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 Buy A Car

Gateway Motors, Simca, Jacksonville, FLDo you absolutely hate going to the dealership and buying a car? Do you hate the games, the time wasted, the haggling and the long drawn out dance? It’s one of the reasons why CarMax has been so popular (we bought a car from CarMax just last year because they offered the best price and no dance), people just hate this silly game that dealerships make you play just to buy a car. The reality is that your average car buyer, who buys a car only one time every few years (hopefully many years if they’re lucky) is up against someone who sells cars every single day. We’re just not well equipped to battle in this arena, which is why buying a car when you’re a dealership, on their home field, is a mistake.

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2012 Hybrid & Electric Car Tax Credit Update

Tesla Model SMany many years ago in a Congress far far away a law was passed that offered tax credits for the purchase of hybrid cards and light trucks. The law was the Energy Act of 2005, the Congress was the 109th, and President Bush was the one who signed it. It created a tax credit of up to $3,400 for qualifying vehicles but the credit expired when 2010 came to a close.

What took its place was a new tax credit on electric vehicles created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Electric vehicles purchased in or after 2010 is eligible for up to $7500 in tax credits.

Here’s what the two associated sections say:
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Money Leaks: Warming Up Your Car

Snowy BeetleAs winter approaches North America, temperatures are falling. Just a few weeks ago, we had our first few snowflakes and freezing temperatures; though that went by without much incident. When the temperatures drop, one money leak begins to creep its ugly head – warming up your car.

Warming up your car refers to turning on the engine and letting it run idle to “warm” it up. The idea with letting it warm up is that it’s like you stretching. You let the engine idle a little before making it do any real work. It sounds great in theory but it’s completely unnecessary. Your car doesn’t need this and you’re just wasting fuel.

This is the latest edition of our new series called Money Leaks.

There’s another type of “warming up your car” that people refer to and that has to do with the inside of your car. Sometimes you like to let the engine run so it can get hot and begin delivering hot air into the cabin. Again, that sounds great except it’s costing you money. Much like how your mom probably told you to put on a sweater when you were cold, rather than turn up the thermostat, it’s better for you to avoid this when possible. (Also, the engine gets warmer when you’re driving… so just get going)

If you live in a place where ice can develop, some of these rules go out the window because you need heat to melt the ice before you can safely proceed. If you live in one of those areas, you probably already know this. If you don’t live in an area like this, quit idling your car and throwing money out the window. :)

(Photo: spakattacks)

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Buying a Car: New or Used?

New car or used carI hate shopping for cars. As a result, I try really hard to ensure that I get a good value for a car so that I don’t have to shop for one anytime soon. My husband and I still have the first car we bought as a married couple. We bought it nine years ago, shortly after our son was born and we got sick of trying to throw a bulky carrier in the back of a two-door vehicle (which we traded in, just so we wouldn’t have to deal with it). Since then, we have added another vehicle to our establishment.

However, as the 2001 Saturn ages, we are again turning our thoughts to car shopping. We’ll probably hold off for a little while longer, since the car has remained reliable and is decent condition, thanks to the magic of proper car maintenance. As we think more about what’s next, though, it seems apparent that we will soon have to decide between a new car and a used car.

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How to End Your Lease Early

CarThe buy versus lease debate has raged since the auto lease became popular but one thing is for certain about a lease: You aren’t going to end it early without paying a lot of money to do it. The recent economic headwinds have caused a rise in not only lease defaults but also people who, due to a job loss or other economic event, want to terminate their lease early. When they call the leasing company or go to the dealership where they leased the vehicle, they learn that early termination of a lease is difficult and expensive.

Why? Because the monthly payment for your car lease is calculated with the assumption that you’re going to hold the lease through the end of the term. If you don’t, the leasing company loses a lot of money in part, because they have to recoup the cost they incur for the depreciation of the car. The earlier you terminate your lease, the less money they recoup.  Although you’re probably going to have to pay something to get out of your lease, there are ways to greatly minimize the payment.

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Money Leaks: Buying Premium Gasoline

Imperial Gas PumpI have a friend who absolutely loves his car. It’s not a fancy car, it’s just new to him and he treats it like his baby. He takes very good care of it, gets it washed once a week (more if he gets it dirty), and is generally a very caring owner. He also fills up with premium gasoline because, well, he thinks the gas is “better.” The only problem is that, just like his once a week car washes, he’s leaking money like crazy. While it’s debatable whether or not you really need to wash your car once a week, it’s almost certainly a leak if you go to a car wash, putting premium gasoline into a car that doesn’t need one is completely unnecessary. It’s as bad as putting regular unleaded into a car that demand premium.

Is premium gasoline better? “Yes.” Yes is in quotes because it’s better at handling compression. The higher octane means it can be compressed more before exploding. Cars that require premium gasoline will compress the gasoline to much higher PSI before igniting it. If you put regular unleaded into a premium gasoline engine, it’ll misfire. The fuel will ignite before the engine is ready and that’s the reason you’ll hear “knocking.”

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How to Donate a Car

Donate Your CarWe listen to a lot of NPR (WAMU) and every so often we’ll hear a pitch to donate our “used vehicle, RV, boat or airplane.” We considered donating our private jet, seeing as how they’ve fallen out of favor ever since the auto company CEOs used theirs to a Congressional hearing, but just haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

One thing we have done, though this predates our appreciation of NPR by several years, is donate a used car to a charity. About seven years ago, my wife’s car died (blown head gasket) and it didn’t make financial sense to repair it. We were looking around at our options and decided that donating it to a local school was the best option for us (I mentioned the car in passing in my post on why you should donate your car).

So how do you donate your car? It’s a simple three step process.

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Car Problems You May Be Able To Ignore

Car MechanicI drive a 2005 Chevy Aveo that I bought new. In case you have never owned one, they were made with sub-par parts. For example, the thermostat housing was made of plastic. Thermostat housings are near the engine, so within 3 years, it had gotten so hot on and off that it cracked in two. Amazingly, the replacement part was metal. Long story short, I have looked into what problems can be ignored and what problems can’t when it comes to a car like mine. Please keep in mind that I am not an auto professional – I just own a cruddy one and am sharing my experiences.

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