How to winterize your car

November 18th, 2016

Whether you’re in the Great Northwest or south of the border, chances are the sun is setting on the fall season and winter is setting in. It’s time to prep your car for icy roads and extreme weather so you and your guests will be ready to tackle whatever Jack Frost throws your way.

Here are some simple — yet critical tips — for winterizing your car.


Winter tires improve grip and traction on wintery roads, both icy and dry. Even if your streets get cleared regularly, if it snows where you live, snow tires are the safest, most reliable choice for secure winter driving.


Be sure there’s a snow scraper squirreled away in the trunk or glovebox, as well as a winter emergency kit to ensure that both you and your guests are safe if winter weather rears its head mid-drive. From flashlights to blankets, read up on everything you should include for a just-in-case kit.


It’s damn cold out there (or at least it will be soon). In addition to including blankets and your winter emergency kit, make sure the heat is pumping strong, and that your defrosting units are working properly for maximum visibility while driving.


Fill your radiator up with the proper amount of antifreeze (50% antifreeze, 50% water), and also make sure your wiper fluid is topped off and uses an anti-freeze formula; wiper fluid can help break up snow and ice collecting on the windshield. Also make sure your wiper blades are up to the task of whatever winter craziness is common to your area.


It’s recommended that you change your oil every three or so months, so definitely check on it before winter sets in fully. Oil tends to thicken up in cold climates, so ask your mechanic if a lower-viscosity oil would be good for your car in the wintertime.


Cold weather can stress and crack the belts and hoses that keep your car running. We recommend getting a full inspection to ensure your belts, hoses, brakes, suspension, steering, etc. are up to snuff for the inclement conditions ahead.


According to the Huffington Post, the average battery life in Canada is less than five years; cold weather puts a lot of pressure on batteries. Get your mechanic to take a look at yours, and consider upgrading if it’s more than five years old. Just to be safe, stash a set of jumper cables in the trunk.


Surprisingly, expired license plates trips up car owners all the time. No harm in double checking that everything’s up to date before renting out your car this winter.

Please, do not forget to be kind on the road. At this time, a lot of people head  to the roads with shopping and family festivities in mind, the road can be a frustrating place. Just make sure you play your role and be safe.winter2


Vehicle Total Loss? Insurance Tips!

November 12th, 2016


Total loss 

If your vehicle is damaged, the insurance company may declare it a total loss. Usually, this is because the cost of repair is impractical. The total loss threshold in Oregon is 80%. The insurance company must give you a written notice that explains total loss, including how vehicle values are determined and what to do if you disagree with an insurer’s offer.


Filing a claim with the right company

  • If you think the other person in a crash is at fault, you can file a claim with his or her insurance company or yours. However, the other insurance company has the right to investigate the accident facts and accept or deny responsibility.
  • If you use your company, you must pay your deductible. You should get the deductible back from the other company if the other company accepts responsibility.

If you submit a claim and think your car is worth more than you are offered 

  • Insurance companies generally use evaluation services to come up with a value for your vehicle. You are owed what you would have been able to sell your vehicle for before the accident.
  • Insurance companies must give you the valuation or appraisal reports they use to determine your vehicle’s value.
  • If you believe your vehicle is worth more, you must prove a higher value. To do so:
  1. Review the reports the insurance company used to determine the value of your vehicle and make sure all the options on your vehicle are listed.

• Correct any differences, such as year, make, miles, equipment, and condition.

• Make sure the comparable vehicles listed are in your area.

• See what your vehicle is worth after the company makes any corrections.

2. Check your local newspaper or the Internet for private-party and dealership sales. Websites include and        

• Make sure the vehicles are comparable (make, model, mileage, options).

• Call to find out the cash price of the comparable vehicle. The company will not pay the advertised price. • Document who you                  called, the date, and the response. Attach this to the ad.

• Send copies to the company and ask it to review what you found.

  • If you do not believe the other company is offering you enough, you can submit the claim to your own company as long as you have collision coverage on that vehicle.


If you do not agree with the value your own company offers, your policy may include an appraisal provision. Appraisal processes vary. Check your policy or ask the claims representative. Typically:

• You get an appraisal (you pay).

• The company gets an appraisal (it pays).

• If the appraisers don’t agree on the value, the two appraisers agree on an umpire. You and the company each pay half of the umpire’s cost. Insurance companies must reimburse you for reasonable appraisal costs if the final appraised value of your vehicle is higher than the company’s last offer.

  • Find automobile appraisers in the online or ask a trusted Automotive Shop to see if they might know of one.

Keeping your vehicle

  • If you keep your damaged vehicle, the company will pay you the difference between the vehicle’s value before the loss and the salvage value (the amount that your damaged vehicle is worth to a salvage buyer).
  • Example: If your car was worth $10,000 before a crash and has a $1,000 salvage value, the insurance company will pay $9,000. If there is a lienholder (such as a bank), the check will probably be made out to you and the lienholder. The lienholder may not allow you to keep your damaged vehicle.
  • If you keep your damaged vehicle, you need to check Oregon’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services (DMV) laws regarding a title for a totaled vehicle. The insurance company must notify DMV when the company totals a vehicle.

Need money to replace your car, but feel the value isn’t enough?

  • If you and the insurance company cannot agree on your vehicle’s value, and you agree to transfer ownership of your vehicle to the company, the company must pay you the amount that is not in dispute while negotiations continue. After 14 days, the company may sell your vehicle.
  • You can tell the company that you are continuing your search for comparable vehicles. If you are still in dispute, do not cash a check that says anything like “full and final settlement.” Another option: Pursue damages through the civil court system.

Loss of use and rental car

Your company: Coverage for a rental vehicle is optional. If you have this coverage, ask your insurance agent or claims representative how it works. Some policies cover a rental vehicle if your vehicle is stolen, even if you did not buy that coverage.

The other party’s company: If you are not able to drive your vehicle, the company must pay you for loss of use. This payment is for the reasonable length of time it takes to determine if the vehicle is a total loss. The company generally completes its investigation before it authorizes a rental. It typically pays for the rental from the date of the accident until one or two days after the company makes an offer on the totaled vehicle.

Get the name of the person who authorizes the rental vehicle. Ask for a letter or email with the authorization.

Free help with your insurance questions or complaints Consumer Advocacy Hotline Toll-free 888-877-4894 Salem 503-947-7984 Email



What’s a Cabin Air Filter and When Should You Replace It?

July 19th, 2016

The cabin air filter, a feature found on most late-model vehicles, cleans the air that comes into the interior through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. It catches dust, pollen and other airborne material that can make riding in a car unpleasant, particularly if you have allergies or other respiratory problems.

Recommendations on when it should be replaced vary by manufacturer — some say every 12,000 or 15,000 miles, others longer — and how often can depend on how much you drive and where. Check the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. If you drive in heavy traffic in an urban area that has poor air quality, you could need to replace the filter annually or even more often. However, that also could be true in a desert climate where there is a lot of dust.

Some signs that you need a new cabin air filter are reduced air flow through your HVAC system, such as when you crank up the fan too high and you get more noise than results. Another is persistent bad odors. Even if you don’t have these warnings, you should have the filter checked at least once a year, and you may be able to do that yourself.

Many cabin air filters are located behind the glove box and are easily accessible by freeing the glove box from its fasteners (instructions should be in the owner’s manual). Others are located under the dashboard and may not be easy to reach, or under the hood where fresh air enters the HVAC system. Some of these filters are expensive, as in $50 or more at dealerships, so you could save money by buying a replacement at a parts store and doing it yourself.

If a dealership service department or repair shop recommends you get a new cabin air filter, ask to see the current one. Depending on how long the filter has been in service, you might be shocked at what you see: leaves, twigs, insects, soot and grime that literally cover the entire surface that comes in contact with incoming air. You’ll know it’s time for a new cabin air filter.

Tips For Selling Your Vehicle!

July 18th, 2016

  • Consider market factors affecting the sale of your car (don’t try to sell a convertible in the winter), for example.
  • Check online classified ads to see what others in your area are asking for your type of vehicle.
  • Determine a selling price for your car using, KBB.COM
  • Give your car “curb appeal” by cleaning and detailing it(Give Us a Call We can help with that. Fix any problems or drop the price and sell it “as is.”
  • Get a smog inspection if required by your state DMV.
  • Consider buying an vehicle history report, or getting a mechanic’s inspection report to show prospective buyers.
  • Create a “For Sale” sign for your car window.
  • Post an eye-catching online classified advertisement.
  • Make yourself available to answer calls from potential buyers.
  • Arrange to show the car to prospective buyers.
  • Negotiate your best selling price by knowing the market and not dropping your price too quickly. Be patient. Don’t let yourself be pressured.
  • Collect payment for the car by getting a cashier’s check or cash.
  • Finalize the sale by fulfilling all state motor vehicles department paperwork to transfer ownership and limit your liability.
  • Remove all personal items from your car before the new owner drives it away.



Fresh Detail

Do I really need to WAX my car?

July 14th, 2016

Do I really need to wax my car?

The answer is: Probably. Waxing has always made cars extra shiny. That’s still the case today, but both modern paint jobs and wax formulations have improved a lot in recent years. Paint used to be just thatpaint. A new car got a layer of primer and a few coats of colored lacquer, and that was it. Wax not only gave the paint a good gloss, it was also the only line of defense against scratches.

Beginning in the 1980s, manufacturers started adding a layer of clear coat, which seals the paint and adds to the shine of the car. The clear coat also takes the environmental abuse. Things like ultraviolet light, ozone, exhaust, salt, dirt, rain, bug guts, and bird poop build up tiny scratches and oxidation on the clear coat’s surface. As the paint ages, that damage causes the surface to get hazy and the shine to subside, but there’s generally no damage to the color layer below. Not waxing will leave the car looking dull and the clear coat vulnerable to accelerated wear. If you don’t particularly care how the car looks, you can be lazy and never wax itjust keeping the car washed will leave it looking reasonably nice (use a gentle soap made for carsno detergents). Waxing provides a sacrificial layer on top of the clear coat so that when you remove dirt and such you’re not directly rubbing the paint.

Things have changed substantially since dads spent Sunday afternoons rubbing carnauba wax onto lacquer car paint. Now even that classic formulation has additives that make it easier to wax on and wax off. New synthetic formulas are even simpler to apply and offer longer-lasting protection, and spray-on waxes can be applied with almost no effort at all. Plus, you don’t need to wax that often. Even if you obsess over your paint, four coats of wax a year are plenty, and you can use spray-on wax to maintain the shine. We like to wax the car at least twice a year, once before winter and once in the spring.

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How to choose the right body shop: 5 tips.

April 15th, 2015

It’s not uncommon for estimates from different body shops to vary wildly. One shop might give you an estimate for $500 while another wants $2,000 for the work. What’s the difference? And when is it OK to choose the cheaper shop?

John Mallette, owner of Burke Auto Body & Paint, in Long Beach, California, knows better than most people how to choose a reliable shop. Mallette started working on cars when he was 12 years old and has been in the body shop business for 24 years. Here are some of his tips for choosing the right shop to work on your car — particularly when you’re the one paying the bills.

1) Pay Attention to Word-of-Mouth
Any business can advertise, but you’ll do better with a shop that friends, family or acquaintances recommend. It’s a business that has proven it can satisfy customers. And it might not be the biggest or best-known shop in your area.

Mallette went to a shop years ago on such recommendations and found that the owner was a “real stand-up guy…. He doesn’t advertise on the Internet; it’s a family-owned shop,” Mallette says. “But, golly, if you take your car there, you’ll get a fair price.”

In some cases, you might get a recommendation for a small shop where the owner works on the cars himself. “That’s how I like doing business,” Mallette says. “To me it seems so much more personal and then you can understand what’s really going on with your car.”

2) Consider the Operation’s Location and Overhead
“Where you get screwed in our business is labor hours,” Mallette explains. His shop charges $40 per hour for labor. But in ritzy parts of West Los Angeles, the per-hour labor charge is $60-$65. In wealthy Newport Beach, California, Mallette has heard of $90-per-hour labor charges.

Large body shops with a lot of front-office workers probably have to charge higher rates to pay their staff. While service delivered by front-desk folks, managers and foremen gives some people a feeling of confidence in the business, it can result in estimates that are padded with non-essential work. When they’re charging more labor hours at a higher rate, your bill can add up quickly.

In his shop, Mallette says he does things by the book — literally. Body shops and garages use reference guides that estimate the number of hours required to perform common repairs.

“Let’s say somebody has damage to their fender, bumper and headlight,” Mallette tells us. “I go to my book, I write an estimate and I basically go by the hours mandated by the book.”

By contrast, the higher-end shops might decide to charge for everything in “the gray area,” meaning those things that they might have to do to fix the problem. In Mallette’s example, high-end estimates might include a charge for time spent removing the hood and the door, while his judgment call is not to perform this additional work.

3) Get Several Estimates
Taking your car to several auto body shops for repair quotes is the best way to avoid overcharges, Mallette notes. “I’ll tell people to go get some estimates and bring ’em back to me. I’ll match estimates if I can.”

And while it’s important to protect against being overcharged, you shouldn’t simply take the lowest quote. “You might get some kind of midnight guy who will say he can do it really cheap,” he says. “Stay away from those guys, because there is something they’re not doing. You could have major problems down the road.”

4) Ask the Right Questions
When choosing a body shop, “you don’t go in with your pocketbook open,” Mallette explains. “You go in smart,” and ask some key questions. Does the shop provide a written warranty? And if so, for how long? What does the warranty cover?

A one-year warranty is a minimum, Mallette says. His shop offers a two-year warranty for body work and a three-year warranty for complete paint jobs. Some shops offer lifetime warranties as a selling point, but that isn’t realistic, he says.

“Most of the stipulations and conditions those warranties require are more restrictive than the majority of people can adhere to,” he says. “So basically, the warranty becomes useless.”

Another key question is whether the shop carries fire and theft insurance. You want to be sure you’re covered if your car is destroyed, stolen or burglarized. Don’t forget to ask how long the shop has been in business. Make sure it has a business license.

You will also want to know about the materials the shop intends to use. Are new, used or aftermarket body parts going to be used? New parts are obviously the best and used parts are fine, though they don’t offer the savings people imagine. Depending on the damage to your vehicle, aftermarket parts can save a lot of money and can be just as good as the ones that come from the original manufacturer. If paint work is involved, ask how many coats of paint and clear coat the shop intends to use.

5) Follow Your Intuition
Finally, it’s important to trust your intuition about the shop you’re considering. If a shop isn’t busy, maybe that’s because customers are avoiding it because of shoddy repairs. If the place is really dirty, cluttered or disorganized, this might reflect the kind of work you could expect the shop to do with your car. Is the shop owner or manager a grouch who seems to resent answering your questions? You’ll be happier with a shop where the owner communicates well and is straightforward with customers.

“Trust your gut,” Mallette says. “If your gut tells you the guy’s shady I wouldn’t even go there.”

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4 Symptons of a Sick Cooling System

June 17th, 2014

With the hot summer temperatures on the rise, knowing the symptoms of a sick cooling system are critical to your summer driving plans, since cooling system failure is a leading cause of vehicle breakdowns. The most noticeable symptoms are overheating, leaks, a sweet smell of antifreeze and repeatedly needing to add coolant, according to the Car Care Council.


Coolant reservoir and level indicator- image“Neglecting your cooling system can result in serious damage and even complete engine failure, which would put a sudden end to your summer road trip,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “If the
cooling system doesn’t receive regular maintenance, it’s not a question of whether it will fail, but rather when it will fail. Performing regular checkups of belts, hoses, the water pump and fluids will ensure your car remains properly cooled and healthy for many miles down the road.”

The primary job of the engine’s cooling system is to remove the heat that is generated during the combustion process. The coolant temperature can be well over 200 degrees and that heat has to go somewhere, otherwise engine components are going to start failing. The key parts of the cooling system remove the heat from the engine and automatic transmission and dispel it to the air outside. The water pump circulates coolant through the engine. The coolant absorbs heat and returns it to the radiator where heat is dissipated. The thermostat regulates the coolant temperature to keep it consistent for efficient engine operation.

A major factor that affects the replacement of cooling system parts is the frequency of regular maintenance, such as coolant changes. Motorists should consult their owner’s manual for specific recommendations about how often to change antifreeze and flush the coolant system. A coolant flush and fill is basic to cooling system maintenance as new antifreeze helps the engine run cooler and a flush removes dirt or sediment that could damage other cooling system parts.

Low CoolantThe coolant level should be checked regularly at the reservoir and motorists are reminded to NEVER open a hot radiator cap. If the coolant is low, a 50/50 mix of approved antifreeze and distilled water should be added.

Motorists can also do a visual inspection of hoses, belts and the radiator to help identify cooling system problems before they escalate. Radiator leaks, bulging hoses or frayed and cracked belts are clues that the cooling system is in need of maintenance.

Additional signs of cooling system problems include the vehicle temperature gauge rising near the danger zone, coolant leaks, steam or hissing sounds under the hood or the district smell of an engine that’s running hot.


Do your part during tire safety week.

June 6th, 2014

Maintaining your vehicle’s tires is not only essential to getting better gas mileage, but it is also crucial to ensuring safety on the road. To maximize tire life, the Car Care Council recommends checking tire condition and pressure regularly, and there is no better time to start than National Tire Safety Week.

“It takes only five minutes to check tire inflation, including the spare. Since tires effect a vehicle’s ride, handling and traction, checking tire pressure frequently and having tires rotated and balanced are an important part of vehicle safety,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “We encourage all motorists to do their ‘PART’ and check vehicle tire Pressure, Alignment, Rotation and Tread on a regular basis.”

Pressure – Correct tire pressure is good to your wallet and the environment as properly inflated tires can improve gas mileage by three percent or ten cents per gallon. Underinflated tires are under stress and wear uneven, causing them to be replaced sooner.

Alignment – If your car is shaking or pulling to one side it could be a sign of an alignment issue. Because uneven or accelerated tire wear may indicate an alignment problem, it’s a good idea to have your car’s alignment checked at least once a year.

Rotation – Unless your car manual has a specific recommendation, the Car Care Council recommends having tires rotated every 6,000 miles to promote uniform tire wear. Unbalanced wheels can cause rapid wear of shock absorbers and struts, and wheel balance can change as a result of normal tire wear. Rotating the tires to keep their sizes equal is critical on full-size four-wheel drive vehicles as a difference of only 1/4 inch between the outside circumference of the front and rear tires can cause expensive damage. Replacing all four tires at the same time, rather than just the front or rear tires, is highly recommended for these vehicles.

Tread – Use the penny test and visually inspect tires for sign of uneven wear. If the tread depth falls below the minimum legal requirement or the sidewalls become severely cracked or punctured, tire replacement will be necessary.

inside-tire The Car Care Council supports the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s Tire Safety Week (June 1-7, 2014). For more information on service interval schedules, questions to ask a technician and tips to drive smart and save money, check out the council’s free digital Car Care Guide online at


How to change your cabin air filter.

May 20th, 2014

Canging your cabin air filter is an important part of regular vehicle maintenance and one that can not only help improve the circulation and performance of your air conditioning system, but one that can also help improve the quality of air that is circulated through your car.

What is a Cabin Air Filter?
The cabin air filter is a high particulate filtration medium that is attached to the outside air intake of your vehicle’s ventilation system. This device helps to improve air quality and filter out pollution from the air that circulates inside the vehicle. Most air filters are made from a pleated paper construction, using a variety of different filtration media. Some are a cotton and paper blend, while others are basically extremely miniaturized paper filters similar to the air filter of your car’s intake system. There are some that are just a formed and shaped cotton filter in a cartridge.

The cabin air filter is sometimes confused with an internal combustion air filter. The internal combustion air filter is the filter under your hood that prevents particles from getting into the engine. A driver may encounter the internal combustion air filter as a service recommendation at an oil change shop. That’s because if the air filter gets clogged or otherwise compromised, it can affect engine performance.

It’s important to recognize the distinction between these two very different types of air filters. When buying cabin air filters, you’re looking for something that’s going to help improve the air that you will be breathing as a driver or passenger in the vehicle. It’s not so much part of the vehicle’s performance gear as a health and safety device. Drivers can consider buying “green air filters” that are more sustainable and include more attention to what the inhabitants of a vehicle will be breathing.

Where is the Cabin Air Filter Located?
The cabin air filter, or air conditioning filter, is located in different places in different cars. On some cars these are easy to locate, remove and change. On others, they are more difficult to remove and change. They will all be in the air conditioning/vent system after the fan. Most of these can be found just inside a small inspection door in the cabin side of the fan housing. On most cars this will be down by where the front seat passenger’s feet are located. This area is sometimes referred to as the foot well. Refer to your car’s manual for the exact location.

Is the AC Filter the Same as the Cabin Air Filter?
Yes. Some manufacturers call these filters AC filters (or air conditioning filters), while others call them cabin air filters. Either way, they are the same thing and they perform the same function of removing dust and other allergens from the air entering the passenger compartment.

Is Changing Your Cabin Air Filter Really Necessary?
A dirty cabin air filter can cause your air conditioner to run less efficiently, which will waste horsepower. It will also decrease the amount of air flow into the passenger compartment. Both of these conditions will result in higher temperatures in the passenger compartment and the air conditioner having to work harder than it really needs to. Changing the cabin air filter in your vehicle is not only important from a maintenance perspective, but also helps ensure the safety of the passengers in your vehicle. The cabin air filter is a very important part of your car’s ventilation system and removes many common pollutants from the air, thus protecting the passengers inside the vehicle.

Replacing Your Cabin Air Filter
Changing the cabin air filter is fairly easy to do if you follow this how-to guide. New vehicles usually come equipped with one or more cabin air filters. A cabin air filter provides fresh air through the passenger compartment side vents.

Step-By-Step Guide

1. The first thing you need to do is locate your owner’s manual to find out if your vehicle is equipped with a cabin air filter. If you can’t find the information, then your car is probably not equipped with a cabin air filter. However, if you would like to be sure, call your favorite parts store and they can provide you with the information.

When you purchase the new cabin air filter, be aware that there are 2 types of filters. One is called the particulate; the other is called the activated charcoal. The particulate filters out road dust, bacteria, mold spores, pollen and other pollutants. The activated charcoal filters the above mentioned and filters harmful gasses and odors. People who drive around in gridlock or have an odor problem might consider buying the activated charcoal, though it is more expensive.

2. After purchasing the filter, make sure you have your eye protection, gloves, ratchet, socket and screwdriver before beginning the procedure.

3. Remove the glove compartment. Usually, vehicles are equipped with bolts and screws to hold the glove compartment in. Your glove compartment may have tabs as well, so be careful when removing the compartment and use the tabs to remove.

4. After removing the bolt and the screws, remove the glove box frame. Locate the filter housing. Look for a removable plastic filter cover. Remove the filter. Most under-dash filters can be removed simply by opening the filter door.

5. Before installing the new filter, vacuum the filter chamber to remove any excess particles. You may also take a damp cloth and wipe the inside of the air filter chamber to clean out unwanted dust and particles.


  • If you park next to trees, consider waiting to change the cabin air filter until the trees are done pollinating for the season as the pollen can find its way into the filter.
  • People who suffer from allergies may consider changing the cabin air filter more often.
  • Be careful squeezing the tabs, they break easily, so don’t overdo it.

How Often Should You Change a Cabin Air Filter?
Generally speaking, most car manufacturers recommend that the cabin air filter be changed at least once a year or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles–whichever comes first. However, if you operate your vehicle in heavily polluted areas or commonly drive along dirt or gravel roads, you may want to consider changing the oil filter more often. For these types of areas, changing the cabin air filter every 4,000 to 5,000 miles or every 6 months is recommended.

In order to help keep your car’s ventilation system running at optimal efficiency (as well as protect the health of yourself and your passengers), it’s important that you replace your cabin air filter on a regular basis. The money you spend on a replacement filter and the time you spend installing it are well worth the benefits to your car and your health.

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The 3 best products for automotive leather care.

May 2nd, 2014

When cleaning leather car seats, you need to know exactly which type of leather cleaning solution to use. Leather is a highly sensitive material that can become cracked, worn and damaged if mistreated or if it comes into contact with any of the wrong materials and solutions. There are a number of different products to clean these seats, some of which are better than others.

Dedicated Leather Cleaners

There are a number of different cleaning solutions designed specifically for leather surfaces. These can be used to treat any product made of leather, from car seats to jackets, belts, shoes and more. These products contain certain chemical compounds that act to provide moisture to the surface of the leather without causing it to subsequently dry up and crack. Look online for a listing of different dedicated leather cleaning solutions, or visit a auto supply store near you. You may also be able to find products of this type in a shoe repair store.

Natural Balms

Some people find that certain dedicated leather cleaning solutions work well in the short term but may cause long term damage to their car seats. If you’re concerned about this, treat your leather seats with a natural healing balm as well. These balms are designed to work with the polyurethane coating that covers all leather seats in cars. This coating is designed to protect the leather from damage, but if the coating becomes stripped away then the leather is open to exposure and subsequent cracking or splitting. Certain natural balms will clean the leather while simultaneously protecting the polyurethane coating.

Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is a cleaning solution that is most commonly used in horseback riding to clean saddles and other leather materials. Car owners with leather seats have tried various saddle soap products to a great level of success in their vehicles. The soap works to simultaneously clean the leather and to soften it up so that it maintains its shape and appearance. Ask a professional for advice about which saddle soap product to purchase for use in your car.

3 Ways to Avoid Damage to Leather Car Seats

There are products on the market that may seem like they would properly assist you in cleaning and protecting your leather seats, but many cleaning solutions contain ingredients that may actually harm your leather and lead to more long-term damage than necessary. Avoid cracking, fading and drying out of your car seats by periodically following a few simple steps over the life of your vehicle.

Maintain Proper Cleaning

Avoid grabbing anything you can find to quickly wipe down your seats, as the chemicals in most cleaning products will do more harm than good. Like paint damage, leather damage is very difficult and expensive to repair. To avoid damaging the leather, both in the short and long term, be very selective about the products you use for cleaning. A spill may tempt you to quickly grab a baby wipe or other household cleaning wipe. These contain some of the most harmful ingredients that can come into contact with leather.

Also, watch for cleaners and conditioners that contain wax, oil or silicone. These ingredients can leave residue on the surface of the leather that will eventually collect more dirt and residue, contributing to degradation of the leather’s finish. Using a water-based foam leather cleaner is your best bet for the cleaning process. For more difficult stains, it may benefit you to scrub with the proper brush. Always test a small and inconspicuous area of the leather with product and brush, to make sure you’re using the proper tools for the type of leather car seats you’ll be cleaning.

Rehydrate Leather Car Seats

In addition to regularly cleaning your leather car seats, it’s important to help them rehydrate, especially seats which are constantly exposed to heat or sunlight. As with cheap leather cleaners, you also want to avoid products that contain silicones, gloss agents or petroleum distillates. Carefully select a high quality product made for adding moisture back into the material. A quick wipe down with a damp cloth (just plain water) can also help to add hydration to the leather. Make sure not to soak the cloth and also refrain from scrubbing the seats. Simply wipe down lightly and the leather will pick up the moisture it needs.


Leather conditioning is a step you’ll want to perform after cleaning leather car seats. Conditioners are designed to not only rehydrate leather, but also to nourish the fibers and help them to maintain the supple and flexible properties that make leather look and feel like a high quality material. Again, the quality of product you choose will make a big difference. Choose a product that is pH balanced, with ingredients designed to protect from harmful elements, repel dirt, grime and oils and waterproof the finish.


5 Car Battery Myths, Debunked

April 16th, 2014

You may have heard that driving a car will recharge an almost dead battery, or that a new car battery will last longer in a hot climate rather than a cold one. You may also have heard that a bad car battery can damage your vehicle’s electrical system. So what’s the truth and what’s an old wives tale?

1. A dead car battery is trash
Myth: actually, a dead car battery, although unable to provide the hundreds of amps needed to power a car, can still work to run lower-watt, battery-run tools. Check out what this Instructables blogger did with his dead car battery.

2. Idling will warm up a battery on a cold day
Myth: As we northern Indiana Hoosiers are very used to (especially this season!) winters here are cold. Polar vortexes make it extra difficult to get up and go to school and work – but you’re not the only one who has trouble starting on cold mornings. Your car battery does require warming up, but contrary to popular belief, idling your vehicle for a while before putting it in drive won’t do the trick. The most effective way to warm up your car battery is simply driving it. Modern engines take less than a minute of idling on a cold day before they’re ready to drive, and too much idling could actually damage an engine’s components.

3. Your new car battery will last about 40 months
Truth: The average new battery will last proximately 40 months (31/3 years), but that number can be affected if you live in parts of the country that experience extreme temperatures.

4. Cold temperatures cause more dead batteries than hot temperatures
Myth: Surprisingly there are more dead batteries during the summer months from temperatures that cook the battery’s electrolytes than there are dead batteries in winter.

5. A bad battery will harm the electrical or starter system of your car
Truth: weak batteries will put stress on the charging and starting system. Your car may have to compensate the voltage or current the bad battery is lacking, which can lead to vehicle failure.


Quoted from Levin Tire Center’s Blog.

Fix your car’s flaws, inside and out: advice for the DIY’er.

April 4th, 2014

At Ace we make cars look new again. To perfection.

But if you can’t afford our fees, you can attempt to do the job yourself, with some help from this website.

You’ll find articles, photos, and videos to help you fix:

  • bumper scratches
  • wheel scrapes
  • bumper replacement
  • cloudy headlights
  • fine paint scratches
  • rock chips
  • dull paint
  • dirty engines
  • dirty interiors
  • scratched interior plastic

and more.

And if you need a ‘bail out’ we’re here to finish the job for you.


How we fix small damage, fast and cheap.

March 21st, 2014

Express Scratch Repair, from Ace.

Everyday, vehicles get dented, scratched and scraped by minor accidents. These vehicles can be fixed in the same day with Sherwin-Williams Express Scratch Repair™ using the HP Process™ Refinish System. The Express Scratch Repair™ program, created by The Sherwin-Williams Company, was designed to help dealership and independent collision facilities capitalize on an overlooked market segment
(small damage repair).

Simplified Damage Assessment Tools

Express Scratch Repair™ damage assessment tools provide a quick and easy quote for the repair of your minor damage. Our Instant Evaluator tool gives you exactly what you pay, at a glance, and that number doesn’t change when you pay the bill, ever.

Learn more, in this video:

Do you have to use the manufacturer’s oil?

March 7th, 2014

Ten or 15 years ago, choosing the oil for your car was simple. All you needed to know was the viscosity — 5W-30, for example — and you could get a few bottles at the local auto parts store. But this simplicity is starting to go away.

General Motors’ transition to a new oil specification for all its 2011 and newer vehicles is bringing new attention to the issue of manufacturer oil specifications. GM isn’t the first to require such a specification, but its move signals a change in the car-maintenance landscape.

A manufacturer’s oil specification is a unique blend that an automaker creates and mandates for use in its vehicles. GM’s new oil product, Dexos, consolidates its five prior recommended oil specifications into two blends: Dexos1 for gasoline-powered vehicles and Dexos2 for diesels.

GM and other automakers warn that failure to use their factory-specified oils could void a car’s warranty. These new oil specifications can also create confusion and cost issues for consumers who change the oil themselves or take their cars to local mechanics who may not be aware of the changes.

Oil Has Changed
The oil inside a modern engine might look just like it did a decade ago, but it actually is far more advanced. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the International Lubricants Standardization and Approval Committee (ILSAC) have set the standards for oil for the past 60 years and have changed the specifications roughly every five years. Oil needs to change to meet increasing emissions regulations, offer better protection against sludge and improve fuel economy.

“There has been a significant increase in lubricant quality in the past 20 years,” says Robert Sutherland, principal scientist for Pennzoil passenger-car engine lubricants. “But there has also been a significant increase in the stress that the engines put on the lubricant.”

Sutherland says it’s a game of leapfrog. As the hardware moves forward, the oil specifications must also change to handle the additional heat and properly lubricate the engine. He adds that the tolerances in a modern engine are closer and tighter, which means that the oil’s ability to keep critical engine parts clean is more important than it used to be.

Automakers’ Own Recipes
The API and ILSAC standards are the baseline, says Timothy Miranda, senior engineer for race oil and field testing for Castrol Lubricants, which manufactures oil for automakers such as Audi, BMW and Volkswagen. Automakers are free to improve upon the standards as long as they meet the minimum requirements.

“They may choose to have their own specifications because of a unique aspect of their engine design,” Miranda says. For example, if a car is turbocharged, it might require synthetic oil rather than conventional oil.

This manufacturer standard is more common among the German automakers, thanks to more stringent European oil specifications, Miranda says. Rather than have numerous blends for different regions, each automaker created one specification for its vehicles. They have brought those standards to the U.S., as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen all have their own oil formulations.

According to Miranda, most American and Japanese automakers have tended to stick with the API guidelines. This means that they recommend any oil with the API “starburst” or “donut” symbol on its label.

GM distanced itself from the API guidelines with the introduction of Dexos. According to GM, the Dexos oil specification will decrease harmful piston deposits by up to 28 percent and improve fuel efficiency by up to 0.3 percent compared to the older ILSAC GF-4 specifications.

GM licenses the Dexos certification to motor oil manufacturers that can then choose to offer a full-synthetic variation, as long as it meets the requirements. Since Dexos-certified oil is compatible with older cars, the specification will also affect owners of pre-2011 GM vehicles who get their cars serviced at dealerships. Though Dexos isn’t being mandated retroactively, chances are dealers will fill their bulk tanks with it to consolidate their oil inventory.

What This Means for the Consumer
More expensive maintenance: “The OEMs are looking for protection and the customer wants longevity,” Miranda says. This protection comes at a cost. As manufacturer oil specifications become more common, the auto industry moves farther away from conventional oil and toward synthetic blends or fully synthetic oil. While these newer oils offer better protection and longer intervals between oil changes, they also have a higher price tag.

This price bump can be offset by the automakers who offer free maintenance programs. But when the coverage runs out, a customer who is not used to paying for a synthetic oil change could experience some sticker shock when faced with a $90 oil change.

Potential warranty problems: The language in some owner’s manuals suggests that using an oil other than the one specified by the manufacturer will void the car’s warranty. This is not the case, says Thom Smith, Valvoline’s vice president of branded lubricant technology.

According to the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act, the onus would be on GM or another automaker to prove that a non-manufacturer oil damaged the engine. If dealers deny the warranty claim without first investigating it, they are in violation of the act, Smith says.

Consumers just need to make sure that any alternate oil they use is comparable in quality to the automaker’s specified oil. Many oil manufacturers, including Valvoline, are so confident of their product that they offer their own warranty against engine damage that their products might be alleged to have caused.

If talk of voided warranties and engine damage makes you nervous, just use the manufacturer’s specified oil for the duration of the warranty. Keep in mind that a vehicle’s engine falls under the drivetrain warranty (also known as the powertrain warranty). In most cases, this is longer than the traditional bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Your local mechanic or quick-lube facility may not be aware of your car’s specific oil requirements. You can still go to these places, but be sure to ask ahead of time what kind of oil they will use. Or bring your own oil to avoid any confusion.

Required manual reading: Not all cars require a manufacturer-specified oil. They do have a recommended viscosity, such as 0W-20, however. Check the owner’s manual for any mention of a required brand or specification. If the manual doesn’t name one, you can save money by buying oil at an auto parts store. Make sure it’s the correct viscosity.

There are money-saving opportunities to be had even if your vehicle does call for a manufacturer-specified oil. For example, GM has a Web site that lists the approved Dexos oil manufacturers. Most of their products are available online or at auto parts stores and may cost less than at the dealership.

In some situations, the manufacturer-specified oil may not be in stores or it might cost more than you want to spend. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will usually list the specifications for an equivalent oil that meets the automaker’s standard. Does that mean it’s just as good as a manufacturer-specified oil such as Dexos? There’s controversy on this point.

Flack from the oil wars: Tom Read, a spokesperson for GM’s powertrain technology group, warns that using an alternative oil might diminish performance.

“If a customer uses a non-licensed engine oil that is simply ILSAC GF-5 quality, they will not enjoy the benefits of using a Dexos-licensed product,” Read says. Those benefits could include better low-temperature performance, cleaner pistons and better aeration performance, he says. “This could be especially important as the engine oil ages.”

Read’s case for Dexos sounds compelling, but Valvoline’s Smith isn’t buying it.

“Our SynPower 5W-20, 5W-30 and DuraBlend 5W-30 went through all the Dexos testing and passed all the requirements,” Smith says. “But we felt that carrying the Dexos name was not providing the consumer with any value.”

Rather than raise the price of its oil to offset the cost of licensing the Dexos name, Valvoline chose to forgo the license and keep the prices lower, he says.

Smith says that GM’s engine-performance warnings are part of its goal to drive consumers to dealerships for their maintenance. “We feel that they are taking choice away from the consumer,” he says.

Focus on the Oil Basics
Setting aside the claims and counter-claims of manufacturer-specified oil superiority, here’s all you have to remember: As long as you follow the oil specifications shown in your owner’s manual, you have nothing to worry about.

In the event that the dealership tries to void your warranty over the use of non-manufacturer oil, know that the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act will protect you. If your vehicle doesn’t have an oil specification, you have more flexibility in choosing your product. Finally, make sure you know the proper viscosity for your car and change the oil at the proper interval.

Quoted from:

The Do’s and Don’ts of test driving a car.

February 18th, 2014


FaradayWest Finance

How To Fix Your Car’s Oxygen Sensor

February 11th, 2014

If your car’s “Check Engine” light is glaring at you, it’s probably because the oxygen sensor is malfunctioning. That’s right, the oxygen sensor. It’s a little device that’s a mystery for most drivers but its misbehavior is the problem that most commonly triggers a Check Engine light, according to, which sells an automotive diagnostic tool and provides repair information. The oxygen sensor unseats the formerly most common Check Engine light culprit: a loose gas cap. There are fewer reports of that problem because savvy motorists have learned to fix it themselves and consumers now buy new cars with capless gas tanks.

