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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Could This Damage Your Car?

Undercover investigation examines services at some big name repair shops

By Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg

Updated 11:40 AM PST, Wed, Nov 12, 2008


Inside a Jiffy Lube on Pico and San Vicente in Los Angeles, a service technician tries to sell an undercover NBC Los Angeles employee an "engine flush" or engine cleaning.

"Engine cleaning every two years, 30,000 miles is required for the vehicle," the technician says.

But NBC Los Angeles has heard from customers across the country, who say their engines broke down after having an engine flush.

At the Jiffy Lube we went to on Pico, the technician says the engine flush will prolong the life of the engine on our Honda Accord test car.

An engine flush is where they pour a chemical solvent into your engine, supposedly to flush out old sludge.

When our undercover person asks, "is that something that Honda recommends?" Than technician says, "It requires it every two years, every 30,000 miles."

That's not true. Our car's maintenance schedule says nothing about an engine flush.

"After engine flushes, there's a pretty high incidence of some damage to the interior of the engine," Chris Martin of Honda tells NBC Los Angeles.

That's why Honda issued a memo to mechanics advising them not to perform engine flushes. Other major car-makers, including Ford, General Motors, and Nissan have all issued similar advisories against the service.

Why? Over time, gummy deposits can build up inside your engine. The chemicals used for engine flush, are supposed to break up those deposits. But car-makers say, pieces of that broken up sediment can clog up other parts of the engine and ruin it.

The car ran perfectly before I took it in that day," says Pat Marriott. He took his Nissan Sentra to a Jiffy Lube in Kansas City. "They sold me, really sold me hard on an engine flush," Marriott tells NBC Los Angeles.

He says three days later, on the highway his car broke down and he had to replace his engine for $5000.

That's because Nissan and other car-makers say damage resulting from engine flushes won't be covered by your warranty.

At other Jiffy Lube's, like one on Overland in West Los Angeles, they offered us other services like a fuel injection cleaning. That's where they put a chemical cleaner into your fuel injectors.

When the NBC Los Angeles undercover person asked the technician, "does Honda recommend that?" He said, "It's every 15,000 miles or every year, recommended."

That's also not true. Honda and other big car-makers say fuel injection cleaning is an improper repair procedure.

"Using the cleaner, using a fuel injection cleaning system can cause harm to other injectors," Martin tells NBC Los Angeles.

Jiffy Lube isn't the only major chain recommending services car-makers say could be harmful. It happened to us at EZ Lube.

When our undercover person asked a technician at one of their locations in Silverlake, "Does Honda recommend an engine flush?" He replied, "They recommend... everything I'm telling you. We go by whatever the manufacturer recommends."

Our undercover person asks him for proof, since EZ Lube's computer lists all manufacturer recommendations, but there's no engine flush listed. The undercover employee asks him, "How come they're not on the computer?" The technician replied, "I don't know."

Across town at an EZ Lube near Santa Monica, technicians push a $99 transmission service using a high tech flushing machine.

Our undercover employee asks the technician, "does Honda recommend that it be done with a machine like that?" The technician responds, "Correct. That's the only way you can do it."

But Honda's memo to mechanics clearly says "do not use transmission flushing machines" because of the risks to the car.

All told four out of five Jiffy Lube's, and five out of five EZ Lube's pushed services car-makers don't recommend, but technicians told us the opposite.

We went back to the manager at that Silverlake EZ Lube.

"You said Honda recommends an engine flush. That's not true. Why did you say that?" NBC Los Angeles Investigative Reporter Joel Grover asked.

"I don't know," he replied.

As for those technicians at Jiffy Lube who didn't tell us the truth, they wouldn't talk to us on camera and neither would their bosses.

Executives at Jiffy Lube and EZ Lube declined our offer to watch our undercover tape, and do interviews.

But in separate statements, both companies said it was unacceptable for their employees to misrepresent certain services as manufacturer recommendations, when they're not.

EZ Lube says some of the employees we caught doing this will be terminated.

Jiffy Lube says they're taking steps to minimize the chance of it occurring again and they want to hear from any unhappy customers.

Jiffy Lube can be reached by phone at 800-344-6933.

EZ Lube can be reached by phone at 800-559-5823 or email info@ezlube.com.

