants to erase the federal deficit as long as that does not mean cutting Social Security, Medicare, mortgage tax breaks, funding for education, tax breaks for the middle class or the super-rich. we have politicians who think that a wink and a smile and intellectually thin demagoguery are adequate substitutes for leadership.

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Warren Brown: Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. I will try to answer more of your e-mails during the week. Contact me at warbro70@aol.com or orleanslatete@gmail.com. Thanks Dominique, Sarah and Gaurav for a fine production. Time for lunch, Ria.


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