But don’t despair. Replacing your car oxygen sensor will keep you from wasting money by burning extra gas, and the repair isn’t horribly expensive. We know this firsthand. We had to replace the O2 sensor on our 1996 Lexus ES 300, the subject of our Debt-Free Car project, and it wasn’t as much of a hassle or expense as we had feared.

After the dreaded Check Engine light appeared in our Lexus, we plugged the CarMD device into the car’s computer to read the error code. In our case, the code was P0135, which meant that the oxygen sensor in “bank 1” was malfunctioning. It was surprising to learn that something was wrong with the car, since it still seemed to be running fine.

Even though a car seems to be behaving normally, a faulty oxygen sensor will cause the engine to start “gulping down gas,” says Kristin Brocoff, director of corporate communications for She says this problem can cause up to a 40 percent reduction in fuel economy. Sure enough, when we checked our fuel record for the driving we did while the Check Engine light was on, our mpg had taken a hit.

The oxygen sensor, developed in the early 1980s, is an essential part of the car’s emissions control system, says John Nielsen, director of engineering and repair for the American Automobile Association (AAA). The sensor is about the size and shape of a spark plug and protrudes into the car engine’s exhaust stream. It determines if there is a lot or a little oxygen in the exhaust, so the engine can make adjustments to the amount of fuel being used in the engine to run at maximum efficiency.

Oxygen sensors in older cars fail for a variety of reasons, according to Bosch, a leading manufacturer of auto components. In some cases, sensors are fouled by gasoline additives or oil from worn engines. Newer oxygen sensors can last 100,000 miles if conditions are right, but often problems occur sooner.

After we plugged CarMD’s diagnostic device into the Lexus’ onboard computer port, we connected it to our desktop computer. It accessed a database of information about this engine code and how to have it repaired. Among other things, the report included an average estimate just to buy a new oxygen sensor: $168.82.

At the first sight of a Check Engine light, most owners of new cars that are still under the factory warranty would simply make a beeline for the dealership’s service bay. But car owners on a budget might want to go the do-it-yourself diagnosis route to save money. By using the CarMD device, or any engine code reader, drivers can learn what the problem is, and the skill level required to fix it, before attempting the task.

Modern cars have two to four oxygen sensors, Nielsen says. A V6 engine, such as the one in our Lexus, has one sensor in each exhaust manifold and one after the catalytic converter. The sensors simply screw into place, but reaching them can be a problem for do-it-yourselfers. Additionally, since the exhaust subjects the sensor to extreme heat, it can “seize” (become frozen in place) and be tough to unscrew. A new sensor comes with anti-seize compound to apply to the threads, but the compound should never be put on the sensor itself.

Nielsen says that while a code reader might indicate that the problem is the car oxygen sensor, there are other problems that can trigger the identical code — a disconnected vacuum hose will do it, for example.

As a first step, a car owner can look under the hood to see if there are any wires or hoses disconnected, Nielsen says. In some cases, a wire leading to the oxygen sensor could be broken or burned out. If nothing obvious is visibly awry, it’s time to go to what Nielsen calls “a trusted mechanic.” Reputable garages use an expensive diagnostic machine called a scan tool — not to be confused with an inexpensive code reader — that can watch the operation of the engine in real time and see if the oxygen sensor is actually the problem.

“Most motorists would be well served to find a shop that they trust and take their car there for all oil changes and tire rotations,” Nielsen suggests. “Then, when they have a problem with something like an oxygen sensor, they trust what the mechanic is saying rather than thinking that they’re trying to rip you off.”

In our case, we learned that the faulty O2 sensor was in the rear of the engine and difficult to reach, so the fix seemed above our skill level. Instead, we took the Lexus to Overseas Garage, in Long Beach, California. There, the mechanic told us that the new sensor would cost $117, plus $144 in labor for a total of $261. This was close to the $246 average cost cited by CarMD’s Brocoff.

While many people opt to simply ignore “Check Engine” lights, Brocoff says this can cause bigger, more costly problems later. “So the problem you could have fixed for a few hundred dollars turns into a repair of the catalytic converter, which would be over a thousand.”

Driving back from the garage, it was a relief not to stare at the glowing check engine light. This made us realize that fixing such a problem provides another benefit: peace of mind.

Quoted from

Aftermarket Versus Manufacturer Car Parts

January 21st, 2014

aftermarket-car-partsWhen you take your car to the dealership’s service department for repairs, you know you’re getting Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) car parts. However, if you take your car to an independent shop, you’ll most likely get aftermarket car parts. Is there anything wrong with that? Does a less expensive part mean a poorer-quality part? And in what situations should you use only OEM parts?

To answer these questions, we’ve created a list of pros and cons to help you make a more informed decision when choosing what parts go into your car. In this way, you can strike a balance between cost and quality.

Aftermarket Parts

An aftermarket part is any part for a vehicle that is not sourced from the car’s maker. If the parts are direct replacement parts, they will not void your car’s warranty. A number of companies make parts designed to function the same, or in some cases even better than the original. Tom Torbjornsen, host of America’s Car Show, estimates that about 80 percent of independent shops use aftermarket parts. “Be an informed consumer,” said Torbjornsen.”Shop around, make sure you’re dealing with a good mechanic and request high-quality aftermarket parts.”


  • Less expensive: Aftermarket parts are usually less expensive than OEM parts; how much you save varies by brand. Shop around to find the best price and to get an idea of how much that part usually costs. If the price of a part seems too good to be true, ask questions about its quality.
  • Quality can be equal to or greater than OEM: In some cases, you may end up with a better part than you started with. “The aftermarket companies reverse-engineer the part, and work the weaknesses out,” said Torbjornsen. For example, when an automaker designs its brake pads, it has to strike a balance between cost, durability, noise levels and performance. If you want better performance and don’t mind some extra brake noise (some brake pads squeak even though they are stopping the car effectively), an aftermarket pad may be your best choice.
  • More variety: There are hundreds of companies that make aftermarket parts. Some specialize in specific parts, and other companies, like NAPA, make almost any part you can think of. More variety means greater selection and a wider range of prices.
  • Better availability: You can walk into any gas station, auto parts store or local mechanic, and they’re bound to have a part that fits your car. This gives you more options on where to take your car for service.


  • Quality varies greatly: The saying “you get what you pay for” rings true here. Some aftermarket parts are inferior because of the use of lower-quality materials. Stick with aftermarket brands you’re familiar with or are recommended by a mechanic you trust, even if these parts cost a bit more.
  • Overwhelming selection: If you’re not familiar with aftermarket brands, the selection could be overwhelming, and there’s some chance you may get a bad quality part. Even a part as simple as a spark plug can be made by dozens of different companies and comes in numerous variations. Consult your mechanic for advice or simply stick with the OEM part when the price difference isn’t significant.
  • May not have a warranty: To keep costs down, some aftermarket parts are sold without a warranty.

OEM Parts

OEM parts are made by the vehicle’s manufacturer. These match the parts that came with your vehicle when it rolled off the assembly line.


  • Easier to choose your part: If you go to the parts counter at a dealership and ask for any part, you’ll usually get one type. You don’t have to worry about assessing the quality of different brands and prices.
  • Greater assurance of quality: The OEM part should work exactly as the one you are replacing. It is what the vehicle was manufactured with and provides a peace of mind in its familiarity and performance.
  • Comes with a warranty: Most automakers back up their OEM parts with a one-year warranty. And if you get your car repaired at the dealer, they’ll usually stand by their labor as well.


  • More expensive: OEM parts will usually cost more than an aftermarket part. When it comes to bodywork, OEM parts tend to cost about 60 percent more, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). There is more of a burden on parts and service to increase a dealership’s profit, since the sales departments have been underperforming. But the gap in pricing might be closing, says Torbjornsen. “We’ve seen a balance in the scales; dealers are now trying to compete with independent shops.”
  • Need to be bought at the dealership: Even though there are other ways of buying OEM parts (eBay, online wholesalers), most people will go to a dealership to buy their car parts. This limits the number of places you can buy from. You can request OEM parts from your local mechanic, but it may take longer to get your vehicle repaired since the parts must be ordered.
  • Quality may not be superior: You paid the extra money for an OEM part, hoping that it was vastly better than an aftermarket part. But that may not always be the case. As Torbjornsen mentioned earlier, some aftermarket parts are equal to or in some cases better than OEM parts. So you might be paying extra just for the name.

When Should You Request OEM Parts?

When it comes to collision repairs, make sure you are getting OEM parts, since aftermarket body panels may not fit properly or have proper crumple zones for crash safety.

If you lease your car, there are also economic considerations. Since aftermarket parts decrease a vehicle’s book value, using them to repair your vehicle’s body may cost you part or all of your security deposit.

But here’s the rub: In 21 states and the District of Columbia, a body shop’s repair estimate does not have to indicate whether aftermarket parts will be used. You’ll often find that your insurance company will favor aftermarket parts because they are cheaper. If you request OEM parts, some insurance companies ask you to pay an additional fee. Check with your insurance provider beforehand, to see what parts they will cover.

Which Is the Best Way To Go?

All aftermarket parts are not created equal — but all OEM parts are. This creates its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you’re familiar with a number of brands or work on your own car, aftermarket parts can save you a lot of money. If you’re not familiar with aftermarket brands, prefer to have everything done at the dealership and don’t mind paying a bit extra for that peace of mind, OEM is a good choice for you.

Quoted from

How To Prep Your Car for Long-Term Storage

January 3rd, 2014

covered carMaybe you have a convertible that you love to drive in the summer, but now winter’s on the way. Maybe you’re going to leave town for school or an extended vacation. Or perhaps you are in the military and are being deployed overseas.

Whatever the reason, you sometimes need to store your car. There are a number of things to do before you lock the door and walk away for a month or more. If you simply let your vehicle sit on the street or in a garage for an extended period of time, you may return to a dead battery or — worse yet — a damaged engine, ruined tires and a rat’s nest under your hood.

Here’s a list of important steps to take before you store a vehicle. Taking these precautions will not only ensure that your car starts when you return to it, but also ensure that its time in storage doesn’t shorten the life of the engine.

Keep It Covered
The ideal place to store the vehicle is in a garage. This will protect it from the elements and keep it at a temperature that’s relatively stable. If you don’t have a garage, and you can find accommodation at a reasonable price, consider putting the car in a public storage facility.

If you have to leave the car outdoors, consider getting a weatherproof car cover. This will help keep the car clean and dry.

Clean It Up
It may seem counterintuitive to get the car washed when you’re putting it away for months, but it is an easy step and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Water stains or bird droppings left on the car can damage the paint. Make sure to clean the wheels and undersides of the fenders to get rid of mud, grease or tar. For added protection, give the car a coat of wax.

Change the Oil
Skip this step if you’re only storing the car for a week or two. But if you will be storing the vehicle for longer than 30 days, consider getting the oil changed. Ford recommends this in its owner’s manuals, saying that used engine oil has contaminants that could damage the engine.

Top off the Tank
This is another long-term car storage tip. If you expect the car to be in storage for more than 30 days, fill the tank with gas. This will prevent moisture from accumulating inside the fuel tank and keep the seals from drying out. You should also purchase a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-bil, to prevent ethanol buildup and protect the engine from gum, varnish and rust. The fuel stabilizer will prevent the gas from deteriorating for up to 12 months.

Keep It Charged
An unattended battery will eventually lose its charge. If possible, get someone to start the car every two weeks and drive it for about 15 minutes. Driving the car periodically has two benefits. It will maintain the battery’s charge, help the car “stretch its legs” and keep the engine and other components properly lubricated. It is also a good idea to run the air-conditioner to keep the parts in working order and the air quality fresh.

If you cannot arrange for someone to start the car, there are two other options. The low-tech solution is to disconnect the negative battery cable. You’ll likely lose the stereo presets, time and other settings. If you want to keep those settings and ensure that your battery starts the moment you return, purchase a battery tender, also known as a trickle charger. This device hooks up to your car battery on one end and plugs into a wall outlet on the other. It delivers just enough electrical power to prevent the battery from discharging.

Don’t Use the Parking Brake
It’s usually a good idea to use the parking brake, but don’t do it when you leave a car in storage. If the brake pads make contact with the rotors for too long, there is a chance that they might fuse. Instead of engaging the brake, you can purchase a tire stopper, also called a chock, to prevent the car from moving.

Prevent Flat Spots
Make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended tire pressure. If a vehicle is left stationary for too long, the tires could develop flat spots as the weight of the vehicle presses down on the tires’ footprints. This process occurs at a faster rate in colder temperatures and with vehicles equipped with performance tires or low-profile tires.

In some cases, simply having someone drive the car for awhile will bring the tires up to their normal operating temperature and get rid of any flat spots. In more severe cases, a flat spot becomes a permanent part of the tire and you will need to replace the tire.

If your car will be in storage for more than 30 days, consider taking the wheels off and placing the car on jack stands at all four corners. This step requires more work, but it can save you from needing a new set of tires. Without the weight of a vehicle resting upon them, your tires will be in much better shape when you return.

Keep Critters Out
A garage will keep your car dry and relatively warm. Unfortunately, those are also two things that make a garaged car attractive to mice or rats. There are plenty of places in your car for critters to hide and plenty of things for them to chew on. Try to cover any gaps where a mouse could enter, such as the exhaust pipe or an air intake. Steel wool works well for this. Next, spread mothballs or cotton swabs dipped in peppermint oil along the perimeter of the vehicle. The smell is said to drive mice away.

If you want to take a more proactive approach, lay down a few mousetraps and some rat poison. Just make sure someone can check the garage periodically, in case there are some casualties. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with a smell much worse than mothballs when you take the car out of storage.

Maintain Insurance
You might be tempted to cancel your auto insurance when your vehicle is in storage. Although that might initially save money, there is a chance that the insurance company will raise your rates due to the gap in coverage, which could cost you more in the long run. This can vary based on where you live and who your provider is, so contact your insurance company to see what options are available to you.

Get Back in Action
Here’s a checklist of what to do when you’re ready to bring your vehicle out of storage:

  • Check under the hood for any evidence of rodents. Look for chewed belts, hoses, wires or nests. If you covered the muffler or air intake, remove that material before you start the car.
  • Check the windshield wipers to see if the rubber is cracked or brittle.
  • Check tire pressure and inflate the tires to the recommended specs.
  • Check the brakes. Rust may have accumulated on the rotors. In most cases, this should go away after you drive the vehicle for a short time.
  • Check fluids to make sure there have been no leaks and that they are at the recommended levels.
  • If the battery cable has been disconnected, make sure that you reconnect it and that the battery terminals are clean.
  • Wash your vehicle to remove any dirt that may have accumulated.

Quoted from

Buying a used car in Portland Oregon

December 17th, 2013

What you should know:

This information is absolutely invaluable for those who are just starting their used car shopping adventure in Portland. The information below is more of a recap of the more in depth information we’ve provided on our “PDXinspections Tips for Shopping and Buying a Quality Used Car“ page.

If you’re going to be financing the vehicle and working with a dealer, try to get pre-approved through a credit union of your choosing prior to starting your search. If you’re not a member of a local credit union start there. Many offer rates as low as 0.99% on used cars up to 3-4 years old. Most will typically pre-approve you and provide you 60 days to shop. Credit unions are not only much easier to not only work with, they offer lower rates, better customer service, they’re more apt to actually approve you and usually makes for a very easy transaction once you find the right car.

There are a lot of used car dealers to choose from. It’s typically better to start with the larger franchised dealers if you want/need to purchase from a dealer. We believe you get more car for less money if you are patient and invest the time to find a private party selling their own vehicle. Be cautious and perform in depth research any dealer you’re considering working with, especially when considering a vehicle from a smaller independent dealer. You will quickly find out what dealers care about customer service/sell quality vehicles (they go hand in hand) and which are all about making money and have no problem selling clunkers.

  • Yelp – Be sure to check out the “Not recommended/filtered reviews” as well. Watch out for dealers who have 1 star reviews followed by 5 star reviews
  • Google “Company name + reviews”
  • Yahoo
  • BBB – We have mixed feelings about the better business bureau

In Portland there are a lot of private party sellers advertising vehicles that are not actually registered to them. Unlicensed dealers are known as curbers and these can quickly become a nightmare transactions between problem cars and issues for you when you go to register/title the vehicle in your name. These sellers are easy to spot, look for a combination of the following:

  • Look for missing license plates in pictures – Why would the owner not have plates on the car?
  • If the phone number is provided – is it masked: 5 oh three 78 nine zero 1 6 8 or 5o3-789-OI68? This is a good clue they’re doing this to prevent you from simply googling the number to see all of the other vehicles they are selling or have sold in the past.
  • Google “the phone number + for sale” prior to contacting that seller. See other vehicles come up? You likely found a curber.
  • Read through the ad. Do they specifically say “my” car or do they explain it like it’s just another car they’re selling. Is there a lot of information about the car stating its history, repairs, etc or is the ad very basic?

An often-overlooked tip. Look at the license plates in the ads or ask the dealer about the registration if they have dealer vanity plates on the cars. Oregon doesn’t have a tax on their vehicle purchases but the licensing and registration fees can be quite expensive. For example:

  • A vehicle with current Oregon plates will only require a quick trip to the DMV and cost you $77 dollars to title in your name. You don’t have to pay for registration until the tags expire.
  • A vehicle without plates or expired tags will require a separate trip the Oregon DEQ first, it must pass DEQ, followed by a trip the DMV with fees that could be upwards of $350. Remember, a private party seller selling a vehicle without license plates is very often an unlicensed dealer.

Use Kelly Blue Book to check the value of the vehicle to get an estimate on what it’s worth. Knowing this information prior to your calling will help you get an idea how negotiable the seller is. You’ll probably notice many vehicles such as popular “in demand” Honda’s and Toyota’s don’t typically follow KBB’s values, so be sure to figure out what the true market value is before getting frustrated by everyone asking too much for their vehicles. Again KBB values are pointless if none of the vehicles online are listed anywhere close to those values. Our advice is to put craigslist to work for you by changing the way you look and compare vehicles. Search by title only and be specific like this:

  • In the search bar type: 2005 Civic ->”search”
  • Check the title box and then Sort by price high to low ->”search”
  • Look at the average pricing and look at the lower priced vehicles, check them out and find roughly where the clean title vehicles start and then go back and adjust the minimum and maximum values to exclude the salvage vehicles and those that are clearly overpriced or out of your budget. Finally hit search again.
  • You should see something like this:
  • Now re-search, adjusting the year up and down and see what others are listed for.

When you go to look at the car. Start it up and pay close attention to all of the warning lights in the dash. They should all light up and then disappear within about 10 seconds. If any of the Airbag, SRS, ABS, Check engine, Service engine or similar lights remain illuminated, ask the seller to fix and provide receipts of service prior to further considering the vehicle. If they aren’t interested in doing this then why would you waste your time? It always amazes us how many vehicles we show up with lights on such as the airbag light on, especially at dealerships! This could be a $100 fix or it could be a $1000+ fix, why not eliminate this issue prior to spending your inspection money on a vehicle that the seller isn’t going to be willing to fix or negotiate into the price. Many times people are selling their cars once they get an estimate on what it costs to actually fix. Don’t fall for stories, it’s not typically as minor as they may portray otherwise they likely would have fixed it.


There are a lot of people claiming to perform mobile onsite used car inspections. Would you find your next doctor on craigslist? Only trust real established businesses who employs real properly certified master technicians, who perform all the necessary tests and inspect the entire vehicle, who have established real customer feedback, and most importantly a completely unbiased company without any hidden agendas or performing any other automotive work. We speak from experience as someone who has performed dealer used vehicle inspections, no other automotive business anywhere gives you all of the information needed between our upfront research, history report(s) provided, class leading customer service and our in depth inspection itself.

The information above should help point you to the right car more quickly with fewer frustrations.
Please be sure to read through our more in depth page ”PDXinspections Tips for Shopping and Buying a Quality Used Car“

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Online Tire-Buying

December 9th, 2013

Some people might assume that buying tires online and having them shipped to you is too expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome. So they continue to schlep down to the corner tire store, or buy from a chain store and wind up paying more than is necessary.

However, thanks to easy-to-navigate Web sites, consumers can provide their car’s year, make and model and quickly be shown a wide selection of tires that fit their vehicle. The choices are easily sorted based on the driving requirements, prices or other factors. The tires are then “drop-shipped” to a local tire store for installation at an additional cost. Consumers we have talked with have been amazed at how smoothly the online tire-buying process works. In fact, one shopper called it, “One of my best online-shopping experiences.”

Advantages of Online Tire-Buying

The Internet route offers the following advantages over the traditional tire-buying experience:

  • Online tire prices are lower, particularly when compared to inflated costs at dealerships.
  • Consumer reviews help buyers make informed decisions.
  • Buyers avoid aggressive “upselling” found in many brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Some online tire-buying Web sites, such as offer their own independent tire tests.
  • There is no state sales tax on most Internet purchases (depending on the laws in your state).
  • One can find an excellent selection of hard-to-find performance and specialty tires.

Disadvantages of Online Tire-Buying

Purchasing tires over the Internet does have a few drawbacks. Here are a few things to know before proceeding:

  • The purchase requires advance planning and takes days.
  • Buyers can’t inspect the actual tires before purchasing.
  • A trusted local installer still needs to be located.
  • Some buyers prefer the face-to-face interaction with an expert.
  • Shipping costs are high, particularly for overnight delivery.

Navigating Your Way to a Good Deal

The process starts with choosing the right tires for your needs. With some 160 different brands in the marketplace, the choice can be overwhelming. Many people are confused by what has been called sidewall graffiti, the hieroglyphic-like information about size, speed and load rating. In most cases, all you need to know is the year, make and model of your car. If you have put aftermarket wheels on the vehicle, you might need to know your wheel size before proceeding.

Nearly all online tire-buying sites allow you to view the list of tires using different sorting methods. If you have a brand preference, such as Michelin, you can sort the list so you can look at all those tires first. You can also cross-shop other brands by reading reviews from people who have bought these brands. While consumer reviews are important, it’s also a good idea to read the opinions of experts who have a greater depth of comparative knowledge.

If you don’t know a lot about tires, an easy way to make a decision is to look at the provided star ratings and the price range you have in mind to find the best intersection of these two factors. However, while most people like to save money, it’s also important to make tire safety a priority.

Sorting Through Price

In tire stores you are likely to be quoted a per-tire price, so you have to do the math on the fly. On the Internet, the computer totals the cost of the four tires and gives you a better idea of whether this will fit into your budget. Keep in mind that while you are likely to be paying a hefty shipping price, you will probably not be charged sales tax by the company unless they have an office or warehouse in your state.

If you want to do a cost comparison to traditional tire-buying, keep these factors in mind:

  • Cost of the tires
  • Shipping cost
  • Savings from not paying sales tax, depending upon the merchant and where you live
  • Cost of installation
  • Disposal fees and excise taxes

Getting Your Tires Mounted and Balanced

In addition to the tire cost, you will also have to pay to have the tires mounted and balanced. has a list of local installers arranged by ZIP code, so when you order you can have the tires shipped directly to the store. When the tires arrive, the installer calls you to bring the car down to have the job completed.

It’s a good idea to read reviews of the installer ahead of time, and call and confirm the price for the work you need done. You will have to buy valve stems from the installer, have the tires mounted and balanced and have the old tires disposed of. The cost for all this ranges from $15 to $20 per tire depending on tire size and type.

Give the Online Route a Try

If you can save $15 per tire, that’s a total savings of $60, not to mention you’ll avoid some of the pricy extras many chain tire stores push on unwary customers. So give this new shopping experience a test-drive next time the tread is wearing thin on your tires. Like many other consumers, you might be so satisfied you’ll never go back to the old way of doing things.

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Oil Life Monitoring Systems

December 6th, 2013

Until recently, the question of when to change your oil was usually answered by your local garage, which had a vested interest in servicing your car every 3,000 miles. Your alternative was to crack the owner’s manual to see whether your driving habits fell into the “severe” or “normal” category. And then you’d let the listed interval be your frequency guide.

But increasingly, the change-interval question is being answered by a vehicle’s oil life monitoring system, which signals the driver through the instrument panel. This alert usually arrives anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 miles.

So how does the system know when it’s time for a change? Electronic sensors throughout the drivetrain send information about engine revolutions, temperature and driving time to the car’s computer. The data is run through a mathematical algorithm that predicts when the oil will begin to degrade. The light comes on well in advance, giving the owner time to get the car serviced.

Oil life monitoring systems have been around for several decades. They were introduced in General Motors vehicles in the late 1980s and have been phased in slowly, said Matt Snider, project engineer in GM’s Fuels and Lubricants Group. “We are very confident in the accuracy of the system,” he said. The average recommendation from the system for GM vehicles is 8,500 miles, Snider said. He said that the longest oil change interval he was personally aware of was 17,000 miles in a colleague’s car. For 2010 vehicles, 14 of 35 manufacturers use oil life monitoring systems.

Real-World Evidence
The oil life monitoring system in a 2007 Honda Fit Sport owned by an editor signaled for an oil change at 5,500 miles, due to a lot of around-town driving. Later, under highway conditions, the system (which Honda calls a “maintenance minder”) came on at 7,600 miles. Clearly, the system had detected different driving conditions and adjusted accordingly.

When we had the oil changed, we captured a sample and sent it to Blackstone Laboratories. Showing the conservative nature of the oil life sensors, the analysis showed the oil had at least 2,000 miles of life left in it.

A long-term 2008 Pontiac G8 GT driven by Edmunds went 13,000 miles before the monitoring system indicated the need for an oil change. We also sent a sample of that oil to a lab for analysis. The result: The oil could actually have safely delivered at least another 2,000 miles of service. “With an oil life system, we can use the software to tailor an oil drain interval to the behavior of a certain customer,” Snider said.

Freed From the Schedules
Perhaps the best thing about oil life monitoring systems is that they free car owners from the confusing exercise of slotting themselves in the normal or severe driving schedules listed in the owner’s manual. Severe conditions are described differently by various carmakers, but some “severe” conditions that they frequently cite are driving in stop-and-go traffic, towing, excessive idling and driving in the mountains.

In many cases, quick-oil-change outlets and dealerships’ service departments encourage frequent oil changes by claiming that every driver falls in the severe category. This begs the question: Why have a normal category at all? Oil life monitoring systems put an end to the debate by reacting to how you actually drive.

Using an Oil Life Monitoring System
If your car has an oil life monitoring system, read your owner’s manual to get a feel for how it’s going to communicate with you. In general, the systems are designed to be easily understood and used. Some systems will display the percentage of oil life left so you can schedule a service visit. The systems factor in plenty of extra time for the driver who procrastinates. For additional motivation, however, some systems will display a negative number to show just how overdue the oil change is.

When a technician changes the oil, he resets the monitoring system. Do-it-yourselfers can easily do the reset, too, just by using a series of commands found in the owner’s manual.

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How To Read Your Tire

November 19th, 2013

The sidewall of your tires is filled with important information that tells you everything you need to know about your tire. The numbers can be a bit overwhelming to the untrained eye, so the best way to understand tire markings is to take an example and break it down, bit by bit.

For our example, these numbers are:
P215/65R 15 95H

(P) Service Description
The service description may not always appear on the tire, but it is important to know how it can affect your vehicle. If there is a “P” on the sidewall, it stands for “passenger car.” This refers to the U.S. (P-metric) method of tire sizing. “LT” stands for Light Truck. “ST” is for “Special Trailer.” And “T” stands for “Temporary,” which is primarily used for small spare tires. If a tire does not have a “P” or another letter in front of the numbers, it is considered a “Euro-metric” tire. A Euro Metric tire conforms to the European tire specifications, and often carries a different load index than a comparably sized P-metric tire.

(215) Tire Width
The first number in this series refers to the tire’s section width, or distance from sidewall edge to sidewall edge (in millimeters) when measured up and over the tire’s tread. Generally speaking, the larger this number is, the wider the tire will be.

(65) Aspect Ratio 
This number is the tire’s aspect ratio, or its section height compared to its section width. In this example, the section (or sidewall) height is 65 percent of the section width. This number can be very indicative of a tire’s purpose. Lower numbers, like 55 or less, mean a short sidewall for improved steering response and better overall handling.

(R) Internal Construction
The “R” refers to radial construction, which has been the industry standard in passenger-car tires for more than 20 years. Prior to radial tires, most cars came with bias-ply tires, which had a crude construction that made for poor handling. Bias-ply tires (which use a “B” for their description) are still used for certain truck applications.

(15) Rim Diameter
This is the rim — or wheel — diameter, in inches, for which the tire was sized. Pay particular attention to this number if you plan on upgrading your wheel size. If your wheel diameter changes, you’ll have to purchase a new set of tires that matches this new diameter.

(95) Load Index
A tire’s load index is a measurement of how much weight each tire is designed to support. The larger the number, the higher the load capacity. This is one of the most important numbers on your tire. To find out what “95” means, it must be looked up on a Load-Carrying Capacity Per Tire chart. In this case, 95 indicates a maximum weight of 1,521 pounds. Remember that this is per tire, which means you have to multiply by four to get the total capacity for a complete set of tires. If the vehicle has its original tires, you can just refer to the doorjamb, which lists the maximum cargo capacity with passengers.

Some vehicles are equipped with “XL” tires. No, it doesn’t mean that they’re extra large, but it does mean that they are extra-load tires. The load index on these tires is much higher than a standard-load tire — which is why it is important to replace an XL tire with another XL tire.

Remember “P-metric” and “Euro-metric sizing”? Their difference in load rating can lead to confusion and potential trouble. For a given size, P-metric tires will have a load index that is one or two points lower than corresponding Euro-metric tires. So if your car came with Euro-metric tires, don’t replace them with P-metric tires. You can, however, replace P-metric tires with equivalent-size Euro-metric ones because you gain load capacity that way.

Why is this important? Generally speaking, you don’t want your replacement tires to have a lower load index number than the originals (as indicated by the driver’s doorjamb or the owner’s manual), particularly with high-capacity vehicles that ride on smallish tires, such as minivans.

Also, and contrary to popular perception, optional large-diameter wheels with lower-profile tires tend to have less load-carrying capacity because they contain less air. And it is the volume of air inside the tire, not the rubber itself or the wheel material that shoulders the load. The load index is especially important when shopping for a tire online, since many retailers do not specify whether a tire is P-metric or not.

(H) Speed Rating
The speed rating is a measurement of the speed at which the tire is designed to run for extended periods. An “H” speed rating signifies that this tire can be run safely at speeds of up to 130 mph for extended periods. Will it explode if it goes to 140? No, not immediately. But it might if it is run at that speed for an extended time.

Here is a complete list of the various tire speed ratings, and their associated letters:

S 112 mph
T 118 mph
U 124 mph
H 130 mph
V 149 mph
*Z Over 149 mph
*W 168 mph
*Y 186 mph
*(Y) Over 186 mph
*The “Z” rating used to be the highest rating for tires having a maximum speed capability greater than 149 mph, but as tire technology improved, it is was ultimately split into the “W” and “Y” rating. A “ZR” may sometimes appear in the size designation, as a sort of nod to the prior rating, but it will also be used in conjunction with a W or a Y.

Additional Information on Your Tires

DOT Code
The DOT code is used by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to track tire production for recall purposes. If a tire proves to be defective, this number helps keep track of where these tires ended up so that buyers can be notified of the problem. At the end of the DOT code you’ll find a four-digit number. This is the manufacturing date of the tire. The first two digits stand for the week; the other two are the year. For example, if your tire had “1610” listed, it was manufactured on the 16th week of 2010.

If you come across a three-digit number, you have a tire that was manufactured before 2000. A DOT tire code of “127” indicates the tire was made on the 12th week of the seventh year of the decade. But it’s difficult to know whether that was 1997 or even 1987. According to, some tires produced in the 1990s may have a small triangle following the DOT number to identify the decade. But any tire that has a three-digit code is history. Tire experts recommend that tires that are six or more years old be replaced, regardless of tread depth.

Sometimes the DOT number will be located on the inside of the tire. In this case, you can either jack up the car to inspect it, or check with your local mechanic or tire shop. You should also make a habit of checking the manufacturing date on your spare tire as well.

Maximum Air Pressure
This number refers to the maximum amount of air you can put in a tire before you harm it. It is not the recommended tire pressure; that number can be found in your owner’s manual and on the doorjamb.

Traction Rating
A traction rating can also be found on the sidewall of all modern tires. It can be represented as AA, A, B or C. This is a rating of a tire’s traction when tested for straight-line braking on a wet surface. For this rating, AA signifies the best traction performance and C indicates the worst.

Temperature Rating
The temperature rating refers to the ability of the tire to withstand heat under high speeds. The ratings, from best to worst, are: A, B and C.

Treadwear Rating
Finally, you might find the word “TREADWEAR” on the sidewall followed by a number like 120 or 180. This is a rating of the tread’s durability, as tested against an industry standard. The reference number is 100, so a tire with a treadwear rating of 200 has an 80 percent longer predicted tread life, while a rating of 80 means a predicted tread life only 80 percent as long as the industry standard.

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Maintenance Basics

November 1st, 2013

Many car owners spend little or no time preparing for a scheduled maintenance visit to the dealership. They merely drive in and agree to the recommendation of the service advisor. This can be a costly error.

This article will tell you how, when and where to have your car serviced. It will also show you how to use the various tools on to schedule service visits with local dealerships or independent garages.

We’ll tell you how to prepare for your encounter with the service advisor, and how to tell if you are being overcharged for scheduled car maintenance.

What Is Needed?
The car’s service manual is the best way to learn how to maintain your car. It was written by the factory representatives who designed and built the car. It stands to reason that they should also know how best to keep everything running smoothly.

Now consider the role of the service advisor at your local dealership. This person is certainly knowledgeable about your car. However, the service advisor also gets a commission for all work done on your car. Therefore, if he or she recommends a brake job, for example, a slice of your payment will go into his or her pocket.

In another instance, the car’s manual may say that the automatic transmission fluid doesn’t have to be changed until 80,000 miles, but the service advisor says it’s best to change it at 30,000 miles. Who’s right? Consider this: The service advisor gets a commission for all the parts and services he sells. So his opinion isn’t exactly unbiased.

New Vehicles Under Warranty
If your car is less than three years old and has fewer than 36,000 miles (or whatever the terms of your warranty are), mechanical problems will be fixed under the bumper-to-bumper warranty for no charge. However, this doesn’t cover wear items like brake pads, and your car will still need “routine maintenance” for which you will have to pay. Routine maintenance is most often oil and filter changes, tire rotations and various inspections. After about the length of your warranty, the routine maintenance often becomes more involved and more expensive.

An Overview of Required Service
Car owners usually become aware of the need for routine maintenance at certain mileage intervals. These intervals are described in the owner’s manual or in our car maintenance section. Changing your oil every 3,000 miles as “recommended” by the quick oil change chains and car dealerships is typically more than twice as often as necessary. Again, look to the owner’s manual for proper scheduled car maintenance intervals.

Some vehicles will even have a reminder display indicating that a service, typically an oil change, is required at a certain mileage point. Still other vehicles will use a “maintenance minder,” which will only become illuminated when the work is actually required. A computer in the car’s engine makes a calculation based on a number of factors that more accurately determine the time at which oil begins to break down.

Scheduling a Service Visit
You should review your car’s manual to find the actual work that is required at the appropriate mileage interval. Print this out along with the estimate of costs in our maintenance section.

Increasingly, dealership Web sites have an e-mail link to the service manager. You can e-mail the service advisor for an appointment and get a quote for the work you want done. This will give you a chance to review the charges and compare the quote with other dealerships or independent garages before you commit to using their services.

Alternately, you might call several dealerships, ask for the service department and get quotes. Make sure you get the advisor’s name for future reference. Once you’ve decided who you’re going to take your car to, you can call them back to set a time to bring in your car.

Before you go to the dealership, you should check for recalls and Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) that have been issued for your car. Print out any information you find and give this to the service advisor. (A good service advisor should automatically clear all recalls and TSBs on your vehicle but this doesn’t always happen.)

At the Dealership
When you arrive at the dealership, you will be welcomed by a “greeter.” Often, this person will take the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the vehicle’s mileage and write this on a form that is given to the service advisor. Your car is about to be driven away so take your wallet, purse, computer and anything else you need. You will then meet with the service advisor. If it is early in the morning, it could be busy in the service department and the service advisor could be rushed and impatient. Don’t be pressured. A lot of money is at stake here.

Often, the interaction will begin with the service advisor saying, “How many miles do you have on your car?” You should understand this is their opening gambit for a sales pitch. You can answer, “There are 20,000 miles on my car, but all I want is an oil and filter change and tire rotation.” The service advisor might then whip out an official-looking list of “dealer-recommended services” and say, “We recommend this service be done at 20,000 miles.” If you look at this list, you’ll see that many items on it are not shown in your car’s service manual.

At this point, many people will accept the recommendation of the service advisor. After all, the service advisor is an expert who is acting on your behalf. Right? Well, not exactly. It’s not uncommon for the difference between the “dealer recommended services” and the maintenance listed in your car’s manual to be more than $100. In other cases it has been much more.

Later, while inspecting your vehicle, the technician may sometimes notice additional items that need attention on your car, such as an oil leak or a worn hose. He then makes those recommendations to the advisor. Be aware that not all of these suggestions need to be taken care of that same day. If you agree to additional work, your basic service could turn into an expensive one. Feel free to get a second opinion, or hold off on non-emergency repairs until it fits your budget.

Saving Money on Service
In some cases, the service advisor will offer service packages that include an oil change and other repairs or changes, supposedly at a discount. Often, there really is a savings here. But make sure the package covers only the items in your car’s manual and not costly and unnecessary service items.

It’s not uncommon for a service advisor to provide a discount or coupon for service. This can knock the price down a lot. But it also complicates this situation and makes it hard to see the real cost. Be prepared for this and take a moment to calculate the bottom line costs. It’s all too easy just to agree to the extra costs in the heat of the moment.

