Car Shopping Tips

Photo courtesy of Michel Curl/flickr

 

Buying a car is number two to buying a home in most expensive purchases a person can make. Most people do not enjoy the process and it can be tedious and difficult to sift through lots of research. Here are some tips to ease the process.

Know when the deals are. If you are in no hurry, shopping at the end of the year is a great time to buy. End of the year models can be found cheaper and if a dealership has too many models from two years before, they mark them down drastically. The last week of the year is also great as manufacturers provide incentives and specials.

When you go to the dealership, bring some people with you that will be riding in the car with you a lot. This will help when you test drive the car. They can try out all the features in the back and all of the seats and you will know if you have enough room for that particularly tall friend. If you want a longer test drive, just ask. If there is a particular part of the car you need to test like an SUV’s four-cylinder and need to travel a little more to do that, a good salesperson will let you. Never buy a car you haven’t driven. Online research is important but it does not replace actually taking the car out on the road.

Try to go car shopping during the week, especially during the afternoon. The dealership will not be as busy and you will get more personal attention. Don’t be afraid to take advice from the salesman. You may have your eye on a sticker price, but they may know about special incentives or specials going on that would land you in a nicer vehicle at the same price. Negotiating can be a useful tool but be sure you have good sway for why you need a lower price.  Will you be referring friends to the dealership? Using their service department? You hold more power if you give them a good reason.

If you have found the car you want online and worked out a price, do as much paperwork over the phone as you can. Doing as much of the deal-making process without having to go to the dealership saves you time out of the showroom.

How to Clean Foggy Headlights

 

Photo courtesy of Nick Ares/flickr

Hazy headlights can be an eye sore after washing your car. In addition to that, they can cause visual problems while driving at night. Just like cleaning your windshield, your headlights should be a part of car detailing.

Polycarbonate or plastic replaced glass headlights in the 1980s and since then hazy or foggy headlights have become a problem. One reason your headlights may have become cloudy is that they are just dirty. Grime can build up and darken the surface of the plastic. Wash your vehicle thoroughly to see if this the case. Another reason your headlights have become cloudy is by naturally occurring oxidation. UV light, dirt, and atmospheric chemicals cause this and can build up over time. You can clean oxidized headlights by using toothpaste. Toothpaste works on headlights like it does removing stains from your teeth. It contains a mild abrasive and will buff out the surface for a smooth feel and look that will give you clearer headlights.

To clean your headlights using toothpaste, you will need the following items: car wax, masking tape, plastic or vinyl gloves, a soft cloth, water, soap, and toothpaste of any kind. First, wash the headlight with soap and water, and rinse. After allowing some time to dry, inspect the headlight again. Take the masking tape and outline the light to protect the surrounding area from accidental scuffing. You don’t want to create another problem while solving this one.  After putting on the gloves, dampen a clean soft cloth in water and add a dab of toothpaste. In small circles, firmly rub the headlight with the toothpaste. Add water and toothpaste as needed. After you see the results you want, rinse with water and allow to dry. Apply the car wax to help protect your headlights from future damage. Do this with a clean cloth and rinse one last time with water.

If you are uncomfortable using toothpaste, you may also clean your vehicle’s headlights with glass cleaner and automotive polish or a polishing compound.

If you notice any drops of water on the inside of your headlights, you will need to remove them. Oxidation can occur on the inside as well as the outside and will need to be repaired either way.

Troubleshooting Air Conditioning Issues

The Texas summer heat can drive anyone crazy but if your vehicle’s air conditioning starts to falter you want to know what the problem is as soon as possible. There are many reasons your frosty cool air may be wavering and you want to make sure it’s nothing major. Here are the most common issues and how to diagnose them. If you are experiencing any issues and are unsure, always take your vehicle to your local mechanic.

