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.

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.


Is Your Car Ready for Bad Weather?

Photo courtesy of Homie00001/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Homie00001/Flickr

“April showers bring May flowers” and lots of unsafe road conditions. Storm season is upon us! We usually think about our homes and how to prepare them in the event of a natural disaster, but what about your car? Is it prepared to flee with you in the event of an evacuation? What if you are stranded on the highway during a severe storm? There are many things you can do to prepare your vehicle in the event of bad weather.

Car Maintenance

Life can be hectic and you always hope to make the care for your car a priority, but when the season of tornadoes and hurricanes comes around be sure to take your vehicle in for a check-up. You want your antifreeze levels to be checked and that your battery is in top condition. Brakes should be checked for wear and fluid levels and the air filter should be replaced to keep water out. Be sure that your windshield wipers are in good working condition and that all of your lightbulbs are functioning. You want people to see if your hazards are on!

Supplies on Hand

Keep an emergency kit in your car in case you are stranded. I went to the store and purchased a big rubber maid tub with a lid and filled it with the necessary items. I keep it in the trunk for that moment when I am ever stranded on the road. Your emergency kit should include flashlights and extra batteries, a first aid kit, and water. You want at least 1 gallon of water per person. You also want to include blankets, a hand cranked radio, and a car charger for your cell phone. Another way to stay prepared- keep your gas tank full! You never know when you may have to leave to go stay with friends or loved ones.

Weather Conditions

If there is flooding, do not drive. A foot of water can float your car away and even six inches may cause it to stall. After the rain has stopped and flood waters have receded, be aware of weakened areas on the road. They could collapse under the weight of your car. When in doubt, do not drive! It is always better to stay off the road in bad weather conditions than to chance it and be stuck in a ditch or stranded.

Traveling With Your Trailer

Photo courtesy of Little Island/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Little Island/Flickr

The sun is out, spring break is near, and your new travel trailer still has that new car smell. Whether you are hitting the road with your family for an eventful road trip or camping with your significant other, bringing the comforts of home with you along your journey is paramount. Knowing how to attach and drive with your trailer is key for your safety and others.

Hooking up Your Trailer

Be sure to read your vehicle’s manual or use a website like to determine the towing capacity of your vehicle. Do not ever attempt to pull a trailer that is too heavy for your car. You will risk overworking your engine. Once you have established that your car is ready, back your vehicle up toward the trailer. Once you have everything lined up, put your vehicle in park and set the parking brake. Lift the trailer socket and drop it into the vehicle’s ball hitch until it is completely sealed. Tighten bolts around the hitch by turning them clockwise with an adjustable wrench. Once this is all completed, you can plug the trailer’s wires into the towing vehicle’s electrical outlet. With the power supply hooked up, your travel trailer’s turn signals and brake lights should function properly.


Drive around your neighborhood or in an empty parking lot to get used to hauling your trailer. You will need to widen your turns and begin braking two to three seconds earlier than usual. Once you get a feel for driving with a trailer, you can begin your adventure!

Packing your trailer

You don’t want to have to worry about your items crashing back and forth. Packing your items smartly and securely will provide you the peace of mind to enjoy your vacation.

Organize your items into groups such as bathroom, kitchen, cooking, etc.  Before loading, make a list of all the items you plan to take. This will ensure that you do not bring more than you need and you will not leave any items at your campsite or rest stop. It is helpful to place cords and loose items in a bin or tub with a lid so they do not slide around during travel.

After you have taken an inventory of everything, pack items in areas where they will be used. Cooking and kitchen items near the stove, bathroom items near the bathroom and so on. This will not only provide easier access, but a quicker way of cleaning up as well.

Happy Trails!

Avoiding Engine Damage


Photo courtesy of Ernesto Andrade/Flickr

The engine is the heart of your vehicle. Take care of it and provide it with healthy nourishment, and your engine will last a long time. Neglect it, and you may be using that tax refund for a new car. Replacing or rebuilding an engine is one of the costliest maintenance issues you can have. You will be paying between $3000-9500. Here are the top causes of engine damage as well as symptoms.

If your engine light comes on do not disregard it. It is a sign that engine damage is likely occurring or you may have forgotten to tighten the gas cap. If you know the latter is incorrect, it would be wise to take your vehicle in to have it inspected.