You will then be given an estimate of the charges involved. It should approximately match the costs listed in our car maintenance section. If it doesn’t, you should ask why the charges are higher. Use the information listed in our maintenance section. If the disparity is high and the service advisor doesn’t adequately justify the extra costs, you can leave and shop for a better deal at another dealership.

Important Points To Consider:

  • Don’t always assume that more frequent oil changes than indicated in your owner’s manual are beneficial for your car.
  • Remember that the service advisor profits from work and parts he or she sells you.
  • Understand the maintenance schedule in your car’s manual.


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Broke With a Beater: How To Maintain an Old Car

October 16th, 2013

You might not be familiar with the term “beater.” But in all likelihood, you’ve owned or driven one in your lifetime. This is the hand-me-down, the junker, the old car that hasn’t received an ounce of love in at least a decade. It’s the vehicle that’s been beat on.

A big difference between those doomed to spend their lives in old, ugly, dented, fuel-thirsty beaters and those who can soon afford better rides is how they care for it. Neglect maintenance and it could lead to a crash, a breakdown or cost money you may not have.

In this article, we’ll offer tips on how to keep your old car running safely as long as possible for the least money. You can do a lot yourself, even if you have little mechanical experience.

Owning and maintaining a beater to ensure safety is all about prioritizing your scarce (or tightly held) resources. We’ve grouped maintenance issues into three areas:

Priority No. 1: Maintain things that could cause your old car to lose control and possibly cause an accident. This includes your car’s braking system, tires, steering system and what we’ll call “the driver vision system.” Spend your money here first.

Priority No. 2: This will include maintenance on things that will leave you stranded or cause other components — such as the engine — to fail. This includes radiator hoses, fuel lines, constant velocity (CV) joints and fan, accessory and timing belts.

Priority No. 3: The third priority will be simply to keep your old car alive. This includes changing the engine oil, transmission fluid and coolant.

Even if your do-it-yourself role will be limited to “inspector,” get a repair manual for your vehicle: Manuals cost less than $20 new. You also could get one used or borrow one from the library. You’ll also need at least one jack stand and a few tools: Look on or at a thrift store or flea market.

It’s No Accident
The cost of an accident — insurance deductibles, lost work days, a traffic citation or increased insurance premiums — would go a long way toward paying for a better vehicle. A wreck can start you on the road toward becoming a lifetime beater driver.

Start by checking the brakes. Most beater owners wait until they hear grinding noises before taking action. Be a bit more proactive. Checking to making sure there’s adequate material remaining on the brake pads for disc brakes is a good place to begin. It’s also a task that most can do armed with only the car’s standard jack and lug wrench and a jack stand. Remove the wheel, and with most disc brakes you can see the pads on either side of the disc. Leaking brake fluid means immediate repairs are required.

Just as doctors draw blood to help determine a person’s health, “bleeding the brakes” will say a lot about your brakes as well. The job is only slightly more difficult than checking pad thickness: Consult the repair manual for details. If the brake fluid is dark black and contains bits of rubber, a serious brake job is mandatory. If not, flushing the brake fluid — bleeding the brakes until all the old fluid is expelled and replacing it with fresh fluid — is a cheap way to help the inside of the brake system last longer. Cost: about $12 for a do-it-yourselfer with the right tools and an assistant. Serious brake work requires either a professional or on-site help from an experienced amateur. Prices start at about $40 for a DIYer who only replaces the front brake pads.

Worn out and neglected tires cause more accidents than record-keepers can account for. Though it’s painful when you see the credit card statement (about $200 to $400 for four non-performance tires), replace tires sooner rather than later.

Steering and suspension problems show up as uneven wear on the tires or by the way the car steers and rides. Have a professional inspect the system ($40-$75) to see if it’s safe to drive, and suggest what repairs are needed.

A government report said “obscured vision” accounted for as many accidents as brake and tire failure combined. It’s inexpensive (about $15) and easy to replace windshield wiper blades. Old cars’ headlight lenses are often pitted or yellowed. A less used pair from a local or online auto recycling center (a.k.a. junkyard) or eBay could run anywhere from $50 to $150.

Stranded With No Way Home
Most beater cars need every hose replaced, and it’s likely the heater hose, which carries hot engine coolant to a small radiator inside the car (about $30) has never been changed. For example, I used to drive a $450 Subaru as a winter beater. A heater hose sprung a leak one night on a deserted road next to a partially iced-up river. I ended up having to creep out to the edge of the ice to fill a plastic milk jug with water for the radiator. On another beater, I replaced all the hoses except for a tiny, difficult-to-access one on the water pump, only to discover how quickly all the coolant will blow through such a tiny hole. This public confession is intended to show that neglected maintenance can be dangerous for both people and engines.

Problems like this are avoidable, and there are often warning signals. It’s almost certain that those who suffer car fires ignored the aroma of gasoline: Your choice is to replace an inexpensive fuel line or risk a fire. And if you hear squealing, it’s likely a fan or accessory belt that should be replaced. A new belt is less than $20. The difficulty of the job varies greatly among vehicles. If you don’t have the work done and the belt breaks, you’ll be the one squealing.

Many old cars have engine timing belts that should be changed every 60,000 miles. This costs about $500 or more and is a not-for-amateurs task. Some engines — notably Hondas — suffer serious damage when the timing belt breaks, while others just stop running.

Owners of front-wheel-drive beaters need to listen for signs of a failing CV (constant-velocity) joint: usually a clicking noise that first appears during tight turns. Look at the rubber boots around the CV joint: Missing or boots torn long ago likely means the CV joint probably needs replacing. A professional repair can cost $300 per axle, but an experienced amateur can do it for about $80 per side.

To help make sure your old car will start, clean corrosion from the battery terminals with baking soda mixed into water and apply an anti-corrosion chemical (about $4). Inspect the battery cables (about $20 a pair) and their connections.

Another important note: If you’ve recently acquired a beater, you should have its oil and oil filter changed, (a $20 to $40 cost for DIYers). Have the automatic transmission fluid flushed and the filter changed. (I recommend paying a professional do to it, about $150.) Change the radiator coolant once a year (about $8).

Time To Dump It?
There’s no easy answer to the question of when to get rid of your beater car. Some argue that shelling out $2,500 for a replacement transmission tops going further into debt to get another car. Besides, if you buy another used car that’s less of a beater, it might soon need a $500 timing belt.

Don’t sell just because you’ve recently been forced into a major repair. Since specific models tend to suffer identical problems, you get an idea of other big expenses that might be on the horizon by asking owners of similar vehicles on the Edmunds’ Forums, or quizzing a mechanic who specializes in your make. Those who own expensive-to-repair European beaters should bail out sooner.

One way to find out if you can dump your beater is to determine the payments for the vehicle you’d like to buy and then start putting that amount into a savings account every month.

Beater Knowledge Can Pay Off
Knowing how to keep a beater car running as long as possible will save you money, particularly if you do it yourself. Sometimes there are other perks as well. I once met a young woman whose manual-transmission beater had problems with its clutch-actuating mechanism. This tough old car was built before clutch interlocks, so I taught her how to start it in gear and shift without using the clutch. The payoff? She eventually married me.

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Should You Fill Your Car’s Tires With Nitrogen?

October 4th, 2013

A member of the Dodge Challenger owners’ forum was buying a new car from a dealer and noticed green valve-stem caps on all four tires. The salesman told him that the tires had been filled with nitrogen, which would keep the tire pressure and temperature more consistent and that it would prevent tire rot from the inside out. It wasn’t a free add-on, though. The “nitrogen upgrade” was a $69 item on the supplemental window sticker. Another forum member later posted that his dealer was charging $179 for this same “upgrade.”

Some dealerships and tire stores claim that filling your tires with nitrogen will save you money on gas while offering better performance than air. But a closer look reveals that nitrogen has few benefits and much higher costs. For starters, a typical nitrogen fill-up will cost you about $6 per tire.

Why Nitrogen?
The Get Nitrogen Institute Web site says that with nitrogen tire inflation, drivers will note improvements in a vehicle’s handling, fuel efficiency and tire life. All this is achieved through better tire-pressure retention, improved fuel economy and cooler-running tire temperatures, the institute says.

This sounds great in theory but let’s take a closer look at each of those claims.

  • Better tire-pressure retention: Over time, a tire will gradually lose pressure. Changes in temperature will accelerate this. The general rule of thumb is a loss of 1 psi for every 10-degree rise or fall in temperature. The institute says that nitrogen has a more stable pressure, since it has larger molecules than oxygen that are less likely to seep through the permeable tire walls.In 2006, Consumer Reports conducted a year-long study to determine how much air loss was experienced in tires filled with nitrogen versus those filled with air. The results showed that nitrogen did reduce pressure loss over time, but it was only a 1.3 psi difference from air-filled tires. Among 31 pairs of tires, the average loss of air-filled tires was 3.5 psi from the initial 30 psi setting. Nitrogen-filled tires lost an average of 2.2 psi from the initial setting. Nitrogen won the test, but not by a significant margin.
  • Improved fuel economy: The EPA says that under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. The theory is that since nitrogen loses pressure at a slower rate than air, you are more likely to be at the correct psi and therefore get better fuel economy.If you are proactive and check your tire pressure at least once a month, you can offset this difference with free air, and you won’t need expensive nitrogen. We think this invalidates the “better fuel economy with nitrogen” argument.For many people, however, this kind of maintenance is easier said than done. Most people either forget to regularly check and top off their tires, or never learned how to do it in the first place. Even Edmunds employees (typically a pretty car-savvy group) were under-inflating or over-inflating their tires, according to a tire-pressure study we conducted a few years ago.

    And though tire-pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) now come standard on cars, a 2009 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found that only 57 percent of vehicles with TPMS had the correct tire pressure. That’s because most systems are only meant to signal that a tire has very low pressure, not to show that the pressure is optimal.

  • Cooler running temperatures: When air is pressurized, the humidity in it condenses to a liquid and collects in the air storage tank you use at the local gas station. When you add compressed air to the tire, the water comes along for the ride. As the tire heats up during driving, that water changes to a gas, which then expands, increasing tire pressure. Because nitrogen is dry, there is no water in the tire to contribute to pressure fluctuations.But this fluctuation in temperature isn’t as significant as you might think. A 2008 ExxonMobil studyplotted the changes in temperature over the course of various inflation pressures. The lines on the graph were virtually on top of each other. In other words, the change in temperature when using nitrogen was negligible.
  • Prevent wheel rot: Nitrogen proponents will also point out that water in a tire can lead to wheel rot. A tire engineer who anonymously maintains Barry’s Tire Tech, a blog on a number of tire issues, says this isn’t really a problem with modern cars.”Alloy wheels don’t really have a problem with water inside the tire,” the engineer writes in a post on nitrogen inflation. “They are coated to keep aluminum from forming aluminum oxide, which forms a crust, which isn’t very attractive. But even then, this crust protects the aluminum from further corrosion from the water.”Where wheels have problems is when the aluminum alloy contacts steel, such as the steel spring clip used on wheel weights. It’s a particular issue when salt is present, the engineer writes. “But this problem is totally independent of the inflation gas,” he says. “Steel wheels only have a problem if the paint is damaged.”

Cost and Convenience 
Let’s say a person bought a set of tires at Costco, a place that uses nitrogen to fill all the tires they sell. If he needs to top off the tires with more nitrogen, he won’t be able to go to just any gas station. He can use regular air if there is nothing else available, but that would dilute the nitrogen in the tires. He’ll have to go back to Costco and wait until the tire technicians can attend to the car. On a busy day, he could be there awhile.

Nitrogen is free at Costco and at some car dealerships we called, but these are rare cases. We called a number of tire shops that carry nitrogen and found that the prices for a nitrogen fill ranged from $5-$7 per tire. Assuming our consumer was diligent about checking his tires monthly, he could potentially spend about $84 a year on nitrogen alone per tire. Compare that to the most gas stations, where air is free or a 75-cent fill-up for all four tires at the most.

Finding tire shops with nitrogen could be an issue, too. We called a number of large chains, including America’s Tire Co., Discount Tire and Walmart. None carried nitrogen.

Is Nitrogen Worth It? 
The air we breathe is made up of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and a few other elements. To get the desired benefits for tires, nitrogen needs to be at least 93 percent pure, according to nitrogen service equipment providers quoted on So we’re basically talking about adding an extra 15 percent of nitrogen and getting rid of as much oxygen as possible.

Based on cost, convenience and actual performance benefit, we don’t think nitrogen is worth it. A much better use of your money would be to buy a good tire-pressure gauge and check your tires frequently. This is a good idea even if you have a tire-pressure monitoring system in your vehicle. The warning lights aren’t required to come on until you have less than 25 percent of the recommended tire pressure. Having the correct tire pressure will get you many of the benefits of using nitrogen and will ensure that your tires last longer.

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Clean Your Car Without Washing It

September 17th, 2013

You have a hot date or an important appointment and you rush outside, only to find that your car looks like a hazmat zone. Luckily, you still have five minutes to do something about it. But where do you start?

Take a tip from used-car salesmen and give your car “curb appeal” — a good overall first impression. When you can’t make use of a car wash, even little things can make a world of difference.

The folks at Meguiar’s Inc. know a lot about making cars look good. The company’s core market is enthusiasts who lavish attention on their cars. But Mike Pennington, Meguiar’s director of training and consumer relations, was willing to talk about the gray area between a few swipes with a car duster and a full-on Saturday morning “bucket wash.”

“We don’t want to tell people not to wash their car anymore,” he says. “But if you are willing to put a little time into it, you’ll be surprised at how good your car can look.”

Over at Turtle Wax Inc., Michael Schultz, senior vice president of research and development, says car finishes are more durable and the chemistry of waxes and car-care products has changed. This means that for minor indiscretions — think fingerprints, bird droppings and light dust — you can use a spray detailer to sharpen up the look of your car.

But one expert, who used to prepare cars for photo shoots, sounded a note of caution: Be careful of too obviously cleaning just one section of the car. It might draw attention to how dirty the rest of it is.

Here are six tricks you can use to keep up the good looks of your car between car washes. Think of it as triage for a dirty car.

Triage Tip 1: Clean horizontal surfaces with a spray detailer. You don’t have to clean the whole car, just the obvious surfaces that catch dew or light rain and leave water marks. The eyesore areas are the hood, trunk and rear bumper.

Schultz recommends cleaning these surfaces in sections, using a spray detailer and microfiber towel, which is finely woven and makes better contact with the car’s surface. For example, divide the hood in quarters and clean the four sections individually. He estimates you could even clean the entire car this way with spray detailer and only four towels.

Many car enthusiasts worry about scratching or putting swirl marks in the car’s finish. The spray detailer is designed to avoid this by lubricating the dirt so it can be wiped up with a towel. But Schultz stresses the importance of flipping the towel often so you don’t grind dirt into the clear coat — the transparent finish covering the car’s paint.

Triage Tip 2: A clean windshield is (almost) a clean car. Glass is easy to clean and it sparkles like a jewel once you remove the haze and grime. Visibility is a huge safety factor, but a clean windshield also just makes you feel better about your car. When you’re finished with the outside of the windshield, clean the driver-side window and side mirror, too. And for bonus points, clean the inside of the windshield and rearview mirror.

Keep a bottle of glass cleaner in your trunk, along with a roll of paper towels or the aforementioned microfiber towels. A foam spray cleaner also works well. For the really lazy folks, there’s a squeegee. In addition to cleaning, a squeegee works well in the morning when there is dew all over the windshield. Squeegee off the morning moisture and your glass won’t be left with those horrible drying marks.

Triage Tip 3: Take out the trash. It’s a car, not a dumpster. Pull up next to a trash can somewhere and throw away papers, food or other junk that dates from the second Bush administration. Better yet, put a small trash bag in your car and empty it often, Pennington suggests.

While you’re shoveling out your car, you might find a couple bucks’ worth of change. Use it to buy a car deodorizer. Pennington says car interiors can absorb smells, but there are new products that actually absorb dreaded foul odors rather than just mask them. We’ve tested a few and they seem to work.

Triage Tip 4: Shake out the floor mats. When time is tight and you don’t have a vacuum, you can simply grab your floor mats and shake off all the gravel, loose dirt, sand or — heaven forbid — used ketchup packets. The mat on the driver side probably is secured, so you’ll have to work it off the anchors first. But the other floor mats are unattached and you can simply whisk them out for a quick flapping.

Triage Tip 5: Clean the wheels and tires. Pennington says that having dirty wheels on a clean car is like wearing old shoes with a new suit. So it makes sense to make the “shoes” look as sharp as possible.

The absolutely laziest way to go is just to use a cotton rag to wipe off the flat center section of your rims. (There’s too much dirt on the rims for one of your microfiber towels to handle.) If time allows, work the rag into the spokes or crevices. You also can use a brush for the hard-to-reach areas.

As tires degrade, the rubber takes on a brownish hue that makes them look dull, Schultz says. So after you’re finished cleaning the wheels, apply tire black with a sponge. Easier still, just use a spray product to get a quick shine.

Triage Tip 6: Clean anything you touch or look at. When you’re in the car, you spend a lot of time looking at the gauges, the dashboard and the center console. So take that microfiber towel you used on the car’s exterior and quickly clean off a few strategic areas inside the car. The plastic covering for the gauges is a must. Then, wipe the dust off the dashboard and sweep the fingerprints from the center console. Our experts recommend keeping car cleaning wipes in the glove compartment for quick interior touch-ups.

Now that you’re finished, here’s one more suggestion to make your life easier: Be very careful where you park. Sprinklers can undo all your hard work. And if you leave your car under the wrong tree, you might return to find it looking like a rock in the Galapagos Islands.

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Repair or Replace Your Windshield Right Away

September 6th, 2013

When faced with replacing a windshield, many car owners default to the lowest-price option. But if you take this route and are in a serious accident, your decision could cost you your life.

An incorrectly installed windshield could pop out in an accident, allowing the roof to cave in and crush the car’s occupants. Furthermore, when the front airbags deploy, they exert a tremendous force on the windshield and will blow out one that is not firmly glued in place.

“There are a lot of schlock operators” installing windshields, says Debra Levy, president of the Auto Glass Safety Council, which offers certification for installers. She says using original manufacturer’s glass is a plus, but choosing a good installer is even more important. To find a certified shop, visit and type your ZIP code into the box at the top of the page. The National Glass Association also offers a feature to find certified installers. Certification is valuable because it keeps installers up to date on advances in adhesives and changing automotive designs.

David Beck, one of two technicians at Windshield Express, near Salt Lake City, installs eight windshields a day and has been working in the auto glass business for 18 years. Beck agrees that certification is important and warns that there are many “tailgaters” — installers with no brick-and-mortar shop — who quickly “slam” windshields into cars with little regard for safety. They don’t handle the windshield correctly, don’t use the proper adhesives and leave the car unsafe for driving and prone to rusting and leaks.

“The thing I wish that drivers knew was that the windshield is the No. 1 safety restraint in your vehicle,” Beck says. The windshield is two sheets of glass held together by an inner layer of strong vinyl. When the windshield breaks, the vinyl holds the glass in place rather than allowing the shards to fall into the car and cut the occupants.

The windshield is a layer of protection that “keeps you inside the car and things out of the car,” Beck says. “This is not the place to cut corners on and go with the cheapest price.”

Steve Mazor, the Auto Club of Southern California’s chief automotive engineer, adds that if the windshield isn’t strong enough and an occupant is thrown from a speeding car, “the odds of survival are much less.” Thirty percent of all fatalities, he says, are due to people being ejected from the car.

An investigation by the ABC News program 20/20 on windshield safety shows technicians incorrectly installing windshields by not wearing gloves. The grease from their hands prevents the adhesives from bonding correctly, Beck explains. Another error that 20/20 caught was technicians failing to use all the necessary bonding agents, such as primer.

When you are looking for a good windshield installer, Levy recommends calling three shops and asking a few qualifying questions beyond just price and certification.

Levy says to ask the shops if they use original equipment glass, which is usually of higher quality and fits better. Also, she suggested asking how long the car should sit after the installation is complete. “If they say you can take the car right away, you should run in the opposite direction,” Levy says. A car should sit at least one hour before being driven and sometimes up to 12 hours, she says.

Beck says if you take your car to a dealership for a windshield replacement, it will just subcontract the job to a glass shop and then mark up the price about 30 percent. He recommends going directly to the glass shop to save money. However, when a car is new, the dealership might be the only place to stock the glass, as was the case for a 2011 Infiniti M56 Edmunds long-term test car where the windshield replacement cost $1,300.

Most windshield installation jobs take only about an hour and can be done at your home or office, Beck says. Once the installer is finished, check for signs that the job was completed correctly. Make sure the molding is straight and that there is no sign of adhesives visible inside the car, Beck says. The car should be clean inside. Debris or dirt left in your car could be the sign of sloppy workmanship, he says.

In some cases, a rock chip or star in the windshield can be repaired, saving you the cost of a new windshield. Mazor says some installers claim that cracks can be repaired even if they’re up to 15 inches long, but only if they intersect just one edge of the windshield.

Beck says rock chips, which he also fixes, are easier to repair when the damage has just occurred. Over time, rain washes dirt into the crack, making it harder to seal. He suggests carrying a roll of clear tape in the glove compartment to quickly cover a crack until it can be fixed.

Beck injects polymer into rock chips and cracks. After the polymer cures, he smoothes the area so it doesn’t affect the travel of the windshield wipers. Beck says that if he gets to the repair within a week of the damage, he can generally make it disappear. Windshield Express’ owner, Bryan Petersen says his rate for rock chip repairs is $29.95 for mobile jobs and $19.95 in the shop.

In the Los Angeles area, the rates for windshield repairs are higher — in the range of $65. Windshield repair kits are available at automotive stores for the do-it-yourselfer, but they don’t do the job as well as the professionals can do it. The pros have better equipment and much more experience.

The Auto Glass Safety Council’s Levy says studies show that windshield rock chips or cracks that are in your field of vision can actually slow your response to emergency traffic situations. She also says that old windshields that are pitted or hazed should be replaced — even if they are not broken — since they can magnify the glare of the headlights from oncoming cars at night.

Mazor says that a new windshield might be cheaper than you would think. In many cases, windshield repair is covered by car insurance (under your comprehensive coverage — not collision). The deductible for comprehensive coverage is sometimes only $50 or $100, so that would be the cost of a new windshield.

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How Old & Dangerous are your Tires?

August 20th, 2013

In February 2008, the owner of a 1998 Ford Explorer in Georgia needed a new tire for his SUV and ended up buying a used one. When he was driving two weeks later, the tread suddenly separated from the tire. The Explorer went out of control and hit a motorcycle, killing its rider. An analysis of the used tire revealed that it was nearly 10 years old.

The incident illustrates not only the potential danger of buying a used tire but also the perils of aging tires — including those that have never spent a day on the road.

For years, people have relied on a tire’s tread depth to determine its condition. But the rubber compounds in a tire deteriorate with time, regardless of the condition of the tread. An old tire poses a safety hazard.

For some people, old tires might never be an issue. If you drive a typical number of miles — 12,000-15,000 miles annually — a tire’s tread will wear out in three to four years, long before the rubber compound does. But if you only drive 6,000 miles a year, or have a car that you only drive on weekends, aging tires could be an issue. The age warning also applies to spare tires and “new” tires that have never been used but are old.

What Happens to a Tire as It Ages?
Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, Inc., compares an aging tire to an old rubber band. “If you take a rubber band that’s been sitting around a long time and stretch it, you will start to see cracks in the rubber,” says Kane, whose organization is involved in research, analysis and advocacy on safety matters for the public and clients including attorneys, engineering firms, supplier companies, media and government.

That’s essentially what happens to a tire that’s put on a vehicle and driven. Cracks in the rubber begin to develop over time. They may appear on the surface and inside the tire as well. This cracking can eventually cause the steel belts in the tread to separate from the rest of the tire. An animation on the Safety Research & Strategies Web site shows how this happens. Improper maintenance and heat accelerate the process.

Every tire that’s on the road long enough will succumb to age. Tires that are rated for higher mileage have “anti-ozinant” chemical compounds built into the rubber that will slow the aging process, but nothing stops the effects of time on rubber, says Doug Gervin, Michelin’s director of product marketing for passenger cars and light trucks.

How Long Does a Tire Last?
Carmakers, tiremakers and rubber manufacturers differ in their opinions about the lifespan of a tire. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has no specific guidelines on tire aging and defers to the recommendations of carmakers and tire manufacturers. Carmakers such as Nissan and Mercedes-Benz tell consumers to replace tires six years after their production date, regardless of tread life. Tire manufacturers such as Continental and Michelin say a tire can last up to 10 years, provided you get annual tire inspections after the fifth year. The Rubber Manufacturers Association says there is no way to put a date on when a tire “expires,” because such factors as heat, storage and conditions of use can dramatically reduce the life of a tire.

Heat: NHTSA research has found that tires age more quickly in warmer climates. NHTSA also found that environmental conditions like exposure to sunlight and coastal climates can hasten the aging process. People who live in warm weather and coastal states should keep this in mind when deciding whether they should retire a tire.

Storage: This applies to spare tires and tires that are sitting in a garage or shop. Consider how a spare tire lives its life. If you own a truck, the spare may be mounted underneath the vehicle, exposed to the dirt and the elements.

If your spare is in the trunk, it’s as if it is “baking in a miniature oven,” says Dan Zielinski, senior vice president of Public Affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Most often, the spare never sees the light of day. But if the tire has been inflated and mounted on a wheel, it is technically “in service” — even if it’s never been used, Gervin says.

A tire that has not been mounted and is just sitting in a tire shop or your garage will age more slowly than one that has been put into service on a car. But it ages nonetheless.

Conditions of use: This refers to how the tire is treated. Is it properly inflated? Has it hit the curb too many times? Has it ever been repaired for a puncture? Tires on a car that’s only driven on the weekends will have a different aging pattern than those on a car that’s driven daily on the highway. All these factors contribute to how quickly or slowly a tire wears out. Proper maintenance is the best thing a person can do to ensure a long tire life. Gervin recommends that you maintain proper air pressure in tires, have them rotated regularly and have them routinely inspected.

How To Determine the Age of a Tire
The sidewall of a tire is littered with numbers and letters. They all mean something, but deciphering them can be a challenge. This Edmunds article about reading a tire’s sidewall goes into greater detail, but for the purposes of determining the age of a tire, you’ll just need to know its U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number.

Tires made after 2000 have a four-digit DOT code. The first two numbers represent the week in which the tire was made. The second two represent the year. A tire with a DOT code of 1109 was made in the 11th week of 2009. Tires with a three-digit code were made prior to 2000 and are trickier to decode. The first two digits still tell you the week, but the third digit tells you the year in the decade that it was created. The hard part is knowing what decade that was. Some tires made in the 1990s — but not all — have a triangle after the DOT code, denoting that decade. But for tires without that, a code of “328” could be from the 32nd week of 1988 — or 1978.

Clearly, these DOT numbers weren’t designed with the consumer in mind. They were originally put on tires to make it easier for NHTSA to recall tires and keep track of their manufacturing date.

To make matters worse, you might not always find the DOT number on the outer side of the tire. Because of the way a tire is made, it is actually safer for the technician operating the mold to imprint information on the inner side of the tire, so some manufacturers will opt to put the number there. It is still possible to check the DOT code, but you might have to jack the car up to see it. Keep the visibility of the DOT number in mind the next time you are at a tire shop and the installer asks if you want the tires to be mounted with the raised lettering facing in.

That potential inconvenience is going away, however. NHTSA says that the sidewall information about the tire’s date of manufacture, size and other pertinent data is now required to be on both sides of the tire for easier reading.

After checking out a tire’s birth date, give the rubber a visual inspection. Some of the best advice on such an inspection comes from the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association. It recommends that consumers check tires regularly for any sign of aging, such as tread distortion or large or small hairline cracks in the sidewall. Vibrations or a change in the dynamic properties of the tire could also be an indicator of aging problems, the association says. It recommends replacing the tire immediately if such symptoms appear.

Don’t Buy Used
Tires are expensive, especially when you factor in the price of mounting and balancing. That’s why used tires become more attractive to consumers who are strapped for cash. But the purchase of used tires is very much a buyer-beware situation, Zielinski says. “Even a one-year-old tire can be dangerous if it was poorly maintained,” he says.

When a consumer buys a used tire, he has no idea how well it was maintained or the conditions in which it has been used. The previous owner might have driven it with low pressure. It could have hit curbs repeatedly. It could have been patched for a nail. Further, it’s a dated product.

“You wouldn’t want a used tire for the same reason that you wouldn’t buy a 10-year-old computer,” Zielinski says. “You are denying yourself the advancements in tire technology over the past few years.”

Make Sure You’re Getting a “Fresh” Tire
Just because a tire is unused doesn’t mean it’s new. In a number of instances, consumers have purchased “new” tires at retail stores only to find out later that they were manufactured years earlier. In addition to having a shorter life on the road, a tire that’s supposedly new but is actually old may be past its warranty period.

If you buy tires and soon after discover that they’re actually a few years old, you have the right to request newer ones, Zielinski says. Any reputable store should be willing to make amends. “It is fair for a consumer to expect that ‘new’ is not several years old,” he says.

Letting Go
Getting rid of an unused spare or a tire with good-looking tread may be the hardest thing for a thrifty consumer to do. “Nobody’s going to take a tire that looks like it’s never been used and throw it out,” Kane says. But if it’s old, that’s exactly what the owner should do.

Although Kane has lobbied NHTSA to enact regulations on tire aging, nothing is currently on the books. A NHTSA spokesman says the organization is “continuing to conduct research into the effects of tire aging, and what actions consumers can do to safely monitor their tires when they are on their vehicles.”

It’s too bad that tires don’t have a “sell by” date, like cartons of milk. Since there’s no consensus from government or industry sources, we’ll just say that if your tire has plenty of tread left but is nearing the five-year mark, it’s time to get it inspected for signs of aging.

Of all your vehicle’s components, tires have the greatest effect on the way it handles and brakes. So if the tire store recommends new tires at your five-year check-up, spend the money and don’t put it off. Your life could depend on it.

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How To Tell if Your Body Shop Did the Job Correctly

July 23rd, 2013

When you last saw your car, it was a twisted mess being towed away from the scene of the accident. Now it’s weeks later and the car is parked in the driveway of a body shop. All you have to do is write a check and the car is yours again. But how do you know that everything under the surface has really been fixed correctly?

One key to getting your car fixed right is choosing a reliable shop in the first place. But you should still inspect the work performed before you drive away. To better understand what to look for, here are some insider tips from several knowledgeable veterans of the body shop business.

Have a Clear Understanding Up Front
The process of having your car fixed right starts when you drop it off, says Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists. Be clear on what the shop is going to fix and how it will do the repair. Get everything in writing. Ask about the shop’s warranty on its work. When you return, review the paperwork to confirm that the shop did the repairs correctly.

“A reputable repair facility will go through everything with you, walk you through all the steps they took,” Schulenburg says. “Good shops will even touch up bolts under the hood that have been scratched while being repaired.”

Clean Car Is a Must
Appearances matter. When you pick up your car, it should have been washed, cleaned and vacuumed, says John Mallette, owner of Burke Auto Body and Paint, in Long Beach, California. There should be no dirt or dust in the car and definitely no old parts in the trunk. Mallette says he even tries to wash down the engine compartment before he hands over the keys.

It can be a challenge to return a clean car to a customer, says Mike O’Connell, owner of Golden Hammer Auto Body in Los Angeles. With all the dust from sanding, he says, “body shops are the dirtiest places on earth.” He says his workers take precautions to keep the cars clean by using paper and masking tape to protect different areas. And then they carefully wash the car before the customer comes to pick it up.

Closer Inspection
If the car’s general appearance passes muster, take a close look at the area that was repaired. Mallette recommends looking for gaps between body panels first. If the gaps are obviously uneven, that’s a telltale sign of panels not being aligned correctly. Schulenburg says owners should make sure the doors open and close properly with good alignment.

If there was extensive front-end damage to the car, it can be difficult for a body shop to repair perfectly, Mallette says. One way to spot a problem is to look at the distance between the tire and fender. If it is wide on one side and narrow on the other, something wasn’t fixed properly. Another test is to turn on the headlights to ensure that the light beams are aligned.

When a car is hit in the front, the frame may have been bent and required straightening on what the body shop calls “the rack.” The shop workers use it to pull the frame rails until the frame is straight. Mallette says he can look under a car and see “butcher marks” from poor repair jobs.

But visual inspections might be difficult for the average consumer, Schulenburg explains. He says owners should take a look at the automated printout of the frame specifications. A good body shop will measure the damaged area of the car and then measure the frame again after it does the repair. The frame specs should be the same post-repair as they were before the accident. The frame spec printout is a good reference document to make sure the job has been done right.

If you are concerned that a major repair wasn’t done correctly and want someone other than the original body shop to size it up, you can get a second opinion. O’Connell tells us that many people bring cars to him for just this kind of assessment, and he can immediately spot problems that the ordinary consumer can’t.

Paint Jobs: Matching Colors and Consistency
One of the most challenging jobs in a body shop is paint matching. “Punching in the factory paint codes gets you 95 percent of the way to matching the color,” O’Connell says. But the remaining 5 percent has to be done by people who really know what they’re doing. “If we didn’t do this extra step there would always be a little variance,” he explains. “That’s why you see cars on the road that look like they are three different colors.”

Most factory paint jobs have an “orange peel” texture to the finish to a greater or lesser degree. Whether you like that effect or not, most factory paint jobs have this texture, and it can be tricky for body shops to duplicate. Mallette advises that you arrange to pick up a car from the body shop during the day. If possible, look at the car in the sunlight to make sure that the new paint matches the car’s original shade and finish. Also, if the shop repainted several panels, sight along the side of the car to look for color consistency. And finally, examine the paint for runs or imperfections such as hair or specks of dirt trapped in the finish.

When It Isn’t Fixed Right
In some cases, a problem with the repair develops months later. A common scenario is that you notice the car’s front tires are wearing unevenly. This could be a sign that the front suspension hasn’t been straightened and repaired correctly. Find your paperwork and receipt, bring the car back and show the manager the tire’s wear pattern. The shop should fix the problem under the warranty, Mallette says.

Schulenburg agrees that improper tire wear on a car is a bad sign. “Take it back to the body shop,” he says. “There are a whole lot of things that can lead to tire wear. Let them assess what is causing it.”

Many body shops are “fly-by-night,” O’Connell notes, and if you’re dealing with one of them, it can be tough to get satisfaction if the job wasn’t done right. A legitimate shop should stand by its work. He recommends that you make sure you are within the warranty period, which is usually one year or 12,000 miles. Then, with your paperwork in hand, ask to speak with an owner or manager.

“And be courteous, not demanding,” O’Connell says. “If you start making accusations, things can go downhill fast.”

Read the original article at

How To Find a Good Car Mechanic

July 10th, 2013

We hear it all the time: “Where can I find a good car mechanic?” In the past, word of mouth was probably the best way to find an auto repair shop that would do the job right and charge a fair price. But now, a good mechanic might be only a few mouse clicks or touchscreen taps away.

Crowdsourced review sites have greatly simplified the search. Here are a few tips on how to work these sites to find a good car mechanic in your area. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes a highly rated shop might disappoint, but at least you can tilt the odds in your favor.

Yelp describes itself as a site that “connects people with great businesses,” whether that’s a hot new restaurant or a top-notch dentist. And, luckily for car owners, it also has auto repair reviews. The site is free and has a mobile version, plus apps for Android and Apple mobile devices.

We’ve had good experiences with Yelp recommendations as we looked for a mechanic to work on Edmunds’ long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300, which is the subject of our Debt-Free Car Project. With our new long-term vehicles, we tend to use dealerships exclusively. But because containing costs is important for the Lexus project, we’ve used Yelp four times to locate independent mechanics. Of the four, we would go back to three of them. We’ve found Yelp to be the most useful site, thanks to its review volume and convenience.

Here are a few tips to help you narrow down your mechanic search. Type “auto repair” into the search field and enter your ZIP code. You can filter the results based on distance, most reviewed and highest rated. The goal should be to find a place that strikes a balance between a good rating and a substantial number of reviews. For example, a place may have a glowing review, but if it’s the only review, that customer’s experience might not be the same as yours. Or worse, it could be a misleading review from an employee or business owner.

Yelp has an algorithm that helps it spot misleading reviews, but sometimes they can slip by undetected. That’s why it is important not to put too much stock in one review. Instead, see what patterns emerge after you’ve read numerous reviews. Look for reviews that are specific and give plenty of details about the users’ experiences.

Sometimes, the owner of an establishment will reply to a review. This response can either be a thank you to someone for a good review or a defense or apology if the review was a negative one. Either way, we consider a thoughtful reply a good sign — particularly in response to a negative review. It shows that the business cares about its reputation.

Angie’s List
Angie’s List prides itself on having a thorough vetting process for its reviews, which cover everything from automotive listings to home repair and even wedding planning. In a search we did for our area, Angie’s List provided a number of repair shops nearby, but we found the volume of reviews lacking when compared to Yelp. For example, one repair shop we used for the Lexus had just one review on Angie’s List, and it was from 2008. The same shop had 22 reviews on Yelp, with the most recent one being less than a month old.

The small number of reviews on Angie’s List can be both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, the chance of a falsified review drops considerably, since the site requires a paid membership to access the site and post a review. But at the same time, it is hard to get a feel for a shop that has very little feedback.

Google’s enormous database will yield the greatest number of search results, but they may require some extra filtering to be useful. Type “auto repair near (your ZIP code)” into the search field. Ignore the sponsored ads at the top of the page. The repair shops will appear about halfway down the page, with their address to the right of their listing. Google has its own review and scoring system. Approach these as you would Yelp reviews.

Edmunds Repair Shop Directory
The Edmunds auto repair shop directory is a relatively new tool to the site, but it is rapidly growing. Not all the shops have reviews at the moment, but we expect this to change in the coming months. We also have dealer locator for those in search of a dealership service facility rather than an independent shop. The Edmunds moderators closely monitor the reviews for misleading postings.