Friday, October 17, 2008

11 Secrets of Auto Detailing

(AOL Autos) -- Taking care of your car's appearance doesn't qualify as vanity, it's smart vehicle ownership. You can hire a professional auto detailer to care for your car for $100 to $500 -- or you can swipe their secrets, do it yourself and save some dough.

To remove stubborn pet hair from your car's carpets, put on a pair of latex gloves, experts suggest.

There are a few professional organizations for detailers, like the National Association for Professional Detailing & Reconditioning (NAPDR) and the Professional Detailers Association, where you can find references for local detailers, but membership in either or any organization does not guarantee competence.

If you're going to hire a detailer, ask a lot of questions, ask for references and to see sample work, and agree to a price in writing before the detailing work begins.

"There are no secrets in this business anymore," said NAPDR Membership Chairman Randy Lowe, who also owns Randy's Custom Detail in Salem, Oregon. With the free flow of information on the Internet, do-it-yourselfers have access to all of the tools and tricks of the trade available to the pros.

If you choose to detail your own ride, be prepared to spend a little bit of money gathering the proper tools and materials.

You may already have most of the right stuff handy in your garage; if you must gather everything from scratch, you might spend from $30 to $100 or more, depending on how extensive you want your detail job to be. AOL Autos: Most popular fuel-efficient cars

The most important material that you'll need is already in your tool kit. For Lowe, the secret ingredient is hard work and elbow grease.

There are few automotive maintenance chores that are more satisfying, accessible to all skill levels and truly beneficial for your car than a good detail job.

We've collected the top secrets that will help you to get professional results, make your detailing more fun, more successful and easier.

Secret #1: Use two buckets to wash

Detailers know that the two bucket method is the best way to get your exterior clean. Use one bucket to hold your clean suds, and another bucket to hold clean water. Before you dip your cleaning mitt into the clean suds, rinse it off in the clean water bucket and wring it dry.

Then, you're always putting a clean mitt into the clean suds that will go on your car. If you only use one bucket, you're just moving dirt off of your car, into your suds and back onto your car.

Some pros have started using the Grit Guard insert, a $9.99 tray that helps sediment settle to the bottom of your wash bucket, instead of getting stirred up in the water and recollected on your wash mitt. AOL Autos: Hybrids that will save you the most

Secret #2: Join the microfiber revolution

We're living the microfiber revolution. Pro detailers use color-coded, task-specific microfiber cloths and towels for greater efficiency, lower friction and scratching and easier washing, rinsing and drying. Mike Pennington, director of training and consumer relations for Meguiars, emphasizes that it's important to wash your microfiber as a separate load, not mixed in with the regular laundry and rags.

Microfiber will trap the lint from cotton towels, defeating the purpose of the wash. Use very little detergent and skip the fabric softener, which will coat the fibers and inhibit microfiber's qualities. Double up on the rinse cycle, and your microfiber will perform at its best. Remove any labels and stitching before you use your towels to avoid scratching.

And remember, you get what you pay for -- those cheapo packs of microfiber from the warehouse store are not nearly as good as the ones you can find at online specialty stores.

Secret #3: Detail your trim first

This tip comes from Jim Dvorak, a product specialist at Mothers Polish. He suggests using a trim protectant/restorer like Mothers' Back to Black before waxing your paint. Wash and dry your vehicle, then apply the trim protectant.

The product will repel polish and wax that might otherwise stain your trim. Some pro detailers use masking tape to protect the trim during waxing -- this application can help save time and cleanup.

Secret #4: Use a buffer to apply product, a towel to remove

Consumers sometimes get confused by the name of the tool, and use a power buffer to remove wax or polish from the painted surfaces of their cars. A buffer can leave erratic swirl marks in your clear coat and paint if used to remove product, that's not what it's for.

Use the buffer to apply wax, and then use a soft, dry cloth to remove it. You'll avoid burning the paint or damaging the clear coat, and you'll wind up with a thin, even coat of wax.

Secret #5: Get a dual action polisher

For just a little bit more than you'd spend on a good direct drive polisher and an orbital polisher, you can get the perfect blend of both tools with a dual action polisher like the Flex XC 3401 VRG, which retails for around $280.

Based in Stuttgart, Germany, Flex has been making tools since 1922, and has been building dedicated auto finish polishers since 1988. The XC 3401 VRG is detailer Randy Lowe's favorite tool for exterior finishes. He says that it will handle 90% of the polishing chores you will encounter.

