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Warren Brown
Warren Brown
(The Post)
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Real Wheels
Hosted by Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 21, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

Warren Brown is back to talk about all your automobile issues! He has been covering the automobile industry for The Washington Post since 1982. Brown, who joined the newspaper in 1976, has what many people think is a particularly cool job: He gets to test drive all manner of cars, from top-of-the-line Mercedes sedans and the newest sports cars to Volkswagen Beetles and SUVs. His auto reviews are lively, detailed accounts of a car's good and bad points, addressing everything from a car's highway performance to its "head-turning" factor and sound system.

He regularly comes online Wednesdays at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions on every aspect of the automotive industry -- from buying your dream car to the future of the internal combustion engine.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Tolland, Conn.: You've discussed quite frequently the low sulfur diesel issue. If and when low sulfur diesel comes to the U.S., will existing diesels have any problem running on it? I know when lead was removed from gasoline, the older engines needed additives and/or retuning.

Warren Brown: Good morning, good people.
Hello, Tolland, Conn.
According to the petroleum companies and the automakers, there should be no problem running current diesels on super-low-sulfur diesel fuel. If there is a dissenting opinion out there, we'd like to hear it.

Columbus, Ohio: What do you think of FedEx's decision to convert its fleet to hybrid fuel vehciles? Will other large fleet owners follow suit?

Warren Brown: Hello, Columbus:
I applaud Fed Ex's decision. It's the kind of leadership we need in aggressively pursuing alternative fuel strategies.
But it also makes good economic sense for Fed EX and other companies where fuel is the bogeyman in operating costs.
Fed Ex runs dedicated routes with its land fleet, which should make refueling and drivetrain maintenance easy.
Here's hoping that the FedEx approach also will explore CnG/electic and diesel/electric hybrids.

Falls Church, Va.: Warren, I am taking delivery of a new Volvo XC70 wagon in June. I have heard that the car should be washed and waxed by hand for a period rather than use a car wash. Is this true and if so, what is the reason for this?

Warren Brown: That's right, Falls Church. The paint on your new car is dry, but not quite cured. Gentle does it in initial cleanings. Warm water with light detergent mix. Thorough rinse. Chamois. Light wax and buff generally is recommended in early goings.

Arlington, Va.: I'm not sure if car seat questions fall under your umbrella but I figured it can't hurt to ask. We're trying to install our infant seat and because our car is pre-LATCH system, we're not too confident that we've gotten it right. Our local fire department does do inspections but only at a time that neither my husband or myself can possibly get there. I had heard that Ford dealers also do them, but I haven't been able to find one that even knows what I'm talking about. Do you know any place in the D.C. area that we can have the seat looked at to make sure we've got it in correctly?

Warren Brown: Dear Arlington:
Get your wonderful self over to Fitzgerald Automotive, www.fitzway.com, where an expertly trained infant seat staff will be all too happy to show you how to properly install the seats--at your convenience.
Don't worry. I've checked out the Fitzgerald people. They won't try to sell you anything while you're there. Much to the organization's credit, its execs and staff have dedicated themselves to infant/toddler/child safety in cars. They've even won national recognition for their efforts. I highly recommend that you check them out.

Alexandria, Va. (and normally not this picky) : Hi Warren! HELP! Please forgive this long missive in advance but I am about to pull my hair out. I want to buy an SUV (horrors!) but am having a hard time finding the right one, although I think I have visited virtually every car dealer around. I'd like it to have more or less the space, height, and ride of my Voyager minivan with a little more luxury and 4WD but NO MORE MINIVANS!

I don't want it too big to park in Old Town frequently or that you need a step ladder to get in and out of(which rules out the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, Yukon, LX470, Escalade and their ilk).

Needs to be big enough to seat seven, including mostly teenagers bigger than me (which rules out the Pilot, MDX, Volvo, and Chrysler).

I thought the third row in the GX470 was short on leg room and unworkable to clamber in and out of if you're over the age of 8 or wear a skirt.

I sort of thought the space and height on the GMC Envoy and Ford Explorer was OK but CR trashed the Envoy for a whole host of reasons and I've never had a good experience with a Ford product so I'm a little leery of it. I've never heard anything good about a Land Rover.

I'm hoping that the new Cadillac SRX will fit the bill as I would like a little luxury. Have you seen/heard anything about the Cadillac? I would appreciate your view of the Explorer (of course the Ford sale ends 6/4 before the Cadillac comes out) or any other SUV you think I should look at. Thanks!