Other Sources and are two other sources. The reviews on these sites are spotty in terms of quantity, and we haven’t had the chance to use them that much. Still, the sites can be useful for those who want to research a shop thoroughly.

Message Boards
Enthusiast message boards dedicated to a particular car make and model often have forum threads where members discuss their local dealerships or independent repair shops. Forum members chime in and give their experiences or recommendations. Apply the same filtering that you use with Yelp reviews: Look for patterns of excellence or disappointment.

A Final Tip
Despite how far crowdsourced reviews have come, an old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendation from someone you trust can often be the most effective tool. Ask your friends and family who takes care of their cars and you may just find your new mechanic.

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit’s Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

To find a service center that knows how to deliver excellent customer service, please visit’s listings of local car repair shops near you.

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Ace Car Reconditioning is Coming to NE Portland!

June 28th, 2013

We are so excited to announce that we’re opening our third location, to bring the “Ace Experience” closer to more Portland and SW Washington car owners.

What: Every automotive appearance service available, in one spot:

  • Collision Repair
  • Auto Detailing
  • Custom Repaints
  • Express Plastic Bumper Repair
  • Paintless Dent Repair
  • Touch Up Paint
  • Window Tinting
  • Vehicle Wrapping
  • Auto and Boat Upholstery
  • Alloy Wheel Repair
  • Windshield Replacement & Repair
  • HID Headlight Installation
  • Vinyl, Leather & Plastic Repair

When: Mid-July 2013.

Where: 414 NE 80th Ave. Portland, OR 97213

Confessions of a tire salesman

June 14th, 2013

When you’re talking tires, consumers often stand to lose a lot of money. You want to drive safely, but don’t want to break the bank just to put a new set of tires on your car. To keep you informed about how the tire business works, we talked to a tire industry expert. This insider’s account will help guide you through this important automotive transaction.

My first job was bustin’ tires for Firestone here in L.A. I started from the very bottom, changing tires and belts and doing oil changes. I went to work for another tire store and the service manager took a shine to me and said, “Come on up front, and when it’s slow, I’ll show you how to deal with customers.”

Since then, I’ve spent about 20 years in the business and worked in a lot of different stores — some of which I didn’t like much. But I learned a lot about that all-important moment when a customer comes up to the counter and says, “I need a new set of tires but I’m not sure what I want. Can you help me out?” What I know can help you get the right tires on your car and make sure you don’t pay too much for things you don’t need.

How the Game Is Played

To me, the tires are the most important part of the car. You only have four patches of contact between the vehicle and the road, and each one is only about the size of your hands. That means there’s a lot of liability for the tire store. A good tire salesman, who knows his stuff, wants to help keep you safe. Another salesman might use this to scare you into buying a new set of tires before yours are worn out.

Tires are a low-margin item, so it’s hard for a store to make much money just selling rubber. So it’s important they make money other ways: mounting and balancing, oil changes, brake jobs and alignments. So when you come to the counter and ask for tires, the tire salesman is going to look for every way he can to make money.

Most of the chains are commission-based, which changes the motivation of the salesman. Where I worked, you had quotas you had to hit. If you didn’t hit your quotas, you’d get written up. So many write-ups and you’re out of there. We had salesmen who waited in the parking lot for people to show up so they could be the first to grab customers who came in. The whole store had to hit a certain amount before everyone got bonuses. So there was friction between the salesmen — if you weren’t selling enough, they held you responsible for not helping them make their bonuses.

My point of view was that I wouldn’t sell someone anything they didn’t need. That got me in trouble with the other salesmen. But it also got me a lot of loyal customers. They’ve followed me through the years, from store to store. Walking through parking lots, I’d spot some worn tires and leave my business card on the windshield of cars with a note that said, “Please take a look at your tires.” I got a lot of sales from that.

Insider’s Tips on Tire Buying

Buying the right tires means looking at what and how you drive. Once you have a type of tire picked out, you can shop around for the best price. Keep in mind that everything you do is “times four.” That means that the cost of mounting and balancing might not sound like much for one tire, but you’re talking about four tires. An easy way to keep control of costs is to ask for the “all in” or “out the door” price. This quickly gives you a look whether you can stay inside your budget, and it also reveals all the costs.

One way to cut costs is to look for a shop that includes mounting and balancing and provides the valve stem. These costs vary a lot, and since it’s “times four,” it’s a big savings. While a store might negotiate on the price of the tires (some stores will match an online quote), they will be looking at making money on the labor so they are less likely to haggle about that.

Consider the Extras Carefully

When the tire guy has your car up on the rack, it’s a perfect time for them to sell you a wheel alignment, brake job or shocks. Alignment is important, but your tires will tell you if you need an alignment because they will wear unevenly (and the car might “pull” to one side or another, too).

Trying to sell a brake job is a favorite in tire stores. Sometimes all it takes is saying, “We put your car up on the rack and we noticed that the brake pads were pretty low. Do you want to get that taken care of now?” If you’ve kept records on your car, you should know how many miles it’s been since your last brake job. If you’re still in doubt, ask to look at the brakes yourself or at least ask the mechanic to tell you the percentage or amount left on the pads.

Also be ready for the tire salesman to pitch an oil change. Again, you should know the oil change intervals for your car and when it is needed. Don’t do it just because you are there and they are pushing it. The more stuff you add into the work order, the more complicated it becomes and the easier it is to lose track of the real cost of each item.

Here are some tricks I noticed over the years:

“Standard alignment”: In some stores I worked in, the salesman would try to present the alignment to the customer as being included or “standard” and then put it in the bill and hope they didn’t notice.

“Free” tire patching: The chain stores will sometimes offer a free tire patch service, which can be a good thing. But this gives them a chance to call the customer and say, “We inspected your tire, and we can’t fix it because you drove on it and ruined the sidewalls.” Now they get to overcharge you by matching a single tire since you don’t want to waste your investment of the three other good tires.

Bait and switch: Sometimes, on the phone, the salesmen will promise they have a certain tire even if they don’t. The customer arrives only to be told that they will have to order the tire from the warehouse but they do have another (more expensive) tire in stock that they can install right away. Again, remember that, if the per tire price is only $10 more than the tires you had in mind, that will be a total price increase of $40.

“You have a dead battery”: We had a salesman who used to call the customer after they dropped off the car and say, “Your car battery just died. We had to push it into the service bay. Do you want to get that replaced?” Of course they would say yes since the car was dead without it. And batteries can make the store a lot of money.

Scare tactics: On rainy days, I knew a salesman who would use this as a way to scare customers who wanted to have a tire patched. “This tire would never stop you in this rain. You’re better off going with a set of new tires.” I was surprised how often this worked with people.

“You can’t mix tires”: Often, a customer would come in with two good tires and want to replace them. Some of the sales guys would say, “We can’t mix tires” even though you can. If money was no object, I’d like to keep all the tires matched up. But for people on a budget, this is a big hit to the wallet.

Slush money: If there was a little ding in your car, the tire salesman might say, “My friend at such-and-such body shop will fix that for a special price.” What they are looking for is some slush money for referring you to the body shop. You’d probably be better off taking it to the body shop on your own rather than thinking you’re getting an inside deal.

Buying Club Tires or Buying Online

The club stores have more buying power, which can mean cheaper tires for you. But watch out because they’ll grab a box boy off the line and say, “Now you’re a tire installer.” This means the tires might not get mounted and balanced properly.

When I ran a tire store, I had a policy that you have to start the lug nuts by hand. The other thing I did was hand-torque every lug nut so it wasn’t too tight. The air wrench could either cross-thread a lug nut or torque it down so hard you couldn’t break it loose with your car’s tire iron. That’s why I tell people to keep a breaker bar or a pipe in the car to give them extra leverage to break the lug nut free when changing a flat.

Buying from an online tire store can be a really good idea for saving money, but the tires still have to be mounted and balanced. And if the store isn’t going to make anything on the tires, they’ll try that much harder to sell you an alignment or an oil change. Don’t be misled. Twenty dollars per tire — or $80 for the car — is pretty good money for the half hour to 45 minutes it takes to get the job done.

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The top 5 ways to make your car run forever.

May 28th, 2013

Though we may set out to keep a car forever, not everyone will have the persistence — and luck — of Irv Gordon, a man who holds the world record for having driven his 1966 Volvo P1800 for nearly 3 million miles. You can, however, greatly extend the life of your vehicle, while simultaneously reducing the possibility of mechanical mishaps. The following five items are basic and can apply to any vehicle.

1. Follow Your Vehicle’s Service Schedule: This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are still too many car owners out there who pay little or no attention to the vehicle maintenance schedule as laid out in the owner’s manual. “I follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule, not the dealer’s,” says Gordon. “They built the car, so they ought to know what’s best for the car.” Not following the maintenance schedule is particularly inexcusable in late-model cars that have oil life monitoring systems that automatically determine the best time for an oil change. Between the service indicator lights located in the gauge cluster of many new cars and the lengthy intervals between required service (up to 20,000 miles in some models), there’s no reason for skimping on proper maintenance.

2. Check Fluids and Tire Pressure Regularly: Here’s a task that takes about 10 minutes. With a rag in hand and the engine cool, open the hood and pull out the oil dipstick. Wipe it clean, reinsert it and pull it out again for a quick check of your oil — the most important engine fluid. Check the radiator overflow reservoir level and the brake cylinder reservoir. Check the power steering fluid level and, while you’re at it, check the hoses and belts for any signs of wear or imminent failure. Give the air cleaner a look, too. Start the car and after it warms up, check the transmission fluid level. Finally, with the tires cool, use a pressure gauge to make sure each tire has the proper psi, as described in the owner’s manual or in the driver’s side door jamb. Ideally you should do these checks once a week, but in the real world, once a month would be acceptable — except for tire pressure, which really should be checked at least every other week.

3. Go Easy During Start-up: You might have heard this from someone who fires up his car and immediately floors it: “It helps warm it up.” Wrong. A cold engine — meaning one that’s been sitting for more than five hours — will have little or no oil left on the moving parts. It’s all seeped down into the oil pan. It only takes a few seconds after start-up for the oil pump to adequately lubricate an engine. During those few seconds, you should keep engine rpm down to a minimum. Give the engine at least 30 seconds before popping it in gear and driving off. Give it a little more time if it has sat for more than 24 hours.

4. Listen for Odd Noises: Turn off the radio once in a while and listen for any odd noises, both at idle and when under way. Here are a few examples: A clicking noise when you are driving could be a nail stuck in a tire. If it is time for new brakes, you might hear the loud squealing sound of the brake wear indicators. These go off when the car is driving and the brake pedal is not depressed. Similarly, if you hear a scraping or grinding noise while applying the brakes, it could mean that the brake pads are so low that metal to metal contact is already happening. If you cannot pinpoint the source of the noise, take the car to your mechanic to get a more informed opinion.

5. Drive Calmly: Take it easy on the car when you drive it. “Go easy on the brakes and don’t drive it too hard,” says Gordon. The occasional full-throttle acceleration or panic stop isn’t going to hurt anything, but a constant Ricky Roadracer attitude will reduce your car’s road time and add to its downtime.

The same easy-does-it attitude applies to shifting gears, too. Make sure the car is completely stopped before shifting into reverse, and be sure you’re stopped before going back to a forward gear. That will avoid stress on the transmission components. If you need more incentive for calm driving, how about money in your pocket? Edmunds editors tested the tips and found that having a calm driving style improved fuel economy by about 35 percent.

Don’t Panic Over Wear-and-Tear
These simple steps can be applied to just about any vehicle, and will help you take a proactive approach to maintaining your vehicle. But don’t be discouraged when things start to break down. Parts wear out on every car, even those with excellent reputations for reliability. In almost all cases, it is cheaper to fix your car than to replace it.

These are our five tips for keeping your car running forever, but what is Irv Gordon’s secret to reaching nearly 3 million miles? Drive the car like you love it. We couldn’t agree more.

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The high cost of losing your keys.

May 14th, 2013

Our car keys have an uncanny ability to get lost inside coat pockets or underneath couch cushions — or to disappear altogether. Prior to the 1990s, this wasn’t a big deal. You could get a spare key at any hardware store or locksmith shop, not to mention at the car dealership, of course. But because it was easy to copy a key, it was also easy for a thief to steal your car. These days, advances in key technology have made vehicles more difficult to steal, but the price has been costlier key replacements.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll face in the way of cost if you have to replace your key, along with some alternatives that could lower the bill. The prices quoted here are for Santa Monica, California, and West Los Angeles, an area where an hour of labor at an auto dealership can cost more than $100. Labor costs in your region may vary.

Basic Keys and Fob
A basic car key, which was common up until the mid-to late-1990s, has no security feature other than its unique cut. The shank, which is the long metal part of the key, has cuts and grooves like a house key. It’s easy to copy these keys. A locksmith doesn’t need any extra equipment: He can use the same machine he uses to cut other keys.

A basic key will cost about $3 at a locksmith. The only benefit of having the job done at the dealership would be to get the automaker’s branding on the head of the key. A Honda dealership near the Edmunds office charges about $12 for a basic key.

On most modern cars, an electronic key fob (also known as a remote or transmitter) is an integral part of the key set. At the dealership, the cost of replacing an electronic fob can range from $50-$90, depending on the automaker or complexity of the design. All fobs need to be programmed. Some dealerships will do it for free, while others will charge a half hour to an hour of labor.

There is a way around this fee, however. Most fobs can be programmed with a specific combination of button presses on the remote and key turns in the ignition. Some owner’s manuals will show you how to do it, and you can also find this information online.

Finally, there are aftermarket fobs that you can purchase online or from a locksmith. Like most aftermarket products, the quality will vary, but they are a less expensive alternative if you’ve lost your fob.

Transponder Keys
After the mid- to late-1990s, manufacturers began placing a transponder chip in the plastic head of the key. The chip emits a signal to a receiver in the ignition. If this “immobilizer” detects the wrong signal — meaning that the wrong key is in the ignition — the vehicle will not start.

A transponder key’s shank is either a basic key or a laser-cut key (more on laser-cut keys later). The major difference between a basic key and a transponder key is that the chip in the transponder key must be programmed before it can start the vehicle. All dealerships have the machines necessary to program the key. Some might program it for free, but others will charge up to an hour of labor. Most auto locksmiths should also have these machines.

In some vehicles, the transponder key and the fob are an all-in-one unit. This adds to the price of the key and makes it more difficult to get a spare anywhere but at the dealership.

We checked the price of a basic transponder key on a late-model Ford F-150. The dealership quoted $160 for the key and an additional $75 for the fob. If you go to a locksmith, expect to pay roughly $20-$30 less.

A potential low-cost alternative for access to your car is to order a basic key without the transmitter. This key will do everything but start the engine and can come in handy if you ever leave your keys inside the vehicle.

If you’re the type who frequently loses keys, you might be able to save money on the programming by creating a third key to have as a spare. If you already have two keys, a number of vehicle brands will allow you to program a third key on your own. You can have a locksmith cut this “emergency” key and then you follow the procedure for programming, which can frequently be found in your owner’s manual. If the manual doesn’t show you how, try searching online for the procedure. Try “How to program a (insert your year, make, model) key” as your search terms.

Our searches found a method that is said to work on many domestic vehicles. Insert one of your two working keys and turn the ignition to the “on” position for at least three seconds (the car does not need to be started), then repeat the process with the second key. Now insert the new third key and again turn it to the “on” position for another few seconds. This should program the extra key. Before you try this method and spend money on a key, however, we suggest you check with the dealership or your local automotive locksmith to see if the process is one that will reliably work with your car.

Laser-Cut Keys
You can tell a laser-cut key apart from a basic key because the shank is slightly thicker and has fewer carved-out grooves. Laser-cut keys are often referred to as sidewinder keys, due to the distinctive winding cut on the shank. The machines needed to cut these keys are significantly more expensive than a standard key-cutting machine and are not as likely to be found at every locksmith or hardware store.

Laser-cut keys also have built-in transponder chips and they need to be programmed at the dealership or by a locksmith, preferably one who is a member of the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA). You can search for a certified locksmith near you by visiting the AOLA Web site.

All-in-one laser-cut keys are becoming more popular, but as we mentioned, these keys are more expensive and typically need to be replaced at the dealership. Including labor, these can range from $150-$250, which is the price of a laser-cut key for a Honda Insight, for example.

Switchblade Key
Switchblade keys have shanks that fold into the fob when they’re not in use and pop out with the press of a button. They can have a basic cut or a laser cut. One small advantage of the switchblade key is that its components can be purchased separately. If for some reason your key is damaged and no longer works, you can buy the shank separately for roughly $60-$80. But the more likely scenario is that you’ve lost your key, in which case you’ll need both it and the fob into which it folds. This can cost between $200 and $300, once you factor in programming of both components.

Smart Keys
Smart keys aren’t keys in the traditional sense. They are fobs that are either inserted in the dash or, in the more advanced systems, they stay in your pocket or purse. The driver turns the car on and off with the press of a button.

A smart key’s main form of security is its ability to use rolling security codes. The system randomizes the correct code and prevents thieves from hacking it through the use of a device called a code grabber. The vehicle’s computer recognizes the code emitted by the smart key and verifies it before starting the engine. Mercedes-Benz was one of the first automakers to utilize this technology, and even coined the term “SmartKey.” Every vehicle in its lineup now uses the SmartKey. And only dealers can replace them.

“The German brands use proprietary technology,” says Mike Howell, owner of Santa Monica Lock & Safe Co. “We’re not able to copy those.”

Smart keys aren’t just limited to German automakers. Nearly every car brand has a smart key bundled in its high-tech packages. Nissan, for example, makes it available on a number of models ranging from the Altima to the 370Z.

With a smart key, there’s no avoiding the dealership for a replacement. And while it’s handy to carry smart keys in your purse or pocket, these are the very places you will feel the pain when you lose them. The cost of replacing and reprogramming a smart key can range from $220 on a Nissan Altima up to $400 on an Acura RL.

Better Safe Than Sorry
There’s no denying that modern keys are expensive. And so the best defense against losing them is a good offense. It is better to get a spare key now, on your terms, than to stress out and spend the money in what might be an emergency. You can take advantage of the cost-cutting methods here and avoid the labor charges by programming the key yourself.

Finally, if you are someone who is tempting fate by only having one set of keys, consider this: If you lose all the keys to your car, you will need to get it towed to a dealership and it can potentially cost you close to $1,000 to replace the locks on your car.

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Is your car a mess? Organize your car in 5 steps.

April 30th, 2013

Many Americans spend more time in their cars than in most rooms of their homes, yet they neglect their wheels when it comes to regular “housekeeping.” When it gets really messy, organizing your car can seem as daunting as keeping a closet in order. So we asked California Closet’s organizational expert Ginny Snook Scott how to sort out, size up, store and contain your car cargo in five easy steps. Then we added some ideas for finding the necessary gear to clear out the clutter.

messy car interior

Step one: Sort and clean up

Take everything out of the car, including car seats, music and miscellaneous items stored in the glovebox and door pockets. Don’t forget the trunk and cargo area! Chances are you’ll find all kinds of trash to toss. Organize the rest of the items into three piles: stuff you use all the time, things you use occasionally and items you might need in an emergency. Whatever doesn’t fall into these categories should be stored in your home or garage.

Step two: Analyze

Ask yourself, “How do I use my car?” Are you a salesperson who travels with a trunk load of samples, a parent with two toddlers in car seats or a realtor squiring prospective clients from property to property? Do you make a lot of short trips or are long journeys the norm? What are you always struggling to find? (Pen and paper? Change for the toll? Tissues? Your cell phone?) The answers to these questions should determine your priorities.

Step three: Prioritize

Depending upon your needs, go through your three piles and prioritize the most important items in each group. What do you need to keep close at hand and what can be relegated to the second row or back of the car? Pay attention to duplicates. For example, it’s a good idea to keep drinking water in the car, but not a bunch of half-empty bottles. When you bring three new CDs into the car, take three that you’re tired of back to your house. And just like seasonal clothes in a closet, many items such as ice scrapers and tire chains can be packed away in summer.

Step four: Contain your needs

Loose objects in the car lead to disorganization and mess. In the event of a sudden stop or a crash, they can also damage your car or, worse, injure your occupants. Automotive accessory shops offer a variety of cargo containers and organizers for every part of the car, from leakproof litter bags, CD storage and trunk organizers to drink coolers, folding hangers and kids’ entertainment centers. For the businessperson, the Lewis N Clark “Business Center” holds folders and has a writing surface and detachable portfolio. Talus makes a great line of car organizers, including the CarGanizer and the Kids Car Travel Organizer, which can make a world of difference. Sites for such storage products include AJ Prindle, The Busy Woman, Family on Board, The Container Store and

Step five: Store

Store items you use regularly in places where you can reach them. Can’t find a place to store that big box of facial tissue? Try a “tissue cup,” a paper cup that fits into a cupholder and dispenses tissues one at a time. Of course, keep insurance information, maps, directions and other documents together in the glovebox. And be creative about storing lesser-used and seasonal items — there are often nooks and crannies around the spare tire or in the rear walls of the car that can hold a small first-aid kit, roadside flares or jumper cables. Your owner’s manual (now that you can find it) can be helpful in pointing out hooks and cubbies that might have been overlooked.

Finally, don’t put anything on the floor — even trash — unless it’s designed to sit there. Once you start messing up the floor, you’ll find it too easy to keep adding to it, and soon your car will be cluttered again!

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Our favorite Portland car stereo store.

April 16th, 2013

If you’ve had a bad experience with Portland car electronics stores, go to a shop off I5 and NE Broadway (by the Rose Garden) called Mobile West.

They installed a GPS and bluetooth my Honda Odyssey, and the experience was the opposite of what I’ve had at the…eh ehm…companies that advertise on the radio:

  • Talk to real people.  I bought the cheapest thing in the store, but got complete attention.
  • Get a clean and tidy install.  The equipment works flawlessly, wires are tucked away, and the dash is like-new tight.
  • Drive a loaner car.  They gave me a car to drive for the afternoon despite spending just $450.

The Google reviews are true. Mobile West is best.

portland car stereo ratings

Is cheap gas bad for your car?

April 3rd, 2013

Gasoline is expensive and you’re looking for every way possible to save money at the pump. You already shy away from premium fuel, knowing that your car doesn’t require it. You’d like to save a few pennies per gallon more by going to an off-brand gas station. But you can’t get rid of the nagging fear: Is the cheap gas going to damage your car’s engine? put this question to experts in several fields, including an automotive engineer at a major carmaker, gasoline manufacturers and two engineers with the American Automobile Association (AAA). It boils down to this: You can stop worrying about cheap gas. You’re unlikely to hurt your car by using it.

Because of the advances in engine technology, a car’s onboard computer is able to adjust for the inevitable variations in fuel, so most drivers won’t notice a drop off in performance between different brands of fuel, from the most additive-rich gas sold by the major brands to the bare-bones stuff at your corner quickie mart.

Still, spending a few extra pennies per gallon might provide peace of mind to someone who just purchased a new car and wants to keep it as long as possible. People with older cars might not be as concerned about their engine’s longevity. They can buy the less expensive gas and still be OK.

Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer with the Automobile Club of Southern California, summed it up this way: “Buy the cheapest gas that is closest to you.”

Recipes for Performance — at a Price

But this doesn’t mean that all gas is the same, even though it starts out that way. The fuel from different filling stations comes from a common source: the “base gas” from a refinery. Workers there mix additives mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency into the base gas in order to clean a car’s engine and reduce emissions. Then, the different gas companies — both off-brand and major brands — put their own additive packages in the gas to further boost both cleaning and performance.

A key difference is that the major brands put more additives in their gas and claim to have some secret ingredients. This extra shot of additives provides an additional level of cleaning and protection for your engine.

But is this extra helping of additives, which jacks up the price, really necessary? And, if you don’t use more expensive, extra-additive gas, how soon will your engine’s performance suffer?

“It’s not like any of the fuels are totally junk,” says John Nielsen, director of engineering and repair for the AAA. “If you buy gas from Bob’s Bargain Basement gas station because that’s all that’s available, it won’t hurt your car,” he says.

The real difference is the amount of additives that are in the gas, Nielsen says. More additives essentially afford more protection — but they also cost more.

Some automakers and oil companies believe that the amount of government-required additives isn’t enough to protect engines. They have created a Top Tier gasoline designation. It means that those gasoline brands sell fuels that provide more and better additives.

Nielsen recommends that drivers look in their car’s owner’s manual to see what the carmaker recommends and, when possible, follow that guideline. People who are still concerned about gasoline quality can ask a specific oil company if it has performed independent testing to substantiate its claims.

Selling the Secret Sauce in Gasoline

The major oil companies spend millions of dollars convincing buyers that their gas is superior by creating ads that feature smiling cartoon cars, lab-coated nerds and sooty engine valves. Buy Shell’s nitrogen-enriched gas, for instance, and you won’t get a buildup of “gunk” in your engine, company advertising promises.

Is all this just a marketing gimmick?

“I am a Ph.D. chemist, a nerdy guy who wears a white coat,” says Jim Macias, Shell Oil Company’s fuels marketing manager. “We really believe there are differences in fuels. We can see it, feel it and measure it.”

Macias says the gunk caused by fuels with insufficient additives can foul fuel injectors and even trigger “Check Engine” lights in as few as 10,000 miles.

But not everyone is keen to talk about gasoline quality and whether additives really make the difference.

Edmunds sought comment from one well-known seller of low-price gas: Arco. Arco also often finds itself targeted as being a lower-quality product. BP, Arco’s parent company, did not respond to Edmunds’ interview request.

The American Petroleum Institute provided background comments about fuel additives and promised to provide an expert for an interview. The API spokesman never called back.

Finally, Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, an independent, nonprofit testing facility, also declined to comment on the question of gasoline quality.

The Skeptics and Their Tests

The Auto Club’s Mazor was more forthcoming, and has some interesting results from a blind test he did on three samples of gasoline from both major and independent gas stations.

“We tested emissions, fuel economy and performance and we could not tell the difference,” he says.

Mazor believes that the driving public has outdated notions about gas. Twenty years ago, only premium fuel had detergents in it. Back then, it was beneficial to occasionally buy a tank of high-test gas to clean the engine. Then, he says, “regulations were very lax and there was little enforcement. But all that has changed.”

Likewise, Randy Stephens, chief engineer for Toyota’s Avalon, isn’t wholly convinced by the claims of engine protection afforded by higher-priced gas. He says fuel experts at his company study the effects of different brands of gas on the Toyota engines. Automotive engineers disassemble engines after 10,000 miles of running them on different brands of gas to see if there is a difference.

“Honestly, in the 10 years I’ve been in charge of Avalon, I’ve never seen one come back with any sort of deposit issue,” Stephens says.

Nevertheless, Stephens admits to being “swayed” by ads that tout cleaning agents. Twice a year he adds a bottle of Chevron U.S.A. Inc.’s Techron — the same additive that’s in Chevron gasoline — to the fuel tank of his personal car.

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What your Check Engine Light is Telling You

March 19th, 2013

When your car’s “Check Engine” light comes on, it’s usually accompanied by a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The light could mean a costly problem, like a bad catalytic converter, or it could be something minor, like a loose gas cap. But in many cases, it means at minimum that you’ll be visiting the car dealer to locate the malfunction and get the light turned off.

The Check Engine light — more formally known as the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) — is a signal from the car’s engine computer that something is wrong. The car dealer’s service department can diagnose the problem for about $75. But there’s a way to preview what the problem might be.

Prior to 1996, carmakers had their own engine diagnostic systems, primarily to ensure their cars were compliant with Environmental Protection Agency pollution-control requirements. Starting with model-year 1996, automakers standardized their systems under a protocol called OBD-II, which stipulated a standardized list of diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) and mandated that all cars provide a universal connector to access this information. It’s usually located under the steering column and is easy to access.

Deciphering the Code
Do-it-yourselfers can buy inexpensive code readers that connect to this standardized onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and search for the code’s meaning on Web sites such as Engine Light Help. The Check Engine light can even be turned off by some code readers, even though this action alone does not actually repair the underlying problem. In many such cases the light will simply come back on later.

Experts say that many drivers confuse the “service required” light on the gauge cluster for the Check Engine light. These warning lights are unrelated. The service required light just means the car is due for an oil change or other routine maintenance. It is not the indicator of trouble that the Check Engine light is.

Check Engine lights come in orange, yellow or amber, depending on the manufacturer. If the light begins flashing, however, it indicates a more serious problem, such as a misfire that can quickly overheat the catalytic converter. These emissions devices operate at high temperatures to cut emissions, but can pose a fire hazard if faulty.

Don’t Ignore That Light
So if the Check Engine light comes on and it’s steady rather than flashing, what do you do? The most obvious answer, of course, is to get the engine checked. But many people do nothing, perhaps fearing an expensive repair bill. Some drivers with older cars want to squeeze out as many remaining miles as possible without visiting a service garage. But before they can pass their state’s vehicle inspection, they have to get the light turned off. And a state inspection is a good motivator for dealing with the problem. If the light is lit, there’s a good chance the car is releasing excess pollutants or consuming too much gas.

Ten percent of all cars on the road have a Check Engine light on, and the drivers of half of these cars have ignored the light for more than three months, says Kristin Brocoff, a spokesperson The company sells a $119 device that reads engine codes and provides access to a Web site database that identifies the problem (according to the code) and estimates the cost of repair.

CarMD isn’t alone in the code-reader market. An Internet search will bring up countless devices, some costing as little as $40. Most come with a booklet listing the codes, but it is also easy to do a Google search to locate the codes. Aamco will check the Check Engine light for free and provides a fact sheet.

As Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for, points out, the system is primarily designed to continuously monitor a car’s emissions system over the life of the car. However, he notes, “The engine and the emission control system are so interlinked that the health of the emission control system is a good indication of the general health of the car’s engine.”

Steve Mazor, the Auto Club of Southern California’s chief automotive engineer, says that while some people freak out when they see the Check Engine light, “others just put a piece of black tape over it and keep driving.” Mazor says it’s important to promptly address problems indicated by the light. Ignoring them could lead to larger, more costly problems later.

If the light comes on, Mazor says the driver should first see if the gas cap is loose: That’s a common cause. A loose cap sends an error message to the car’s computer, reporting a leak in the vapor recovery system, which is one aspect of a car’s emissions system. If the gas cap is loose, tighten it and continue driving. Even so, it will take some time for the light to go off, he says.

Mazor says that even an inexpensive code reader could be useful for car owners, even if they aren’t mechanically inclined.

“If the mechanic gives you the same information, at least you know they are going down the right road,” he notes. Edmunds agrees, adding that a code reader provides car owners with one more data point to help them talk with their mechanic and avoid costly or unnecessary auto repairs.

Mixed Signals
But even with the code and its meaning in hand, do-it-yourself interpretation can be a little tricky — even if you are mechanically inclined, as Dan Edmunds explains.

“My wife’s car started running poorly and there was a Check Engine light. My code reader detected a code for the Cam Angle Sensor. I thought about buying the sensor and installing it myself, but if I had, I would have wasted time and money because it turned out that the sensor was fine. Instead, mice had gotten under the hood and had chewed some of the wires leading to it.”

Occasionally, the Check Engine light comes on when nothing is wrong with the car, Mazor says. It could be a temporary problem caused by a change in humidity or other factors. In such cases, the light should go off by itself after a short time.

CarMD published a list of the five most common Check Engine light codes in 2010 and estimated cost of repair. In order of frequency, they are:

  • O2 sensor (part of the emissions system, monitoring and helping adjust the air-fuel mixture)
  • Loose gas cap
  • Catalytic converter
  • Mass air flow sensor (monitoring the amount of air mixed in the fuel injection system)
  • Spark plug wires

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Should you trust CarFax?

March 5th, 2013

On the front of a Carfax brochure is the picture of a happy customer holding the keys to a new car. At the very bottom is the statement: “The Truth About Used Cars”, while on the inside, the top of the first page states: “Buy With Confidence”. But how much of this is true and how much is pure hype?

Can you really “Buy With Confidence”?

The inside first page of the brochure states that “CARFAX® Vehicle History Reports™ uncover the truth about used cars, providing information on: major accidents, mileage accuracy, number of owners, lemon/manufacturer buybacks, recalls/major repairs, safety & reliability”.

The brochure goes on to state that it is “information that you can trust” and that Carfax “maintains the nation’s largest, most comprehensive vehicle history database”. In addition, the information is compiled from “thousands of reliable sources”.  These sources include various state motor vehicle agencies, police accident reports, car auctions, service contract companies, safety organizations, rental car companies and reports from various emissions inspection stations.

What is not covered in these “thousands of sources”?

Here is the first issue that crops up. Nowhere in the brochure does Carfax mention accident reports originating from insurance companies. After all, if a tree falls on your car while it’s parked in your driveway, you aren’t going to report it to the police, but you are going to report it to your insurance company. I don’t know about you, but if a maple tree fell on my car, I would consider it a “major” accident. The problem is, insurance companies don’t report their information to Carfax. Without this information, the Carfax report remains clear.

Well then, what about the repair shop you take it to? Glad you asked. You see, not all repair shops report to Carfax, either. So now we have a vehicle that has been damaged and repaired. What about the “huge” database at Carfax? In many cases, there will be no evidence that any of this has transpired. You, my friend, still have a car with a clean vehicle history.

What about the famous Carfax “Buyback Guarantee”?

Just as the name “Carfax” has become synonymous with the term vehicle history report (also a trademark of Carfax), their buyback guarantee has become legend in the automobile business. After all, if they make a mistake, they’ll buy your car from you, right?

Not so fast. Their simple claim of “We miss it … We buy it!” has more than a few caveats. Even in the brochure, the guarantee states “you’re protected from buying a vehicle that a DMV has reported as having severe damage, mileage fraud or lemon history”. In other words, the guarantee only covers “branded” titles and titles with mileage that is notated as “not actual”. In case you’re wondering, a branded title is a title that is issued to a vehicle that is declared a total loss (such as a salvage title or scrap title), has been damaged by water (a flood title), or used for purposes other than a private vehicle (taxi, police).

Since this status has to be reported by a DMV that reports to Carfax, the only thing the guarantee covers is a mistake by Carfax in reading the DMV report. In fact, if you go to the Carfax web site and navigate to the legal disclaimer section, you can read the following information:


Doesn’t exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy, does it?

Should you use Carfax as part of your buying decision?

If you are buying from a dealer and the dealer offers you a free Carfax report, by all means don’t turn it down. Although the information contained in the report may be incomplete, it may be helpful in forming a basis for your buying decision. But there are other things that you can do to finish filling in the rest of the car history puzzle.

Have the car inspected

Ask the dealer if you can have the car inspected and then take it to a certified mechanic – preferably one who is an ASE certified master mechanic. This service normally runs between $100 and $200, but consider that money well spent, as a car with hidden damage could cost you thousands of dollars in repair bills and lower resale value.

The Bottom Line, or what kind of dessert are you looking for?

While a Carfax report can certainly be used as a tool in making a buying decision, it’s only the first step in finding out if that used car you thinking of buying is a cherry or a lemon.

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10 Tips for Good Automotive Repair Service

February 19th, 2013

1. Dog-ear your owner’s manual.

Yes, it’s your car’s bible! Knowing where to find information quickly can help in identifying causes when trouble arises. You may even be able to avoid a trip to the auto mechanic in the first place if you discover that your “problem” stemmed from not understanding your car’s controls. Beyond knowing the make and model of your vehicle, it also helps to have the specific trim level on hand for the service technician, as that often identifies the engine size and configuration, transmission and other included features that vary across the model line. Be aware of your exterior paint and interior color codes in case body or upholstery repair is necessary. Keep your vehicle identification number (VIN) available, as this code will likely be required when scheduling service.

2. Decide between the independent corner garage and the dealership service department.

Technicians at the dealer are specialists; they are manufacturer-trained and typically work exclusively on your make of vehicle. Most dealers have an ongoing training program for the service staff, which includes not only the service technicians but also the service manager, advisors and support staff. (See “Roles of the Dealership Service Staff…Who Does What”.) But the dealer service department is usually the most expensive route.

And it doesn’t mean that the dealers always have the best technicians. Many independent auto repair service facilities are started by previous dealer employees who want to operate their own repair store. For help deciding which is right for you, see “Corner Garage vs. Dealer Service Department.”

3. Keep your records in order, and take them with you.

Have records available on everything you do to maintain your car — and keep them in the car if possible. Well-kept records can be instrumental in correctly diagnosing a vehicle problem the first time. Incomplete records can lead to redundant auto repairs that waste your time and money. A vehicle with a well-documented repair service history also tells your mechanic that you value first-rate work at the recommended intervals, and have done your part to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape.

4. Is the technician trained on your specific vehicle make?

Cars and trucks today are extremely complex machines, and their unique characteristics vary heavily from brand to brand. Making certain that your technician has obtained the proper training for your specific vehicle is crucial since special tools and procedures — many of which are not easily available to the “average” auto mechanic — are required to correctly service your auto.

5. Is the service technician A.S.E.-certified?

Twice annually, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence offers auto service industry professionals the chance to become A.S.E.-certified. By passing a written test and having at least two years of work experience in auto repair service, auto mechanics earn A.S.E. certification, placing them among the top practitioners in the industry. Inquiring about A.S.E. credentials is important, as the designation better ensures the competence of your prospective car mechanic.

6. Inquire about pricing and labor rates.

Before you surrender your keys to the service department, be sure to determine the labor rate. Shops typically post the rate in a conspicuous place, so be observant and ask questions if you’re confused. Make sure you understand the way in which you will be billed for an auto repair. Many shops bill according to estimated repair times established by the manufacturer. A repair that the service tech deems “minor” could indeed be an all-day job according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

7. Ask questions. Lots of them.

Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions about why something needs fixing or how a technology works. As the customer, you have a right to become more educated about your vehicle.