If you turn on your A/C and start to smell something funky, you may have some bacteria or fungi growing. This can happen during the winter when the air conditioning is not in use. Dark and damp interiors are perfect breeding grounds for micro-organisms. These little creatures will often make themselves known by strong odors. To get rid of this pesky problem, inspect and clean the drainage tubes of the evaporator as well as spray the appropriate chemicals straight into the blower ducts or air intake.

Weak airflow is usually because of an obstruction. Mold or mildew may have accumulated in the evaporator core. A hose could have come loose or the ventilation fan is fried.

If the air is not as cold as it usually is this could be caused by several things. Make sure the cooling fans on the condenser or radiator are running. Look for any blockages on the condenser and/or cabin air filter such as dirt or bugs. Your refrigerant or vacuum could also be leaking.

Leaks are never to be ignored. Refrigerant is a dangerous chemical that can not only harm your engine but also the environment. You can test your vehicle by using black light enabled dyes or “sniffers”. Most refrigerants are pre-mixed with a special U.V. dye that shows up under a black light. A sniffer is a device that hones in on the refrigerant’s chemical components and will “sniff” out a leak. Age and moisture are what cause leaks in vehicle air conditioning. Seals and hoses lose their elasticity over time allowing refrigerant to escape. Moisture then enters in to the system and creates a corrosive acid.

How to Make Sense of Car Seats – Part II

Photo courtesy of Henry Burrows/flickr

Always read your car owner and car seat manual before installing any car or booster seat. The harness should fit snugly. After your child has reached the age of 2 or outgrown their rear facing seat by height and weight, it is time to move them to a forward-facing car seat. Children should be buckled into a harness for as long as possible when riding in a car and at least up to age 4. The types of forward facing seats are convertible, forward-facing only, combination with harness, built-in, and travel vests.

Convertible seats are like 3-in-1. See Part I entry for more information. Forward-facing only seats are for children weighing 40 to 80 pounds. Combination seats with a harness are the combination of forward-facing and booster. The harness is what buckles the child in and the difference is their weight. Some vehicles come with built-in seats and you must check the owner’s manual to confirm height and weight limits. Do not use these seats however until your child is at least 2 years old. If your vehicle has lap-only seat belts or if your child has special needs, travel vests can be another option. Children weighing 20-168 pounds can wear them.

After your child’s height and weight has exceeded the forward-facing seat, they will transition to a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly. This is typically when they reach a height of 4 ft. 9in. or between the ages of 8-12.

When shopping for car seats, be cautious of used seats. You want to make sure the seat is no more than 5 years old, has all of its parts, is not missing any labels or model numbers from the manufacturer, and has the instruction manual. If you have any doubts at all or if it does not seem sound, do not buy it. If you do purchase a used seat, contact the manufacturer for any recalls or if there have been any replacement parts.

If your child is taken to school or picked up by someone else be sure they are using the correct seat and that it fits properly in their vehicle. Child care facilities and programs should have written guidelines for transporting children including staff to child ratios, emergency planning, and other safety requirements.

You can always find updated information at www.cdc.gov.

How to Make Sense of Car Seats Part I

Even though crash deaths have declined in the past decade by 43%, they still remain the leading cause of death for children. Most of these deaths can be prevented by simply buckling up. Unfortunately, only two states (Tennessee and Wyoming) have child passenger restraint laws. These require a car seat or booster for children 8 years and under. Numbers have shown that if there is a law that requires a car seat or booster seat up to age 7 or 8, usage tripled and deaths declined by 17%. In Texas, the law covers children in car or booster seats up to ages 6-7. Since car riding begins at birth, here is how you can keep your child safe.

 

All children under the age of 12 need to sit in the back seat and in the middle if possible. Always, always read the vehicle’s owner and car seat manual before installing a car seat. Some car seats must be installed using your vehicle’s LATCH system. LATCH stands for lower anchors and tethers for children. This can be used instead of the seat belt and in some cars, it is easier to use. Below is a diagram for the LATCH system. The top tether is important for forward facing seats. The lower anchor is located in the back seat and all car seats have attachments that fasten to these anchors.