Meguiars' Dual Action Polisher ($149) is a little more consumer friendly, and a little less expensive than the Flex. It doesn't have the forced rotation, which keeps the tool moving even under a heavy load. Forced rotation is a great feature for an expert who knows how to use it; in inexperienced hands, it can do more harm than good.

Secret #6: Use a clay bar system

This secret may be out of the bag already, but it's such a good one that it bears repeating. There's no better way to remove surface contaminants from paint than with a good clay bar system. Pros have been using clay for years, and consumer versions have been on the market for at least a decade.

A good clay bar system includes a spray lubricant, usually a detailing spray, an 80 - 100 gram clay bar, and a towel. According to Mike Pennington from Meguiars, after washing and drying your car, you rub the clay bar on the paint to remove "bonded environmental contaminants" without removing paint thickness.

The smoother paint surface takes polishing and wax better, and extends the life of subsequent treatments. Meguiars' Smooth Surface Clay Kit retails for $19.99; Mothers' California Gold Clay Bar Paint Saving System is $19.95.

Secret #7: Use a plastic grocery bag to check the paint surface

Hers's another tip from Jim Dvorak at Mothers. Once you have cleaned your paint's surface of contaminants with a clay bar system or other cleaner, it's important to make sure that you've really removed all the dirt before you seal the surface with wax.

Put your hand in an ordinary thin plastic grocery bag, and run it over the surface of the paint. The plastic bag will amplify any bumps and imperfections, so that you can go back and detail again. Keep rechecking until the surface is totally smooth, then polish (if necessary) and apply protective wax.

Secret #8: Dry your glass in two directions

Here's a great tip from Meguiars' Pennington: Dry your glass in two directions. Get into the habit of doing your final wipe of interior glass in a horizontal direction, and the final wipe on the exterior in a vertical direction.

Then, when you find the inevitable streak, you'll instantly know whether it's on the inside (horizontal) or the outside (vertical) of the glass. You'll get perfectly clear glass without jumping in and out of the vehicle chasing that streak.

Secret #9: Brush it first

Pennington says that when it comes to cleaning interiors, mechanical agitation is always better than chemical intervention. That means that your first line of attack is a good brush.

For instance, before vacuuming your carpeting, de-mat the fibers by using a stiff nylon brush. Then, when you vacuum, the dirt will be free in the carpet, and will be much easier to extract. The same goes for door panels, though you'll want to use a gentler brush. If more aggressive cleaning is necessary, start gently, use a gentle solution of fabric cleaner, and dry with a soft cotton cloth.

Secret #10: Make static electricity your friend

To remove stubborn pet hair from your car's carpets, put on a pair of latex gloves (readily available in boxes of 100 from any home improvement store) and then rub your hand over the carpet. The static electricity caused by the latex glove will help bring the pet hair up to the surface of the carpet for easy removal by hand or vacuum.

Secret #11: Leave the headliner alone

According to Pennington, there's one part of the car that detailers avoid if at all possible: the headliner. Even a little bit of agitation can cause the glue in a headliner to fail, causing way more problems than it is worth. Keep your ministrations to a minimum when it comes to cleaning, brushing and tending to the headliner fabric.

If you positively must clean your headliner, use very little moisture, and never allow it to soak through the outer fabric.

Auto detailing can be a great way to bond with your car, and to make your automotive investment go farther, last longer and look better. Hopefully these top secrets will help you and your ride along the way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fine tuning your auto insurance

(AOL Autos) -- We keep our cars tuned up, but what about our automobile insurance? Recently I had a chat with an insurance broker. The topic of conversation? Smart insurance buying.

The hospital bill from the people you hit can be expensive, so buy as high a liability limit as you can afford.

The hospital bill from the people you hit can be expensive, so buy as high a liability limit as you can afford.

After our conversation I realized that the biggest mistake an uninformed consumer makes is to regard insurance coverage as a commodity... as generic as the oil purchased for the car.

An insurance policy is a personalized service contract that provides coverage for you and your family in the event of an accident. When you read your auto policy the language is anything but simple. And everyone knows it's not inexpensive!

To regard auto insurance as a "necessary evil" to be purchased as cheap as possible is a foolish and ignorant approach to this very necessary aspect of driving an automobile.