Warren Brown: Dear Arlington:
If you don't mind sacrificing cargo space, take a look at the Chrysler Pacifica, which is neither minivan nor Suv, nor sports car, although it pretends to be all of those things. It's essentially a zoot-suited station wagon.
For that matter. you might want to take a lookn at the Volvo XC90.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Warren, hello,
I'm interested in buying a used car, maybe even leasing a used car. I live in L.A. and it's very expensive. Is it cheaper to buy used cars in certain parts of the country than others? Secondly, which automakers, in your expert opinion, offer the best warranty/protection programs when buying "certified, pre-owned" cars? Thanks!
(I asked this question the past two weeks -- please don't shut me out a third straight time!)

Warren Brown: Hello L.A.:
Yes, used car prices vary by region, even for the identical used car in question.
You should check www.kbb.com. www.nada.com, and, cars.com (disclosure: A Washington Post affiliate), to get an idea of how pricing is going nationally. Check national used-car stores such as Carmax to get a similar read.
Best certified used cars:
1. Toyota
2.General Motors (believe it or not)
3. Honda
4. Ford
Rankings are based on quality AND value for dollar.
And I sincerely apologize for not answering your question in previous weeks. Thanks both for your patience and forgiveness.

College Park, Md.: Hi Warren-
Love the chats! Need to replace the family Jeep Cherokee in the next year. Requirements are 1-2 year old SUV, 4WD, no more than $20-25K, or 30K miles, tows at least 5000 lbs, preferably V6 but will consider V8. Don't need a third row seat or leather. Do need safety, reliability,and a smoother ride than the Cherokee. Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango are possibilities, but Consumer Reports dings them on reliability. Also considering Ford Explorer, Chevy Trailblazer or Nissan Pathfinder. Honda Pilot doesn't tow enough and probably too expensive. Advice?

Warren Brown: Dear College Park:
I'd say TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, or Nissan Pathfinder, in that order. I would recommend the Toyota 4Runner, which is one of my favorites. But it does have a truckier than thou ride in its earlier iterations. You seem to want to get away from that.

Warren Brown: For all of tou local parents and guardians looking for help on properly installing child-safety seats.
Just checked out the www.fitzway.com site on my other computer, and, yes, there it is..the "Child Safety Programs" button. Click on that to get the information you need. Again, I highly recommend you make a child safety-seat appointment with Fitz. And to prove how unbiased I am in making this recommendation, check out the Post's advertising section. Usually, you WON"T see many ads from Fitzgerald in there. No mater. His is one of the best child safety-seat programs in the region.

Charlotte, NC: Love your reviews --- keep 'em coming! You indicated that you had test driven both the new Jaguar XJ and Audi A8L. Which did you prefer?

Warren Brown: Dear Charlotte:
'Tis a mystery, and will remain one until I right the second review, which will be on the new XJ. The Audi A8L ran last week. The XJ will appear in print...soon.

Silver Spring, Md.: Warren....I'm surprised you want the "comfort" setting taken out of the A8's suspension. I hope you are not getting like the guys at Car and Driver, Road and Track, Automobile, and other "enthusiast" publications that think of almost nothing else but more HP/torque, more hi-G cornering, lower, fatter tires, rock-hard sport seats, etc..... on and on and on....the same stuff every month. You at least, among auto enthusiasts, have shown some sense (like me).
On a long drive in the A8 like you did across the Midwest, it would seem the "comfort" setting would come in handy....especially on North America's rough roads.
In fact, that is rapidly becoming one of the main problems in today's auto market......finding cars with soft-riding tires, suspensions, etc..... For the most part, with a couple of exceptions, they just aren't made anymore, and even the few surviving examples like the Lexus ES-300/LS-430, Cadillac De Ville, and Mercury Grand Marquis/Lincoln Town Car have been "BMW"-ized to some extent. In today's market, you should appreciate a nice comfortable set of wheels when you can find it.....not all of us want to drive like Formula 1.

Warren Brown: Dear Silver Spring:
no need to be surprised.
I don't like the "comfort" setting, period. It turns a beautifully handling car into a wallow-mobile.
Besides, it's redundant inasmuch as the "automatic" setting intially gives you the same 4.7-inch grond clearance you get with "comfort." The difference is that the "automatic" setting raises and lowers that setting based on speed, load and a variety of other conditions/inputs. "Comfort" doesn't. It just sits sthere and wallows. I don't like that. I prefer the "dynamic" setting, which yields excellent ride and handling.

Columbia, Md.: Is the Dodge Dakota pickup a great deal or am I missing something? With the 3000 rebate a loaded 8 cylinder Dakota is less than a Toyota pickup.

Warren Brown: It's a good deal and a good truck, Columbia. Grab it.

Arlington, Va.: Hello Warren!

