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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Be a Good Carpool Passenger

Kiss & RideAs gasoline prices continue their upward trend, more and more people are carpooling. That’s a good thing.

The bad thing is that fewer people are fairly breaking up the costs!

Personally, I’ve always felt that as a passenger in the car, I owe more than my “fair” share for gasoline. I inherently understood there were other costs involved in driving, outside of gasoline, but the main reason was because I wasn’t driving. It’s really convenient to be a passenger and so I feel like I owe more than my fair share. On some occasions, when someone else beats me to the punch in pulling out a credit card for gasoline, I’ll give them the money instead (the driver doesn’t know, which I suppose is a negative, but in the end I feel happy having paid at least my fair share). In those cases I try to split whatever they’re paying with them (if they pay more, I have zero problem paying my share of “more”).

What if you want a really fair look at costs? Well, you can go as far as to calculate the total cost of a drive, including insurance, tires, license, registration, and the works.

Back when I was driving a Acura Integra and gas was slightly cheaper, I calculated my “cost per mile” at around 7 cents. It included gasoline, insurance, tires, and a catch-all “everything” category that included windshield wipers and other routine maintenance types of things. (as an aside, knowing this information can help you make more informed decisions – like whether to drive across town to save a few cents on gas)

I personally think it all works out at the end, but if you’re a passenger, you should take the effort to make sure you aren’t taking advantage.

How do you make sure you’re a good carpool passenger?

(Photo: gennie_stafford)

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New Exotic Eco-Friendly Cars

BentleyWho said Tesla Motors had the lock on exotic eco-friendly cars? While The Tesla S Roadster is probably one of the most well known all electric vehicles, a lot of luxury car manufacturers are getting into the game and offering their own eco-friendly models. CNN Money took a peek at the prototypes from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin (who technically cheated, more on that in a second) at the Geneva Motor Show.

Ferrari has their 599 HY-KERS, Lamborghini has the Sesto Elemento, Porsche debuted the Panamera Hybrid four-door and showed off the 918 Spyder, while Bentley displayed a flex-fuel Continental GT coupe. You also had the Rolls-Royce 102EX, a plugin-in Phantom, as well as Aston Martin’s Cygnet. The one that looked out of place was Aston Martin’s Cygnet, because it’s just the Toyota/Scion iQ bathed in all the luxuries of Aston Martin. While I love the idea of subcompact tiny smart cars, I have trouble with driving such a small vehicle in the land of 80mph trucks and SUVs. Plus, if you’re thinking about starting a family… those don’t look car-seat friendly.

I’ll take one of each. :)

(Photo: crystal666)

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2010 Top Safety Pick Cars

Every year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety puts out a list of cars that earn their Top Safety Pick. The list isn’t limited by any number, it simply lists all the cars that satisfy it’s requirements which include a litany of safety tests from front and side crash tests to whiplash tests to roof crushing. The class of 2010 includes sixty-six cars, a huge increase from the twenty-seven from 2009. In 2009, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety added a roof crush test (the car’s must hold up to four times the weight of the vehicle!) that significantly cut the number of winners (in 2008, there were 72 cars).

Here are the winners based on the category of vehicle:

  • Minicar: Ford Fiesta
  • Small Cars: Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Kia Forte sedan, Kia Soul, Mitsubishi Lancer sedan, Nissan Cube, Scion tC, Scion xB, Suburu Impreza (not WRX), Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf, Wolkswagen GTI
  • Midsize Cars: Audi A3, Audi A4 sedan, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Lincoln MKZ, Mercedes C class, Subaru Legacy, Subaru Outback, Volkswagen Jetta sedan, Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, Volvo C30
  • Large Cars: Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal, BMW 5 series, Cadillac CTS, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti M37/M56, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes E class coupe and sedan, Toyota Avalon, Volvo S80
  • Small SUV: Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan
  • Midsize SUV: Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKT, Mercedes GLK, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Venza, Volvo XC60, Volvo XC90
  • Large SUV: Volkswagen Touareg
  • Minivan: Toyota Sienna

As an FYI, the Institute is a private group that is funded by auto insurers.