 

Not all car seats are created equal. Parents and caregivers need to know how to use car seats, booster seats, and seat belts correctly. Infants and toddlers need to be buckled into a rear facing car seat. This starts with their first ride home from the hospital all the way until they are 2 years old or meet the weight and height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. There are three types of rear facing car seats: rear-facing only, convertible, and 3-in-1. Rear facing only should be used for infants weighing up to 22 to 40 lbs., are small with carrying handles, and usually come with a base that the seat clicks in and out of. Convertible seats can be used longer by your child because they can be converted from rear facing to forward facing. These seats do not come with carrying handles and are bulkier. Convertible seats are ideal for bigger babies and toddlers as their weight and height limits are higher. 3-in-1 seats are just what they sound like, three seats in one. They can be used as rear or forward facing as well as a belt positioning booster. This seat is meant to grow with your child and is often big in size. It is important to make sure that it fits in your car before purchasing.
Part II will be about ages 2 and older.

Summer Car Maintenance

 

Summer is travel time and for most people that means in the car for hours on end. Before packing up the kids, there are ways to ensure that your trip will not be ruined by a busted A/C. Here is a summer checklist of how to care for your car in the summer heat.

When temperatures rise, tire pressure changes. For every 10 degree increase in the air the pressure in your tires will change approximately 1-2 PSI (pounds per square inch). Most people disregard tire pressure but an under-inflated, over-inflated, or even worn down tire can be very dangerous, especially in hot weather. You can check the pressure yourself by consulting the owner’s manual of your vehicle and using a hand pressure gauge. If you are not comfortable checking yourself, any mechanic can do it for you.

Summertime is when your engine is likely to overheat. Maintaining your oil changes will ensure that this does not happen. The oil in your car is what lubricates the engine and reduces friction. The suggested mileage for changing your oil and filter is 3,000-5,000 miles but if you are planning a long road trip, it is best to have it checked before you leave. Another thing to remember about all fluids in your vehicle is that as temperatures rise, liquids evaporate. It is easy to check what needs to be topped off in your vehicle but if you are unsure, just ask your mechanic.

Cooling systems are vital in the Texas heat of summer. Vehicles are designed to run hot but there is a limit. If you sit in traffic most of the day, your car doesn’t get the airflow it needs to keep it cool. If an engine is allowed to get too hot, moving metal parts can start to melt and fuse together. Make sure your vehicle’s cooling system is up to date. Check antifreeze levels, cracked hoses, radiator leaks, or broken belts. If you notice a puddle under your car after being parked for a while, this may be a sign that you have a coolant leak.

Batteries are another component affected by the heat. High temperatures can speed up chemical reactions in a battery and overcharge it, shortening the battery’s lifespan. The internal battery fluid can also evaporate in the heat and this can cause corrosion. One way to ensure your battery’s health is to keep it clean. Detach the battery cables and wipe off the terminals. After cleaning, make sure the battery is secured tightly. You can also take your battery to your mechanic to have it inspected.

Checking the A/C is easy to remember but it goes beyond just turning it on and topping off the refrigerant. The belt that powers your A/C may also be powering other parts of the engine. If you suspect that something is wrong with the A/C in your car, take it by your mechanic and have them check it out. They can also tell you if you need to have a specialist recycle the Freon in your car as it is now illegal in some states to refill.

June Car Shows In DFW

Photo courtesy of Darij & Ana/flickr

Summer is upon us! Grab the kids or grandkids and head out to the many events. Here is what is happening in June.

Saturday, June 3

Monthly Muscle Car Show, Gazeebo Burgers, 6009 Parker Rd., Plano, TX

4:30pm-8:30pm

Every first Saturday of the month you will find burgers, fries, and cars! Event is free for spectators and only $10 to enter your vehicle. This entry fee will enter you into drawing for cash and door prizes as well. Cars are judged electronically and there are over 15 classes you can show.

 

Cars and Coffee, Classic BMW, 6800 Dallas PKWY, Plano, TX

7:00am-11:00am

Gather your friends for this monthly event featuring hot rods, military vehicles, classics, and more! Event is free to the public.