Water flooding your engine can be a real problem. If you drive through standing water or a heavy rainstorm, the water could cause the piston rods to bend.

Do not make the mistake of taking oil changes for granted. Neglecting oil changes can cause major problems to your vehicle and then to your engine. Dirty oil stays dirty and will cause a buildup of sludge. This gunk will then restrict the flow of vital fluids needed to support your engine. This sludge can then get contaminated and start blocking pipes. Dirty, blocked pipes will eventually lead to your vehicle breaking down and your engine running dry.

Overlooking oil leaks is common. Now that we have established how important oil is to your car, if it leaks you want to pay attention. If it is leaking heavily, this could be a loss of lubrication to the metal parts of the engine. Slower leaks are more common. These include the deterioration to the rubber engine mounts, suspension bushings, and steering components.

Every time you drive your radiator uses coolant to help lower the temperatures in your vehicle’s engine. Flushing the engine’s coolant every three years or 30,000 miles is recommended to avoid overheating. Ignoring cooling system could cause blockages, failing electrical cooling fans, or loss of coolant. These can cause overheating. Do not drive your vehicle if it is overheated. This will ruin the engine.

If your engine is damaged or failing some symptoms you may see would be excessive smoke from the tailpipe, knocking or tapping sounds, low oil pressure, or low compression. If your vehicle is demonstrating any of these signs, have it looked at by a professional immediately.


Driving in Wind and Rain

Photo courtesy of Flavio/Flickr

Heavy rain and chaotic winds cause car accidents. To be safe, you must change the way you drive to accommodate conditions. Below are ways to handle your vehicle in heavy rain and high winds. In any rough weather, you need to stay focused. Turn off the radio and ignore your devices. Some may even need to cease talking to others altogether. Keep both hands on the wheel at 9 and 3 o’clock. This will decrease the chances of airbag injury.


High Winds

Anticipate wind gusts. And expect the unexpected, even if the wind has stopped. You could be in the eye of the storm so stay alert until you are safe somewhere.

Notice larger vehicles. You want to maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and others, but especially RVs, campers, trucks, buses, or trailers. These vehicles can be hazardous in sudden wind gusts by swinging out and hitting your car. If you are driving a higher profile vehicle, take extra care as these are more prone to being pushed or flipped.

Keep a firm grip on the wheel. This will help you make corrections to sudden gusts or unexpected moves by drivers around you. Make steering corrections when driving in wind protected areas to unprotected areas.

Watch for down power lines. High winds can knock down power lines as well as cause building damage and downed trees. Beware of these during and after high winds and call 9-1-1 if you come across any.


Heavy rain

Take your time and slow down. During any inclement weather you should always adjust your speed accordingly first. This will reduce your chances of skidding and more time to react. Avoid slamming on your brakes! Wet roads reduce traction on tires up to a third so you should reduce your speed by a third. If you drive too quickly, you can risk hydroplaning. When this happens your tires lose contact with the road and you have very little control of steering or braking. If it is raining lightly the road can be even more slippery since small drops of water can mix with oils and create a greasy layer.

Turn your lights on. If it’s raining, the sun is usually not out. You want to turn your headlights on so others can see your vehicle and that you can see the road better.

Give other vehicles more space. You want to stay 5 seconds behind the car in front of you. This will give you more time to stop and helps with reduced visibility caused by spray from other cars. Leaving space also provides you with an opening if you need to get out quickly.

What Are Some Emerging Trends In The Automobile Industry?

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What we once thought of as “future technology” is quickly becoming the science of today. Here are some of the upcoming advances in automotive technology.


Augmented Reality

Display screens and GPS have become common in most vehicles and in our lives but what if your car could identify external objects in front of your vehicle and tell you about them? Think Iron Man, asking his computer assistant a question and loads of information scrolling on his screen. Augmented Reality, or AR, would function in a similar way except you wouldn’t have to ask your car a question. Your dashboard would be able to identify objects in front of your vehicle and tell you how far away you are from the object. An AR GPS system could highlight the lane you need to be in or road you need to turn on. This is a great advancement for safety. For example, if you are approaching a car too quickly, a red alert would appear on your windshield and arrows would show you how to maneuver into the next lane to avoid collision.