8. Request Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts

Whenever parts need to be replaced, be sure to request genuine OEM components rather than generic pieces. Maintaining exact manufacturer specifications is important in achieving optimum performance. The low-price allure of aftermarket parts often prompts customers to forgo OEM quality, but spending the extra dollars on factory-approved equipment now can make a big difference down the road, especially in terms of vehicle longevity.

9. Ignore the myth of the 100,000-mile tune-up.

“It doesn’t exist,” states Principe. “Each vehicle has a specific tune-up schedule recommended by the manufacturer. The more you keep the systems clean, the better the vehicle will run.”

Variations in climate and driving style also dictate the necessity for maintenance. Commuting in dusty desert conditions will quickly clog air filters, while driving short distances repeatedly can wear out the exhaust system, as moisture is never completely evacuated. Extremely hot and cold conditions require more attention paid to radiator fluid and engine oil.

10. Look for warning signs.

Finally, taking a car in for service is always a case of caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. “If a car mechanic doesn’t look you in the eye, speed talks or tries to brush you off — beware,” noted Principe. “He’s either trying to hide something or is just interested in the receipt at the end of the week.”


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How to know when it’s time to replace your battery.

February 5th, 2013

The first and most likely indication of a low battery would be a hard starting problem caused by slow cranking. If the battery seems weak or fails to crank your engine normally, it may be low. To find out, you need to check the battery’s “state of charge.”

A battery is nothing more than a chemical storage device for holding electrons until they’re needed to crank the engine or run the lights or other electrical accessories on your vehicle. Checking the battery’s state of charge will tell you how much juice the battery has available for such purposes.

If your battery is low, it needs to be recharged, not only to restore full power, but also to prevent possible damage to the battery. Ordinary automotive lead-acid storage batteries must be kept at or near full charge to keep the cell plates from becoming “sulfated” (a condition that occurs if the battery is run down and left in a discharged condition for more than a few days). As sulfate builds up, it reduces the battery’s ability to hold a charge and supply voltage. Eventually the battery becomes useless and must be replaced.

Checking The State Of Charge

The charge level depends on the concentration of acid inside the battery. The stronger the concentration of acid in the water, the higher the specific gravity of the solution, and the higher the state of charge.

On batteries with removable caps, state of charge can be checked with a “hydrometer.” Some hydrometers have a calibrated float to measure the specific gravity of the acid solution while others simply have a number of colored balls. On the kind with a calibrated float, a hydrometer reading of 1.265 (corrected for temperature) indicates a fully charged battery, 1.230 indicates a 75% charge, 1.200 indicates a 50% charge, 1.170 indicates a 25% charge, and 1.140 or less indicates a discharged battery. On the kind that use floating balls, the number of balls that float tells you the approximate level of charge. All balls floating would indicate a fully charged battery, no balls floating would indicate a dead or fully discharged battery.

Some sealed-top batteries have a built-in hydrometer to indicate charge. The charge indicator only reads one cell, but usually shows the average charge for all battery cells. A green dot means the battery is 75% or more charged and is okay for use or further testing. No dot (a dark indicator) means the battery is low and should be recharged before it is returned to service or tested further. A clear or yellow indicator means the level of electrolyte inside has dropped too low, and the battery should be replaced.

On sealed-top batteries that do not have a built-in charge indicator, the state of charge can be determined by checking the battery’s base or open circuit voltage with a digital voltmeter or multimeter. This is done by touching the meter leads to the positive and negative battery terminals while the ignition key is off.

A reading of 12.66 volts indicates a fully charged battery; 12.45 volts is 75% charged, 12.24 volts is 50% charged, and 12.06 volts is 25% charged.

Recharging The Battery

CAUTION: Do not attempt to recharge a battery with low (or frozen) electrolyte! Doing so risks blowing up the battery if the hydrogen gas inside is ignited by a spark.

Your charging system should be capable of recharging the battery if it is not fully discharged. Thirty minutes or so of normal driving should be enough.

If your battery is completely dead or extremely low, it should be recharged with a fast or slow charger. This will reduce the risk of overtaxing and damaging your vehicle’s charging system. One or both battery cables should be disconnected from the battery prior to charging it with a charger. This will eliminate any risk of damage to your vehicle’s electrical system or its onboard electronics.

Quoted from Yahoo! Autos

How your car insurance company calculates your rate.

January 22nd, 2013

The five biggest factors:

1) Your driving profile. Such factors as the number of miles you drive annually and your accident and ticket history are major elements in setting your insurance rate. The less you drive, the less risk of an accident and a claim. Safer driving — meaning a history free of accidents and moving violations — also points to someone who’s less likely to file a claim.

2) The car you drive. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car’s sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record and the likelihood of theft, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The cost of fixing a brand-new $225,000 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia is going to be a lot more than the repair costs for a used $17,000 Nissan Altima. The premium will reflect this.

3) Your essential personal information, including your age, occupation and where you live. Each of these things factors into the process of setting your insurance rate because insurance companies base their premiums on actuarial information about drivers. They look for patterns of claims activity among people like you. A teenage boy is likely to have a higher insurance rate than a middle-aged driver, because statistically, teenage boys have more accidents than do 40-year-olds.

Your occupation can play a role if it affects how much driving you do. Work that involves lots of miles on the road, such as an outside sales job, can affect rates. From the insurance company’s point of view, the more miles you drive means more risk of an accident.

Insurance companies also look at where you live. They track local trends of accidents, car thefts, lawsuits and the cost of medical care and car repair, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

4) The coverage you choose. The more coverage you elect and the lower the deductible you set, the more you’ll pay.

5) Your credit score. Some insurance companies use credit scores as a factor in setting rates. This practice is coming under attack, however, with seven states in 2010 passing regulations regarding the use of credit information in insurance. In 2011, several other state legislatures introduced bills to regulate the practice.

Actuarial studies show that how a person manages his or her financial affairs is an accurate predictor of the number and size of insurance claims he or she might file, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Want to lower your costs?

If you want to lower your insurance costs, you can’t change your age, or easily change your job or hometown. But there are some personal changes you can make:

1) Consider pay-as-you-drive insurance. It’s a paradox, but the more personal you get, the better your rates might be. Pay-as-you-drive programs offer better rates because they’re tailored to how you personally drive — as opposed to the people who are similar to you in terms of age or other unchangeable factors.

This means that a teenager who is an excellent driver — who doesn’t speed, doesn’t drive at night and doesn’t drive many miles — can get a better rate than the average teenager, whose actuarial profile pegs him as a greater risk, based on the accident history for people his age.

Pay-as-you-drive plans have different configurations, depending on the insurance company and state. Some require that you install a telematics device that transmits information about your actual driving (such as speed, mileage and braking patterns) to the insurance company. Others, such as plans permitted in California, only are based on the number of miles you drive, not how you drive.

2) Be a calmer, more careful driver. If you’ve had speeding tickets in the past, resolve to change from being a speedy, aggressive driver to a calm one. A side benefit is that you’ll save money on gasoline. Edmunds testing has also shown that a calm driving style gets you 35 percent better fuel economy.

3) Choose a car with a lower cost of ownership. Edmunds has a True Cost to Own ® (TCO) tool that lets you size up cars when you’re shopping. It takes into account eight components — depreciation, interest on financing, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, repairs and any federal tax credit that may be available — and tells you what your cost would be over five years. It’s a way to get a preview of what your insurance premiums might be. Also, talk to your insurance company when you’re car shopping to get a quote on how your choice will affect your insurance. If you wait until the deal is done, you’ve lost a chance to manage your costs.

4) Change your coverage. Don’t go for every bell and whistle in an auto insurance policy. If you’re willing to pay a slightly higher deductible, you can wind up saving big on your rates. Going from a $250 to a $1,000 deductible could save you 25-40 percent on your policy. Set aside a portion of these funds to cover your costs in the event of a claim.

If you have an older car with comprehensive and collision coverage, you might find yourself paying more in insurance than the car is worth. One tip: Take your comprehensive and collision premiums and add those up. Multiply by 10. If your car is worth less than that amount, don’t buy the coverage. If you’re worried about being left overexposed, consider this: The typical policyholder makes a claim only once every 11 years, and reports a total loss only once every 50 years.

5) Explore discounts for which you might be qualified. The options available include discounts for low-mileage drivers, for seniors and for cars with anti-theft devices and certain safety devices. It’s a lengthy list — just ask your insurer about any discounts, and go from there.

6) Clean up your credit. Keep it in good shape by paying bills on time and by regularly checking that there are no items on your history that do not belong to you. You can get free annual credit report checks here.

Is there personal information that doesn’t matter? Gender, one expert told us. Insurance companies don’t care if you’re female or male as long as you’re a safe driver. And it’s a myth that red cars have higher insurance rates than those sporting more sedate shades, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Ultimately, insurance companies care about how likely it is that a particular driver would end up making or causing a pricey claim against them. Green is the only color that matters.

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Roadside Assistance: Who Will you Call?

January 8th, 2013

When you’re broken down by the side of the road, your motor club card suddenly becomes your most precious possession. But with roadside assistance programs being pushed by credit card and cell phone companies — to name just a few recent entries to this field — how do you choose from the glut of plans available?

Before trouble strikes, it’s important to choose a roadside assistance provider that meets your needs. Experts suggest weighing your options. “Be sure it covers the person, not the vehicle,” says Doug McLendon, director of roadside programs for AAA, the largest auto club in the country. “Look for a flexible plan that offers benefits to suit your personal needs and won’t leave you with out-of-pocket expenses after a breakdown.”

According to Better World Club President Mitch Rofsky, “You definitely want to ask about the turnaround time for a service call,” referring to the wait time for help to arrive. “Then, consider the extra benefits of each program, like discounts and travel information.”

Taking the time to review all the details of your roadside assistance program (or programs) can pay off when you’re stranded and need to decide quickly who to call. Auto clubs vary widely in costs and benefits. Dividing roadside assistance programs into three categories — freebies, add-ons and stand-alones — may help to simplify the choice.


Roadside assistance usually gets tucked into the package for free when you buy a new or certified pre-owned car. editors have compiled a list of roadside assistance coverage for new cars based on manufacturer. Each automaker sets its own limits on how long the free service will last by mileage or age of vehicle. Some used car deals also include roadside assistance plans, but they may require a separate inspection. Generally, a tow provided through one of these plans will take your car to the nearest dealership, which implies higher-priced parts and labor, unless the faulty parts are under warranty.

OnStar, included free for one year on all new GM vehicles, streamlines roadside assistance. Wireless and GPS technology installed in the vehicles connects drivers with a call center that dispatches towing and other emergency services and can remotely unlock doors and help locate stolen cars. After the grace period, OnStar costs $200 or more annually, depending on the level of coverage. If your new car is your only vehicle and you don’t pile on the miles, the more conventional three-to-seven-year roadside assistance package that comes with the car may be all you need.

The free roadside assistance programs offered through cell phone plans or credit card agreements need closer scrutiny. Two major carriers have faced lawsuits from customers who claim they were being billed for what they thought were free roadside assistance plans. Some cell phone-based plans require that the call for assistance be made from the phone that includes the plan.

What appear to be free roadside assistance programs offered through some credit card companies can turn out to be glorified dispatch services. The tow truck arrives and the technician provides whatever service is required, but later, charges for that service appear on the credit card account.

Add-On Plans

A growing number of businesses and organizations, from Sam’s Club to the AARP, offer roadside assistance plans for a small charge added to other membership or service fees. These add-on plans are usually contracted out to national roadside assistance providers such as Road America, and the level of dependability is comparable.

However, the benefits are not necessarily the same. For instance, the roadside assistance plan obtained through a personal Allstate insurance policy covers only the insured vehicle, while a plan offered by Allstate Motor Club covers the cardholder (plus an additional driver) in any car being driven by either of them. Also look carefully at the number of miles allowed for each tow and the number of people covered in these plans to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.

Some insurance companies treat roadside assistance service calls made through their add-on plans like accident claims. Too many requests for help with a lockout could result in higher premiums. If the service calls are reported to ChoicePoint, the insurance industry record-keeper, your eligibility for coverage may be jeopardized.

Stand-Alone Plans

Families, especially ones with teen drivers, usually spend enough time on the road to take advantage of the services offered by stand-alone roadside assistance providers such as the companies mentioned below. No two auto clubs are the same, and most offer two or more levels of membership.

To compound the confusion, many auto clubs sprinkle in benefits of little or no value, running the gamut from paying for ambulance transport (usually covered by health insurance) to providing reward money for help in the conviction of car thieves. Lodging discounts and travel advice at some clubs amount to the same kind of information you’d find at Travelocity or Mapquest. Consider how often you’ll really need a guaranteed arrest bond for a traffic violation.

Ask Questions

Five key questions to ask when comparing roadside assistance plans are:

  • What is the cost of a basic membership?
  • How many people are covered in the basic membership?
  • How many tows per person are allowed each year?
  • What is the average response time per service call?
  • What percentage of service calls will require reimbursement and what percentage will be completely covered by the membership? (Motor clubs usually don’t have this information readily at hand, but you can use this rule of thumb: The more detailed the information in the members’ handbook about how to request a reimbursement, the more likely you will be reimbursed rather than towed without paying up front.)

Reap Benefits

Once you’ve decided on a plan, familiarize yourself with all its benefits so you can use them when the opportunity arises. AAA, actually an affiliation of more than 75 regional auto clubs, gives you the choice of a tow to the nearest repair facility no matter how far, or to a location of your choice within a specified number of miles (depending on the level of membership you choose). In addition to its long-standing rating system for lodging, AAA also inspects auto repair companies and will arbitrate complaints made by members about any certified service facility. A mobile battery testing and replacement service provides on-the-scene maintenance or installation for AAA members.

Better World Club is one of the fastest-growing auto clubs. It features environmentally friendly options like bicycle roadside assistance and discounts on hybrid car rentals as well as traditional motor club services. BWC members can also support ecological change with carbon offsets, payments that support renewable energy production or programs that work to counteract emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide.

It’s also important to be aware of situations that your plan doesn’t cover, such as a vehicle disabled in a flood or one stranded on a highway like the New Jersey Turnpike, where local governments prohibit all but certain licensed towing companies. Keep a roadside emergency kit on board as well as some spare change in case your cell phone connection cuts out.

Plowing through all the options for roadside assistance may seem as appealing as running on fumes through rush-hour traffic. But once you know how and when you’re covered, you can usually recoup the cost of your plan the first time you call for help.

-Quoted from

How to Survive the Top Driving Emergencies: Part 3

December 26th, 2012

In this final installment, I’ll tell you how to react to and recover from common driving mishaps, including dropping two wheels off the road and a front- or rear-tire slide. Although such incidents occur frequently in normal driving situations — especially on roads beset by heavy traffic or hazardous weather conditions — many people don’t know what to do in the moment, and the results can be grisly. Your best line of defense is knowledge and experience.

Emergency #8: Dropping Two Wheels off the Road This should be the easiest to handle of the 10 emergency situations, yet it results in a large number of fatalities each year. The answer is as easy as this: If you drop two wheels off the road, don’t be in a hurry to get back on the pavement.

  • Smoothly remove pressure from the gas pedal. Stay away from the brake pedal unless it can’t be avoided (e.g., if you’re headed downhill or there’s an upcoming obstacle). Here’s where ABS would be worth its weight in hundred-dollar bills.
  • Drive parallel to the road: Allow the car to coast down to, say, 35 or 40 mph.
  • Gently turn the wheel a very small amount: If you have to turn more than 5 degrees, you’re going too fast. Let the car slow down more.
  • If you face an obstacle, brake harder but don’t try to reenter with more than 15 degrees of steering. The reason: If you have to turn the wheel, say, 45 or 60 degrees to get back on the pavement, the front tires will fully regain traction before the rears and either you’ll spin out — likely hitting what you were trying to avoid — or shoot across the road into other traffic.

I once ran completely off a racetrack at 110 mph in an important turn. I straightened the steering up and allowed the car to slow down a bit. And I eased it back over onto the pavement. That mistake could have been tragic, but instead it cost me less than one second.

Even the curves you’ll find on interstate highways need only the grip from two tires to stay firmly planted on the road.

Emergency #9 Front-Tire Slide Manufacturers work hard to make their cars lose front traction before rear grip. When front tires lose grip, most drivers’ natural reaction is the correct reaction; that is:

  • Say “Oh, fudge” (or similar) and have your adrenal gland increase your heart rate.
  • Remove your foot from the gas pedal (and stay away from the brake pedal).
  • Leave your hands where they are. More steering won’t help and might hurt.
  • Wait for the traction to return.
  • Pray that the grip comes back before you get to the trees or concrete barriers.

Turning the wheel more or stepping on the brake is like writing additional checks from an already overdrawn account: You’re already asking for more grip than the tires can provide. But something bad can happen if you turn the wheel more and the traction suddenly returns. Let’s say it was a narrow strip of ice. On the other side of the ice, the road is barely even damp. The tires now have plenty of grip. And they think you just asked them to make a very hard left into oncoming traffic. “Yes, sir!”

Emergency #10: Rear-Tire Slide Words can no more teach you how to catch a rear-tire slide (stock car drivers call it “loose”) than videos can teach you how to hit a curveball. Unlike a front-tire slide, you cannot successfully react to a rear-tire slide; you must anticipate it. If you don’t anticipate it, you will spin out.

Then, you must act appropriately, putting in the correct amount of countersteering, anticipating the return of rear traction and removing the precise amount of countersteer at the correct rate. In driver’s ed, Coach told you to turn in the direction of the skid. Did he ever say that at some point you’ve got to unwind the steering? Didn’t think so.

There are a few moderate-cost ways to learn how to catch a sliding tail. The biggest bang for the buck is the “slick track” go-kart tracks found at many fun parks. The next step up is the indoor kart tracks found in most metro areas. When you’re among the fastest drivers around the track, you’re probably adequate when it comes to catching a rear-tire slide. A rear-drive car and a snow-covered parking lot also offer potential for practice — along with an equal chance for the cops to come visiting.

Third would be doing the skid-pad course at a performance driving school. Lots of terrific practice under professional guidance, but it’s lots of money, too.

On the highway, though, no “Bs” are given for catching a sliding tail: There are either “As” or “Fs.”

Here’s my recommendation for those who can’t get enough practice, to enable them to always perfectly deal with the loss of rear traction: The instant a rear slide makes you say “Oh, shoot” (or similar), pound the brake pedal to the floor and hold it there until the car comes to a complete stop. Then, count to three before proceeding. If you release the brakes before you’ve come to a complete stop — even if you’re traveling but 5 mph — your car is going to go whichever way the tires are pointed, and that may cause you to hit something you just avoided.

Racecar fans have often seen a driver spin out at 175 mph and miraculously miss the wall, but while going no more than 25, release the brakes and smash into the wall or another car. This means the driver lost track of which way the steering wheel was pointed.

If you haven’t gotten the message already, each of these tips on how to successfully survive a driving emergency must be practiced to be properly employed. For each, we’ve offered low- (or no- ) cost tips on how to get some training.

Here’s an affordable way to practice most of these tips at once: Car-club autocrosses, also called Solo II. These are low-speed (less than 60 mph) one-car-at-a-time, against-the-clock competitions usually held in parking lots. The only things to hit are plastic traffic cones. Any well-maintained street car is eligible and entry fees are typically less than $50. (Check out the Sports Car Club of America for more.) Some clubs will loan helmets to first-timers and many hold free or low-cost driving schools.

While autocross won’t hurt your car other than slightly accelerated brake wear, it will tear up your tires. You could wait until you need new tires to enter an event. To enable my children to practice the tips, I bought a set of “take-off” steel wheels on eBay for $75 and picked up a cheap set of tires.

While not inexpensive, the amount I spent on my teenagers’ hands-on education was but a fraction of the cost of bodywork, much less hospital bills. And I sleep better at night with the knowledge that they know how to deal with common driving emergencies.


Quoted from

How to Survive the top 10 Driving Emergencies: Part 2

December 12th, 2012

Coach Tom was a stereotypical high school driver’s ed teacher. But with one exception: He had a mean streak. When we made a driving mistake, he hit us on the head with a screwdriver handle. While we were driving. When we returned to the classroom, he hit us with a paddle: Imagine a from-the-heels stroke from a guy with biceps better than my leg. While showering after phys ed, everyone knew who’d gotten a Coach Tom whack by the purple streak, punctuated by dots, across their bottoms. The dots were from the holes he drilled in the paddle — to reduce air drag.

Although I’ve used corporal punishment in my years as a driving instructor, I sometimes think of Coach Tom when I’m teaching students to perform a successful crisis stop. Whether your car has antilock brakes, it’s important that you know exactly what to do in an emergency stop situation. Get it right and you’ll probably avoid an accident. Get it even a little bit wrong and you’ll be getting intimate with another vehicle or a ditch.

Emergency #5: Crisis Stop, Without ABS Without an antilock brake system (ABS), a good emergency stop requires a deft touch. You still must push the brake pedal hard, but not so hard that you skid the tires. Your goal: Be an organic version of ABS and bring the tires to the point they’ve almost stopped rolling. If they completely stop, grip drops precipitously and you must release brake pressure until the tires start rolling and then reapply brake pressure. Remember, if you lock the brakes, the car will not steer at all. In this situation, many drivers turn the wheel completely to the right or left: If they release the brake before the car comes to a stop, it will dart whichever way the wheels are pointed.

To practice: Find an empty parking lot. Start moving. Now squeeze the brake pedal. Increase the pressure until you hear just the barest hint of tire squeal. It’s a “squeal of delight” and signals the tires are very close to their peak grip. But if the tires howl like a dog in pain, they’ve stopped rolling and grip has dropped. Release and reapply the brakes.

In an actual emergency, if you can’t keep a non-ABS car at the squeal-of-delight level, you’ll stop quicker with the howling dog-release-howling dog process than if you fail to push the brake pedal hard enough.

Without extensive practice, braking while turning without ABS is like taking a double black diamond ski slope: It can be done well only by those with skill and experience. But it’s difficult and expensive: You will tear up tires and you may lose control. Many rental cars lack ABS: You take it from there.

Emergency #6: Crisis Stop With ABS If your car has ABS and you face a road-blocking emergency, here’s what you do:

  • Stomp the brake pedal to the floor. Kick it as if you’re trying to snap it off.
  • Stay hard on the pedal until the car comes to a complete stop. Hold the brake pedal to the floor as if you were pinning the head of an angry rattlesnake.

Practice before the actual emergency: Find a dead-end street or an empty parking lot. Start at a low speed, say, 25 mph. Stomp and Stay. The first time, you will almost certainly not push the brake hard enough, nor will you stay on the pedal until the car comes to a complete stop. The complete stop is important. Do it again at higher speeds. Ignore bad noises. Other than slightly accelerated brake and tire wear, you’re not hurting the car. (I had one student run off the road because she wouldn’t push the brake pedal hard enough: “I was afraid of skidding,” she said. “You’d rather crash than skid?” I asked. Where’s Tom’s screwdriver?)

Emergency #7: Accident Avoidance Maneuvers Using ABS There’s a third “S” that goes with ABS’s “Stomp and Stay.” It’s Steer (around the obstacle). One of the great benefits of ABS is that it allows you to steer even while pushing hard on the brake. In radically oversimplified terms, it transfers a little bit of the tire’s braking power into turning potential.

But a little bit of steering goes a very long way, and many drivers way overdo this part. I’ve had numerous students turn the wheel completely in one direction. The problem is that the instant the driver releases the brake pedal, the front tires are relieved of their braking duties and have 100 percent cornering power available, which sends the car into oncoming traffic or off the road.

Here’s your parking lot practice mission: Set up a row of water-filled plastic soda bottles perpendicular to your path. If you have ABS, stomp the pedal to the floor, stay hard on the pedal and try to steer around them. It’s simple and fun as well.

Quoted from

How to Survive the Top 10 Driving Emergencies: Part 1

November 30th, 2012

To earn a private pilot’s license, one must show proficiency in overcoming emergency situations. But a motorist gets a license by demonstrating little more than a well-executed three-point turn and parallel parking. The first time a typical driver is truly asked to demonstrate accident-avoidance expertise, lives are on the line.

In this three-part series, we’ll offer tips on how to survive driving emergencies. These I learned — often the hard way — as a racecar driver, vehicle and tire tester, and high-performance driving instructor.

In this first part, I’ll explain how to survive tire failures and stuck throttles. In Part 2, we will tell you how to make an emergency stop and how to drive around an emergency with the help of ABS. Part 3 will explain what to do if you run off the road and will also teach you how to manage sliding front tires or skidding rear tires. And if you think you already know how to handle these emergencies; trust me — you don’t.

Emergency #1: Tire Blowout

To survive a tire blowout, pretend you’re the bad guy in a police chase: Push the gas and drive straight ahead. The shotgun-blast noise of a tire blowout makes most law-abiding drivers do exactly the wrong thing: attempt to slow down quickly and get off the road. With a rear-tire failure, any turning at high speed will likely result in a crash.

I’ve taught hundreds of drivers how to correctly handle a tire blowout: I sat in the passenger seat and exploded a gaping hole in the tire with plastic explosive. Not one lost control. Here’s how they did it.

If a tire blows:

  • Squeeze the gas pedal for a couple of seconds. This puts you in control of the car and directs the car straight down the road. It also prevents you from committing the mortal sins of braking and turning. After a couple of seconds, gently and smoothly release the accelerator pedal. The drag force of a completely flat tire is so potent that pushing the gas will not allow the vehicle to go faster.
  • Most importantly, drive straight down your lane. Keep your feet away from the brake (or clutch).
  • Allow the car to coast down to as slow a speed as is safe (30 mph is good). Engage your turn signal and gently turn toward the shoulder of the road that’s on the same side as the blown tire: This lessens your chance of losing control and will make the tire change safer. If the situation requires, you may ever so lightly squeeze the brakes.

Almost all highway blowouts and tread separations occur with the car traveling in a straight line on a very hot day at high speeds with an underinflated tire. The repeated flexing of an underinflated tire causes the failure. Check your tire pressures!

Emergency #2: Tread Separation

Though the recovery techniques are nearly identical, a tread separation is more dangerous than a blowout. This is where the tread rubber and underlying steel belt partially or completely come off the tire. This creates a giant Weed Eater with a blade of steel-backed rubber spinning around at about 1,000 rpm. It’ll scythe through the fuel tank, brake lines, inner fender panels, rear seats, side windows and, of course, flesh and bone.

An impending tread separation is usually announced by a consistent thumping noise, which will increase to a slapping sound, and then a metal-tearing jackhammer pounding. Sometimes this process takes days, other times only seconds. If you hear this, immediately slow down and take the tire to a professional for inspection. If you can see damage, put on the spare before proceeding.

If the tread begins to fly off:

  • Squeeze the gas pedal for an instant and gently release it.
  • Drive straight down your lane.
  • Allow the car to coast down as much as is safely possible. You will likely have to apply the brakes lightly in order to reach a safe turning speed.
  • Engage your turn signal and smoothly turn toward the shoulder of the road that’s on the same side as the damaged tire.

Another reason why tread separations are more dangerous than blowouts: When the tread leaves the tire, the bad noise stops and some people think the car has magically cured itself. But instead of rolling along on grippy rubber, they’re riding on fabric. Polyester will offer little grip when they take that next freeway off-ramp.

Emergency #3: Stuck Throttle

Thanks to things like loose floor mats and a poorly placed racecar throttle cable, I have experienced stuck throttles. Although this will be a rare occurrence for most drivers, if your engine starts racing away uncontrollably, it must be stopped immediately.

Take these actions:

  • If the engine started racing when you pushed the brake, release the brake. If the engine stops racing, you were actually pushing the gas by mistake.
  • Put the transmission in Neutral (and/or push in the clutch). Don’t worry about the engine when you shift into Neutral: Engine speed limiters on modern cars will prevent damage. And it’s OK if you get Reverse: The engine will either stall or act as if it were in Neutral.
  • If you can’t get Neutral, switch off the ignition as a last resort. Today’s cars don’t allow the key to turn to the locked position if the car is not in Park, and the car will be much harder to steer once the engine is off since the power-assist will not be working. Fortunately, with the engine off, there’s still plenty of reserve braking power to stop the car. Of course, if the car is equipped with a newfangled keyless ignition, getting Neutral may be your only hope.

If you’re a passenger in this situation and the driver fails to act, you can reach over and put the car in Neutral or switch off the engine. But to have any hope of acting properly with a stuck throttle, both driver and passenger must practice first. Find a training partner and an empty parking lot. First practice with the car stopped, just to make sure you know the drill. Move the shift lever from Drive to Neutral. Then turn the key off. Next, restart the car and accelerate to no more than 10 mph, then push the gas pedal to the floor (to simulate a stuck throttle) and hold it there through the rest of the exercise. Immediately, put the car in Neutral and switch off the key. Repeat the process but with the passenger working the shifter and key while you’re still in the driver seat. Then, swap seats and repeat.

Emergency #4: Sudden Acceleration

Also called “unintended acceleration,” this is identical to a stuck throttle…except it’s not a mechanical failure but rather the driver accidentally pressing on the gas. As an instructor, I have had numerous panicked students push the gas in the mistaken, but unshakable, belief they were on the brakes. (Left-foot brakers more familiar with automatics frequently push the clutch.)

Know this: In every well-maintained modern car, the brakes will easily overpower the engine. If you’re truly pushing the brakes as hard as you can, the car will stop even with the engine going full speed.

The corrective actions for sudden acceleration and a stuck throttle are identical. Check the list above.


Quoted from

The Top 5 Ways to Get Pulled Over By The Cops

November 13th, 2012

It’s easier to get pulled over than you think. All you need to do is commit one of the five violations we’ve listed below. For even faster results, try combining two infractions at once. Many drivers find this very effective.

Actually, the real reason for this list is to stop you from being pulled over by the police. By seeing driving behavior from the traffic cop’s point of view, you can avoid encounters with the law. A little extra awareness could help you keep points off your driving record and keep down the cost of your car insurance.

Three police agencies and two independent traffic experts loaned their expertise for this list of the most common traffic stops. There were some minor variations in opinion, depending on the police agency. But this list shows you the things to watch out for if you want to avoid unwanted contact with the boys (and girls) in blue.

1. Speeding. This was on everyone’s list, and the reason is simple. The faster you go, the longer it takes to react to an unexpected situation, whether it’s a pedestrian stepping into the street or another car making an unexpected lane change, says Detective William Bustos, officer in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s traffic detectives. Braking distances also increase as speed builds, and it takes about 120 feet for a vehicle to stop when it’s traveling 60 mph. Speeding is common in Bustos’ jurisdiction, the San Fernando Valley, which has 230 square miles of mostly wide, straight streets. As recently as the early 2000s, the area attracted frequent street races that played like scenes out of The Fast and the Furious and its sequels.

People are driving faster than they did in the past, particularly on the freeways in the busy area of south Los Angeles, notes Edward McElroy, a California Highway Patrol officer. “People seem impatient; their commutes are longer than ever before,” McElroy says. CHP officers write tickets, particularly for speeding, in an attempt to control the “mileage death rate” — the number of people who die per freeway mile. That’s a sobering thought.

Alex Carroll, author of Beat the Cops, which has sold more than 250,000 copies, offers an opinion on how far over the speed limit a driver can go without being pulled over: 5-7 mph “easy,” he says. The officers interviewed for this story confirmed that there’s a “buffer,” but added that the decision to cut a speeder some slack is up to the officer’s discretion.

2. Illegal cell phone use. Distracted driving, usually because of texting or talking on a mobile phone, is high on the list of ticket bait developed by our experts. Although just a few states ban all cell phone use in cars, more than 30 have banned texting behind the wheel. “People think, ‘I’ll just make a quick call,’ or ‘This text will only take a second,'” Bustos says. “But you have to drive as if your life depended on it — because it does.”

Sgt. Jeff Wiles, who heads the Santa Monica Police Department’s traffic division and patrols the city on a BMW motorcycle, says illegal cell phone use is common — and responsible for a lot of trouble. “The really horrific stories about texting make the news,” he says, “But we see accidents and even just fender-benders from it every day.”

3. Hazardous driving. This is a catch-all category for common violations that each of our experts noted. Wiles ticks off his favorites without hesitation: stop sign and stoplight violations, improper lane changes, illegal U-turns, failures to yield and unsafe speeds. CHP officer McElroy says he sees people who apparently have forgotten they’re driving cars: They’re busy shaving, eating and even changing clothes. And what exactly is the violation you’re committing when you’re changing clothes in a car? “Unsafe speed,” he says. “There is no safe speed for pulling a shirt off over your head while driving.”

4. Equipment violations. Everyone knows the movie scene where a cop smashes a taillight to justify a traffic stop. But in real life, there’s little need for that, our experts say. People commit a multitude of code violations all on their own. Leading the list are heavily tinted windows, burned-out headlights, broken windshields, expired tags, the lack of a front license plate (in California and some other states) and loud exhaust modifications.

5. Following too closely and improper lane changes. This one was a tie. Both of these violations are forms of hazardous driving that our police sources specifically called out. McElroy says that on the freeways of Los Angeles, following too closely can easily cause accidents by shortening a driver’s reaction time. Combine that with cell phone use or texting and it is a recipe for disaster, he says.

An improper lane change means cutting someone off or changing lanes without looking first, Bustos says. Failure to signal can also be added to this ticket, he says, but it usually doesn’t initiate the traffic stop — partly because the failure to signal is so common.

A Traffic Cop Critic’s List
Police officers aren’t the only ones keeping track of what gets drivers in trouble. Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, which is often critical of law enforcement’s handling of traffic stops, listed some attention-getting moves that the police experts didn’t mention, including:

  • Cruising in the left lane of a multilane highway instead of using it only to pass slower traffic on the right
  • Driving more slowly than the normal traffic flow
  • Peeling out from a stoplight or stop sign, and squealing tires in general
  • Drag racing
  • Racking up lots of unpaid parking or traffic violations

These are things that make your car stand out and catch an officer’s eye. Biller adds that plastering the back of your car with offensive bumper stickers and decals will definitely draw unwelcome attention. Carroll agrees that this will increase the chances of a traffic stop, and adds, “This is particularly so if your sticker conflicts with the cop’s views or is a rival of his favorite sports team.”

Watch Your Mouth
Traffic stops often have a tipping point. Because officers have legal discretion in what they can cite you for, saying or doing the wrong thing can compound your problems. Carroll says that a traffic cop might add extra violations if the motorist is belligerent. Act like a jerk and Carroll says, “They’ll write you up for everything else they can.”

Say that a police officer uses this time-honored opening line: “Do you know why I stopped you?” Take a minute before you answer, Carroll says. If you admit guilt or name a specific speed that you were driving, your fate is sealed. Instead, respond courteously but remain vague, he advises. However, “If you have clearly done something wrong, and you sit there and you’re evasive with the cops, it’s not necessarily in your best interest,” he says.

If you plan on contesting the ticket in court it’s really better to say very little. The officer is expected to have a clear recollection of the traffic stop.

A lot of traffic-ticket gotchas — and serious accidents — begin with a frustrated, impatient driver. If you really don’t want a ticket, try chilling out. Santa Monica officer Jeff Wiles offers this advice: “Put on a relaxing radio station or CD and be patient, because traffic is bad and there will be delays.”


Video: Nissan Leaf Limo

October 30th, 2012

From Yahoo Autos:

The electric-powered Nissan Leaf’s struggles to find buyers in the United States has been well covered; Nissan thinks it can still sell 20,000 this year, even though it’s sales totaled 2,613 through May. Fortunately, there may be new market opportunities for the Leaf, thanks to a Missouri firm’s brainstorm of building the first Leaf limousine. Styling, meet profiling.

Spotted by Electric Vehicle News, the conversion was handled by Imperial Coach Builders of Springfield, Mo., a professional limousine builder whose output generally trends toward the stretched Escalade/Hummer/Chrysler 300C range. One can only watch so many Hollywood awards ceremonies with stars arriving in hybrids and stumpy electric cars before wondering if there isn’t a better way. As the video below shows, the conversion adds an extra set of seats and some amenities to the Leaf without changing its basic character, although I’m not sure Nissan wants to know how the builders extended the power connections between battery pack and motor.

Is it better to buy a new or used car?

October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest dilemmas when buying a car is whether to purchase new or used. As we head toward the end of summer, the 2012 model year is winding down. There are tempting deals being advertised at every turn. In these dynamic economic times, does the conventional wisdom still ring true, that it is cheaper to buy used than new? Our analysis provided a fresh, and even surprising, insight.

To crunch the numbers, we looked at current deals for a few popular 2012-model-year (MY) sedans and SUVs and compared them to the used-car pricing for the same model from 2010 and 2008. In some cases, with a slight increase in monthly payment, you can get a new car without the used car mileage and with a full manufacturer’s warranty.

To illustrate the findings, the chart below highlights the differences on five Consumer Reports’ recommended vehicles–the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord sedans, and Acura MDX, Ford Escape, and Honda Pilot SUVs.

The 2010 models have 28,000 miles and 2008 models have 47,000 miles. The monthly payment is calculated with the assumption that the buyer puts 10-percent down on a 5-year loan. For the new cars, the price listed is MSRP before incentives; for the used cars, the chart shows the retail price. Our calculations are based on the average New York metro-area financing rate of 3.365 percent for new cars and 3.310 percent for used cars, according to In looking at current financing rates in five metro areas, new car loan rates are comparable to used cars.

The Honda Pilot is one example where a new car is worth buying over a 2-year-old car. The lightly freshened 2012 model would cost $534 a month, but the 2010 version would run $505. For an extra $29 a month, totaling $1,766, you could get the new car with zero miles on the odometer and a full 3-year, 36,000 mile warranty.

However, opting for the 2008 Pilot, could be a better checkbook choice and provide more significant savings than the new car–over $8,000 off and $119 less per month, which could offset the mileage and maintenance. So here, “new” trumps “nearly new,” though used (4 years old) is a true way to save money.

The Acura MDX is another example where the 2008 version may be a better deal, but in some cases like the Ford Fusion or Honda Accord, for less than $100 more a month you could drive away with the new model, as they are both discounted in anticipation of all-new 2013 models.