Based on our conversation, here's how to get the biggest "bang for your buck" when purchasing automobile insurance:

Buy as high a liability limit as you can afford

This is the coverage that protects you in the event you get into an accident and are accused of negligence. Remember, a lawsuit can be brought against you despite your culpability - and damages sought in today's court actions seldom fall below six figures.

Often the spouse of the injured party seeks more than $100,000 for "loss of services." This doesn't include the dollars requested for the injured party. Question... how far would your present policy go in responding to this kind of a suit?

Be realistic, not ridiculous in determining the amount of liability you need. Most insurance companies will write liability coverage up to at least $500,000. Adding an umbrella liability policy in the amount of one, two, three million (or more depending on your situation) will go a long way in protecting you.

Only buying $50,000 coverage? See how long that lasts you when you get the hospital bill from the party you hit for three or four weeks... oh, and I forgot about the "loss of services."

Buy supplemental uninsured motorist coverage

This is the coverage that protects you in the event you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, or a motorist with low limits of liability insurance coverage. AOL Autos: 10 cheapest cars in U.S.

Let's say that you're involved in an accident resulting in serious injury to you, and possibly your passengers. No matter what the amount a court might award, if the negligent party has inadequate liability coverage and few assets, your award is of little value.

The Supplemental Uninsured Motorist portion of your policy provides the liability coverage the other driver should have had, up to the limit you carry on your policy.

Carry high deductibles on your physical damage

Higher liability as well as Supplemental Uninsured Motorist coverage means higher premiums. A good way to help pay for this is to carry as high a deductible on your collision and comprehensive as you can reasonably afford. This brings the price of the premiums down.

Consider dropping physical damage on older vehicles

This is not an easy call. Typically, an insurance company charges less for collision and comprehensive on an older vehicle. In general, when a vehicle is six years old or more, it's worth considering this change.

Things to take into consideration when trying to make this call are value of the vehicle, its condition, how much you drive it, and the policy charge for the coverage. At some point the charge for the coverage will not be worth what you could collect in the event of a loss.

Never skimp on liability coverage in order to pay for less important physical damage coverage on a vehicle that is worth less than what the policy would pay in the event of a loss.

Deal with an agent that has your confidence

Make sure your agent gives you the service you need. Ask questions about coverage under different scenarios and ask for recommendations. Deal with a full-service agency; one that offers all the products you need and has the staff to make the complex insurance marketplace bearable.

People spend money on maintaining their cars and ignore their insurance coverage. When you get in an accident and have the other party's lawyers breathing down your neck is not the time to find out that your insurance coverage was inadequate.

Get with your agent and tune up your insurance policy now!!!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

5 Things You Never Do to A Car!

AOL Autos) -- Most people know not to stick their fingers through the bars at the zoo -- though some don't and get to learn from the experience. Likewise, there are things you should never do to your car or truck that can have consequences every bit as unpleasant -- and sometimes as permanent -- as offering your succulent fingertips to a hungry rhesus monkey.

These include:

Sunny day car wash: Dousing your car with water in bright sunlight can be ruinously bad for its finish. First, the sun heats up the metal to the point it's scalding hot to the touch. Then, you add some nice tepid tap water -- which is immediately boiled off the finish, along with caustic soap and whatever grime you didn't clear off -- while any remaining rivulets of moisture act like a magnifying glass, amping-up the power of the sun's murderous rays. The end result is not pretty -- and cosmetics aside, you've cut into the resale/trade-in value of your vehicle by flailing its finish.

New cars with base/clear-coat paints are especially vulnerable to sun damage, because once the very thin clear topcoat is burned away or otherwise damaged, the paint will never shine again, no matter how hard you wax and polish. Only an expensive repaint will fix things. It's far better to wash on cloudy, overcast days -- or at least in the shade, away from direct sunlight. A great time to wash a car is just after dawn -- and in the late afternoon, just as the sun is slipping past the horizon.

Pressure washing a modern car's engine: A grimy engine that runs properly is much better than a clean engine that won't -- which is what you risk if you force jets of water past rubber seals and into the sensitive electronics that are fitted to all modern, computer-controlled engines. There's a reason for the hood (and all those protective coverings). They're there to prevent moisture and contaminants from wreaking havoc with the sensors, wiring harnesses, sending units and other components that like to be sprayed with water about as much as your typical house cat. Excess moisture can short-out electrical parts, cause intermittent malfunctions (including stalling for no reason, hard-starting, rough-running) and make dashboard "check engine" light flash (or stay on) for no apparent reason.