Autonomous Vehicles

Cadillac’s Super Cruise is a semi-autonomous system that enables the vehicle to drive itself on the highway. Others, such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz, have similar systems but the Super Cruise has an eye tracking system that will enhance safety. When this system is engaged, it detects when drivers fail to pay attention and will prompt them to remain alert. This car comes out this year, in 2017. Self-driving cars are no longer a prop in sci-fi movies. Industry leaders predict that by 2025, we will be able to choose from many full autonomous vehicles. The Super Cruise is just the beginning.


Electric Everywhere

Right now, options for an electric car are limited. In the next few years however, the question will be, which one do you prefer? By 2020, most major automakers have said they will be producing one electric vehicle. This not only means there will be more to choose from, but they will be more affordable and the specifications will improve by demand.


Tech for Everyone

Advancement in technology also means the democratization of it. Traction and vehicle stability control, electronic brake force distribution, and smart stop technology are no longer features kept only for luxury or high-performance vehicles.


Do You Know When It’s Time For Brake Maintenance?

Brake servicing is one of the most routine jobs of your vehicle’s maintenance. Brake parts do not last

Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

forever and have to be checked regularly and sometimes replaced. Here are some warning signs to look for so that you can ensure one of the most important safety components of your vehicle are working properly.

Brake light on. Most vehicles today have smart electronics that let you know there is a problem. If you see one of the red or yellow brake indicators on your dashboard light up it may be time to let your mechanic take a look or you may be overdue for an inspection.

Noises. When you step on the brakes do you hear a grinding sound? What about when you stop applying the brake is there a high-pitched noise? These symptoms could be indicators of worn brake pads or lack of lubrication.

Irregular Movement. Brake rotors are big discs that sit inside of the wheels so when you hit the brake pedal, you want them to be smooth and completely even in thickness. Any vibrating or scraping in the steering wheel when you hit the brakes may be the product of uneven rotors.

Car Pulling to One Side. If your car seems to take you all the way to the left or all the way to the right when you apply the brakes, this could be caused by a bad brake hose or caliper problem. One caliper may be applying more or all the pressure during braking.

Soft Brake Pedal. The master cylinder in the brake system creates power for your brakes and has a reservoir with brake fluid. If you are experiencing a soft brake pedal or pushing your pedal all the way to the floor, you may be leaking brake fluid or there could be air in the master cylinder. This is a sign that you need immediate assistance.

Burning Smell. If there is a sharp, chemical odor when you have repeatedly made hard brakes this is a sign of overheated brakes or clutch. You must pull over, check your parking brake to be fully released, and allow your brakes to cool.

Not every sign or symptom is going to break your bank but a delay in service will cost you in the end. Brake parts do wear over time and putting off any of these problems could put you or your passengers at risk.


Thoughts On Car Buying


Photo courtesy of TC Moore/Flickr

There comes a day when you have to purchase a new vehicle. Do you buy brand new or used?

No decision is one size fits all and everyone’s needs and wants are different. There are sound reasons to buy new or used. Here a few thoughts to help your decision.



An average new car loses between 20 and 30 percent of its value the moment it leaves the dealership. Some cars can depreciate up to 50 percent in the first three years. For those that do not drive their vehicle much, this can be an economical waste but for those that drive their car or truck until the wheels fall off-this may not matter.  After a decade or two, a vehicle won’t be worth much for trade or re-sale any way.



When buying a used car, you always want to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic and obtain the history report of the vehicle. After you receive all of the vehicle’s information, you still may not know what problems lie undetected. Even if the car has been well cared for, some parts are naturally going to wear out. Maintenance and replacement costs will be higher for used than new and they are hard costs that must be addressed as they arise. If you do not have this in your budget, it can come as a unexpected surprise and burden.

New cars may come with free maintenance and warranties for the first few years of ownership. Some newly used cars may still have a portion of their new car warranty and many car companies now provide powertrain warranties up to 10 years. Always check the automaker’s rules on transferring these warranties.



There is cost of maintenance and there is the cost of time. If your car has to be in the shop a lot, can you afford to be without it for a few days? New cars spend less time in the shop on average and under warranty most dealers provide a loaner car.


There is no right or wrong answer in purchasing a vehicle but there are smarter decisions for your life situation. Sit down and make a list of what your priorities are and what you are willing to let go of. Let this be a guide as you start to research a new vehicle.