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.

Safe Cars for Teens

 

Photo courtesy of Leonid Mamchenkov/flickr

As another school year comes to an end, teenagers will be hitting the road. Some may be headed to college and others with a new license. If you are thinking of buying a car for your new driver or your recent graduate, there are some things to consider. Most top safety picks are new model or luxury vehicles. Most parents chose to buy used cars for their teenage children. With this reality, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety regularly publishes a list of affordable vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers. Here are the criteria that they follow and what parents should be looking for when shopping.

All young people are ready to test limits. Some of the time this is healthy but when it comes to driving, this is not to be encouraged. When buying a vehicle for your teen, stay away from high horsepower. Do not give them the opportunity to see how fast and quickly that car can actually go.

Aesthetics may be tempting, but bigger and heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. No mini or small cars make the list. In fact, insurance data show that teens are less likely to crash a vehicle that is large in the first place.

In addition to side airbags, you want to make sure your used vehicle has electronic stability control. This safety feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, is a must. It cuts the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash in half and has been required in all but the heaviest vehicles since 2012.

While you are shopping, ensure that the vehicles you are browsing have the best safety ratings possible. They should, at minimum, have received good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, and head restraint tests and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Lastly, check for recalls. Use the vehicle identification number to check for outstanding recalls before buying and after purchasing, notify the manufacturer to receive future notices.

How to Care for Leather Interior

 

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Leather seats have been in vehicles since the 1900s and were a symbol of luxury. Today they are still a sign of affluence and are more resistant to stains and allergens than cloth seats. Some cars only have leather seating, while others have it in locations all throughout the vehicle. Caring for this type of interior requires a special cleaner and conditioner to keep the leather flexible and soft.

First, consult your car manual. It should provide, in detail, how you can properly care for leather upholstery and what products to avoid. Check to see if your seats have perforated areas. You don’t want to get water or cleaner stuck in tiny holes. When vacuuming your seats, be extremely careful so as not to scratch the leather. Use a vacuum hose or air compressor to blow out dirt or debris.

Leather should last a lifetime if you are willing to maintain it. Most owners spend their money on the best cleaners and conditioners when you could save money by just keeping your car clean day to day. Dirt and oil from your skin combine to damage the interior. The longer it is left unchecked, the more damage it can incur. For general cleaning and regular maintenance use an upholstery scrub brush. When it is time to deep clean, you can purchase leather care kits or assemble the items yourself. No matter what products you decide to purchase, always follow dilution recommendations on the labeling. Test a hidden area first for results. The conditioner should not contain petroleum distillates, silicone, or waxes. You want to replenish the oils in the leather so choose a conditioner with top quality ingredients.

Clean seats will have a layer of grime it just won’t be as visible. Take a microfiber cloth and spray it with cleaner. Wipe it over the seats and interior. Use your brush to deep clean. You can spray the cleaner directly on the leather and use the soft bristled brush to scrub. Wipe it clean with the cloth. Do not spray cleaner on perforated seats. Spray the brush instead then wipe dry with microfiber cloth.

When you apply your conditioner, use a microfiber cloth or sponge to gently rub it into the leather. If you accidentally apply too much, take another cloth and wipe off any excess. Be sure to follow the product directions. Conditioning takes about an hour and it is best to park your car in the shade or in your garage overnight so it is out of the sun. After the conditioner has soaked into the leather, take another cloth and use it to buff the seats.

Staying Safe After Dark

Photo courtesy of Dhiraj Amritraj/Flickr

Fatalities occur three times more at night than during the day according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What becomes worse at night is depth perception, ability to distinguish color, and peripheral vision. Here is how to stay safe.

Headlights are sometimes uneven or pointed lower than necessary, even in brand new vehicles. Aiming them correctly is worth your time and effort. If you choose to adjust them yourself, it is a good project for beginners. Check your owner’s manual and follow the instructions. If you still notice that your lights have a dim glow, be sure and clean them. Plastic lens covers can yellow over time. Headlight polish kits are available for upkeep. When oncoming high beams or bright road sides approach, it is very easy to become distracted. The best thing to do is to turn your gaze from other lights on the road.

Dim instrument panel and dash lights. Every vehicle comes with a dimmer switch for the dashboard and if you are driving with these lights on high they could be compromising your vision. The brightness should be turned down considerably while driving at night. Map lights should only be used if needed. Most luxury cars have focused reading lights for the passenger seats, but if your vehicle does not, avoid driving with them on.

The ads floating around proclaiming that you see better at night wearing yellow-tinted sunglasses are false. The thought is that these glasses might enhance contrast, but the Sunglass Association of America says they only make you think you do. It is best to avoid sunglasses at night or any glasses if you don’t need them as light reflects off of the surfaces. If you have to wear lenses, you can get anti-reflective coating to avoid any light bouncing around.

Windshields do not appear clean during the day but may reveal streaks that can cause glare at night. One way to polish glass is to wipe the windshield with newspaper. This will remove any residue. Don’t use your hands to touch the inside surface of the windshield. Oils from the skin smear and light will glare when it shines through. It is best to keep a cotton or microfiber cloth in your vehicle.

Be sure and keep the exterior mirrors clean. They can reflect lights behind you in a distorted way if they are dirty. Make sure they are aimed downward slightly so you can see cars behind you by tipping your head slightly forward. This will keep the other headlights out of your eyes.

Watch Out For Hail Damage!

Photo Courtesy of Jason Ilagan/Flickr

As severe weather makes its way through the spring season, hail damage comes with it. Whether it’s small quarter sized pieces that pelt against your hood or baseball sized that break your windshield, here is what you need to know to take care of your vehicle.

If you notice that your car has been damaged after a storm, call your insurance provider immediately. See if the damage is covered. Hail damage is not covered under collision insurance as no person was involved in your car’s harm. You will need additional “comprehensive insurance” to cover things like an “Act of God”. Check also to see if your policy includes glass coverage in case you need to replace a window or windshield. Discuss repair with your insurance provider and see if an estimate needs to be made. An estimate is when the dents are counted and priced and all other expenses are added up.  If so, get damage appraised. Rates should not increase in the event of hail damage.

Clean the exterior of your vehicle before getting an estimate so the body shop can clearly see the damage. Allow 30-45 minutes as they identify the severity and quantity of dents on all the panels of your vehicle. Communicate any questions you might have.

Hail damage to sheet metal may need to be hammered or painted but usually the preferred method is Paintless Dent Removal. PDR is used to pop dents back into place using a specially molded metal tool on the underside of the damaged part and won’t disturb the factory finish. If you have lots of tiny dents all over your vehicle you may simply choose to leave it alone. If you plan on keeping your vehicle forever and never reselling it, this is an option as it is an appearance issue. If you do choose to fix tiny dents, it could end up being very expensive. Smaller dents cost around $60-65 per dent with larger dents costing around $75-80. Beware of DIY kits if you have lots of tiny dents. They are out there but may end up costing you more in the long run.

Before choosing a body shop, ask your insurance company if they have a preferred provider. This could save your time and money. If you choose to go on your own, be sure and contact the Better Business Bureau or do some research. Look for someone who specializes in PDR but does not get rid of scratches or paint chips. Be sure to ask the shop how PDR works and how they access hard to reach places to make repairs. Ask if they guarantee their work and get it in writing. If you notice a flaw after your vehicle is repaired, you can then get it fixed at no additional charge. Find out how the chop handles problem.

To prevent hail damage, watch weather reports and park your car in the garage. If you do not have a garage, buy a car cover or use old blankets.