It's OK to degrease your engine with a garden hose if you like to keep it clean; just don't use high-pressure sprayers like you find in self-serve car washes as they can force water past rubber seals and weather stripping into places it isn't supposed to go. AOL Autos: Cars with best and worst resale value

Overloading the alternator/charging system: Teens used to be into exhaust headers and big Holley carburetors. Now they're into boom-boom audio systems -- bass reflectors and subwoofers that take up most of the trunk and create enough racket to be heard in a different time zone. Aesthetics aside, a common problem with installing this kind of gear is overtaxing the factory-installed alternator and charging system, which may not be able to handle the additional demand. What typically happens is the overtaxed alternator fails to keep the battery charged -- so it rapidly drains and the car can't be started one morning. Frequent replacement of the battery becomes necessary -- but that only crutches the problem. AOL Autos: Small car comparison

The alternator itself eventually fails prematurely due to the excess loads -- an expensive part to burn up for no good reason. And sometimes, the car doesn't run right -- or won't run at all -- because there is insufficient voltage to operate the electric fuel pump, fuel injection system and other components because of the excess "draw" of aftermarket audio gear. Those planning on putting in a monster stereo (or any high-load aftermarket electronics) should check whether they ought to also install a high-output alternator that's equal to the job. It beats having to buy a new battery every month. AOL Autos: Fuel-efficient used cars for sale

"Universal fit" wheels: Replacing the wheels that came with the car is a popular way to personalize a vehicle. But don't make the mistake of buying "universal fit" wheels that are designed to fit multiple vehicles using shims and "make it fit" bolt patterns. This can be extremely dangerous, yet people do it all the time. Automotive wheels are not like generic aspirin; they're very specific to the application -- and it's critical that such things as backspacing and bolt pattern be correct for your particular vehicle. Shims of any kind are an extreme no-no. And don't try and fit metric rims on a car designed for no-metric -- and vice-versa. Before you buy any non-factory wheel for your vehicle, consult the manufacturer to make sure it was designed to fit. Use the correct lug nuts, too. (It's often the case that you must swap them along with the wheels for the changeover to be safe.) A good tire shop can be of assistance here. AOL Autos: Top 10 tire buying tips

Tow an automatic-equipped car with drive wheels down: If you want to destroy your automatic transmission or greatly reduce its service life, a fast way to do it is to allow the vehicle to be towed with its drive wheels down.

An automatic transmission uses hydraulic fluid under high pressure to transfer the engine's power to the road. The hydraulic fluid also lubricates the transmission's internal parts -- but only when the transmission's torque converter is being turned by the running engine. When the engine's not running -- as when the vehicle is being towed -- the torque converter isn't pumping pressurized fluid through the transmission, so there's no lubrication. But if the drive wheels are down and turning, the transmission is being "run" -- without proper lubrication. AOL Autos: Most popular crossover vehicles

It's like running the engine without an oil pump, and the results can be just as ugly. Therefore, if you are about your automatic-equipped car or truck, insist on a rollback truck if you need a tow. Instead of dragging the vehicle, the entire car is winched aboard the rollback, tightly secured and carted off. More and more towing companies are using rollbacks rather than old-style tow trucks because they're safer -- and limit the potential for damage to the towed vehicle.

Monday, July 7, 2008

12 Secrets Your Car Insurer Won't Tell You.

Knowing how the industry works can save you a lot of money and grief. Here are the secrets behind the premiums, and how you can save after an accident.
By MSN Money staff

Getting a good deal on auto insurance is hard enough. Keeping your premiums from rising? That can feel like playing a game where the rule maker refuses to tell you the rules.
Here are a dozen ways the industry works, with tips to help you save:

If you have good credit, you'll pay less. Almost all insurers -- including the top five -- pull your credit report. Why? Studies have shown a direct correlation between your credit score and the likelihood that you will file a claim. Insurers also know that if you pay your bills in a timely fashion and have had the same credit accounts for a long time, you're more stable than someone who pays late and frequently opens and closes accounts. They use this information to create your "insurance risk score," which is one factor that determines your auto-insurance rate.