These examples illustrate that especially at the end of the model year, the deals available could be worth choosing a new car over a used one, but it’s important to do your research. There is not single sound-bite solution that suites all scenarios.

While purchase price is a natural focus, don’t look solely at the cost to buy, but how much the vehicle will cost to own over time. Factors such as depreciation, insurance, financing, fuel costs, and other operating expenses can quickly add up through the years and may make that deal not look so good after all. (Owner cost information is available on the model pages.)

Quoted from Yahoo Autos.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

Review of car-insurance ads.

October 2nd, 2012

Quoted from Consumer Reports:

TV is cluttered with ads for car insurance. You might find them funny, clever—or insipid. But more important, can you trust their advice? In our 2012 Consumer Reports Annual Questionnaire, we asked 80,590 readers what they thought about several car-insurance ad campaigns, excluding their own insurer’s. Then we checked whether the claims panned out.

Nationwide’s vanishing deductible can inflate your premium

The claim. “We can’t make every annoying thing disappear,” says Nationwide Insurance’s new TV ad for its Vanishing Deductible program. A man’s potbelly, a plane passenger sleeping on his neighbor’s shoulder, a traffic jam, and a tattooed young man about to date a wholesome-looking girl vanish. “But we can eliminate deductibles. Nationwide Insurance members who add vanishing deductibles can get $100 off for every year of safe driving,” the voice-over claims.

Sixty percent of our readers said the vanishing-deductible ads provided useful information—the highest among the ads in the survey. But just 17 percent found them compelling enough to consider switching from their current insurer. Forty-five percent thought the ads were entertaining, and 60 percent described them as annoying.

The check. Nationwide will cut $100 off your deductible each year you don’t cause an accident or have a “comprehensive loss,” which includes glass claims, damage from hitting an animal, vandalism, and theft. The company limits the amount your deductible can be clipped to $500 per vehicle. But it costs you money to earn the reductions. Policyholders pay $60 a year to add one car to the program; each additional vehicle costs $10, up to a maximum of $90 a year. The first $100 is subtracted from each deductible when you sign up. If you cause an accident or have a comprehensive loss, your deductible reverts back to its preprogram level, minus the $100 sign-up reduction.

Bottom line. Eventually the vanishing deductible will cost you more than you’ll save. After nine years, for example, you will have spent $540 for a $500 reduction. You might save more by raising your deductible instead. Hiking it from $200 to $1,000, for example, can cut your collision premium by 40 percent.


Progressive tracks your driving habits

The claim. A fellow complains to Flo, Progressive’s bubbly spokeswoman, that he pays as much for his auto insurance as someone who’s a worse driver. Flo recommends Snapshot, a program that tracks driving habits and adjusts good drivers’ rates down.

In our survey, 56 percent of readers said Flo’s ads were annoying, while 62 percent thought they were entertaining. Only 30 percent said they provided useful information, but 14 percent found them compelling enough to consider switching.

The check. Snapshot is free for policyholders in 42 states plus the District of Columbia; excluded are Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. If you sign up, Progressive will mail you a device that you plug into your car’s diagnostic port (usually found near the steering column), which transmits data to the company. You’ll receive a rate cut after 30 days if the data show that you’re likely to drive less than 12,000 miles a year, that you avoid driving between midnight and 4 a.m., and that you don’t often stomp on the brake pedal. Though the device records your speed, the company says that it’s used to calculate the number of miles you drive and that speed isn’t factored into your discount. Progressive says Snapshot could cut your premium by as much as 30 percent, though the average is 10 to 15 percent.

Bottom line. If you’re concerned about privacy, Snapshot might not be right for you. However, Progressive says the device doesn’t have GPS tracking capability. It also says Snapshot’s data won’t be used to raise your rate. But if you don’t return the device in a timely manner, you could be fined $50.


Don’t take the Geico gecko’s word about rate savings

The claim. In one of the latest Geico ads, the familiar green gecko performs a ventriloquist act using a smaller gecko puppet named Bobby. “Did you know you can save hundreds on car insurance over the phone, online, or at your local Geico office? Tell us, Bobby: What would you do with all those savings?” he asks. “I’d get a better ventriloquist; your lips are moving,” Bobby says. “Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance,” the voice-over says.

Our readers judged the gecko’s ads to be the most entertaining (75 percent described them that way) and the least annoying of the three, although 43 percent did find them annoying. Forty percent thought they conveyed useful information, and just 12 percent found them persuasive enough to consider switching to Geico.

The check. In our survey, 30 percent said they had compared their rates with another company’s in the past year. Of those, only 11 percent said they would save money by switching to another insurer. More than 60 percent of our readers had been insured by the same company for 10 years or longer.

If you do compare prices, you might find that some insurers beat Geico. Rate comparisons published by the California Department of Insurance show that a man in his 40s who lives in Santa Cruz, drives a Honda Civic, and has no violations or accidents might pay $1,222 a year for Geico coverage, lower than GMAC’s $2,281 and $1,532 for the Hartford. But he would find even lower rates at other companies, including Allstate ($1,200), State Farm ($1,196), Esurance ($1,178), and Amica ($1,010).

Bottom line. It doesn’t hurt to compare quotes to see whether you can get a better deal. You can check rates at multiple insurers online at such sites as Answer FinancialInsure.comInsWeb, and NetQuote.”

Consumer Reports’ checklist for choosing a safe car.

September 18th, 2012

From, as posted on Yahoo:

“You need to consider several factors when evaluating a vehicle’s overall safety. They range from how it performs in an emergency-handling situation and how it protects its occupants in a collision to how easy it is to secure a child seat. When comparing vehicles, it’s important to look at all the appropriate variables, including safety-related ratings and features. Below, we list 10 safety checks that are worth reviewing before you make your final buying decision.

1. Insurance-industry crash-test ratings
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a safety-research group that conducts its own series of crash tests. In its frontal-offset crash, the IIHS runs a vehicle at 40 mph into a deformable barrier. Instead of engaging the whole width of the car’s front end, the barrier covers just the 40 percent of the car in front of the driver.

Using a deformable barrier simulates a car-to-car, driver’s-side-to-driver’s-side collision, which is a common form of fatal crash. By focusing the crash on only a portion of the car’s front, this test severely stresses the car’s structural integrity and its ability to protect the area around the driver without collapsing.

The IIHS scores its frontal-crash results as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor. You can find ratings for all tested vehicles on the IIHS Web site, at

Since 2002, the IIHS also has conducted its own side-impact tests, which simulate a vehicle being struck in the side at 31 mph by a vehicle the height and weight of a typical SUV or pickup. The test is more severe than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s side-crash test (described below), which simulates a vehicle being hit in the side by a vehicle the height and weight of a typical family sedan.

For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

2. Government crash-test ratings
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts two types of crash tests: full frontal and side impact. Each is scored on a five-star scale, with fewer stars indicating a greater likelihood of serious injury. You can check the scores for all crash-tested vehicles online

NHTSA’s frontal test is a good indication of how well a vehicle’s safety belts and air bags protect the occupants in specific types of impacts. The frontal test runs vehicles into a rigid barrier at 35 mph. That simulates a head-on collision between two vehicles of similar weight, each traveling at 35 mph. Instrumented crash dummies in the two front seats record the crash forces they sustain and scores are assigned for the driver and front passenger.

NHTSA’s side-impact test simulates an intersection-type collision using a 3,015 pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. Scores are assigned to the driver and the left-rear (impacted side) passenger.

Both the NHTSA and IIHS frontal crash-test results are comparable only to vehicles within the same weight class as the tested car. If vehicle weights are very dissimilar, the results could be very different.

For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

3. Electronic stability control (ESC)
CR’s auto experts highly recommend electronic stability control, particularly on SUVs. ESC is designed to help keep the vehicle under control and on its intended path during cornering, and prevent it from sliding or skidding. If a vehicle begins to go out of control, the system selectively applies brakes to one or more wheels and cuts engine power to keep the vehicle on course. On SUVs, stability control can help prevent the vehicle from getting into a situation that could lead to a rollover. While electronic stability control has improved the emergency handling on the vehicles we have tested, it’s not a cure-all for inherently poor-handling vehicles. Its effectiveness depends on how it is programmed and how it is integrated with the vehicle. It also cannot overcome the laws of physics.

Automakers often refer to their stability-control systems by different names (see our guide to safety features), so if it’s not clear be sure to ask if a vehicle has electronic stability control. To make it less confusing for the consumer, the Society of Automotive Engineers has asked that all manufacturers use electronic stability control, or ESC, as common terminology when referring to their stability-control systems. Consumer Reports supports this move because it will help consumers know what they are buying.

A number of studies of ESC have been completed and all point to a substantial reduction in accidents and deaths. The IIHS has estimated that if all cars had ESC, it would save 10,000 lives per year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced plans to require ESC as standard on all vehicles by the 2012 model year.

4. Rollover resistance
Taller vehicles, such as SUVs and pickups, are more likely to roll over than passenger cars. According to the IIHS, SUVs have a rollover rate that is two to three times that of passenger cars. In 2006, 59 percent of all SUV fatalities and 48 percent of pickup-truck fatalities involved a rollover. In contrast, only 25 percent of passenger-car fatalities involved a rollover.

A taller vehicle has a higher center of gravity, which makes it more top-heavy than one that sits lower to the ground. In a situation where a vehicle is subjected to strong sideways forces, such as in a sudden cornering maneuver, it’s easier for a taller vehicle to roll over.

To give consumers a way of telling which vehicles have a higher rollover propensity than others, NHTSA has developed a five-star rating system called the Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR). Until recently, the RRR was based solely on a vehicle’s “static stability factor (SSF),” which is determined from measurements of its track width and center of gravity. Because the SSF is based on measurements of a stationary vehicle rather than on a dynamic road test, the rating doesn’t account for vehicles’ different suspension designs, tires, or the presence of a stability-control system–any of which can make a significant difference. Beginning with the ratings for 2004 models, NHTSA has combined the SSF with a dynamic rollover test performed with moving vehicles.

The RRR is accessible online at, but you need to dig deeper than the star ratings to tell how a vehicle performed in the dynamic test. Click on the model name. Scroll down to “Rollover.” That section gives the predicted chance of a rollover in a single-vehicle crash, stated as a percentage of probability. The site tells you whether or not a vehicle tipped up in the test, but not at what speed. The top of the test-results page specifies if the vehicle had side air bags or stability control when it was tested.

We believe that vehicles that tip up in NHTSA’s test have a potential stability problem and CR will not recommend them, regardless of their star rating. In order for an SUV or pickup to be recommended, it must either have been included in NHTSA’s test and have not tipped up or, if it has not been tested, it must offer electronic stability control.

5. Antilock brake system (ABS)
CR’s auto experts highly recommend getting an antilock brake system (ABS), which is available as standard or optional equipment on most vehicles. ABS prevents the wheels from locking up during a hard stop, something that can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle. ABS almost always provides shorter stops, but, even more importantly, the system helps keep the vehicle straight and allows the driver to maneuver during a panic stop.

6. Accident avoidance
A vehicle’s ability to help you avoid an accident is just as important as its crashworthiness. Key factors to consider are braking and emergency handling, although acceleration, visibility, driving position, and even seat comfort (which affects driver fatigue) also play a role.

Consumer Reports evaluates these factors on every vehicle it tests.

7. Air bags
By law, every new passenger vehicle comes equipped with dual front air bags. But the sophistication of the systems can vary. It’s worth checking what type of air-bag systems a vehicle has.

Most upscale vehicles and many others now have some version of a “smart” air-bag system. It uses electronic sensors to gauge several variables, which, depending on the model, include crash severity, safety-belt use, the position of the driver’s seat, and the weight and/or position of an occupant in the front-passenger seat. This information is used to tailor the deployment of the vehicle’s front and side air bags.

Dual-threshold and multistage front bags can deploy with varying force, depending on crash severity. In a less-severe collision the bags inflate with less force. In a more severe crash, the bags inflate with more force and more quickly. Many systems withhold deployment on the passenger side if the seat is unoccupied (to save money on replacement) or if the seat is occupied by a person below a certain weight (to prevent possible injury from the bag). The government mandated “advanced” front air bags to be phased in all cars between the 2004 and 2007 model years. They deploy less aggressively or not at all, depending on a front passenger’s size or position.

Side air bags are now common for front occupants. The basic side air bag deploys from the seatback or door, and is designed to protect a person’s torso. Separate side bags that protect the head are becoming increasingly available, as well. The most common design is a side-curtain bag that drops down from the headliner and covers both the front and rear windows. Consumer Reports highly recommends head-protection side air bags where they’re available.

8. Safety-belt features
Three-point lap-and-shoulder belts provide the most protection in a crash, and most vehicles now have them in all seating positions. A few, however, still have only a lap belt in the center-rear position, which allows the upper part of the body to move forward in a crash or panic stop. The comfort of the belts is also important, because some people won’t wear them if they’re uncomfortable. Some vehicles, for instance, have front belts whose shoulder portion retracts into the seatback instead of the car’s door pillar. Their advantage is they move with the seat when the seat is adjusted fore and aft. But they can tug down uncomfortably on the shoulder of someone with a long torso.

Many vehicles also include safety-belt pretensioners and force limiters, which work with the air bags to protect you in a crash. Pretensioners automatically take up the slack in the seat belt during a frontal crash, helping to restrain people securely and properly position them for the air bag. Force-limiters relax the safety-belt tension slightly following the initial impact, so they can help absorb some of a person’s forward thrust. That helps prevent chest and internal injuries caused by the belt.

9. Head restraints
A car’s head restraints are vital for guarding against the whiplash neck injuries that often accompany a rear-end collision. Restraints need to be tall enough to cushion the head above the top of the spine. Many cars’ head restraints adjust for height. Look for those that lock in the raised position. Those that do not can be forced down in a crash, losing effectiveness. Many cars’ rear restraints are too low to do much good, which Consumer Reports notes in road test reports. The IIHS Web site also provides the institute’s head restraint or rear-crash ratings for various models.

10. Child safety
Child-safety seats save lives and should be used until a child is big enough to use the vehicle’s regular safety belt. The conventional method of attaching a child seat uses the vehicle’s safety belts. Often, incompatibilities between the car’s seat and the child seat make a good, tight fit difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.

All new vehicles now have a universal system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) that is designed to make attachment easier and more secure. But the system doesn’t work equally well in all vehicles. Consumer Reports has found many cars with the LATCH attachment points sufficiently obscured that it’s not easy to use them. CR comments on the ease of installing child seats in its test reports. But the key is to try out a new car seat in your existing vehicle, or try out your existing car seat in a new vehicle before you buy either.

Another child-safety consideration is power-window switches. Children have accidentally activated a power window while leaning out and have been killed or injured by the window closing on them. The easiest types to inadvertently trigger are horizontal rocker and toggle switches on the door’s armrest, which raise the window when pushed down or to the side. Lever-type switches, which are flush with the surrounding trim and only raise the window when pulled up, are a safer design. See our report on power window safety. “

How new tires can ruin your car.

July 24th, 2012

Source:  Yahoo Finance

“Most people probably don’t realize how easily a brand new set of tires can turn the car they love into something awful.

“They can transform your vehicle,” said Jennifer Stockburger, a tire tester for Consumer Reports magazine.

I knew that, too, at least in a theoretical sense. But I learned first-hand when I got to drive four otherwise identical BMW 3-series sedans each with a different set of performance tires.

I can now tell you that the worst BMW I’ve ever driven was a brand-new 3-series on cheap tires.

I was visiting the South Bend, Ind. headquarters of the tire sales Web site, Even before I left the Tire Rack parking lot on the first set of tires I knew something was badly wrong. The BMW felt like it was driving over a gravel road… even when I was driving over smooth asphalt . The steering also felt indistinct and vague, not the way BMWs usually feel.

Later on, I drove the car with a set of more expensive, and evidently better, tires and suddenly the BMW felt like a BMW. The ride was smooth and the steering responsive with good, but not irritating, feedback.

Then came the fun part: testing each set of tires on a water-soaked test track.

Sure enough, the same tires that felt best on the road also excelled on the wet track.

The cheap tires felt fine going around a tight turn until, with no warning, the back end of the car swung out like a pendulum. Even with the help of electronic stability control– which was set to “Sport” mode to allow some sliding — it was hard to get the car back in line. (ESC pumps the cars brakes at individual wheels to help get the car back in line when computers sense a skid.)

On the more expensive tires, I was able to make a more graceful trip around the wet track. When the tires did start to skid, they did so gradually and, when ESC intervened, it did so gently and predictably.

How to shop: That’s good to know, but most of us don’t get to test-drive tires. The secret is knowing where to find good information.

Start by knowing what’s on your car now. Your car’s suspension, steering and braking systems were designed around a specific tire and your car will usually perform best with tires that most closely match the originals, said Stockburger.

If you don’t feel like parsing all the numbers on the side of your tire — although it might still be good to do that — the Tire Rack’s Web site allows you to enter the make, model and trim level of your car and see a list of tires that will work.

That doesn’t mean you can’t change things up a little to suit your needs or your tastes, said John Rastetter, Director of Tire Information Services at Tire Rack.

For instance, if your car came with “V” rated tires, meaning they’re designed to handle speeds up to 149 miles per hour, you might safely replace them with “H” rated tires designed to go only 130 mph, he said. You might get a lower price and a more comfortable ride, just be sure you’re not going to drive aggressively.

While consumer automotive consultant Lauren Fix said she agrees with Rastetter, not everyone is comfortable with that idea.

Consumer Reports, for instance, recommends against buying a lower speed-rated tire, said Stockburger, except when buying a dedicated winter-only tire. A lower speed-rated tire can also have worse traction and braking performance, she said, even though that’s not, technically, what those ratings are about.

Many car owners are now paying attention to rolling resistance, too. Low rolling resistance improves fuel economy.

But the actual difference in fuel mileage is minimal — about 1%, at best — and the cost, besides a higher-priced tire, is often longer stopping distance, said Stockburger. In an emergency, you could find that you made a regrettable trade-off.

A decision guide in the Tire Rack Web site can steer you toward tires that fit your needs and preferences while still staying within reasonable parameters for your car.

Both Tire Rack and Consumer Reports’ Web sites offer detailed breakdowns of various tires’ performance characteristics and the Tire Rack, in particular, has owner ratings that tell you what people who’ve lived with the tires actually thought of them.

One thing you should definitely not do, though, is wait until the last minute to start shopping for new tires.

“There’s a huge advantage to shopping around and comparing prices,” said Stockburger.

With some time and attention, you can find the right tires at the best price.”


What to do when you’re in a car accident in Oregon.

July 10th, 2012

Call 911?  Leave the car in the road?  What’s the first thing to do?

1. Keep Safety First. Drivers involved in minor accidents with no serious injuries should move cars to the side of the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic. Leaving cars parked in the middle of the road or busy intersection can result in additional accidents and injuries. If a car cannot be moved, drivers and passengers should remain in the cars with seatbelts fastened for everyone’s safety until help arrives. That’s right, call 911 if there are injuries or you can’t move your car.  Make sure to turn on hazard lights.

2. Exchange Information. After the accident, exchange the following information: name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver license number and license plate number for the driver and the owner of each vehicle. If the driver’s name is different from the name of the insured, establish what the relationship is and take down the name and address for each individual. Also make a written description of each car, including year, make, model and color — and the exact location of the collision and how it happened. Finally, be polite but don’t tell the other drivers or the police that the accident was your fault, even if you think it was.

3. Photograph and Document the Accident. Use your cell phone camera to document the damage to all the vehicles. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. If there were witnesses, try to get their contact information; they may be able to help you if the other drivers dispute your version of what happened.

4. File An Accident Report. Although law enforcement officers may not respond to accidents unless there are injuries, drivers should file a state vehicle accident report here: 

5. Know What Your Insurance Covers. The whole insurance process will be easier following your accident if you know the details of your coverage. For example, don’t wait until after an accident to find out that your policy doesn’t automatically cover costs for towing or a replacement rental car. Generally, for only a dollar or two extra each month, you can add coverage for rental car reimbursement, which provides a rental car for little or no money while your car is in the repair shop or if it is stolen. Check your policy for specifics.

Who pays?

The final question in dealing with an accident is usually who will pay for the damages? If the accident was minor, you and the other drivers may decide to handle the damages yourselves without the involvement of an insurance company. But this isn’t always the best idea, for several reasons.

While the other driver may agree to pay for the damage to your car on the day of the accident, he may see the repair bills and decide it’s too high. At this point, time has passed and your insurance company will have more difficulty piecing together the evidence if you file a claim.

Also, keep in mind that you have no way of knowing whether another driver will change his mind and report the accident to his insurance company. He may even claim injuries that weren’t apparent at the scene of the accident. This means that your insurance company may end up paying him a hefty settlement, or worse yet, you could be dragged into a lawsuit. So make sure that your company has your version of what happened and check your policy — if the damages paid out by your insurance company are below a certain amount, the accident may not be considered chargeable. And you will avoid the penalty of a premium hike.

Auto accidents take a tremendous toll on everyone involved, both financially and emotionally. If you’re one of the lucky ones who have thus far avoided a serious accident, hopefully the tips on prevention will help keep it that way. The chances are high, though, that at some point you will be involved in a minor accident. Just keep your head and make safety your primary concern. You’ll have plenty of time to deal with the consequences later.

Quoted from

How your car insurance company calculates your rate.

June 26th, 2012

Nobody knows the exact formula, but this infographic is the best approximation we’ve seen:

Portland’s best mechanics, car dealers, and cheapest gas stations.

June 12th, 2012

It wasn’t long ago that we asked friends/family for a good mechanic, or a good car dealer.  But how many people can one person know?  You know virtually everybody in Portland these days.  You know them through through online review sources, and those websites have greatly improved our ability to judge the quality of businesses that are new to us.  Some highlights.

Want to compare gas prices in Portland? keeps daily data on lots of Portland stations.  Today, June 12, the gap between most and lease expensive is $.70 per gallon of regular.  That’s a difference of about $10 on a normal refill!

Need a trustworthy mechanic?

Morgan Automotive on SE Rhine Street and SE Powell scores very well in reviews.

If you’re on the west side, Peter’s Auto Works in Tigard (just behind Ace’s collision shop) has serviced the Volvo community for over 20 years, but are just as good with other makes as well.

A trustworthy car dealer?  Is there such a thing?

Be careful with online reviews regarding car dealers.  Many of them manipulate their reviews. Don’t choose based on their avg. score.  Read the reviews to get a feel for their authenticity.

Below is a review of Portland dealers.  In our years in the car business, we can confirm that Lexus of Portland does offer great sales and service…but at a price.

You won’t be buying more than 1 car from most dealers, so be focused on the car, and the price you’re getting it for, more than the dealer’s reputation.

Alternative fuel vehicles: worth the trouble?

May 29th, 2012

In Portland, we have the following fuel options:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Diesel (VW, Audi, BMW, full size trucks)
  3. Biodiesel (any diesel converted to bio, for around $2k)
  4. Electric (Leaf & Volt)

The bottom line, if money is your #1 priority, is that gasoline is your single best choice for now.  Electric is fast becoming an attractive offer because of our low energy costs (via hydroelectric).

Repainting silver cars: 3 things owners should know.

May 16th, 2012

Silver is a popular color (top 3 year after year among new car sales) for good reasons:  it looks sophisticated, stays clean, and stays cool in the sun.  But there’s one major drawback:  it’s difficult to repaint.  Here’s three things you should know about refinishing your silver car:

silver bumper repaint

Mismatched silver bumper color.

  1. Color matching is difficult.  There are thousands of shades of silver.  Even worse, the silver flakes that create the “metallic” effect come in many sizes (fine, coarse, very coarse, and more).  This means that the silver is extremely sensitive to the variations in a paint formula.  It takes a lot of experimentation to get a “just right” match, and even then, blending is required (see #2 below).
  2. Repairs must be “large” to blend in.  It’s nearly impossible to get an exact match, so repairs usually have to be made much larger (blended) to fool the eye.
  3. Repairs can be 10 – 20% more expensive.  A lot of labor and paint goes into testing formulas, spray guns, and air pressure to get the right match.  Don’t be surprised if your repair bill is higher than, say, a black car.

We’ve painted 100s of silver cars.  We get it right.

We’ve got computerized formula matching, many different spray guns just for metallic paint jobs, and we even check your color match in natural sunlight.  Free loaners, deductible assistance, and we don’t miss deadlines or estimates.

A warning about Safeguard towing of Portland

May 2nd, 2012

The Oregonian revealed last week that Safeguard is towing cars and asking up to $900 to release them. It’s not legal, and if you are someone you know has their car towed by Safeguard, Oregon State Senator Mark Hass of Beaverton can help to get your car returned. Here’s a copy of the full article posted to

“In early April, a rock band from Southern California had its van and trailer towed from the Sunstone Parc Apartments in Beaverton.

When the college-aged musicians arrived at the storage lot on Easter morning, they were charged $938 in cash to reclaim their vehicle, including $200 for a “missed appointment.” That piracy forced the band, Culprit, to cancel the last four dates on its tour.

In late December, Chris Vetter’s ’98 Ford Taurus was towed from the Emerald Apartments in Beaverton, where it was legally parked.

The towing company — the same towing company, mind you — first conceded it made a mistake, Vetter says, then changed its mind. When the Taurus was finally returned, thanks in part to the intervention of Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, Vetter says thousands of dollars worth of stereo equipment was missing, as were his sunglasses and jumper cables.

“They took my car. They promised to return the car. They reneged on that promise. They jacked up the fees. And they stole everything out of the car with no fear of consequence,” Vetter said.

Why is this predatory towing happening all too frequently in Washington County?

Safeguard Towing.

A company that is operating illegally in the state, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Why are these towing horror stories occurring far less often inside the Portland city limits?

“Portland has me,” Marian Gaylord says.

Bingo. Gaylord is the city’s towing coordinator. She knows the rules and the players. She is direct, knowledgeable and persistent, a superb resource for anyone who has ever stood stranded on a dark street at night, muttering, “Where the heck is my …”

Believe it or not, Gaylord says, the Legislature enacted laws to curb the worst abuses in private-property impound towing: “The problem is that Beaverton doesn’t have the manpower or the will to closely enforce this stuff.”

Beaverton is hardly alone.

Safeguard Towing is parked in unincorporated Washington County. It is no longer permitted to do business in Portland, abandoning town when Gaylord demanded proof of insurance.

Safeguard — which did not return calls — has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau, which lists 21 unresolved complaints.

Safeguard is not properly licensed to do business with either ODOT or the Secretary of State’s office.

“They are not currently legal to operate as a towing company in Oregon,” said ODOT’s Sally Ridenour. “They don’t have liability insurance on file. If someone’s vehicle is damaged, there’s no insurance for the consumer to go after.”

And yet Safeguard’s trucks continue to cruise the parking lots of Washington County, beyond the reach, apparently, of the rule of law.

“I am frankly stunned,” says Andrew Fulda, the Pennsylvania-based father of Culprit’s lead guitarist, “that this piracy is allowed to take place, and for so long.”

Thanks to Gaylord, the laws are enforced in Portland. She tracks the permitting process. “If someone thumbs their nose at us,” she says, “we have the means to go after them.”

Outside the city limits, however, companies like Safeguard seemingly have free rein to overcharge or rip off vehicle owners who don’t have the means to fight back.

“I let them know, foolishly, that I was economically vulnerable,” Vetter says. “Those are the people they prey on.”

In a bad economy, impound towing is frightfully lucrative. When the appalling retrieval fees approach the value of the vehicle, down-on-their-luck owners often walk away, allowing the towing companies to fence the scrap metal and stereo equipment.

“You have a company here that for all intents and purposes isn’t being regulated,” Vetter said. “They’ve slipped through the cracks because there’s no obvious reward for someone to take them on.”

Fulda is disgusted with Safeguard. “But I’m maddest,” he added, “at the state of Oregon. These (towers) are bullies, and bullies will continue to operate until some sort of retribution is laid down on them.”

To curtail predatory towing, the Legislature could cap towing charges, award triple damages against the bad guys and follow California’s lead in preserving the rights of the vehicle owner.

Heck, we could even clone Marian Gaylord.

But until the state and local governments commit to operating with her diligence in defense of the law, the rampage of the bullies in the Safeguard trucks will continue.”

— Steve Duin. The Oregonian.

How the Auto Dealer Makes a Profit

April 17th, 2012

Buy the car. Skip the "extras."

If we know roughly how much the dealer paid for their cars (thanks to,,, etc.), how exactly do they stay in business? And not just stay in business…but pour $ millions into the Dick Hannah, Ron Tonkin, Carr Auto Group, etc. commercials that swarm us?

Apparently there isn’t much in the cars themselves (new, at least), but there’s plenty in the financing and other “extras” that get sold to you during the post-buying process. I found this article on that gave a very authentic look “behind the curtain” at a car dealership.

It’s worth a read…particularly if you’re financing a new car.

How dealers make their profits.

It’s cliché that the dealership experience is fraught with innuendo, misrepresentations and outright falsehood. To help understand why the game is played that way, put yourself into the white patent leather shoes of the typical salesman (or woman, but for the sake of this example, let’s assume a male) at a dealership for a moment.

He’s ‘on the floor’ five or six days a week for eight hours. If he’s working on a deal, he’ll often go home at 10:00 or 11:00 at night, and then show up the next morning to complete paperwork or take care of a trade-in. Working ‘bell to bell’ is incredibly fatiguing; the frustration level is compounded when times are slow and all he has to do most of the day is pace the lot.

His compensation is commission-based at almost any dealer. Even if he has a salary, it’s minimal, and certainly not enough to sustain any sort of lifestyle. For him, it’s sell or die.

When a prospect does show up, he knows the chance of them buying something from him that day is only 15-20 percent. And, if he lets them walk, his close ratio slips into the single digits. He also doesn’t like Internet leads, as he sells only around 6 percent and makes less money in so doing.

He knows they’re almost certainly shopping his deal against others at dealers both locally and – thanks to the Internet – perhaps a thousand miles away.

Now that you’ve come back to your own existence, wash your hands and give thanks. Second, recognize why that person is so aggressive, and so likely to play fast and loose with the facts. Let us take a look at the rest of the typical retail experience and sales process.

The Ad
When people come in based on an advertisement, they purchase the vehicle that was advertised less than 20 percent of the time. That’s the reason behind the old industry practice ‘the loss leader.’ Whether it’s a low, low, low price or an unbelievable lease, it’s all about getting customers in the door. If the salespeople can’t get face time, the chances of moving the metal are slim to none.

Besides, people don’t usually read or remember the fine print. Things like ‘Price good only on stock #3256’ or ‘Tax title and license fees, acquisition and cap cost reduction of $4387.90 not included’ don’t stick in the brain when you see your dream car or truck at a ‘too good to be true’ price. Remember, advertisements serve only one purpose – to get you in the front door.

If you’ve wondered why the salesperson or manager is so reluctant to give complete information until it’s ‘time to sign’, it is because once the consumer knows all the parameters of your new car ‘s deal structure, it is very easy to get another dealer to beat it.

The Deal
There are basically three moving parts to a deal:
The Selling Price
The Trade-in Value
The Interest Rate

Hence the ‘Four square’ sheet so many dealers still use. A salesperson’s training is to ask enough qualifying questions to determine which one of these three parameters is the buyer’s hot button issue. Once they determine which moving part you want to work on, all other numbers are adjusted to cast that one factor in the best possible light for you (not for them) and the numbers are ‘worked-out’ in the fourth box.

The Selling Price
This may seem simple, but the selling price is just as important on a lease as it is in a sale. Remember, go as low as you can off the list price, it will save you money on car payments in the long run, lease deals included.

The Trade-In
If the hot button is trade-in value, the dealer will maximize what they show to the consumer, and move all other numbers around to compensate for any over-allowance. For example, someone may owe $10,000 on a trade-in that is only worth $8500. But if the salesperson and manager know this is the main issue for the customer, they’ll say, “Oh, we can give you that much!” Then, they move the $1500 deficit into the price of the new vehicle or interest rate profit. What they really give the buyer is ‘Actual cash value’ or ACV.

If you really want to know what your car is worth, ask for a wholesale buyer’s order with what the dealer will pay for your car even if you don’t purchase something there. This will help eliminate one of the primary areas of control for the dealer. They won’t like it, of course, but you’re not there to make friends. If they refuse, it may be time to rethink the deal.

The Interest Rate
Interest rates are easier as they are based on credit scores. Our advice? Get pre-approved for a loan or lease at your bank or credit union. Or, if all else fails, at least know your credit score and what the rate should be in advance. This will help to minimize, or even eliminate, any mark-up in the buy rate the dealer offers. Like in a mortgage, many lenders offer the dealer a chance to make a percentage of the interest rate on the vehicle lease or loan; this profit is called ‘participation.’ The buy rate is the minimum, and there is no participation interest charge.

The most important thing is to not get caught up in shopping by payment. This gives the dealer more cards to play, as they know everything, and can manipulate accordingly. Once they’ve got you thinking payment, emotion usually takes over, and buyers often accept things like too few miles usage on a lease or a longer term than is wise. It leads very quickly to being upside down in a car or truck, and an inability to trade if life circumstances change. Be a bottom line buyer, and have them show you the math on how the bottom line and payment correlate.

The Box
Most new car dealers don’t make too much on new vehicles these days. It is too easy for savvy shoppers to cross-shop makes, models and trim variation as well as which dealer will give them the best price on their dream car with the click of a mouse.

‘Making gross’ (which is what salespeople and managers call profit generation) on used cars and trucks is simpler – no two are the same, and margins are higher to begin with on many models. But the real profit is made in the finance office, affectionately known (at least to the dealer’s comptrollers, accountants and owners) as ‘the box.’

Here the consumer will be given the full-court press for things ranging from useful to worthless. It can be hard to tell them apart (and they keep adding more), but here are some of the more common ones:

Dealer handling and document fees: Sheer profit. Make sure your read the little disclosure signs discreetly placed around the premises before assuming you’ve figured the bottom line.

Warranties and service contracts: They vary in quality and value, and are discussed in more detail here. As a general rule, they have $1,000-2,000 profit in the ‘first offer’ price.

Aftermarket accessories: These are all usually marked up substantially, and all super-duper paint sealants and upholstery protectors are basically worthless from a monetary standpoint.

Credit life, disability and GAP insurance: There can be value here, if they’re not overpriced. Credit life and Disability insurance shouldn’t run more than a few hundred dollars. GAP (guaranteed auto protection) covers the difference between the loan value and the amount that would be paid out by an auto insurer in the event of a total loss or a stolen vehicle. On longer terms, when the financed amount is above market value, and when leasing, GAP is good thing to have. To make sure you’re not paying too much, check online insurers to get quotes before you work out your deal.

Finally, in this day of creative financing, the dealer’s finance managers are coming up with new products and procedures to squeeze profit out of even the most astute buyer. Don’t be an easy mark – these clever financing products, like contracts for routine service and oil changes, paint sealant and interior stain fighters and wheel and tire warranties (which the manufacturers already offer on new cars), generate up to a third of a dealership’s profit.

Remember, Caveat Emptor, is the soundest advice of them all.

Auto Insurance Rates by US State

April 3rd, 2012

Infographic: Gasoline and electric cars compared.

March 20th, 2012

comparing electric cars to gasoline powered cars

Are you a good driver?

March 13th, 2012

The 15 cheapest new cars to own.

March 6th, 2012

Forbes just published its list of cheapest 2012 cars to own, listed by segment.  Almost every selection is not necessarily the least expensive to buy, initially.  But, over 5 years, the combined cost of the following factors made this list of cars the least expensive to own:

  • Gasoline
  • Depreciation
  • Repairs

The list:

  1. Nissan Versa (Subcompact)
  2. Kia Soul (Compact)
  3. Hyundai Sonata (Midsize Sedan)
  4. Chevy Impala (Fullsize Sedan)
  5. Volvo C30 (Entry Luxury)
  6. Audi A5  (Luxury)
  7. Lexus LS (Fullsize Luxury)
  8. Mazda MX-5 (Sports)
  9. Lexus IS-F (Performance)
  10. Honda Insight (Hybrid Car Base)
  11. Nissan Juke (Compact SUV)
  12. Hyundai Santa Fe (Crossover SUV)
  13. Lexus RX (Luxury SUV)
  14. Ford Expedition (Fullsize SUV)
  15. Mazda 5 (Minivan)

4 tips for finding cheap gas in Portland.

February 28th, 2012

Saw $4.09 on Taylor’s Ferry in SW Portland the other night. And it’s February. Gas peaks in the summer, so $4 gas might seem cheap in just 4 months. Some tips for finding cheap fuel in Portland.Gas prices vary up to 60 cents throughout Portland.

1. Apps and websites.
You can discover average price in your local zip code using: or Your iPhone or Droid has applications that track gas prices. Read reviews in your app store for a good one.

2. Drop that “easy-to-pull into” station.
Gas stations off major streets have higher prices. Look for stations in harder-to-find spots. And don’t fill up in expensive neighborhoods (the Sylvan Chevron is always 30 cents over average).

3. Wednesday.
Stations bump prices on weekends when people have time to fill up and are on long trips. Prices tend to be lowest in the middle of the week.

4. Fred Meyer cash rewards.
This progam has proven to be popular, and for good reason. Their stations are already low-priced, they have plenty of attendants, and they’re generous with the discounts. Fight the temptation to drop in for ice cream, snacks, electronics, and other errands you weren’t planning.

If you put in the effort you can save about 25 cents per gallon consistently. That’s $260 a year…enough for a full detail from Ace!

Tips for Avoiding Winter Damage

February 21st, 2012

Winter is the cruelest season for your vehicle.

Nature is harsher on a vehicle when it’s cold out. It’s not just the weather in the winter that causes the increase in damage, either – the secondary effects of winter, such as sanded streets, tire chains, and ski racks, can cause serious damage as well. Take care to keep in mind the following tips, and you’ve got a great chance of being the one guy on the block whose car doesn’t look like it was in a fender bender by the time April rolls around.