I am looking to replace my 1998 Protege. One of my considerations is that I have an assigned parking space at my building that is not very accessible, so I’m hoping that the replacement will be similar dimensions. I was surprised to see that the a lot of the “mini-utes” fit the bill, at least according to the listed specs. Which leads to my question, of what exactly do those “length” and “width” measures mean? I would interpret them to reflect the distance from the outer edge of the frame/molding/bumper/spare tire to the other. I have trouble believing that my Protege takes up about as much space as a RAV4. Can this be true, or am I letting the height of the RAV4 distort my perspective?

Warren Brown: Hello, Arlington.
Length--front to rear end of vehicle BODY.
Wheelbase--the centerline distance between the front and rear WHEELS.
Width--Horizontal distance from one side of the BODY to the other side.
Track--Horizontal distance from the center plane of one TIRE to the center plane of the other.
Sopurce: "Road & Track Illustrated Automotive Dictionary," by the illustrious John Dinkel.

Alexandria, Va.: I'm getting the Saab 93 turbo as a company car. Is this a good thing?

Warren Brown: Dear Alexandria.
And doubly "Yes" if the company is paying for it.

Myersville, Md.: Good Morning Mr. Brown. My question has to do with car labels. Many makes add letters or numbers after the model name, e.g. Ford Taurus S, Taurus SE, Taurus SES, and Taurus SEL. What do these letters/numbers mean?
Thanks, CAF

Warren Brown: Dear CAF:
I can't blame you for being flustered. Much of the automotive media, including yours truly, is just as confused by those labels.
A Ford Taurus "SE" means "Special Edition," which is to be distinguished from the Less Expensive (LX) Ford Tauus LX, although I suspect the Ford people hope consumers equate "LX" to "Luxury."There also are te SES (Special EditionSport) and the SEL (Special Edition Luxury).
It all gets pretty silly after awhile.
I mean, here's hoping that "SS" stands for "Super Sport" in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS. Imagine!....

Vienna, Va. With so much emphasis on child seats, I'm really surprised that more manufacturers have not done what Chrysler did several years ago in the minivans and made pull-down child seats that are built into the backs of regular car seats available. Not only are they are a great convenience, but they are DOT-approved, and save the trouble of having to lug the seats around and struggle belting them in and out.

Warren Brown: Don't be surprised, Vienna. Talk to Chrysler's lawyers. I think that one ocmes under the headline: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished; This One Didn't".
Poor Chrysler.
It also was the first domstic car company to go with widespread installation of front air bags; and it was the first to get sued when one of those systems failed.

Bowie, Md. Audi Driver: Hi Warren! After much bargaining and haggling, I just bought a 2001 Audi A6 Avant Quattro, with only 22K mi on it, for $25K. I'm wondering what you may know about this series and any potential problems there are with it.

One item I'm not particularly crazy about is the factory radio, which has just a single CD player. The newer models have an in dash 6-disc CD player and am tempted to get one for this car as opposed to getting the trunk mounted changer. The dealer service department has told me that the newer radios can't be used due to some programming issue and the alarm. I find that hard to believe. Do you know of such a thing? I've checked cars.com, Edmunds, etc and can't seem to find help. Thanks.

Warren Brown: Dear Bowie:
Th Audi A6 Avant Quattro is a good car, although it is not without some problems--the biggest of which involve repair costs in terms of cash and time.
Find another dealer to install your new sound system. The one you went to seems clueless.

For the Arlington Mom: (Warren I love your chats and your column! My husband fell out of his chair in shock when I told him I follow your chats every week -- I am so NOT a car person, but somehow you manage to make your chats/column informative and entertaining!)

Regarding car seats -- Children's Hospital in D.C. also has a program to teach you to install your infant seats correctly. They offer appointments that are do-able for working parents.

Warren Brown: Thank you, Arlington Mom. And tell your husband to get back into his seat. Cars are more than nuts and bolts, after all. Cheers.

Arlington, Va.: Another BMW question -- how are they in terms of certified pre-owned? Not top 5? How about top 10? Or were they just left out? Overrated as used and the quality is such that it'd be a good used brand from any dealer?

Warren Brown: Dear Arlington:
They are good certified cars--used. But they are precision cars, which means they require a higher level of care and feeding. I didn't put them in my earlier list of used cars, because I thought the chjatter was looking for a less expensive ride.

Chevy Chase, Md.: Any thoughts on the Mini Cooper? It's only been out a year or so, but have you heard anything about its reliability? Thank you.

Warren Brown: Hello Chevy Chase:
Here's the one year report on my wife's Mini Cooper:
. Gas mileage fluctuates from mid-20 mpg to about 34 mpg. Can't figure thatout.
. Flat tire warning light works. Tires wonderfuly easy to change. But the darned light keeps blinking until you reset it, or have it reset.
Those, so far, are the only problems. She loves the car, which has the four speed automatic CVT transmission.
I'm getting an S version with checker-flag top, candy red body, black caps on sideview mirrors, black wheels (I hope), with dual racing stripes front and rear. That way, my wife won't be tempted to drive it.