Tip: Your insurance-risk score is not available to you, but it may be similar to your credit score. If you have unusual credit activity, wait a month for it to return to normal before buying auto insurance. If your credit history is shaky, clean it up as soon as you can.

Your car model affects your premium. You won't get these numbers from your insurer; in fact, you may not be able to get them at all. But the auto insurers do have a rating system for every car make and model. Most use a system devised by the Insurance Services Office, which starts with the cost of the vehicle and then factors in safety and theft data. Cars are given a rating from 1 to 27, and the higher the number, the higher your premium.

Tip: Look up your car's relative risk with MSN Money's comparison tool. If you're buying a new car, ask your insurance company about the difference in premiums for cars you're considering. Search online for the latest top 10 lists on the most expensive cars to insure, and the least.
Pay in full to avoid installment fees. "Fractional premium" fees are usually charged when you pay your annual premium in installments rather all at once. Payments usually are offered on a six-month, quarterly or monthly basis, but almost every insurance company charges an administrative fee for breaking up the payments. The more you break it down, the more those fees add up.

Tip: Ask about fees for paying in installments. If the fees are small enough, it may be worth it. Remember that insurance companies can cancel your policy for late payment, many times with minimal notification, so make sure you won't miss an installment. If you can pay the premium up front, it may simplify the process and save you a few dollars.
That Pearl Jam CD in your car isn't covered. Stolen or damaged personal items like compact discs aren't covered by your auto insurance.

Tip: You can file a claim on your home insurance. Most home-insurance policies will cover smaller, less expensive items such as compact discs. However, if you carry expensive items such as computer equipment, ask about a rider to your home-insurance policy. It's wise to take photos or video of any expensive personal items before they go missing.
Bad drivers will pay

You'll pay for your bad driving. The industry standard is to increase your premium by 40% of the insurer's base rate after your first at-fault accident. For example, if the company's base rate is $400, your premium will go up by $160. Not all auto insurers play by this rule, though, and some may increase your individual rate by 40%. Regardless of what formula they use, in the majority of cases, your rates will go up.

Tip: Some insurance companies have a "forgive the first accident" policy. The qualifying variables are wide-ranging, so ask your company if it has a forgiveness policy and how to qualify.
Video on MSN Money

Insuring your car

Improving your credit score and shopping around can help you benefit from new pricing rules.
You'll pay for your friend's bad driving, too. If your friend borrows your car and crashes it, you'll have to file a claim with your insurance company. You'll have to pay any deductible that applies, and your rates will probably go up as a result of your claim.

Tip: If your friend didn't have permission to take your car, in most cases you won't be held liable for the damage. But if your friend is uninsured and causes damage that exceeds your policy limits, the injured party can come after you for medical and property-damage expenses. Best bet? Don't lend out your car.
Your car's real worth

The value of your "totaled" car may surprise you. Auto-insurance companies don't use the standard Kelley Blue Book or National Association of Automobile Dealers value. Instead, each company has its own proprietary list of car values, and most have specialized software for valuing cars in each region. They take into consideration the car's mileage and pre-accident condition.

The insurance company may also ask local dealers what they'd charge for a similar replacement car. However, the insurer will consider quotes from suburban towns as reasonable estimates, even if you live in the city. You might have to drive several hours to reach the cheapest dealer, just to save the insurance company money. And they might be quoted a better deal than you could get if you walked onto the lot.

Tip: If you disagree with your insurance company's value determination, there are several things you can do:

Next time, get "gap" insurance. It will pay the difference between what an insurer will cover and what you owe, which can be several thousand dollars.

If you have maintenance records that show you've had the oil changed every 3,000 miles and you've had the car checked routinely by a mechanic, present copies to the insurance company to show the car was in good condition. If you've been paying premiums on any special parts or upgrades, make sure those are included in the insurance company's evaluation.

Get price quotes on replacement cars from three dealers within a reasonable driving distance and submit these to your insurance company. Ask the insurance company for a list of dealers within a specific distance who can sell you an equivalent car for the value the company is claiming.

If you still aren't satisfied, you can step up the process and go to mediation or arbitration. Mediation involves presenting your case to a neutral party for help in reaching a compromise; arbitration is a binding decision. You can also, of course, take the issue to court.

Check into "diminished value." Say your car has been in an accident, but repaired. Is it worth less than the exact same car that hasn't been in an accident? It's a hot topic, but some say yes. In 14 states, you're allowed to file a claim with your insurance company for that lost value.