 

Saturday, June 17

 

Calvary Car Show, 401 W. Church St., Grand Prairie, TX
3:00-8:00pm

Join the Calvary Baptist Church for its 7th annual fundraiser and car show. There will be 20 divisions and over 30 awards given. Categories include most original (unrestored), foreign class, and ugly duckling. All entries are eligible for over 50 prize drawings including a raffle for a new Honda lawn mower. There will also be concessions, crafts, and a kiddy carnival. You can register on site and entry fee is $20. All proceeds will help send kids to summer camp. The event for spectators is free.

 

Dads, Dogs, and Cars, The Oxford Grand, 2851 Orchid Dr., Mckinney, TX

10:00am-2:00pm

Kick off Father’s Day weekend with music, food, and cars! The Oxford Grand will be hosting the Morning Maniac’s Car Show, Grisham Farms Petting Zoo, and pet adoptions from the Collin County shelter and SPCA of North Texas. The event is free but you must RSVP by June 14 here.

 

Sunday, June 18

 

Northwood Church Revive Ministry Car Show, 1870 Rufe Snow Dr., Keller, TX

9:00am-2:00pm

Revive Ministries is a respite program for families with special needs children. Come and show your support for Northwood’s 4th annual car show. 40 awards will be given as well as door prizes and raffles. There will be BBQ, ice cream, and more. Over 200 cars are expected. Tickets are $15 if purchased before June 4, $20 after. All proceeds go to support Revive Ministries.

 

Saturday, June 24

 

Cops-n-Cruisers Car Show and Charity Event, Old Town, W Ellison, Burleson, TX

12:00-4:00pm

Vehicle and motorcycle registration begins at 11:00am and there is a $25 entry fee per vehicle. Raffles and door prizes will be given throughout the event as well as a live auction. Come and support the Blue in Burleson! Proceeds will benefit the Burleson Police Foundation.

 

Hillsboro Car Show and Hot Rod Run, Roadside American Museum, 212 E. Elm, Hillsboro, TX

7:00pm-12:00am

Come and visit the historic downtown of Hillsboro. This event is free to the public and there will be hundreds of hot rods, custom and classic cars and bikes as well as food vendors and local shopping.

 

Traveling with Pets

 

Photo courtesy of Steve Baker/flickr

Some trips just can’t be made without your four legged loved ones. Traveling for pets however is always more stressful for them than for you. Traveling with your pet involves more than just putting them in the car and hitting the road. Here is how you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

 

Preparation

Just like you would prepare for a long trip, your pets need the same attention. Contact your vet to ensure that your pet is up to date with vaccinations and if they might need vaccinations for where they are going. There could be different threats in different environments such as Lyme disease. If your pet has never been in the car before, take some short trips to get them acclimated. If they are used to the car, take a longer trip then you usually would to the park or groomers. If you are traveling across state lines it is helpful to have their vaccination records with you as some states do require them. If something were to happen and you got separated from your pet, make sure their microchip or tags are updated before you leave. You want your contact information to be correct if someone needs to call you.

Make a travel kit just for them. Stock it with food, a water bowl, leash, waste scoop and baggies, grooming supplies, medication and first aid, and any travel documents. If they have a favorite toy or pillow pack that as well to give them a sense of comfort and familiarity. Pack plenty of water and do not feed them while traveling in the car if possible.

 

Carriers and Crates

Your pet’s crate or carrier should be well ventilated and large enough for them to sit, stand, lie down, or turn around in. Before putting them in, secure the carrier so that it won’t slide or shift if you have to stop abruptly. If your pet is fine to travel without a crate or carrier, keep them in the back seat secured in a harness attached to a seat buckle.

Never leave pets alone in a parked vehicle. On a hot day, vehicles can become furnaces even with the windows down. In cold weather, the car acts like a refrigerator and your animal can freeze to death.