Columbia, Md.: If you are buying a used car how much over Kelley Blue Book Private value should you pay?

Warren Brown: As little as possible, annd that depends on your negotiating skills and those of the seller.

Burke, Va.: Warren,

Now that the Lady from Texas has had the Mini for a while, how has it held up? Are you two still happy with it and would you recommend it for someone on a budget looking for a little fun?

Warren Brown: Hello, Burke. See the above-mentioned report.

Washington, D.C. Native: Warren,
I hope that your recent travels have been going well.

My father will be replacing his 94 M-Benz C220 VERY soon, it held its Mercedes quality for seven years, but has been in so many fender benders that it has reached the point over the last two years where it is costing to much to repair. He is very interested in a Saab 9-3 but is concerned with the last J.D. powers and Associates latest low rating for the company. Do you feel that they are on the mark? My mom really want's to know, because she is hoping that they will give them a good deal if she gets her dream Saab convertable at the same time!

Warren Brown: Dear D.C.
I disagree with the Power report. You'd disagree , too, if you received one of the company's questionnaires about a month or so after buying a new vehicle. The questions, multiple-choice, SAT-type things, leave little room for nuance or other mitigating responses. That means the answers come out in an unrealistic black-or-white way. Life isn't like that. Nor are cars. I stopped filling out the questionnaires.
Buy the Saab. I think your father will be happy.

Washington, D.C.: Enjoy your chats and thanks for sharing your knowledge! What are your thoughts on the Passat GLS with the V6 engine?

Warren Brown: Great car. Great engine--when it's working, which it usually does h=well. Difficult and expensive to repair. Save your spare change for that rainy day.

Clifton, Va.: There was an excellent article in the May issue of Road and Track about diesels and hybrids. The article pointed out that a diesel powered hybrid is much more efficient than a gas powered hybrid. The article also pointed out that the particulant microscopic emissions from a diesel engine are tthought to cause cancer and more of a treat to our health than any emission from a gas powered engine.

Warren Brown: Correct, Clifton:
"Are THOUGHT to cause" cancers and are "Thought" to be more of a threat. While I'm not at all cavalier about those concerns, especially given my personal medical history, I'm not impressed. Today's "thoughts" too frequently wind up being contradicted by tomorrow's realities. I'm willing to take a chance with diesels, based on my reasonable certainty that much is being done to clean up those particulates especially in low-sulfur, direct injection, common rail diesel engines.
I mean, we use so many cleaning fluids and agents in our house, we think we are creating a sanitary environment. But, I'm sure, someone out there has reason to think we could be undermining our health.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Warren: Follow up to last weeks question in which I told you my family is moving to rural Illinois (bad roads and a bit of snow) for family reasons and you recommended a minivan. My wife drove one(Sienna) and decided that we just aren't a minivan family. We are thinking of the Toyota Highlander 4x4 but aren't excited about owning an SUV; the pickups we researched aren't crashworthy enough for us so we are stumped. We need something safe, enough room for a family of four that likes to travel and it must be reliable. Thanks for your help.

Warren Brown: Hello, L.A.:
Then, you might as well get the 2004 Toyota 4Runner and get a real SUV. It's reasonably safe and extraordinarily reliable. Heck, it could even be exciting. Find out where Arianna Huffington and her L.A./Hollywod-based "Detroit" Project friends hang out. Drive by and give them a ride. You'd be doing them a favor. Currently, they know as much about SUVs as they do about making movies, or commercials, which isn't very much. At least, if you're willing to help, they can get some idea of what a real SUV looks like, drives like, you know, that sort of thing.

Somewhere, USA: New Ford Tbird..why so weak? Ok, i know the thing hasn't been selling well at all, even though it looks sleek. is it b/c the engine is weak? i read the specs and looks like a pretty fast vehicle, or does it really drive like the new Hyundai Sonata: reliably quick when necessary, but plain plain plain vanilla?

visions of a rebuilt monster engine under the hood of this classy looking automobile, but that may be more time and money than it's worth...

Warren Brown: Hold on to those visions, Somewhere. Who knows, somewhere, out there, over the rainbow in a time not too distant, a land not too far, there is a Ford eexecutive, or maybe an engineer or designer....Egads! Perhaps there's even a Ford executive who understands what you're talking about and what the public wants.
I mean, what are visions without faioth and hope?

Warren Brown: And with that, good people, I'm off to matters downtown. I'm back on the road next week in dear old Canton, Mississippi, where Nissan is unwrapping its new and improved Quest minivan. Stay tuned. Be well. God bless.

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