In order to preserve traction on road surfaces, the department of transportation sacrifices aesthetic concerns. The sand that keeps your car from sliding off the road also scuffs up the exterior. In places where roads are salted, the wear and tear can be even worse. Cracked windshields are common occurances in winter – both from flung bits of gravel or sand, as well as from temperature changes. Windshield chips should be repaired as soon as possible, so as to prevent the ding from becoming a major crack. Safe practice is to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead while driving in the winter; tailgating could result in a windshield cracked from a flung rock or a fender bender caused by poor road conditions.

When it’s cold out in the morning and you’re half-consciously getting the ice off of your car, it’s easy to forget about being careful. Window scrapers can scratch paint surfaces, window tint, and rear view mirrors. Wake up five minutes earlier than you did before, if that’s what it takes to keep you from being lazy or careless about how you de-ice your ride.

In a big rush to hit the ski hill, you might consider slapping on a sweet new ski rack you bought from a local store. Great idea – but make sure to do it right, or have it done professionally. a poorly installed ski rack will cause scratches and dents to your roof, and may fall off, resulting in the loss of more than just the condition of your vehicle’s roof.

Also, take care to monitor the condition of your tire chains. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when you install the chains, follow the reduced speed limits, and avoid riding on a dry road with chains on. If a chain breaks, get rid of it immediately. Broken tire chains can seriously damage fenders and wheel wells.

Lastly, when you go get your Christmas tree, bring a blanket to throw on your roof. And when you get home, don’t forget to completely remove any bits of twine the Christmas Tree Carnies may have rigged you up with. These bits of twine can really lash the paint off of a roof at high speeds.

Five Common Misconceptions About Collision Repair

February 14th, 2012

There are plenty of misconceptions people have about auto body repair. After a crash, car owners are often so shook up that they won’t remember that they’re still responsible to make the best decision about what to do with their car. Understand these five things before any unfortunate event, and you’ll be better off.


The body shop you choose will cost you more money out-of-pocket than the one the insurance company chooses. Insurance companies are responsible for paying the cost of any repairs that are reasonably billed for the area in which you live. The majority of auto body shops will negotiate with your insurance company when it comes to rates and processing techniques. Typically, an insurance company will guarantee a body shop a high volume of work in exchange for discounted rates. This doesn’t mean you have to do what they tell you. 


If you bought a car from a dealership that does repairs, then that’s the best place to get the body work done. Not true. They don’t always know best how to repair cars, and can’t always get the cheapest parts. Furthermore, it’s common practice for dealerships to outsource body work. Independent body shops order from the same large part dealers as the dealerships. Independent body shop techs also attend the same factory certified collision programs as do the techs at a dealership – so there’s no real difference in skills or price. 


It’s necessary to use the auto body shop recommended by your insurance company, or the one the wreckers tow your vehicle to at the behest of that insurance company. It’s always your right to choose who does the work on your car. “Steering”, the act of strong-arming someone into business with a particular service, is, in fact, illegal in a lot of states.


It’s possible that your insurance company won’t warranty the repairs done by the body shop you’re interested in. The body shop is the one who is responsible for putting the repairs under warranty. If it happens that a body shop won’t guarantee their work, it’s best not to use that shop.


For insurance purposes, you’ve got to get estimates for body repair from three different body shops. Do not to get an estimate from a body shop you wouldn’t want repairing your vehicle simply to fulfill the magical number of three estimates. You can bring the damaged vehicle in, let it get worked on, and then let the repair company negotiate with the insurance company. 

Super Bowl XLVI Car Commercials

February 7th, 2012

If you watched the super bowl, you saw a whole lot of car commercials. Here’s an interesting article discussing the best and worst of them, and investigating the themes contained in the advertisements. Hope this brings back good memories, and a few laughs.
Find the original article here. Written by Dutch Mandel, published on February 6th.


 “As has been the case in years past, the car and truck industry’s very-expensive TV commercials targeting the Super Bowl audience leaned heavily on humor.

Though no monkeys were engaged in the automotive cinema, you could spot cheetahs, sled dogs, vampires and even postapocalyptic snack foods.


Three other “H” words, besides humor, came into the field of play: heartstrings, heritage and, well, help.


While humor was employed most frequently, with moderate results, two real questions emerged at the end of the day. First, are these extraordinarily good brand-building exercises? Second, will all of these expensive TV commercial ad units sell more cars? Not likely.




Acura NSX: Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno pitch this new supercar–or do they? If Americans didn’t know that Acura was reprising its six-figure sports car, and building it on these shores in Marysville, Ohio, they still don’t. What they do know is that two once-entertaining, 20th-century cultural icons are in a skit about something.


Hey, Mom and Pop Midwest, let me ask you: Did you know that Seinfeld and Leno are car collectors? Why should we think that these entertainers entertain themselves with one-upmanship in being the first to own a car? We should not. My son, who knows his cars, wanted more info on the NSX. He did not learn it from the TV. Play = fumble.


Audi: If this increasingly successful distributor of German cars aims to put a stake in the heart of vampire television shows–gag me with a silver chain–then it did that with humor. Honestly, that is the first time any car company has used the power of headlamps to sell cars. That commercial was for Audi, right, and not a crossover advertisement with General Electric bulbs–like the one GE turbines did with Budweiser? Play = sack.


Hyundai Genesis turbo as a first-responder defibrillator. Look out, James Bond! Of the five ad spots Hyundai bought in the pregame/game, this was the best use of its money. It was funny. Will it sell more cars? No. Will it make stop-start jolts more prevalent? Perhaps. Play = field goal!


Greatest yardage on one play: Chevrolet truck. Was it Carmaggeddon? Carpocalypse? The end of the world as we know it according to the Mayan calendar takes place this December, claiming all except for three dudes in their Chevy trucks–and a box of Twinkies. Hey, where’s Dave? To quote Cheech and Chong, “Dave’s not here!” He’s in a Ford, and he didn’t make it through the end of the world. A nicely played poke of fun between two titans of the truck world; it’s about time people didn’t take themselves too seriously. It’s also good to see General Motors playing offense for the first time in a long time. Play = touchdown!


Memorable play: Chevrolet Camaro convertible graduation present. This spot was created by a 21-year-old and submitted in a contest. It won a major award: It got aired during the Super Bowl. If the kid is not working for an ad agency immediately, then something is not right in this world. Play = long kick return.


Fiat 500 Abarth: If the dealers don’t see a ballooning order bank from geeky desk jockeys this week, that would be surprising. I still don’t know what a lissome Italian stunner was doing standing in the street bent over, but who cares? And what about those shoes of hers? Attached to all those legs of hers? Wow. Oh, wait! That was the car. I’ll take mine in black. Play = flea-flicker for big yardage.


Honda CR-V: If Honda is trying to sell its tiny CR-V crossover to 50-something males who not only remember Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller but who also yearned to emulate him, the company might have something here. I just don’t think that’s the target market. Play = sacked.




Toyota Camry: There is a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on here as Toyota used heartstrings in one execution and humor in another. Unfortunately, the effort to engender love with this admitted automotive appliance was filled with clichés and platitudes, and it didn’t work. And when Camry is trying reinvent itself, its payoff line is a baby that doesn’t poo, and is also a time machine. Really? Time to reinvent the ad. Play = fumble, recovered and fumbled again.




Volkswagen: This ad could have been put in the humor category, but because it plays off last year’s very successful and charming Darth Vader kid ad, we will slot it in as a heritage/extended play/carrying it forward or reprising ad. It was cute. The payoff came in the end at the Star Wars bar scene. But did you know that this ad was for a VW Beetle? Was it a turbo or . . .? See, you can’t remember, and you’re a car guy. The agency might win a few awards with this one, but is that the goal? Play = rush for a first down.


Following last year’s successful and revolutionary two-minute commercial reintroducing the world to Detroit, its steel-hearted tenacity and the Chrysler 200–oh, and one of the most memorable lines to come from a Super Bowl commercial, “Imported From Detroit,” the Chrysler people had to do something memorable. (Or they could have chosen to do nothing at all.) What they did was to engage Clint Eastwood, the personification of hard-nosed grit, a man whose voice just says, “Bring it on,” in Chrysler’s new two-minute epic. It was good to reignite that theme of “America is back” to this realm. Will we get swept up in the American and Detroit pride again? Good question, but this was transformational television at its finest–and you could tell that the executives were truly part of the process and did not just tell the agency to get it done. The real challenge will come next year and to not do it for Super Bowl 47. Play = touchdown and two-point conversion and recover the kickoff deep in opponent’s territory.




Hyundai Veloster turbo: Cheetah, cheetah, chee-tah! It was funny, like 1970s laff-track funny. Not. Play = fumble and your running back strains his hammy.


Kia Optima: Fantasy spot. Put us to sleep. Play = kneel-down at end of first half to run out the clock.


Cadillac ATS: Driving the Nürburgring’s Green Hell. The whole commercial was a payoff to deliver a punch line. Yawn. It’s an OK ad that we will see during breaks of PGA tour programs and baseball games, but it wasn’t a Super Bowl-worthy spot alone. Play = off-tackle rush for a yard or two.”


Portland International Auto Show Draws Huge Crowd

January 31st, 2012

From the Portland Oregonian:

Portland International Auto Show draws 100,000, emphasizes Northwest-focused exhibits

By Emily Fuggetta – (read the original article, published 1/29/12, here)

Bouncing over stumps and crawling up and down 35-degree inclines might sound like a regular mountain weekend for some Oregon drivers — but it usually happens outside.

Visitors to the Portland International Auto Show this weekend lined up to ride through an obstacle course that showed off the rugged capabilities of Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds and Grand Cherokees at Camp Jeep, one of the show’s most popular exhibits.

The auto show, which last year drew nearly 100,000 people, filled all of the exhibit rooms, ballrooms, meeting rooms, lobbies and other space in the Oregon Convention Center — about 320,000 square feet total.

The show, which marked its 103rd year this weekend, was previously organized by a production company, but the show was produced this year for the second time by the Oregon Automobile Dealer’s Association.

Greg Remensperger, the association’s executive vice president, said Sunday the change came out of a desire to bring more entertainment value to the show and cater to the region.

“There’s this great outdoor-activity lifestyle. We just do things differently here in the Northwest,” Remensperger said. “We felt we could give it that Northwest feel by producing it ourselves.”

Part of that effort meant incorporating more outdoor-related exhibits.

Along the southeast curve of the convention center, cars, trucks and SUVs outfitted with racks from Rack Attack, a retailer with two Portland locations, showcased setups for skiing, surfing, camping and other adventures.
Two Tualatin men in their 40s visited the show to continue their search for their next car , one that will let the pair enjoy the Northwest — mountains and beaches — with their two dogs in tow.

Before the show, the Subaru Outback was at the top of the couple’s list, but the Honda CR-V caught their attention for its looks, storage space and gas mileage.

Another Northwest-centric effort was expanding the amount of space devoted to environmentally friendly vehicles, which this year took up more than 30,000 square feet, a number Remensperger said exceeds that of any auto show in the nation.

In addition to exhibits of eco-friendly commercial vans, electric bicycles, clean diesel-burning vehicles on the main floors, the convention center’s entire upper level was turned into the Eco Center, which showcased hybrid, electric and fuel-efficient traditional vehicles. One room of the Eco Center was devoted to vehicles that cost less than $21,000.

JoAnn Collier, a 66-year-old from Vancouver, who went to the show with her husband and granddaughter, gathered ideas for her next vehicle, still a few years away.

“I want safety and good mileage,” she said, “but I also want style.”

Collier said she’s interested in an environmentally friendly model, but so far none has had the perfect look and feel. She compared car shopping to buying shoes.

“I’m at the age where I’ll spend a little more for something that fits and feels right,” she said. “You’ve got to get in the car and say, ‘Yes!'”

Preventing Mold Buildup up Stored Cars, Boats, and RVs

January 24th, 2012


If you’re one of the millions of Americans who has more than one vehicle, or a boat or RV besides your regular commuter, there are doubtless periods of time when you won’t be using your second set of wheels (or keel). Even if you’re not living in an obviously tropical place like the Pacific Northwest of Florida, you’ll want to think about avoiding mold when you put your ride up for storage. The last thing you want to see when you take it out for the first spring spin is to see a moldy interior. We’ve come up with a few ways to help you avoid this.


Prepare By Drying and Detailing


Prior to storing your car, it’s a good idea to run the heat for a while inside. This dries out the inside of the vents. If moisture remains in the recesses of the ventilation system through a long, wet period of time, mold will grow in there. If it has grown, you’ll smell it.  

Detailing the vehicle, boat, or RV prior to storage is also a great idea. This makes sure to eliminate any places holding dirt or moisture – places that would make an ideal spawning bed for airborne fungus.

Mold grows in stagnant, humid air. Any way you can keep the air dry, moving, or both, is going to be a way to avoid mold. Some people run a fan inside the car or outside it within a garage. A good dehumidifier is the best friend of many a shop owner in a wet environment. Buying one of these is a pretty fail-safe route to mold avoidance.


Keep the Air Moving


To keep the interior dry, we’ve heard of people running a light bulb inside the vehicle. The light should be on an extension cord running to a nearby socket, it should be of an average voltage, and it should not be touching any piece of the interior. This is an original way to keep it dry in there and sounds like it would work, but we haven’t tested it. Let us know if that’s something you do. Another means to a similar end is dropping a large bag of dessicant – those dehumidifying pouches you find in bags of beef jerky, among other things, into the interior of the vehicle. This could work especially well if you know hot-spots for mold buildup within your stored vehicle.

AAA’s 15 Tips For Winter Driving

January 17th, 2012

Severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for automobile travel. Motorists should know the safety rules for dealing with winter road emergencies. AAA reminds motorists to be cautious while driving in adverse weather. For more information on winter driving, the association offers the How to Go on Ice and Snow brochure, available through most AAA offices. Contact your local AAA representative for more information.

AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:

  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
  • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
  • Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
  • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer where you want to go.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.


Tips for long-distance winter trips:

  • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
  • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
  • Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
  • If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
  • Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
  • Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
  • If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.


Tips for driving in the snow:

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

Lowering Your Car Costs

January 10th, 2012

According to a major news source, the average American spends more than an hour and a half behind the wheel each day. More for regular commuters, and far more for parents. It comes as no surprise, then, that automotive expenses are the second highest expense for over 90% of Americans – the percentage of people who report that they drive as their primary mode of transportation.

Shop Like It’s Your Job

Let’s spend a little time exploring some ways to save money on car expenses. Automotive services are a competitive market, and the result of that is that there is considerable benefit to the car owner who spends time shopping around for options.

First off, you can save money over the lifetime of vehicle ownership by buying wisely. Investigate the performance of the vehicles you’re looking at driving off the lot not just in the way they feel while driving – but by the way they perform in the years they spend in your control. A more expensive vehicle may save you money in the long run due to less need for maintenance and lower gas mileage. At the buying stage, you can also save a considerable sum of money by shopping around for the lowest interest loan prior to your agreeing on a sale or even seriously considering one. Most importantly, you should buy the car you can afford. It is recommended that you not choose car payments that exceed 20% of your monthly paycheck.

If It Ain’t Broken…

Once you’re the owner, you’re responsible for operating costs and maintenance. This aspect of car ownership is where most car owners pass up the most money-saving opportunities. Preventative maintenance, performed by a reputable and trusted mechanic or by the dealership which sold you the vehicle, is critical to keeping operating costs to a minimum. Mindful driving is just as important. Don’t step on it at every opportunity. This keeps your gas tank fuller and results in less wear and tear on the vehicle. Nearly a third of operating costs, for most drivers, comes from the insurance policy. Even if you think you’re sitting on a decent policy with a low-enough premium – comparison shop. It very well may be worth your time.

Responsible car ownership, the kind of ownership that results in the lowest cost of driving, is a part time job. Your responsibilities include maintenance, good driving, and regular comparison shopping for both irregular and regular car services. Go ahead and see if you can’t lower your automotive costs by fifty bucks this coming month. We bet you can.

Start your car…with your phone.

January 4th, 2012

Take a look at this new gadget we’ve found that has a lot of potential wrapped up in a small package. This thing lets you start your car and monitor its activity with your SmartPhone. The Viper Remote Start system provides you with a way to beat the early morning doldrums – and it can be installed in most modern cars at an affordable price.

Those cold leather seats…

The obvious advantage of having a remote start system is its ability to improve the lives of any of us living in a cooler climate. Forget sitting in the driver’s seat, shivering, waiting for that one little hole of visibility in the foggy windshield grow to a size acceptable for safe driving. Sit inside and have another cup of coffee instead. The less obvious advantages of this particular remote start system are in its expandability.

Start the car from your office, at the mall, in a restaurant.

Viper offers a GPS system that allows you to see where your car is and what speed it’s going from wherever you happen to be. We’re surprised Viper doesn’t call this particular aspect of its design, “Teenager Proofing”. The fact that it’s running through your smartphone allows Viper to send you text alerts when a car is started or when it fails to start. Multiple cars can be controlled through one smartphone, so there’s no hunting around for keys to when your eyes are half-open.

About $250 installed.

BestBuy will install the Viper system on most modern cars for $250 dollars. Your local car stereo purveyor will probably have a similar offer. Just be sure that you get a guarantee from whoever is installing it that they’ll make it work properly if it doesn’t when they first install it.

5 Car Repairs You Can Do Yourself

December 27th, 2011

Even in this age of computerized automotive systems and engines hidden from view beneath plastic covers, there are simple upkeep tasks that you can do that will save time and money. And this means you — ordinary, old, non-mechanical you. This list of projects requires few tools and no experience. If you’ve hung a picture or pounded a nail, you can tackle any one of them.

1. Check Your Tire Pressure and Inflate Your Tires

Money saved: A tire-pressure check and inflation is usually combined with other routine services, but the estimate for the shop cost of this alone is $22-$30. The biggest savings, however, is the increased fuel economy that comes with properly inflated tires: $112 a year in gas.
Time required: 15 minutes, once a month
Parts required: None
Tools required: Tire pressure gauge, air pump (usually free at a gas station)

2. Rotate Your Tires

Money saved: A tire rotation in Portland ranges from $43-$60. For a person driving 12,000 miles a year, that’s two tire rotations. Doing it yourself could save $120 annually.
Time required: One hour
Parts required: None
Tools required: Jack stand, tire iron and your car’s jack.  Follow the rotation pattern in your user manual.

3. Change Your Air Filter

Money saved: Mechanics charge $19-$60 just for the labor involved in changing an air filter.
Time required: Five minutes
Parts required: New air filter
Tools required: Screwdriver

4. Replace Bulbs and Fuses

Money saved: Mechanics charge from $17-$132 to replace bulbs and fuses, depending on the make and model of vehicle.
Time required: 30 minutes
Parts required: Replacement bulbs and fuses (usually sold in a box of assorted sizes at NAPA, AutoZone, etc.)
Tools required: Screwdriver

5. Change Your Own Oil

Money saved: Quick-lube shops and dealership service departments in Portland charge $25 – $50.
Time required: One hour
Parts required: Engine oil, oil filter. Sometimes it’s a good idea to replace the washer for the drain plug, too.
Tools required: Jack, oil pan for catching the old oil, socket wrench, oil-filter wrench, recycling bottles, mechanic’s rubber gloves and plenty of rags.

There’s Help at Hand

When you’re setting out to do any of these fix-it jobs, check with your local auto parts store for DIY support services they might offer. AutoZone, for example, advertises that it will help you find the right part, loan you tools, recycle your old oil and will print out instructions for getting the job done.

Original article from

Will you own your car in 40,000 miles? The argument for used tires.

December 19th, 2011

That’s the life of a brand new set of tires: 40,000 miles. Average car ownership is around 60,000 miles, so odds are very good your keys will be in someone else’s pocket or purse 40k from now. Knowing this…does it make sense to spend $400 – $1000 on new tires? That’s like fueling your car for the next 40,000 miles, driving it for 10,000 miles, then gifting 30,000 miles of fuel to the next owner. Consider replacing your tires with…used tires. It’s not what you think. Read on.

Used tires are not USED UP.
When you hear “used tires” do you think of bald tires? There’s plenty of those, and they can’t be resold. The tires used tire shops sell have a variety of sources:

  1. Tires from customized cars.  Owner buys new wheels.  Old tires won’t fit new wheels.  He sells his old tires, which are sometimes 80-99% tread.
  2. Tires from wrecked cars.  The tires on a totalled car often have only 1000 – 10,000 miles on them.
  3. Prematurely replaced tires.  Some owners replace their tires with 50% life remaining.  The tires get sold into the used tire market.

Used tires are not dangerous or mismatched.

Used tire stores don’t want to sell you dangerous tires.  You’ll sue them.  You’ll tell your friends.  You’ll tell the BBB.  They check the tires, make sure they’re balanced, have no failing repairs, and will work all the way to their speed ratings.  It’s good for business not to cause your customers pain.  Also, more often than not, a used set of tires is sold as a full set of 4.  And on that subject, yet another tire myth should be addressed:  not all 4 tires must be of the same make and model.  They must merely be of IDENTICAL SIZE and SIMILAR TREAD PATTERN.  You could drive a car with 4 tires of different make/model and not detect a difference.

Per mile, used tires cost 25% as much as new tires.

An average set of new SUV tires will cost $650 and have a life of 40,000 miles.  With a life of 20,000 miles, they’d likely sell for around $195.  Per mile new:  $.016.  Per mile used:  $.009.

Unless you’re selling your car to a family member, or you’re certain you’ll drive a new set of tires until bald, BUY USED.

There’s entire used sub-industry the public is mostly unaware of.  They don’t have they huge advertising budgets of Good Year, Firestone, and Les Schwab.  But they’re quietly saving money for their customers and saving good tires from landfills, and you should give the idea some consideration.  If you’re in the Beaverton area, we opened Beaverton Tire & Brake 2 months ago and you can expect the same experience you received at Ace:  value, professionalism, and attention to detail.

A most distasteful car.

December 16th, 2011

We try to give you practical car advise in this blog, but we’ve come across a car story so bizarre that it’s worth interrupting the “straight” talk for a breath of amusement.

An apparently wealthy European gentleman has modified a $470,000 Mercedes SLR with and is now asking $11,000,000 for the car.

Among its “modifications”:

  • Gold-trimmed interior.
  • Gold steering wheel.
  • Gold flake in 25 coats (?!) of red paint.
  • Ruby-coated switch gear.
  • The wheel bolts are gold-dipped and capped with rubies.


See the owner’s for-sale page here (English translation at bottom).

The question we want answered…
How did a man with such poor judgement amass the money to display such judgment?

8 Christmas Gifts for “Car Guys”

December 7th, 2011

There’s 8 things you can buy that “car guy” or “car gal” in your family that will be appreciated AND useful. We’re not talking about model cars, paintings, paper weights, etc. These are all things to improve that place they spend 1.5 hours each day…their car or truck.

1. GPS Navigation Unit. Cheap, easy to mount, and easy to use. Just buy the cheapest unit for sale at Costco, as the extra features go unused.

2. Satellite Radio. Google “Sirius discounts” or “Sirius coupon code” for super deals on the hardware and subscriptions. Some “trial” packages are $50. If he’s good with tools, he can install an add-on unit to his stereo in about an hour. If not, try Kingpin audio of Tigard for installation.

3. Solar-Powered/Hand-Crank Emergency Flashlight. Half the flashlights in trunks have dead batteries.  Buy one of these handy lights at AutoGeek.

4. Jump Start Kit. These compact, portable units fit easily in the trunk of a car and can really help in a pinch. Costco usually has them for around $50. Buy a second one for the garage…usually has a small air compressor as well.

5. Bluetooth stereo integration. Parrot makes do-it-yourself kits for around $125. For a tidy, professional install, try KingPin audio of Tigard.

6. Auto Detailing Gift Certificate. Like a spa gift certificate for his car. We recommend…drumroll please…us! Order online here.

7. Repair Manual. If he is a do-it-yourselfer, most manuals can be bought on

8. Repairs. If he’s NOT a do-it-yourselfer, give a note promising to pick up his car, fix the problem (try Peter’s Auto Works of Tigard), and return it to him…washed and vacuumed. You’ll get a firm hug and kiss…every time.

5 used cars to avoid.

November 30th, 2011

Reliability is at an all time high, across the board, in 2011.  Consumers are making fewer visits to the dealership or independent repair shops, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some rotten apples out there.  And surprisingly…several of these sell in large volume.

5 used cars to avoid, as reported in this Yahoo Autos article:

Small Car: Volkswagen Beetle

The Beetle’s cute looks and all-around appeal don’t save it from being on the least reliable list. Owners of the 2008 model told Consumer Reports that they had trouble with the climate control system and power equipment, both of which can lead to expensive repairs. The convertible model is selling for $19,350 on dealer’s lots according to the Kelley Blue Book web site.

Alternative: Hyundai Elantra.

Midsize Car: Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen strikes out again. Despite being praised by reviewers when new, the Passat gets the minimum J.D. Power two circles and a below-average rating from Consumer Reports. Readers there report problems with the fuel, electrical and climate systems and the power equipment.

The 2008 Passat is selling at dealers for $18,515, according to

Alternative: Ford Fusion.

Midsize SUV: GMC Acadia

Though its quality has improved in recent models, the 2008 Acadia is a repeat loser in this category. With the minimum two circles in the J.D. Power survey, it gets a worse than average used car ranking from Consumer Reports. Readers there reported problems with the suspension and audio system. The Acadia SLE model is selling for about $25,000 at dealerships, according to

Alternative: Toyota 4 Runner.

Large SUV: Ford Expedition

Even if you need large-capacity hauling and can ignore the lame mileage numbers (the Expedition is rated at 12 mpg in city driving, 18 highway), look elsewhere. The big boy of the Ford SUV line (whose model names all start with the letter ‘E’) gets the minimum two circles from J.D. Power and a worse-than-average Consumer Reports rating, where readers report problems with the transmission and the audio system.  The used 2008 Expedition sells for $23,530 in the XLT version, according to

Alternative: Toyota Sequoia.

Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country

Chrysler originated the minivan and in most years has sold more than other companies. But sometime around 2008, manufacturing quality began to lag.  This Chrysler van got the minimum two circles from J.D. Power and a much-worse-than-average used-car rating from Consumer Reports. Readers there reported problems with the suspension, brakes, climate system and power equipment. The 2008 Town & Country LX version is selling at about $16,000 from dealerships.

Alternative: Toyota Sienna.

Selling your car in Oregon: 8 Tips.

November 16th, 2011

No matter how many cars you’ve bought and sold in your life, you still make mistakes each time that cost you money. Or some mistakes cost you time…time spent waiting for the buyer. Here’s 8 tips to help you get a car sold in the Portland market for max money and in as little time as possible:

1. Never, ever, under any circumstances should you trade your car in. Ever, ever, ever. No exceptions. Don’t believe for a fraction of a second the “valuation” used car managers throw at you, no matter how badly you want to jump into that new or used car THAT day. If they’re offering you something unusually high, it’s because they’re making boat loads on the sale of the “new” car. Walk away.
2. Avoid Craigslist at your peril. Sure, there’s scams, but with some common sense (accept a cashier’s check at the buyer’s bank; meet at a neutral place like a shopping mall parking lot; don’t work with anyone with an out-of-state number) you will get the most $ on Craigslist for your car.  Why?  Because the majority of buyers are there (Portland’s Craigslist is the 6th largest in the country), and more buyers bid up the price.
3. Try Auto Trader, but only after 2 weeks on Craigslist. Yes, Auto Trader can expose you to another 15% or 20% more buyers, but their listing fees aren’t worth it unless you’ve “struck out” on a free Craigslist ad for more than 2 weeks.
4.  Always report the sale to the DMV. Just signing the title and handing it to the new owner DOES NOT CONSTITUTE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP.  The new owner has to title the new car, or you have to report the sale.  Report the sale immediately online here:
5. Top off fluids and change the oil. When you’re buying a used car, you should always pull out the dipstick and look at the oil – is it old and dirty? Does it have water/gas/metal shavings in it? This is the same thing a person will do with your dipstick, so change your oil. A professional oil change can be less than $20 (look for coupons), and usually includes checking your other fluid levels too.
6. Fix simple problems. A “check engine” light is an obvious red flag for any buyer, so if you’ve got one, visit a mechanic. If it’s simple, fix it. If not, at least you’ll be prepared to honestly explain the problem and solution to potential buyers.
7. Fix lights and add finishing touches. If any of your lamps are out, replace the bulbs: They’re cheap. If you’re missing the owner’s manual, look for one online, either through eBay or this list of manual linksfrom For any other missing bits or pieces of plastic, check local junkyards.
8. Get records in order. A tidy and organized maintenance history implies you’ve taken care of your car. A vehicle history report from Carfax runs $35 (you can get 5 reports for $45, so you might cut a deal with friends and save) and shows you have nothing to hide. It reveals things like number of previous owners and length of ownership, accident and lien history, plus warranty and recall info. Don’t jump for a Carfax report immediately, though.  Consider splitting the cost with a buyer if he shows serious interest.

Why that $500 paint job is too expensive.

November 10th, 2011

Here’s a Crown Victoria I spotted in Aloha, OR recently:

Not bad from 7 feet away, but here’s what I saw up-close:

The paint looked relatively fresh:  less than a year old.  When it was delivered to the customer, it was an ALL BLACK car.  It probably looked quite good.  But it’s falling apart, and here’s why:

  1. The old paint wasn’t sanded. Some people think cars are taken to bare metal when they’re painted.  They’re not.  They’re sanded–every square millimeter–then painted over directly.  And this is fine, because paint actually sticks very well to sanded, old paint.  But that process–sanding every square millimeter, then washing and checking for any spots that were missed–was done sloppily here.  In particular the edges where doors meet seals and inserts were ignored.  It’s clearly visible on the 2 inch plastic piece a third of the way up the door.
  2. Trim wasn’t removed. See the paint on the door handle?  And that trim piece 6 inches below?  Those were supposed to be removed and painted separately.  On this car, they were painted together, and the paint is actually filling the seams like glue.


Here’s the real cost. A repaint is going to be 50% more expensive than if it were done right in the first place.  Fixing this bad paint job involves completely stripping, then proceeding to the new paint job.  Lots of labor hours there.

Ironically, there’s a lot of money doing $500 paint jobs. Hour for hour, they’re pretty profitable.  When you’re spending 10% of the time on prep work and using watered-down paint (minimum solids content), there’s good money in doing bad work.

Durable paint isn’t much more. For another $700, this customer could have had something that lasted for years.  Inexpensive paint CAN last quite a while, as long as the whole car is scuffed first.



Wiper Blades: 3 Best Rated Brands

November 3rd, 2011

If you live in a rainy climate then having wiper blades that work effectively can be a life saver. In Portland, Oregon we get our fair share of rain from October to April every year and a good blade is worth the research and extra money. Most experts agree that wiper blades are good for roughly 6 month to a year depending on the climate you are living in and how often you use the windshield wipers. Windshield treatments like RainX give wiper blades a much longer lifespan since they are working less hard at getting rid of the water buildup on the windshield. If the wipers work 50% of the time compared to the other drivers on the freeway, then the wiper blades should last twice as long. One other thing to consider for wiper blade life is “does the car get parked inside or outside?”. The blades on on a car that is parked on the street wear out much faster due to climate conditions than the cars in a garage.

Top Pick 1: Valeo 600
The top ranked wiper blades based on several reviews are the Valeo 600 Series ($9 for 18″ and $15 for 24 inch blades) which offer superior cleaning ability for at least the first 6 months at the best price. Other, more expensive brands, give you similar results but for the added money don’t perform any better than the Valeo wiper blades. The wiper blades are crafted with a synthetic rubber upper body and a natural rubber wiping edge. They are more flexible in cold temperatures and provide smoother and quieter wipes than most models. A protective coating on the blades helps protect them from fluids, UV, ozone, and dirt. You can see all the details online at

Top Pick 2: RainX Lattitude
Looking for some new technology in a wiper blade? Check out the RainX Latitude ($17.99) which is top rated for longevity in windshield wipers. The RainX wipers have the contoured design which “applies even pressure along the entire blade length” per the RainX website. These beam wiper blades are twice as much as the Valeo blades listed above (18 inch) but you do get longer life and performance that is slightly better. From what we could find online in reviews posted to car forums, owners were happy with the results that the new RainX beam style blades provided during wet weather. You can see all the details online at

Top Pick 3: Bosch Icon
One of the more searched for terms associated with wiper blades was “Bosch Icon”. It appears that the Bosch Icon Wiper Blades ($18) are the newer beam blade design which are backetless blades. They are designed to give more uniform pressure along the wiper blade making for better performance and a smoother wipe. Marketed as “all-season” wiper blades, the Bosch Icon doesn’t show in independent tests that the blades last 20% longer as they are advertised, as indicated by However, owners are happy with their performance and say the wipers work better than other brands when there is ice and snow on the windshield. They are also very quiet in their operation. Available on

Consumer Reports’ Annual Automotive Reliability Report: Nothing Has Changed

October 26th, 2011

Consumer Reports reinforces the status quo among auto makers in its recent report on car reliability data: Asian cars are the most reliable cars sold, by a large margin. An amazing statistic: 96% of Asian car models rank above average or average in expected reliability.

Also worth noting:

  • The Ford Sync system, which connects multimedia devices (phone, radio, Internet) within its newest vehicles, has serious reliability issues.
  • The Volt, a promising gas/electric hybrid (though expensive) was found to be quite reliable.
  • Don’t buy a Porsche in its first release year.  The redesigned Cayenne dropped the maker from 2nd in reliability to 23rd in just one year.

Quoted from the New York Times:

“Japanese automakers continue to produce the most reliable passenger vehicles on the market, according to consumer data collected by Consumer Reports.
The survey appears in the December issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale Nov. 1.Consumer ReportsThe survey appears in the December issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale Nov. 1.

Taking the top nine spots in the magazine’s Annual Auto Reliability Survey, released on Tuesday afternoon, were Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand, which led the pack, followed by Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Subaru and Nissan. Of the 91 Japanese models for which Consumer Reports had sufficient data, 96 percent received ratings of Average or Much Better than Average in predicted reliability.

Ford, meanwhile, dropped 10 spots from last year, from its 10th place ranking to No. 20 out of 28 brands.

The annual survey is based on data from 1.3 million 2002-11 model-year vehicles leased or owned by Consumer Reports subscribers. The gathered survey data is used by the publication to track the reliability of vehicles up to 10 years old and to forecast the predicted reliability of 2012 models.

To determine predicted reliability, the magazine takes the average of the overall reliability scores for the last three model years. Based on the result, vehicles are then rated on a scale of Much Better Than Average, Better Than Average, Average, Worse Than Average and Much Worse Than Average.

In recent years, Ford has performed well, ranking as the top American automaker in the 2010 survey. This year, however, three new models pulled it down, as the Explorer, Fiesta and Focus all received below average predicted-reliability ratings.

The survey is also the second this year to indicate that Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system is hurting the brand’s standing. In the 2011 J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Study, Ford fell from fifth place last year to 23rd, largely because of consumer complaints about the system.

Another factor that contributed to Ford’s poor showing was the new PowerShift dual-clutch automatic gearbox fitted to the Fiesta and Focus. Consumer Reports describes it an “automated-manual transmission” because it combines the efficiency of a manual design with the driving ease of an automatic.

Though the survey merely asked respondents to indicate whether they experienced a serious problem that required a visit to the dealer — and not to describe the particular problem in detail — Consumer Reports auto testers found that the transmission stumbled at low speeds and in stop-and-go traffic.

“Especially at lower speeds in parking-lot areas, it’s a very jerky transmission,” David Champion, the senior director of the publication’s auto test center, said in a telephone interview. “It was very difficult to get a smooth drive-away.”

While Ford stumbled, brands in the Chrysler Group surged.

Jeep moved up seven spots to No. 13, displacing Ford as the most reliable domestic brand. Chrysler and Dodge moved up 12 and 3 spots, respectively, in the rankings.

General Motors, meanwhile, experienced mixed results. Three vehicles with good predicted reliability last year dropped to below average and were no longer recommended. They are the Buick LaCrosse sedan, the all-wheel drive version of the Buick Enclave crossover and the Cadillac SRX crossover S.U.V.

A bright spot for G.M. was the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which received a predicted reliability rating of Much Better Than Average. There is, however, an asterisk. The sample size was just a few over the minimum threshold of 100 cars, and most of the owners had their cars for only a few months.

Regarded as a whole, Detroit models still had a reliability problem, the editors said. Of the 97 domestic models and versions for which Consumer Reports had sufficient data, just 64 percent rated Average or Much Better Than Average, compared with 96 percent for Japanese models.

European brands had a mixed record, with an overall predicted reliability just slightly below that of domestic models. Porsche dropped 25 places and went from being the second-best-rated brand last year to being the second-worst, which Consumer Reports attributed to only having data for two models. One of those models, the redesigned Cayenne S.U.V., “had a terrible debut year,” said the authors, without elaboration.

The survey results are available to subscribers at the Consumer Reports Web site. For nonsubscribers, the site will post the rankings and information about best and worst models later Tuesday afternoon. The survey appears in the December issue of the magazine, which goes on sale Nov. 1.”

Geico or Progressive? Neither.

October 20th, 2011

You can’t watch an hour of telivision without seeing a Geico or Progressive ad.  And recently, add All State to the mix with their “white guy in a suit” character. As an Ace customer you’re probably too smart to fall for cute marketing, but you do inevitably wonder about switching insurance companies.

In our search for reviews, ratings, and such, the best available information was a survey conducted by JD Power.  Not our first choice (nothing was available from Consumer Reports), but it is useful nonetheless.  See the chart below.

