Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to Save Money on Car Repairs

Owning a car can be expensive, and many car owners are filled with dread when they see the "check engine" light starting to flash. That warning usually means a trip to the car repair shop and spending a hefty sum, but here are some tips to help you save money on maintenance and repairs. If you are knowledgable about the process, you will certainly feel better about taking your car to the mechanic and confident that you are receiving the best value for your efforts.

1. Preventative mechanics.
An old adage says, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." The same holds true for cars, and regular maintenance can ensure the safetyreliabilitydrivabilitycomfort and longevity of a car. Follow your owner's manual for all the recommended scheduled maintenance of your car; understand that each car has different needs, based on the number of trips/distance it is driven per day, climate conditions, nature of the roads, et cetera. While this may seem like a hassle, it will save you a lot of money by adding years of life to your car, helping you avoid big costly repairs in the long run. Some common maintenance measures include car washes, tire rotations, checking/replacing a number of parts (i.e. timing belts, engine oil, fuel filters, windshield wipers, battery terminals, coolants). Be sure to avoid common car maintenance mistakes - you can check out this article to learn more!

2. Find the right price.
If you are faced with an expensive repair, it is worth it to shop around for multiple estimates and quotes. This way, you will not only find one that is most cost-effective, but you will also gain more accurate idea of the general pricing of your repair. You should also browse online and know the usual charges for car repairs in your area; websites such as AutoMD and RepairPal can be a great resource. Know that all warranties are different, and review your own to see if any repair costs are covered. Also, before the warranty expires, have the car inspected and have any qualifying repairs performed.

3. Find the right mechanic.
The best way to find a great mechanic and price is through referrals from friends/family/coworkers and through Yelp reviews. A good repair shop should have certified technicians on staff, with certifications by ASE in one or more classifications (brakes, engines, steering/suspension, et cetera). You should also check the work area for a relatively clean floor, since a shop that has dirty shop rags, empty fluid containers, and other trash tends to imply sloppy mechanics. Note that getting repairs done at a dealership may be more expensive, but you can be 100% confident that all repairs will be done correctly. Thus, you might want to take your car to a dealership for more complex repairs.

4. Diagnose problems and (potentially) do it yourself.
If your car is not running properly, diagnose the problem yourself before going straight to a mechanic. Certain tasks (such as changing the wiper blade or air filter) can be done independently, even for those who are not mechanically inclined. If anything, one way to save money is to cut out the middleman and purchase your own parts to bring to the shop for installation.

Picture courtesy: http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRgkg1OPGSa-iPjDffwBrTgxDdqz8ONgChs85WILWTwWpzcSB6n

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to Identify Reckless Driving

In the U.S. alone there are over 40,000 people killed every year on county, state and the interstate highways... and many of those deaths are directly the result of reckless drivers. In a 2003 driving poll conducted by The National Safe Driving Test, 91% of all drivers admitted to engaging in risky driving behavior over a six-month span.There is a variety of actions that can help identify a dangerous or reckless driver, and being knowledgeable and aware could increase the level of safety of the road, both for yourself and others.

  • Rolling through stop signs. A lot of people don't come to a complete stop; they slow down, check for oncoming traffic, and then keep on going. However, know that the sign is there for a reason, and the only way to be 110% sure that there is no traffic is by coming to a complete stop.
  • Driving too quickly. Speeding is responsible for 30% of all fatal crashes.
  • Failing to keep up with traffic. Some people think that slower means safer, but drivers expect you to keep up with the flow of traffic. If you're going too slowly relative to everyone else, people behind you will try to pass you, which can easily lead to an accident. 
  • Tailgating. The average car needs 120-160 feet to come to a complete stop. You should maintain that safe distance away from the car ahead of you, or even farther if you're driving at higher speeds. Change lanes when it is safe if you're the one being tailgated.
  • Running yellow lights. Yellow means slow down. The red light comes shortly after; if you speed up at the yellow light, there is always a chance of accident.
  • Not checking blind spots. People who get in accidents often say that the opposing car "came out of nowhere." However, that is only because the other car was in a blind spot. Always check your blind spots to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Not wearing driving glasses. If you need prescribed glasses, wear them. Have sunglasses nearby just in case you need protection from the sun and the visor isn't enough; squinting doesn't help, and you might miss something.
  • Not using signals. Using signals alerts drivers to your presence and intents, so that you can safely change lanes. Not doing so may catch other drivers off-guard and cause them to lose their focus on the road.
  • Giving in to road rage. Driver aggression can be caused by a variety of factors and is extremely dangerous, causing drivers to drive with emotion rather than logic and reason. Always drive with a level head and keep your focus - for tips, check out this article, The Zen of Driving.
  • Lack of etiquette. Always be conscious and courteous of other drivers. Especially when it comes to merging and lane changes, it is best to be polite and give the other car right of way.
  • Multitasking. Anything from talking to your passengers to using electronic devices to eating to listening to music can distract the driver from the road. While it is certainly possible to drive and do something else at the same time, it is less safe to divide your focus in such a manner; always give your 100% attention to the road.
If you see someone driving recklessly - whether it be from texting, drunk/drowsy driving, being overly aggressive, or otherwise careless driving - report it by calling 911, but only call if you feel it's a dangerous situation. Simple motor violations do not warrant reporting; being a danger and placing civilians in harm's way, on the other hand, is.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Driving Safely with your Dog