Tip: Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C., allow insurance companies to exclude payments for diminished value, so if you live in one of those states, you won't get to claim the loss. But in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, you have a chance of getting a diminished-value payment. If you weren't at fault in the accident, you often can make a successful case against the insurance company of the driver who was at fault.

You may not owe sales tax on your replacement car. Twenty-eight states require auto insurers to pay for the sales tax when you replace your totaled vehicle with a new or used car: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Tip: Make the request; don't expect the insurer to offer to pay upfront. Even in states that do not require sales-tax reimbursement, you should request it. Many auto insurers will not deny the request because the policy requires that they make you "whole," returning you to where you were before the accident at no cost to you.

The tax will be calculated based on the pre-accident value of your car. If the insurance company values your car at $10,000, and you purchase a new car for $20,000, the tax will be calculated on $10,000.
Odds and ends

Hit by an uninsured motorist? Try to "stack." Stacking uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverages means collecting from more than one auto-insurance policy that you hold. Most states forbid this practice, but 19 states allow it or don't address it.

Tip: Check the language of your policy to see if stacking is allowed.
There are two scenarios for stacking: First, if you have multiple cars on your policy with UM/UIM coverage on each, you can collect the limit of your UM/UIM coverage under as many vehicles as necessary to cover full payment for damages. Second, if you have more than one policy with UM/UIM coverage, even if they're from two different insurers, you can make a claim under each policy until all your damages are recovered.

You can wait to add your teenager to your policy until he or she is licensed. You are not required to add your teenager to your policy just because he or she has reached driving age. In most cases, you can wait until he or she has a license -- or, if you're in a high-risk insurance pool, a permit.

Tip: Don't forget to tell your insurance company that you have a licensed teen. If you have to file a claim on his or her behalf, your insurance company is entitled to charge you back premiums from the date your teen received a license

Desktop Photo Of The Week

Taken at Cruise Night 7-05-08

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cosumer Reports: Choosing an insurer that pays

Many people think their auto insurance is just peachy until they have to file a claim. Then they find out whether their insurer pays up quickly or tries to do chintzy repairs.

To find out how insurers stack up, Consumer Reports surveyed 21,228 subscribers who filed a claim from January 2001 through Spring 2004. We found that they're more satisfied with their auto insurers than with most other services we rate. But our survey also found that some insurers treated their customers much better than others. Here's what you need to know to choose and use an auto insurer.

Choose an insurer that topped the Ratings. Five companies showed consistent performance by appearing toward the top of our Ratings (available to subscribers) now and the last time we rated insurers, in 1999.

Stick with a company that treats you well. Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents who had been with their insurer less than one year complained about unfair premium increases after filing a claim, while only 16 percent of those with the same company for one to six years and a mere 8 percent of those wedded to the same insurer for 15 or more years complained. Loyalty seems to count.

Avoid companies that penalize you for filing a claim. About 10 percent of those surveyed said they felt their premiums were "unfairly increased" as a consequence of filing a claim. However, three insurers were cited more often for post-claim rate hikes: Hartford Insurance Company of the Midwest (with 24 percent of respondents complaining), Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company (20 percent), and Travelers Indemnity Company (19 percent).

Don't let an insurer pressure you to use a specific repair shop. Seven percent of respondents said they felt "pressured to use a recommended shop," but only 49 percent of that group was very satisfied with the repairs, while 72 percent of those who weren't pressured felt very satisfied. Twelve percent of Liberty Mutual's customers and 13 percent of those with Commerce Insurance complained about pressure.

Insist on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts if you want them. About 6 percent of those surveyed felt pressured by their insurer to use non-OEM fenders, doors, bumpers, and other repair parts. Only 37 percent of those people were very satisfied with the quality of repair vs. 72 percent of those who didn't feel pressured. Four insurers were judged more likely than average to pressure claimants: American Family Mutual (11 percent), Nationwide Mutual Fire (11 percent), Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (12 percent), and Commerce Insurance Co. (14 percent).

Do a rate check every year or two. This is especially important if you've experienced changes that might reduce your premium, including getting married, reaching your 25th birthday, switching to a job that requires less commuting, moving to a less urban ZIP code, putting an accident or moving violation three or more years behind you, and repairing a poor credit rating.

