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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Consider Selling Your Car & Going Car-less

Rusted CarAmericans have a love affair with their automobiles. One of the first ways people want to show off their economic status is through buying a nice vehicle. Even the poorest college student is likely to have a car, though it may be a bit worse for wear. In fact, “Americans own an average of 2.28 vehicles per household, and more than 35 percent of households own three or more cars” (New York Times).

Surviving in America without a car is counterculture and can make life difficult, especially if you live in the suburbs or the country. However, there are times selling your car might be just the right thing to do.
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Car Thieves Love Boring Cars: Top Most Stolen Vehicles

1994 Honda Accord EX 006When we think about stolen cars, often we think of fancy sports cars or some other high-end vehicle. However, the truth is that the most stolen vehicles are often those that can be taken apart in “chop shops.”

Commonly driven cars, with parts that others can use, offer a way for thieves to make a good amount of money. Rather than trying to sell the car as a whole (which is done with the high-end cars), older models of popular brands can be sold piece by piece. This reduces the chance of recovery, as well as providing a relatively easy way to make more cash overall.

According to the National Crime Information Center, the top 10 vehicles stolen in the United States for the year 2011 were:
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Kids & Money: Are You Prepared for a Teen Driver?

Teen Driver.One of the scariest prospects that many parents face is that of having a teen driver. Many of us worry about what happens when our kids are old enough to drive. My son is still more than six years away from his driver’s license, but it’s something that I think about from time to time.

Teen drivers cost more to insure than most adults, so you have to take that aspect of the situation into account. On top of that, you also need to review your liability coverage, since your teen’s auto accident could result in having your own assets tapped if the damage is severe enough. Your auto insurance situation has the potential to become very different once the kids start learning to drive.

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How Does a Car Lease Work?

Should you lease a new carWhen it comes to getting a care to drive, the debate usually focuses on buying new or buying used. In most personal finances circles, the idea of leasing a car is repugnant. However, when I read the Four Hour Workweek a few years ago, I surprised to see that Tim Ferriss considered leasing a car an option, since it can provide you with the car you want for your lifestyle cost.

Since then, I have seen a few other posts and articles in favor of leasing a car. Generally, you can lease a car for less per month than buying. Plus, after three years or so, you can turn in the car without having to worry about selling and get a new car. While I’m happy with buying cars and driving them into the ground, I can see why those who like to regularly “upgrade” to a new car might want to lease.

But how does a car lease work? Essentially, you are renting your car instead of buying it.
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How to Get Out of a Speed Camera Ticket

Speed CamerasAll over the country, cameras are going up. Whether you see a red light camera, snapping a picture if you run the light, or whether you see a camera on the side of the road, taking an image of your speeding car, the cost of such violations can start to add up.

Speeding cameras, and other cameras, are popular because they automatically take pictures of the offending vehicles. Your license plate is seen, and the registration can be called up. Once that information is seen, your address is revealed and you can be sent a ticket.

While there is no way to guarantee that you will beat a citation if you challenge it — most of the time you are presumed guilty since the camera “caught” you — you do have the right to try and get out of the ticket.

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7 Best Cars for College Students

2010 Ford FocusAs another school draws to a close, thousands of high school seniors around the country are preparing to head off to college. For many, this means that it’s time to get a car. However, taking an expensive car to college can put financial strain on a student who is already expected to live off Ramen. If you are shopping for yourself, or for your child, it helps to be smart about the car that you choose. Choose a car that’s cheap to own.

Sometimes, the cheapest option can be to buy used. When I bought a car my freshman year, I spent about $3,000 for a used Mercury Topaz. It was a five-speed (I learned to drive stick on an old Festiva), and it got great gas mileage. My car was cheap to own, and it didn’t need a lot of repairs. It was a great option for me. However, not everyone is willing to go through the used car lots in an effort to find a good deal. Here are some ideas for cheap cars from Forbes and CNN Money, with my thoughts thrown in. You just might find something that makes sense for the student in your life:
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How to Decode Your Car’s VIN Number

Vehicle Identification NumberEver wonder how they come up with your car’s VIN? VIN stands for vehicle identification number and it’s a code that tells you a lot about the vehicle you’re driving. For the longest time, I thought a VIN on a car was a unique serial number that incremented with each manufactured car. As you can tell, I didn’t put much thought into it because it’s clear that a unique number, incremented each time, is not the best way to handle identifying cars!

As it turns out, part of the code is a unique number assigned to a single car of a single model at a single manufacturer, but much of the information contained in a VIN is not unique. Now, knowing about how the VIN works won’t save you any money on gas but now you’ll know something few people do!

(I realize my title is a case of RAS syndrome, but everyone I know says VIN number)

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Why are Gas Prices So High?

oil price hikeNot too long ago, for Spring Break, my son and I took a road trip to Arizona to visit my grandfather. One thing I noticed: As I drove farther south, the gas prices rose. By the time we reached Arizona, we were paying more than $4.00 per gallon!

I’m not the only who has noticed a rise in gas prices; there are predictions that $4.00 gas is going to be the norm for this coming summer. But why are gas prices so high? While politicians like to point fingers and blame the president, or try to find a scapegoat, the reality is that there are a number of factors that go into the price of gas.

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