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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How to Avoid Buying a Flood Damaged Car

Almost Flooded CarHurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast, and many people are still recovering. Thousands are now homeless, and even those who are able to continue living in their homes may have to get new vehicles because their vehicles were flooded and destroyed in the storm. According to The Huffington Post, “Six of the leading eight automakers in terms of U.S. sales said on Wednesday that at least 16,000 new vehicles were damaged, and the lion’s share of those will have to be scrapped. Counting cars in consumer hands increases the total loss estimated to at least 266,000 vehicles.”

Those cars that are totaled because of flooding are supposed to get a new title called a salvage title so they can be sold to the junkyard for scrap metal. However, that is, unfortunately, not always the case. Often, those cars are refurbished and put back into circulation. A flood damaged car will have many problems, and you don’t want to be the unlucky person who bought it.

Here are ways you can determine if the used car you are considering buying has been damaged by a flood:

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Is ZipCar Worth It?

ZipCarIf I lived in a city with decent transportation options, I probably wouldn’t own a car. If I lived in a city with decent transportation and ZipCar, I definitely wouldn’t own a car. As it stands, we live in the suburbs so a car is a must but I am a little jealous of my friends who don’t have to take care of a 4,000 pound piece of metal on wheels. It also appears like I’m not alone. This article about the cheapest generation, a somewhat unfair characterization, mentions how Millenials aren’t buying cars and houses like their predecessors. It made me wonder about the economics of Zipcar and whether it makes sense financially, even if it’s not practical in our situation.

ZipCar is a service where you can rent cars for a very short period of time. You join their service, which involves a driving record check and a 94% approval in 24 hours, and are issued a card. You use that card to reserve cars that are (hopefully) distributed around your local area. You rent by the hour or by the day and can do so entirely online, which tells you whether there are cars there. It’s basically a la carte car rental. The technology is actually pretty slick, you do everything with the Zipcard.

ZipCar is very well represented in cities but you’d be hard pressed to find them out in the suburbs, though there are locations. For example, there are no Zipcars in Columbia, MD where I live and the closest one is at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (next closest is in Baltimore or Washington D.C.). That’s not a viable option for me and it’s likely the case for folks living in the suburbs. If you live in a city, chances are you’ll see one nearby.

So would it make sense financially?

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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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