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Skip Fuel Saving Gimmicks, Alter Your Driving

Consumer Reports loves to find gas saving gadgets and gizmos, put them through the ringer, and report, almost never surprisingly, that it fails to increase miles per gallon fuel efficiency of a car. Then, add a little humor from the fine folks at The Consumerist and you have a thoroughly entertaining post about how there’s no possible way a particular gadget could’ve saved you gas.

Their latest target is the Fuel Doctor FD-47 and right off the start it’s obvious this thing can’t work. But, as P.T. Barnum once celebrated, there’s a sucker born every minute.

It’s almost comedic. OK wait, it is comedic.

If you want to actually save gasoline, learn how to drive more efficiently with some tips from hypermilers.

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Five Worst Car Maintenance Scams

My Favorite MechanicFinding a good mechanic or shop that you can trust is very difficult, so when you find one, it pays to stick with them. It’s why I always take my car to the same place every time I have an issue. There have been a couple times when I, or my lovely wife, have brought it in for a minor issue and they sent us on our way without a bill. One time one of us rolled over some tar that stuck to the tire, leading to a bit of a shake and some thumping. We brought it in, they scraped it off, and sent us along free of charge (they didn’t even charge for labor). That’s good service and, when you think about it, it’s how business should be done.

So that’s what makes some of these car maintenance scams so egregious. It’s businesses thinking of the short term, rather than the long term, and wanting to make a quick buck off a sucker. Many of these are scams because they don’t outright rip you off, they just overcharge you for a service you don’t need.

(click here to continue reading…)

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How to Prepare for a Car Accident

Crashed Matchbox Crown VicIf losing your job is one of the most traumatic financial disasters you can face, a car accident is a close second. When you take financial cost of an accident, regardless of who is at fault, and combine it with the physical and emotional cost, there’s almost no debate for that second place spot.

This post is part of our Financial Contingency Plan series, which helps prepare you for some of the most jarring financial disasters you could face.

Unlike a job loss, car accidents have little to no warning whatsoever. My friends was recently stopped at a light when a car hit him from behind, causing over $5,000 in damage. It wasn’t, however, the other driver’s fault. He was hit from behind by a car who didn’t realize there was a red light (and at least three cars stopped ahead of him!).

When it’s clear you’re not at fault and there are plenty of witnesses (as was the case with my friend), you have nothing to worry about. It’s all the times where it’s a little ambiguous and the other driver hasn’t claimed immediately responsibility (in writing) that preparation can save you a lot of trouble.

(click here to continue reading…)

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Best Car for Students: A Beater

Beater Used CarWhen I read this latest Bankrate article on the best car to buy for students, I was a little surprised at the very first criteria – less than $20,000. I’m twenty nine, nearly six years after graduation, and have yet to own a car that is even close to $20,000! My current car is a used Toyota Celica I bought off eBay for $16,000, 20% less than the $20,000.

Anyway, so what’s my point? Most students don’t need and won’t appreciate a new car whiel they’re in college. They certainly won’t appreciate a car that they didn’t pay for. While I appreciate Bankrate’s efforts in publishing a list of cars that are sub-$20k, fuel efficient (> 21 mpg), safe and comfortable (has A/C)… I think a student needs to drive a beater. A clunker. A piece of junk they can beat the crap out of, hence the term beater. As my dad used to say, if you start life with all the nice stuff, you never learn to appreciate it.

(click here to continue reading…)

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Make Your Own Windshield Wiper Fluid

Windshield Wipers in Heavy WaterA few nights ago, on our drive home, I remarked about the dirtiness of my wife’s windshield. That’s when she told me she’d been driving without windshield wiper fluid for a few weeks! At first I was a little surprised, then I realized it was the summer. Not having windshield wiper fluid in the winter is very dangerous, in the summer it’s only a mere inconvenience.

That’s when we started trying to guess what was actually in windshield wiper fluid. You can pick up a gallon of the blue/orange/green stuff at Wal-Mart for around $2, so we figured it couldn’t be anything too expensive. When we got home, I started research online whether it’s possible for us to make windshield wiper fluid and wasn’t surprised to find out that we could.

(click here to continue reading…)

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