Cars Column

Cars! As much as we may hate filling up the tank with gasoline, for many it’s the only way to get from one place to another. This column focuses on all things auto from the insurance you’ll need to get to whether a hybrid is right for you.

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I take it back … Car dealers aren’t totally worthless

“I refuse to go to a car dealership for any reason. I don’t shop for cars there and I don’t get maintenance or repairs done there. They have a reputation for charging much more than smaller auto shops.”

Or at least that’s what I thought last June when I wrote a Bargaineering post called Skip the pricey car dealership … I fixed a keyless remote myself and so can you.

I’ve changed my tune since then.

It started when I had to take my Honda to the dealership for an airbag recall.

While the car was there, they fixed the stuck sliding panel in my car’s front-seat storage compartment.

I’d tried everything to fix it myself, from coat hangers to screwdrivers to DIY videos.

The dealership fixed it at no charge.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

I wasn’t even paying them for other work.

Maybe they wanted to do something nice since it was an inconvenience to bring my car in for the recall service. Maybe they hoped to earn my future business.
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No car … No problem

Life without wheels is good and I’ve saved a fortune

A little over a year ago, I ditched my car.

It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, and that’s saved us thousands of dollars.


Mitch Strohm biking across the Cumberland River from downtown Nashville

You’ll probably be surprised to find that my wife and I don’t live in a pedestrian friendly big city crisscrossed by bus and train lines, such as New York or Chicago.

Our home is a medium sized southern city where the nearest subway station is 400 miles away — Nashville, Tennessee.

Yet I’ve found that it’s not a difficult place to live without a car or truck.

While only 7.7% of households are carless, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by, Nashville averages 1.6 vehicles per household, below the national average of 1.8.

Indeed, my wife and I aren’t getting by without any vehicle. She still has her car.

But its main purpose is transportation to her workplace, which is outside of the city limits. It’s old, has over 210,000 miles on it, gives us very few problems and it’s paid off. In other words, it’s very cheap to own at this point.

We had no choice but to say goodbye to my 2004 Saturn Vue when it was totaled in an accident. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.)

Our options were either to buy a used car or to pocket the cash we received from the insurance settlement and do without.
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Skip the pricey car dealership … I fixed a keyless remote myself and so can you

I refuse to go to a car dealership for any reason.

I don’t shop for cars there and I don’t get maintenance or repairs done there. They have a reputation for charging much more than smaller auto shops.

So when my car’s keyless entry remote stopped working, I wasn’t about to head to the dealership to get it repaired.

I tried the obvious fix, first: replacing the battery.

I watched a YouTube video to see how to take the remote apart without damaging it. I got out a tiny screwdriver, removed the screw from the key’s plastic backing, popped open the remote case, and checked the number on the lithium ion battery.

A few days later, I had a package of five new batteries from an Amazon seller for less than $3. But switching out the battery didn’t solve the problem.

Maybe I had a bum package of batteries. I didn’t have any other devices I could test them on, so I ordered a different brand of the same battery from a different seller.

No dice.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I then pushed the problem aside for about two years and relied on my manual key to unlock my car door.
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How to get the most from your auto insurance claim

Being involved in a car accident is scary and stressful. So is dealing with the aftermath.

It’s in the insurance company’s best interest to minimize your claim, but you’ll be able to secure a fair settlement with these four tips.

Don’t admit fault

You typically must file a police report after a car accident. There are situations when you aren’t required to, but to be on the safe side, file a report.

Describe to the police as accurately as possible what you believe happened, but don’t admit fault or say anything to the police, the other driver or any witnesses that might incriminate you.

Gather evidence that might help you later. Photograph the accident scene, capturing the location, license plates and damage. Collect contact information from any witnesses, passengers and other drivers.

At this stage, only discuss the accident with the police to minimize your chances of being misheard or misunderstood.
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Stop worrying…You probably didn’t pay too much for your new car

Most of us like to tell “fish stories,” and they often include tales about the great deal we negotiated on our new car or truck.

But behind closed doors, many of us obsess that we really paid too much.

At least that’s the conclusion of the first annual TrueCar Buyer Study, which polled more than 3,000 consumers across the country.

Despite all of the pricing information at our fingertips on sites like Kelley Blue Book ( and, it seems many new-car shoppers have no real idea how much the dealer is making in any given deal.

Because of that, 26% of new-car buyers believe they overpaid for their car.

Many of those surveyed guesstimated the dealer makes about 20% profit on the sale of a $30,000 new car. That would be about $6,000.
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Be ready for insurers to ask your car what really happened in an accident

The next time you file an accident claim don’t be surprised if your insurance company wants to download data from your car or truck to make sure you’re telling the truth.

No one knows exactly how much auto-insurance fraud goes on, but experts peg the losses at up to $30 billion.

That covers a wide range of cheating, from lying on an application to staging accidents and bogus injuries. But deliberately deceitful accounts about how a wreck occurred are part of the problem, too.

Let’s say a driver sideswipes a parked car or backs into tree.

Instead of reporting the mishap as it actually happened, he drives to the mall, parks his car and claims to be victim of a parking-lot hit and run.

A law enforcement officer will more than likely take the driver at his word, write up the report as a hit and run, and the driver will file a claim with his insurance carrier.

Although insurers know this kind of fraud happens every day, they’ve chosen to pretty much ignore it.

That’s changing however, as those companies consider making better use of the Event Data Recorder (EDR) that’s in most vehicles today and will be in all new vehicles this fall.
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How do you get 3 million miles out of 1 car?

Irv Gordon got 3 million miles out of his car. His secret? Read the manual.There’s a certain satisfaction to getting the maximum possible use out of something you bought — squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the bottom of the tube, wearing a pair of jeans until they pretty much collapse into a pile of rags, etc.

But you’d have to work pretty hard to get more value out of a purchase than Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, N.Y. who recently became the first human to get 3 million miles out of a passenger car.

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 Cars, Insurance 

Let your car insurance company spy on your driving?

Would you let your car insurance company monitor your driving?There are big changes in the way car insurance gets priced coming, and you’ve got a chance to get in on them now. Question is, do you want to?

All the information car insurers have collected on you in the past — your age, your credit score, whether you’re married, whether you made the honor roll — are designed to help them make an educated, but ultimately flawed, guess about how likely you are to wrap your IROC around a telephone pole while trying to change your fantasy football lineup on your smartphone.

But thanks to the inexorable march of technology toward a dystopian future of robot overlords and Justin Bieber greatest hits albums uploaded straight into our brains, insurance companies now have the ability to measure directly what they could once only guess at: your driving behavior.

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