Registering Your Vehicle

 

Someone told a story the other day about a co-worker who had gotten their car inspected twice and had trouble figuring out what to do next. Registering your vehicle in Texas can be confusing even if you have lived here for years.

If you are new to Texas…

Welcome! After you move here, you have 30 days to register your vehicle. The first thing you will need to do is to have your vehicle inspected. You can find the nearest inspection station online here. Many service stations and mechanics are certified. Be sure and bring your insurance card.  Texas requires that you have insurance coverage for a minimum of $30,000 per injured person, up to a total of $60,000 for everyone injured in an accident, and $25,000 for property damage. There will be a small fee for inspection due at the time of service. After your car is inspected you will receive a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR).

The next step is to get your plates and registration sticker. Contact your local county tax-assessor collector’s office and bring your insurance policy in full, proof of vehicle inspection (VIR), and proof of ownership. This can be registration or title from another state or foreign/military ownership document. There is a form you will need to fill out, Form 130-U and you can download that here:

First time fees for new registration can be steep but most will only have to be paid once.

 

Base Registration Fee $50.75
TexasSure $1
Sales Tax Related Fees $90 or difference between previous state sales tax
State Portion of Vehicle’s Inspection varies

 

While there, be sure and ask to be signed up for eReminder. This program will send you an email when it’s time to renew and you will be able to do everything online.

Lastly, you will need to get a new driver license. You have up to 90 days to acquire this and this can be taken care of at the Texas Department of Public Safety office.

 

If you are a current resident…

There are three options. You can renew online, by mail, or in person.

You can renew your vehicle online 90 days before the expiration date or up to six months after if you have not received a citation. Your expired month will not change. After two days of processing your payment, it may take up to a week before your registration sticker is mailed. Renew your registration online here:

If you choose to renew by mail, you must send the following to your county tax office: renewal notice, copy of your VIR, proof of current insurance, and all fees listed due on your renewal notice.

If you choose to renew in person, you must take your renewal notice and proof of current insurance to your county or approved substation.

Shopping for Tires

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine/flickr

Why Tires Matter

At the end of the day, tires are the single most important safety feature on any vehicle. Anti-lock brakes are great, but they only stop the wheels from turning. It’s the grip of the tires that brings your car to a stop. There are many different kinds of tires and no one is better than the other. It all depends on what you need for your vehicle and environment.

 

Different Types

Each type of tire is designed to maximize grip under specific road conditions and can make a big difference in how your car accelerates, stops, and handles.

If you are an average driver, all season tires are offered in many sizes and models. They offer ride comfort and wear life throughout moderate climates and changing seasons. The tread compound and pattern of these tires can be utilized to deliver a variety of characteristics, including fuel efficiency, long wear life, and wet traction.

If you are driving a high-performance vehicle, you want to look for summer tires that are made for speed and agility. These tires are made to increase responsiveness and have cornering and braking capabilities. The tread patterns have larger grooves for water to evacuate and put more rubber in contact with the road.

If harsher winters are what you will be driving in, than winter tires are what you need. The advancement of winter tire technology has grown in recent years. These tires are specially designed to remain flexible at extremely low temperatures. The tread is designed for enhanced grip which maintains traction in snowy, icy, or wet surfaces.

 

When Shopping

You get what you pay for and cheap tires will make for less control in an emergency. Buy tires with an A or AA rating. That being said, do not overspend for tires you may not need. Like many products, name brand will be more expensive but there are lesser-known manufacturers that provide exceptional products for lower prices.

Local mechanics and dealerships may be your go to for car issues, but for tires you want to find a full-service tire dealer. They can provide a wide range of models and brands and will be familiar with local weather and conditions. When purchasing your tires, buy four tires at once. It’s best to replace all at one time but if you must only buy two, replace them in pairs. Put the new tires on the back, regardless if the car is front or rear wheel drive. Older tires on the rear will make the car more likely to spin out. Do no neglect the maintenance of your tires, even if they are brand new. Have the pressure and wear routinely checked.