Important conclusions:

  • Geico, Allstate, and Progressive are not the “pricing” leaders they claim to be.  No surprise there.  Television ads aren’t cheap!
  • Amica Mutual appears to be the winner, but look closer. They rank 5/5 stars in all 5 categories.  Really?  Wouldn’t they have every…single..American driver if they were the cheapest AND the best?  We don’t buy it.
  • Ameriprise, Erie, and State Farm appear to be the best bets. They have the best combination of price, service, options, and customer service.
  • Don’t become price-obsessed. You don’t think “price only” for any other commodity.  Why is this the attitude towards insurance?  Look at the whole picture–yes you will need to put that insurance to work some day–and choose a company with an overall satisfaction of 4 stars or more.

The Results:

Keep your leather soft forever…in 40 minutes.

October 13th, 2011

Leather is a great choice for a Northwest car. It ages very slowly in all our mild, and relatively sunlight free climate. Plus, almost every leather equipped car comes with seat heaters… a great feature during the winter. And, in 2011, leather is as affordable as ever, and extremely durable. Maintenance is relatively simple…maybe 40 minutes total a year. Read on.

Cleaning The Leather Hide

The first step in leather care is cleaning the hide. Great care needs to be taken in order to gently clean these leather surfaces. It is best to use a very mild soap mixed with warm water. You can use a very diluted mixture of Simple Green multi purpose cleaner. I would suggest mixing one ounce with ten to twelve cups of water. The first thing to do is get a clean soft terry cloth towel. Dunk the towel into your cleaning mixture and wring it out. From here wipe down the seat using gentle pressure. Be careful not to “scrub” the leather. Always use a small spot in out of the way area as a test spot. Automotive leather is surface dyed and you don’t want to remove any of it. Rub out the seat and make sure it is kept evenly damp throughout the process. Rinse out your towel several times as you do each section of the leather seats.

Removing the Cleaning Solution from Leather

The next step is to fully remove the cleaning solution. First, towel dry the seat to remove the cleaning mixture from the leather. Now using a towel dampened with clean water, gently wipe down all the leather seats. This will remove the soap residue from the leather. This step needs to be done at least two times. Next, wipe the seat completely dry with another clean soft terry cloth towel, being certain to rub very gently.

Conditioning Leather Car Seats

Next, we come to the leather conditioning step. There are several good leather conditioners on the market. Some of the best brands are Connelly Hide Food, Meguiars Leather Conditioner and Lexol. The key thing is not to use too much of the product. Apply the leather conditioner with a clean, soft sponge,not one with a scrubbing side! Soak the sponge with the conditioner and apply it to the seat evenly. Work on one leather seat at a time. The best thing to do is to apply the product and let it soak into the leather for a few minutes. Next, take a soft clean cloth and rub off all of the excess conditioner. This creates a beautiful mat finish that is not slippery. If the leather is a little hard or rough, apply a second coat. Keep in mind that all leather develops wrinkles. The important thing is to keep the leather soft so the wrinkles don’t eventually turn into cracks.

Overall, it is a good idea to clean and condition your cars leather seats two times a year. The conditioner wears off over time and is also affected by heat, UV exposure and oils from human skin. If your seats don’t appear soiled, you can skip the cleaning steps. This is especially true with fancy sports cars that don’t see much use other than those special weekend drives. So, keep it clean and keep it soft.

The real key to leather maintenance.

The real key is to be consistent. A lot of owners get caught up in buying all the right brands of cleaners and conditioners when they first buy their car, but give up on their cleaning routine after the first year. Truly, soapy water is enough to clean the seats. And any brand of conditioner will keep the seats soft. You don’t have to be obsessive about cleaning and conditioning every square inch. The drivers seat will be the dirtiest, and the rest of the car can be cleaned quite quickly. With practice, you should be able to condition the entire interior in less than 10 minutes.

Reduce the odds of car theft 75% with these simple habits.

September 28th, 2011

Car theft in Portland is down, but not uncommon. And it’s not purely a matter of bad luck or parking in the wrong neighborhood. According to Progressive Auto Insurance, there are three primary reasons cars are stolen:

55% were unlocked;
34% left the windows open; and
6% left keys in the car.

The reality is that the majority of auto thefts are not professional jobs committed by thieves with “gone in 60 seconds” skills. In fact, most thefts are opportunistic and preventable with some simple, common sense habits.

Keep Your Car Locked At All Times

When you walk away from your car, lock it. This means roll-up the windows, too. A window cracked open for ventilation is an invitation for a thief. I even make it a practice to lock my car when it’s in the garage. You just never know, and the more difficult you make it for a thief, the better your chances of keeping your car “yours”.

Never Hide A Key On Your Vehicle

This might seem to be pretty obvious, but you’d be amazed how often people hide keys in or on their car. Don’t do it. Car thieves are criminals, but they’re not stupid. Car thieves know all of the typical, and not so typical, hiding places.

Don’t Tempt A Car Thief

By this is mean keep all of your valuable out of sight. Cameras, laptop computers, purses, wallets and packages are all very encouraging for a would-be thief. Cover your valuables with a coat or blanket, or put them in the trunk.

Keep Your Car Visible

That means paying attention to where you park. Always park your car in a well-lit and well-traveled area. Don’t risk parking or leaving your car in high-crime areas. Likewise, avoid parking your car in places that are not well-traveled. Car thieves look for cars in dark alleys and deserted parking lots. The safest parking lots are those with attendants.

Make Your Car Difficult To Tow

It may seem counter-productive to your own needs, but avoid parking where your car can easily be towed. Car thieves often disguise themselves as tow truck drivers. If you park your car at the end of a block, you’re an easy target. I know, I had my first Porsche stolen via tow truck. I had every safety device available on the car. They did a snatch-n-go and were gone in less than 3 minutes.

Shut Your Car Off And Take The Keys

Never leave your car running unless you are sitting in the driver’s seat. It’s amazing how many thefts occur at gas stations because a car owner leaves the car running while they run inside for directions. It can even happen in front of your own home, while you’re waiting for the car to warm on a cold day. Be safe, when you get out of your car, take your keys with you.

Keep Your Original Car Registration & Insurance Documents Safe

Never leave your insurance or original registration documents in your car. Doing so makes it easier for a thief to sell your car after they steal it. I recommend making a copy of your registration papers. Write across the top and bottom of the copy “ORIGINAL MAINTAINED BY LEGAL OWNER”.

It doesn’t take much to minimize your risk. Follow these simple tips and you will drastically reduce the chances of your car being stolen.

Rain! How to keep your windshield clean in the wet.

September 21st, 2011

Fall all at last! For us in the Pacific NW, this means more rain showers. Boo.   With daylight savings coming up, you may be driving to and from work in the dark. Many more chilly wet mornings are coming. You can’t change the weather but you can change how you prepare your vehicle for it.  There are a few inexpensive ways to keep your windshield clean and clear in the dark northwest rain.

We highly recommend the Diamondite Glass Cleaning System Kit. You know how your windshield wipers skip over the glass and don’t really move much water? This kit solves that problem. Skipping or chattering wiper blades are caused by a dirty windshield. Dirt can become lodged in the glass, leaving the surface bumpy and gritty. An oily coating of exhaust film on the glass mixes with the rain to create a blurry mess on the windshield. The? Diamondite Glass Cleaning System Kit contains a glass cleaner to remove the oily film plus Spray Clay, a foam detailing clay, that removes the dirt that’s stuck in the glass. Lastly, Diamondite Shield creates a slick coating over the glass that allows water to bead and roll away. Your wipers glide over this coating and actually move the water. It’s like a new set of wipers! Try the Diamondite Glass Cleaning System Kit and the next time it rains, you’ll be so glad you used it.

Another outstanding glass sealant is Aquapel Glass Treatment & Rain Repellant. The sealant is packaged in a single use applicator. One application lasts up to 6 months. Aquapel creates a hydrophobic coating that repels water so it beads up and rolls away. The wipers just help it on its way. You’ll be able to see through your windshield in the rain, even in the dark. Aquapel reduces the glare from car lights and streetlights. The best news is that one application of Aquapel will last you through the entire rainy season!  It does outperform Rain-X for durability, but Rain-X is quite effective as well.

This time of year, you find yourself using the heater because it’s colder outside, but then the interior windshield fogs up…then you’re trying to adjust the defrost. You need Glass Science Fog Clear. Fog Clear is a coating you apply to the interior windshield and windows. It dries clear. The coating absorbs moisture to eliminate condensation instantly. No more foggy windows.

With a few inexpensive and easy-to-use glass care products, you’ll be able to maneuver this Fall weather safely.

The 10 cars mechanics hate the most.

September 13th, 2011

On Sunday mornings in Portland, you can hear a long-running talk show on 91.5 caled “Car Talk.”  It’s hosted by two brothers from New England who help people sort through their own non-critical (engine/trans rebuild) car problems.

They recently published a list of cars they hate the most.  Not because they’re difficult to work on (Rover, Audi, VW, for example), but because they seldom break.  These are the cars with the smallest average “ticket” (total repair bill) in the maintenance business.

Not many surprises on this list but one:  the Ford Fusion.  The Fusion has been for sale for less than 5 years, so it’s a stretch to add it to this list of cars with decades-long histories of reliability.  In fact, most Fusions are under manufacturer’s warranty still.

Also, the list doesn’t mention trucks.  Consumer Reports has documented truck reliability for years, and the same trucks/SUVs show up repeatedly:  Ford F Series, Toyota Tundra, Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Highlander, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Honda Pilot, and Honda Ridgeline.

One thing these trucks and cars also have in common:  resale value.  Yes, you will have to pay quite a bit more for these cars when used.  But don’t be tempted by a Chrysler or VW for their bargain-prices.  In the long run, it’s well worth to pay extra up front for the car and less in repairs later.

The full list:

Honda Civic

One of the most reliable cars available today. The Civic rarely seems to break, and when it does, its problems are easy to diagnose. Original Equipment Manufacturer, aka OEM,  parts are both affordable and easy to get.

Honda Accord

See “Civic.”

Toyota Camry

The Camry used to be the clear-cut winner when it came to reliability. Other cars are catching up, but it’s still one of the most reliable performers around. Affordable and easy-to-get OEM parts, too.

Toyota Corolla

About all that’s ever needed on the Corolla are regular maintenance and an occasional brake job. We’re not making any money on this car, that’s for sure. OEM parts are affordable, too.

Toyota Prius

Unfortunately for us, only dealers are currently servicing the expensive hybrid components in the Prius. That will change in time. But, for now, we’re not making any money off the Prius.

The Prius is crammed full of technology, but Toyota has put plenty of effort into the layout, which is well thought out. Considering the number of components that are under the hood, the non-hybrid parts are pretty easy to access and service.

From our point of view, the Prius is terrible news for mechanics — not even the brakes wear out, thanks to the regenerative braking system. All we get to install are wiper blades. How are you supposed to buy a pair of Jet Skis on that money?

Ford Fusion and Ford Fusion Hybrid

In our humble opinion, these are two of the few American cars that really approach the reliability of the Japanese brands. (Official Car Talk Disclaimer: Ray is a Ford stockholder — as well as a disgruntled former GM stockholder.)

Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey

Minivans have generally been pretty good to us. They’re big cars with a lot of parts that eventually fall off. But if you’re looking for the best of the minivans — the ones on which we make the least amount of money — those would be the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. Are they as reliable and as affordable as the other cars in this list? Probably not. But in the minivan class, they’re the best choices going.

Honda CR-V

See “Civic” and “Accord.” The only repair issue we see with the CR-V is a “chattering” final drive in the all-wheel-drive version. Other than that, the CR-V is just as reliable as any other Honda. The transmission, engine and everything else are all great. Parts are affordable, and big repairs are infrequent. Drat!

Honda Element

Unfortunately for mechanics, the Element has the same reliable drivetrain as the CR-V, so the same comments apply. The other reason we hate this car? Element owners always seem to have big dogs, which translates to a “big stink for mechanics.”

Subaru Impreza

For an all-wheel-drive car, the Impreza is very reliable. Usually, we count on making a lot of money on all-wheel-drive vehicles, thanks to all the additional drivetrain components. Sadly, that’s not the case with this car. Thanks a lot, Subaru. We find parts to be reasonably priced and widely available.

Subaru Forester

Parts are readily available and reasonably priced. When it comes to all-wheel-drive vehicles, like the Impreza, the Forester is a sturdy, reliable choice.

Nissan Altima

The Altima runs forever, and it’s great to drive. The four-cylinder edition is a reliable car that’s easy to fix. These cars just don’t seem to break. Other than routine oil changes, we only see Altima owners when they’ve racked up 150,000 miles or more.”

The new GPS: your cell phone.

August 31st, 2011

smartphone gps appI recently took a trip to Grand Haven, Michigan and used an app for my iphone (GPS Drive) as my GPS. No suction cups, no cords, no worries of a break-in…just my cell phone in the cup holder telling me when and where to turn. It worked brilliantly, with the same accuracy as a traditional GPS. It found restaurants, libraries, car washes, amusement parks, and more.  I have continued to use it in Portland with the same results. Cost: free for the first month, then $25 a year thereafter.

There’s several advantages to using a smartphone-based GPS:

  1. Easy set up: No cords, no suction cups.  I’d say most people who own a GPS don’t use it because it simply takes too long to attach it to their windshield, then take it down when done.  You ALWAYS have your cell phone with you, and you simply place it in a cup holder and drive away.
  2. Updates.  Cell-phone based GPS apps are always updated.  If there’s new restaurants or gas stations around, they’re on your map.  If a business goes under…it’s off the map.
  3. Portability.  You probably drive more than one car, and there’s probably not a GPS in each car, but that cell phone–as always–is in your pocket.

The top-rated GPS apps, per phone type:

  1. iPhone:  GPS Drive.
  2. BlackBerry:  Waze.


*Note:  your smartphone likely includes a free maps app like Google Maps.  I don’t recommend Maps as a driving app, as it requires you to glance down frequently as you drive.  Real voice guidance is the safe, reliable way to go.

Looking for a hybrid? Maybe you should get a diesel.

August 23rd, 2011

Predictions of $4 gas this summer have failed. Gas in Portland this week was around $3.55 and the price of crude oil–for the moment–is dropping. Nonetheless fuel economy remains a top priority for new car shoppers–more so than in decades–despite relatively affordable gas. There’s some fantastic technology available now, and most of it is heaped on hybrids. And why not…it’s a relatively fresh and sexyconcept. But as hybrids receive praise, diesels have quietly evolved far beyond what you remember in the 1980s. No longer do they smell, blow smoke, rattle, or require manual transmissions. And in most cases, they produce better MPG than similarly equipped hybrids. Consider:


Because of the extra technology that goes into making diesels perform well on the road and comply with emissions standards, they are generally more expensive than rival gasoline engines.

Engine/Fuel Economy

In the past, diesel engines were written off as noisy and smelly, but technological advances over the last decade have eliminated these drawbacks (though you still shouldn’t expect whisper-quiet operation in a big diesel pickup). Fuel economy is stellar relative to gasoline-powered engines, yielding serious driving range between fill-ups. Grunt is also impressive: Always paired with a turbocharger, modern diesels provide unmatched torque at low rpm, which makes them an excellent choice for towing and hauling. The extra torque offsets diesel engines’ typically lower horsepower numbers, and makes them feel especially strong around town.

Luxury Features/Convenience

Today’s diesel-powered models can be outfitted every bit as opulently as their gasoline-drinking counterparts. As all 2011 diesel passenger cars and SUVs are of German origin, they tend to have a premium feel inside, with lengthy lists of optional luxuries. The American diesel pickups generally receive the same standard and optional features as gas versions.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

This used to be a simple section, but not anymore. While traditional manuals with clutch pedals are still recommended for sport sedans and underpowered compacts, there are now several kinds of automatics. One is the traditional and most common “automatic transmission,” which features a torque converter and can be shifted manually via the console shifter or wheel-mounted paddles. Automated manual transmissions used to be the stuff of exotic sports cars, but now they’ve found their way into economy cars for their ability to better maximize the potential of lower-powered engines. While these types of transmissions make manual shifting more responsive, they can operate just like a normal automatic but shift quality is generally less smooth.

Operating Costs

The main attraction of diesels, at least in light-duty vehicles, is that they reduce fuel costs through increased efficiency. In the United States, however, the cost of diesel fuel has fluctuated widely in recent years, exceeding the cost of even premium gasoline at times. For consumers who choose to fill up with biodiesel, fuel costs will be even higher. In the long run, though, most diesel owners will enjoy a savings over comparable gasoline models and even some gas-electric hybrids. Another potential consideration for very high-mileage drivers is that diesel engines historically have a longer service life than gasoline motors due to their simpler design and more robust construction.

Cleaning and polishing chrome: some simple advice.

August 17th, 2011

When it comes to chrome, there are a number of other uses beyond auto rims. Chrome is commonly used on appliances, furniture, bicycles, boats or more. It’s used because it looks good and it’s generally easy to clean.

Chrome plating itself is a finishing treatment that involves the application of the metallic sheen to a surface. It produces a mirror-like image that’s a favorite look in automobiles, appliances and furniture alike. This metallic coating is considered the tops for all kinds of purposes, but auto especially. This is because of the fact it is durable and generally pretty resistant to problems. This, of course, doesn’t meant it can’t and won’t get dirty. It does and it will.

Chrome is subject to having grease get stuck on it in the auto world, food burned on it in kitchens and dirt and grime as well in other applications. To ensure the chrome plating stays looking pretty and shiny does take a little work – but not much. Thanks to its slick surface, chrome typically can be cleaned pretty easily. A tiny bit of elbow grease is generally all it takes.

Start out cleaning chrome by getting warm water and adding a very mild detergent to it. Soaps such as dish detergents generally will do the trick when applied with a soft cloth or sponge. Avoid abrasive materials as they might scratch the chrome, leaving it looking damaged. If a mild detergent won’t remove the gunk on the chrome, step up the cleaning process to include vinegar or even baking soda. For burned on foods or grease, try specialty cleaners or silver polish.

Remember, chrome is pretty easy to clean, but it doesn’t like abrasives. Avoid harsh chemicals and serious scrubbing. Rather, bathe the chrome surface in water and mild cleaners to gently lift off stuck on particles. It might take a few tries to completely remove a burned on spill, but the effort will be worth it if no permanent damage is done to the surface. Chrome itself is pretty resilient when it’s treated with care. Once it’s cleaned, a simple wax product can sometimes help a repeat of a stuck on stain getting stuck in the first place. Just make sure to use products that are recommended for chrome and avoid any harsh scrubbing or abrasives.

If you have rust spots or dull chrome, use Mothers’ chrome polish (from an auto parts store) and a rag. If you have large surface areas to work with, buy the foam applicators that attach to cordless drills to save significant time.

How to quickly clean a dusty car.

August 10th, 2011

What to do when your car is dusty, but not dirty enough for a car wash.

We have reached the two months we all wait for in the Northwest:  August and September.  Sunshine, picnics, convertibles, fresh fruit…good times!

This is a unique time for your car as well.  You won’t see much rain, so your car won’t become truly dirty, but there will be plenty of dust to fall on your glass, paint, etc.  The dust isn’t enough to justify your 15 minute hose-and-bucket or even your 8 minute waterless car wash routine, but you have to do something.

Invest in a California Car Duster and dust off your car in 60 seconds.

The original California Car Duster is a unique and ingenious cleaning powerhouse. It does more in seconds (literally) to expel dust and lint from automotive surfaces, than sometimes hours of detailing can achieve. Now, you may have noticed that certain products, which claim to remove the dust off of surfaces, seem to really, in fact, just move the dust to another temporary location.

What makes the California Car Duster work is the special blend of a permanently baked in paraffin treatment, which is fused to the 100% cotton strands of the mop head. This proven technology has a magnetic quality, which attracts and holds dust and particulate, like lint and small dirt particles, extracting them from your automotive surfaces.  It removes dust without ever being abrasive and is completely safe for all finishes (glass, chrome, trim, and yes, even clear coat) the fibers will never scratch the paint.

A California Car Duster is compact, lightweight, easy to use, and comes with its own carrying/storage case! Caring for your duster is easy… simply shake out the duster before and after each use. Should your duster ever become so dirty that it requires an actual cleaning, just wash it in cold water with a mild detergent and let it air dry. One duster will last for countless ages and keep your car looking just just-washed, the easy way.

Buy your CCD for $14.95 here.

Windshield damage? The argument for repairing, and not replacing.

July 26th, 2011

We have all experienced it. You’re driving down the road and all of a sudden a rock hits the windshield, creating a chip in the glass. What most people don’t know is that the majority of these fractures can be repaired — if caught in time — keeping repair costs to a minimum and keeping glass out of our landfills.

In addition, many insurance companies waive comprehensive deductible charges when the customer decides to repair the windshield instead of replacing it. Both parties win by spending less money on a repair. Windshield repair is a permanent solution to an age-old problem. Chips happen, and they can be easily repaired at a minimal cost and with a decent profit margin that can add to your bottom line. And in today’s tough economic environment, windshield repair is being recognized by many different industries, such as detailers, carwashes, lube shops and auto dealerships, as a way to positively impact their businesses with an additional service offering.

Savings multiplied.

Windshield repair is a great first choice over replacement for a variety of reasons as it:

Saves money: Repair is a fraction of the cost of replacement.

Saves time: Repair is fast, usually 15-20 minutes, whereas replacement can take hours.

Saves glass: Repair keeps the damage from spreading and provides a great looking result.

Saves the environment: Most people don’t know that laminated windshield glass is not recycled. When they choose repair first, it keeps their glass out of the landfill (see photo).

Retains the original factory bond: Repair brings the windshield back to factory specifications and retains the original factory bond (if it has not been previously replaced), which means safety will not be compromised for drivers and their passengers. An improperly replaced windshield may create a safety risk whereby air bags could blow out a windshield and therefore not provide the intended safety.

A successful windshield repair will arrest the cracking of the glass. With the average replacement cost hovering around $350, your customer is usually happy to live with a barely noticeable repair, while paying a small fraction of the replacement cost. And they may not pay anything out of pocket when utilizing their insurance coverage.

Did you know?

Far more automotive glass reaches our landfills than you would expect.  Some facts:

• In the United States alone, more than 11 million windshields go into our landfills annually.

• Glass takes more than 1 million years to decompose in our landfills.

• Windshield glass is difficult and expensive to recycle because the glass is two-ply laminated and contains a PVB layer that must be separated. Much of this glass also has integrated heating elements and antenna and cannot be returned to the glass furnace for reuse.


If a chip or starburst is fixable (less than a quarter in size) and in not directly in your field of vision, have your windshield repaired.  Call us and describe your damage so we can get you into our schedule ASAP.

Brake dust in your wheels? Wax them!

July 20th, 2011

Dusty brown wheels–caused by brake dust accumulation–are a major irritant to people who make the extra effort to keep their cars clean.  No matter how clean the glass, the paint, the trim is…the first thing to go dirty is those wheels.  BMWs in particular are infamous for brake dust build up because of the “soft” brake pad materials they choose.

It’s impossible to completely prevent brake dust build-up.  Brake and drum disks must necessarily cast off dust as they contact your brake rotors.  But you can significantly reduce the rate of build up by applying wax to your wheels.  It has the same effect as coating a cooking pan with teflon:  things just don’t stick as easily to your wheels, as you create a slick outer barrier on them.  And, washing them is so much easier:  less soap, less brushing, and less likelihood that you’ll reach a point where they are stained so badly that they’ll need acid cleaning.

The process is simple:

  1. Thoroughly was and dry your car’s wheels.
  2. Apply wax with an applicator (foam sponge or rag).
  3. Dry to a haze.
  4. Remove with clean microfiber towel.
  5. Repeat once every 6 weeks.

The brand Wheel Wax claims to be the only wax “approved” for waxing wheels, but testing shows that it’s essentially the same wax sold for painted surfaces.  Thus:  just use your existing wax, and apply it to your wheels at the same time you wax your paint, at the same intervals.

8 ways to get more money for your used car.

July 14th, 2011

A new CNN report advises car owners that some simple, inexpensive cosmetic fixes can add up to $2000 more to the sale of your used car.  The reasons all these small fixes make such a difference:  buyers perceive small things like dirty carpets, dented doors, and more to be signals of owner neglect.  That is, these cosmetic problems signify that the owner didn’t maintain the car mechanically or was an abusive and aggressive driver.

A summary of CNN’s 8 suggestions:

  1. Maintain your paint quality. Regular car washing (once a week) and paint waxing (once a season) are enough to keep your Oregon paint job looking good.
  2. Keep your headlights lenses clear. Regular car washing is enough to maintain new lenses.  Older lenses can be restored at our body and paint shop in Tigard.
  3. Keep wheels clean. Regular washing prevents hardened brake dust, but if your wheels have become stained to a degree that you can’t clean them yourself, we can clean 98% of wheels to like-new with industrial strength acid cleaners at our Beaverton detail shop.  And if you scuff/scrape your wheels, we can fill and repaint them at our Tigard location.
  4. Don’t neglect the interior. This is about regular vacuming and removal of litter.  A yearly deep cleaning and shampoo should fix the bigger stains you can’t remove yourself.
  5. Have receipts ready. No one believes you got your timing belt changed at 100,000 without a receipt.  Have a receipt ready for every claim you make in your for-sale ad.
  6. Lightbulbs. Inside and outside, ALWAYS sell a car with every light checked and verified.
  7. Pay for pro detailing. There’s issues–odor, pet hair, “kids’ messes”–that only pros can fix with their equipment and chemicals.  You’re best off handing over these jobs to a shop.
  8. Fix those dents. Dents that have no paint damage can be fixed cheaply by paintless dent technicians.  Another service we offer at our Tigard shop.

Join the waterless car wash revolution.

July 6th, 2011

The Meguiars Waterless Car Wash System

Do you ever find yourself “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to washing your car?  “I’ll do it tommorrow, first thing.”  “Could rain tommorrow…I’ll do it the following day.”  “Too tired.  I’ll wait ’till the weekend.”  The can goes down the road, and your car serves as a mobile billboard of your procrastination.

There’s been a major development in the do-it-yourself car washing industry that hasn’t yet reached mainstream awareness:  the rise of the waterless car wash. It’s significant because it eliminates about half the time and hassle from a traditional car wash.  Why?  Because the waterless systems on the market don’t use hoses, don’t use soap, and don’t use drying chamois.

How exactly does it work?

Step 1:  Dry dust the car. Gently wipe over your paint and glass with a paint-safe microfiber mop attached to a small plastic handle.  This captures the majority of surface dirt.

Step 2:  Mist “waterless” car wash solution on the entire car. The term “waterless” is misleading because the primary ingredient in the “waterless” wash solution is indeed water:  it is a liquid, after all.  But the liquid contains unique cleansers and lubricants that bring remaining surface dirt to the top of the paint surface, unlike water which tends to just bead and run off the car.

Step 3:  Wipe clean with a microfiber towel. First use a towel that will absorb the initial dirt left on your car’s glass, wheels, and paint.  Finish with a clean, second, microfiber towel that completes the final “polishing” and buffing.

I’ve tried this myself and it does indeed work as advertised:  very quick car washes with no surface scratching in the paint, no smears or runs on the windows, and clean wheels as well.

What are the drawbacks?
First, this won’t work for about 6 months out of the year in the Northwest.  There’s just too much rain and too much dirt in the streets.  It would be faster to simply use a hose and sponge because of the pure caked on dirt we accumulate on our cars.  Second, prepare to wash your microfiber towels often:  about once every 3 washes to avoid accumulating dirt in your “towel #1” (the towel used for initial wiping).

During summer and fall, you can wash your car in about 5 minutes with perfect results and no hose, bucket, or sponge.  Recommended!



Should you buy an aftermarket car warranty?

June 29th, 2011

With some poor luck (and poor choice of car), you could have to pay outright for a repair (transmission replacement, for example) that costs more than the price of  an extended warranty.

On the other hand, if you don’t buy a warranty, you’ll have the cash set aside for those big repairs.  Many car owners feel that if they don’t buy one of those extended car warranties (usually at the urging of a salesperson), they will certainly get that one repair that does cost more than the warranty, a lot more. And it will happen just after the new car warranty expires.

Warranty buyers see their warranties like insurance. They buy the with the hopes that they won’t get used, but if something does happen, they have limited their financial risks to the amount of the warranty.

That notion of limited risk buys “piece of mind” but in the end makes poor financial sense.


While extended warranties offered by manufacturers often cost more than aftermarket extended warranties, the consensus is manufacturers plans pay off with greater ease than the aftermarket plans.  The manufacturer has a name to protect, right?  And they want you to buy another one of their cars, too.  But what does ABC Car Warranty LLC have to lose by not paying your claim?  Your future business?  They don’t have many repeat customers.  What about their reputation?  How many people even know ABC Car Warranty LLC exists?


There are, in fact, honest extended warranty companies.  But the issue is…how do you verify their honesty?  There’s no Consumer Reports to refer to, and you have no access to their customers.  Because there is no reliable way of determining an extended warranty company’s performance, we strongly discourage you from buying these warranties. Buy directly from the manufacturer (yes, you can negotiate these deals) or simply put cash aside for repairs if you’re going to drive a used car.


5 myths about rock chip and scratch repair.

June 21st, 2011

We repair a lot of scratches and rock chips on our customers cars using factory-paint-matching paint and a variety of brushes, squeegees, scratch fillers, and excess paint removers.  Most of the general public isn’t aware that paint chip and scratch repair is a subspecialty of the automotive business.  One big reason:  body shops don’t want you to know about it. 

Nonetheless, there are a few persistent myths that we keep hearing, and  in this blog post we’ll try to establish what’s truth and what’s fiction.

  1. The touch up paint my car dealership sells me is the best way to fix scratches and chips. Not true.  The biggest problem is with the applicator:  it’s just too large!  Most chips and scratches are best touched up with a fine-tipped artist’s brush…the kind used by hobbyists who assemble model cars and airplanes.  The second problem with dealership paint is that it tends to be thinned out with clearcoat.  On light metallics, this makes the paint transparent.  That is…you can see through the paint and into the scratch below. can sell you a small amount of paint without the fillers.  Its color coverage is excellent.
  2. You can’t touch up anything larger than 2 inches. Sometimes true…sometimes not.  Blacks, whites, solid reds, and most dark reds, blues, and greens, can be touched up, sanded flat, then buffed to a shine.  It’s not a 100% repair, but it can get you out of a $1k+ body shop bill.  Silvers, golds, and all other light metallics can’t be touched up beyond 2 inches.  The metallic flake in the paint simply does not lay down flat.  It reflects light in varying directions and draws attention to the scratch.
  3. You can touch up steel parts, but touch up doesn’t stick to plastic. Not true.  As long as the plastic surfaces have been cleaned with iosopropyl alcohol or wax and grease remover, touch up paint will bond permanently.
  4. Touch up paint always looks dull…like freckles all over the face of your car. This is true of do-it-yourself touch ups, which don’t involve the application of the “clearcoat” that gives paint its shine.  The professional’s trick is to mix in a small catalyzed (two part) clearcoat with the basecoat (colored paint) prior to applying it to the car.
  5. Touch up paint will eventually fall out, buff out, or be removed by car washes. Again, as long as the repair area is completely clean prior to touch-up, the repair is permanent.  Touch up paint is of the same formulation as the car’s factory paint (urethane), and there’s no reason it won’t have the same lifespan.

    We hope this clears up some of the mythology about scratch and chip repair.  If you want to take a shot at it yourself, visit  If you want a pro job, give us a call.  Most touch ups are $35 – $60 for the whole car and take around 30 minutes.


    Get your car summer-ready in 5 simple steps.

    June 14th, 2011

    The summer is the most-driven season of all.  And in most places, it’s the toughest season on your car:  the heat beats down on your paint and your car’s interior and tests your radiator and air conditioning systems. 

    In 5 simple steps, you can minimize, if not eliminate, the odds of a major catastrophe.

    1. Check the tire pressure. Match tire pressure to the level recommended in your manual.  The summer heat causes air to expand in your tires, so you will want to adjust it a bit from spring levels.  Low pressure can mean a blowout.  High pressure can cause hydroplaning in rain.  And don’t forget the spare.
    2. Oil and wiper blades. Run the car for a minute, then check the oil.  It should be clean and at the proper level.  Your wiper blades went dull over the winter, so give them a quick change.  Rain is uncommon in the summer, but it comes in buckets and you will want a clear windshield when it arrives.
    3. Pay for a quick tune up. Meineke and Firestone often check your A/C, radiator fluid, plugs, wires, etc. for around $70.  If something is on the verge of breaking on you in hot summer traffic, it will get found and replaced prior to the stress of a break-down.
    4. Remove excess weight. Are you carrying around tools, equipment, and other junk you just don’t need?  For every 100 pounds you remove, you improve fuel economy by 2%.
    5. Prepare for a breakdown. Invest in a AAA emergency kit with jumper cables, flashlight, a small air compressor, and more.


    How to keep your car cool in the summer.

    June 8th, 2011

    As if you’re not hot enough, you open your car door, sit down, and a haze flashes over your eyes as you feel like you’ve entered a sauna.  Your AC at full blast will take 4 minutes just to make a dent in this heat.  The heat is so intense that you’ll have to change your shirt for the second time today and take your third shower!

    A hot car is unavoidable in summer months, but there are 4 ways to minimize and control the heat:

    1. Lower all windows 1/4 inch.  Nobody’s going to steal your car, break your windows, or vandalize you.  If they want into your car, they’ll get in no matter where your windows are, so don’t be paranoid…lower every window a quarter inch.
    2. Place a white towel on your dashboard. Your dashboard, laying flat in your windshield, gets the most direct exposure of any area of your interior.  A large white towel can reduce interior temps 20%!
    3. Use a sunshade. Not pretty, but these do work. has a variety of applications.
    4. Tint your windows. We tint windows at our Beaverton location.  Genuine SunTek film installed by experienced techs.  Lifetime warranty.  30 day comeback for any flaw of any size.
    5. Install a remote car starter. Start your car from within your home/apartment with the A/C on and jump into a cool car 5 minutes later.

    Use as many of these as you can, as consistently as you can, and you can avoid a lot of discomfort during your summer driving trips.


    Three benefits of waxing your car regularly.

    May 31st, 2011

    Waxing your car is not purely for vanity.  There are practical reasons for waxing, which we will discuss here.  

    However, waxing your car is superfluous if you are not committed to washing it by hand!  If you wax your car then have it washed at a local “tunnel wash”…your wax is GONE.  So ignore the benefits of waxing if you have no plans to wash by hand.

    In most states, you simply can’t wash your car by hand for at least the three months of winter, if not more.  No problem…just tunnel wash at the public wash but don’t bother waxing during these months.

    But for the months when you are able AND willing to wash by hand, you can enjoy these benefits:

    1. Car gets dirtier…slower. Water and dirt tend to run down paint and not stick to the surface.  If you drive a waxed car in the rain, back to back with a non-waxed car, you’ll notice the next time the cars are dry that the waxed car is noticeably cleaner.
    2. UV protection. Maybe not relevant in sun-deficient states like Oregon and Washington, but in TX, CA, AZ, and sun-heavy states, you can greatly delay the peeling and discoloration of your paint (black cars have been known to peel after just 4 years in the Southwest…yes, that’s FACTORY original paint).
    3. Minor scratch protection. Keeping a layer of wax on your paint ensures that your WAX, not the PAINT, receives minor scratches when you wash your car, or it brushes up against a bush, etc.
    4. Waxed cars just look better. Particularly with darker colors, wax brings out a depth and brilliance that you don’t get from “naked” paint.

    The Key to a Good Wax Job (you won’t find it in the marketing).

    Waxing is not about the brand of wax you use.  Nor is it about the softness of the microfiber towel you use.  Nor is it about technique.  It’s about consistency. No brand of wax is worth its weight it dog dung if you don’t stick to a regular schedule.  The average buyer of car wax may apply it 3 – 5 times in his car’s life…then give up the process.  Choose a realistic waxing schedule (once every 6 weeks, for example), stick to it for the life of your car, and you will reap the rewards over time.


    Two easy solutions to the new talking-in-the-car cell phone laws.

    May 25th, 2011

    When holding cell phones to your ear while driving was banned in most states, I thought I had an easy solution:  my bluetooth headset.  But that headset becomes heavy on my ear.  I don’t have it on me all the time.  And…it’s a nuisance to pair it, wear it, unpair it every time I get in/out of my car (especially for short trips).  I found two solutions, one inexpensive and the other a bit more of an investment, that solve this problem.

    Motorola T505 In-Car SpeakerPhone

    Bought this at Amazon here for $45.  It’s about the size of a large garage door opener that clips onto my visor.  There are no cords.  I turn it on when I enter my car and it automatically pairs with my phone.  When an incoming call arrives, it announces the phone number, I push the “talk” button and the built in speakerphone projects the caller’s voice and built in microphone (right in the visor near my mouth) transmits my voice.  Callers tell me I sound better than my phone’s built in speaker phone, but not as good as my bluetooth headset, but I’ve never had any trouble carrying a conversation.

    Pros: Inexpensive, good call quality, convenient (can be transferred to other cars quickly).

    Cons: Must turn the device on and off every time you enter your car, must be charged weekly with the supplied 10 volt charger, relatively weak speakerphone.

    Parrot CK 3000 Evolution Built-In Hands Free Kit
    This will be my next bluetooth solution (see here) because, for $300, it integrates with my car’s stereo and power system.  A microphone will be placed near my browser, and a small device placed at the base of my steering column.  The system turns on when I start my car and turns off when I remove my key.  When a call comes in, my stereo is interrupted it is broadcast clearly through my stereo speakers until the call ends.  On the highway, at high speeds, you do need some extra volume to hear your caller’s voice.

    Pros: Clear incoming voice quality, no need to turn on and off each time you start your car, no need for charging.

    Cons: Cost, will have to pay installer to remove the system when you sell your car, cannot be easily transferred to other cars you drive.

    We proudly offer auto body repair and auto and car detailing in the following markets: Portland Oregon, Beaverton Oregon, Tigard Oregon, Hillsboro Oregon, Vancouver Washington, Lake Oswego Oregon, Wilsonville Oregon, Oregon City Oregon, and West Linn Oregon.