While we love our dogs and want them with us all the time, or just want to take them out for a cruise, it is important to transport them in a proper manner that is safe not only for the driver and the dog, but also for other drivers on the road. Many drivers simply have their pets sit in the backseat, or even in the back of pickup trucks or in their laps. Here are some pet travel tips that can keep everyone, including your dog, safe and happy:
  • Safely secure your dog while driving, either with a fitted pet travel harness, pet car seat, seatbelt, or properly secured crate. Never attach a restraining device to the collar. 
    • Never let your car near your lap, since s/he can interfere with steering, block the driver's vision, or accidentally manipulate the accelerator, the brakes, and gear shifts. S/he can also become a safety hazard if the driver has to divert attention from the road to deal with the dog's behavior.
  • Do not allow your dog to ride with its head hanging outside the window.Airborne debris can get into the eyes, ears, and mouth, and obstacles close to the car and potentially strike the head, causing injury or death.
    • Unsecured dogs can be thrown out at high speeds if the car stops abruptly or gets into an accident.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a parked car. Temperatures in confined spaces can reach over 100 degrees and cause heatstroke or even death during the summer time, and extreme cold temperatures in the winter can be just as threatening.
  • Have your pet consume small amounts of food and water prior to the ride, but not too much due to digesting and urinary issues that may arise.
Picture courtesy: http://www.farmersalmanac.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/driving-dog-thumb-420x240.jpg

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dangers of Old Tires

There is little quality control in the used car industry, and just because a tire looks like it is in perfect shape does not mean it's safe. Many people rely on the tread depth to determine its condition, but a tire could look completely brand-new, have never been used, and have never touched the ground, but be over-aged to the point where the rubber compounds cannot support the weight of your car. 

What happens as a car ages?
  • Rubber compounds oxidizes, causing cracks in the rubber develop over time. The internal adhesive bonds between the various layers of the tire begin to break down, and the steels belts in the tread may separate from the rest of the tire.
  • The tire becomes worn and more susceptible to malfunction or puncture.
What are the dangers of old tires?
  • Function. Old tires have a worn-out tread, causing reduced traction on the road and requiring a longer stopping distance.
  • Storage. The conditions of storage for spare tires can deteriorate the tires. Mounting the spare tire underneath or behind the vehicle exposes it to dirt and other elements, while storing in the trunk is comparable to baking it in a miniature oven. 
  • Blown tires. An old tire has a higher chance of puncture or completely blowing out, which can cause loss of vehicle control.
  • Temperature and weather. Worn tires can be especially dangerous during times of bad weather, such as rainstorms, since the reduced grip can cause sliding or hydroplaning. Warmer/coastal climates and exposure to sunlight can hasten the aging process.
  • Use. The duration of the tires can depend on the nature of its use. Rapid braking and acceleration, road conditions, bumping into curbs, and irregular maintenance can contribute to decline in quality.
How can I determine the age of my tires?
  • All tires are stamped at the factory with a Department of Transportation (DOT) code with 11-14 digits on the sidewall. For the last four digits, the first two represents the week of manufacture and the last two represents the year. Even when you are buying new cars, you should check the date to ensure that the tires were not stored in a warehouse for a long time prior to delivery. If it was manufactured more than 6 months earlier, consider asking for newer tires, since tires are still subject to oxidation even when not in use.
All in all, while it may be tempting to save money by equipping your vehicle with your old or used tires, consider the risks. Driving on unsafe tires can lead to serious accidents, and you should never take a chance when it comes to your vehicle or, more importantly, your own safety.

Picture courtesy: http://l.rgbimg.com/cache1n8lEo/users/j/ja/jazza/600/2djsV4n.jpg

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Remove Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are a common accessory to our cars. They can be clever, encouraging, negative, or make a statement. However, they are often very difficult to remove from your car. It is important to remember that they are super stickers that have bonded to the paint on your car.

Here are a few techniques to get those pesky bumper stickers off your car.
  • Boiling Water: pour hot water over the bumper sticker to head up the adhesive and try to peel slowly from the corners.
  • Chemicals: There are multiple chemical solutions to remove bumper stickers
    • Vinegar:Take a cloth soaked in vinegar and place over the sticker for 3-5 minutes. Then peel.
    • Solution: Take some rubbing alcohol and dish soap and soak the sticker for 10 minutes.
    • WD-40: If you have an corner that you can peel back from the sticker, try to lubricate the area underneath with some WD-40. Continue to apply the lubricant as your peel back the sticker. This should help in breaking the seal of the sticker.
  • Blow Dryer: Heat the sticker for 30 seconds or more. Avoid high heat, as this will damage your paint.

Bumper stickers can be a fun way to make a statement with your car. However, the best way to to prevent damage to your car is to avoid bumper stickers altogether. The longer a sticker is left on, the harder it is to remove and the more likely it is to cause permanent damage to your car's paint job.

  • Very caustic or acidic chemicals: these will damage the paint of your car
  • Peeling the sticker straight up. Make sure that when you are peeling the sticker off, pull the sticker back on itself and pull at an angle.
  • Very high heat. While heat is good at loosening the adhesive, it can also cause damage to your paint.
  • Razor blades. Yes, it is tempting to grab a razor blade to scrape off the sticker and the little bits it leave behind, however, your paint can easily be scratched by the sharp blade.   

    Picture courtesy: https://i.chzbgr.com/maxW500/6394720256/h179D18F9/