Link: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/money/insurance/car/car-insurance-306/overview/index.htm?resultPageIndex=1&resultIndex=1&searchTerm=auto%20insurance

Monday, June 23, 2008

Erick's Story

Consumer Reports' guide to auto insurance

Many people stick with the same insurance carrier year after year without ever shopping for a better deal. Blind loyalty to one insurer can cost you dearly. In a recent survey, Consumer Reports found that some drivers were paying twice as much for a policy than they would have with another insurer.

Finding the best rates

Comparing premiums is easier than ever, thanks to online services such as Quicken Insurance (www.quicken.com/insurance) and InsWeb (www.insweb.com). While you can also use the Yellow Pages to canvass local insurance agents for quotes, online services let you compare multiple price quotes in minutes.

You should make this price comparison at least once a year. Still, it may not be a good idea to switch companies too often or arbitrarily. Sometimes loyalty pays. For instance, if you've been with one company several years and maintained a clean driving record, you may qualify for a safe-driver discount, which substantially lowers your premium. But if you're contemplating a switch, the new company may be willing to classify you as a safe driver. In addition, you can often get a discount for insuring more than one vehicle—or your home—with the same company.

To get an accurate quote, you'll need to provide information on the car or cars that you intend to insure: the make, model, year, trim line, and the vehicle identification number (VIN). You'll also need to give the age, sex, and recent driving record of all potential drivers. Some companies may also ask where you normally park your car, and inquire about any aftermarket accessories you may have installed to prevent theft. The insurer may independently check your driving history using public documents such as police records, and your insurance history through your current and former insurers.

Buy the right amount

Auto insurance is meant to protect you against catastrophic losses, such as a major accident or the theft of your car. Be prepared to absorb minor losses yourself, and you'll save a lot. Here are tips on separating the essentials from coverage you can probably live without.

Coverage you must have

Bodily injury liability. Should you cause an accident, the "liability" part of your insurance coverage pays the medical, rehabilitation, and, if necessary, funeral bills of your passengers, the other driver, his or her passengers, and any pedestrians involved. It also covers pain and suffering awards as well as legal costs.

Buy coverage that will pay at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. If you have sizable assets, consider increasing those limits to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. Such added coverage will raise your premium at least 10 percent. Consumer Reports recommends that people with a high net worth have a separate "umbrella" policy to insure against a lawsuit seeking an amount beyond their auto policy's limits. You may need to buy higher insurance limits to qualify for an umbrella policy.

Property damage. This coverage pays to repair or replace another person's vehicle or other property damaged by your car. States typically require only $10,000 to $25,000. We suggest buying coverage of $100,000.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. This covers medical bills, rehabilitation, and funeral costs, as well as losses for pain and suffering for you or the passengers in your car when an accident is caused by a hit-and-run driver or someone who has little or no insurance. Get the same amount of this coverage as you do bodily injury coverage. That way, if someone who has no insurance hits you, your medical costs will be covered.

Coverage you'll probably need

Collision and comprehensive. Collision coverage pays to repair or replace your car no matter who or what caused the accident. Comprehensive pays to repair or replace your car if it's stolen or damaged as a result of a storm or other natural event. Coverage kicks in for the amount above your deductible. Choose the highest deductible you can afford to pay out of pocket—at least $500. Once the cost of this coverage equals 10 percent of your vehicle's book value, you might want to cancel it, since you will collect no more than your vehicle's market worth. Antique vehicles or cars with collector value sometimes are insured through a separate rider; or you may have to find a separate, specialty insurer.

Personal-injury protection. PIP reimburses you for lost wages and in-home care needed as a result of an accident. If you have separate health and disability policies, you can buy just the state-required minimum for PIP. The other policies should cover the balance of your needs.

Medical-payments coverage. Sometimes called med-pay, this covers medical bills for you and your passengers, regardless of who's at fault. When this coverage isn't automatically included in your policy, its costs are minimal. You may not require any if you have good health insurance. To protect passengers who may not have their own health coverage, you may want to carry at least $5,000 of this coverage.

Additional types of coverage

Roadside assistance. This coverage pays to have your vehicle towed. If you already have an auto-club membership or your car's manufacturer provides this service for free, don't buy this extra coverage.

Rental reimbursement. This coverage typically costs $30 per year and pays for a rental car—usually for up to 30 days—if your vehicle is stolen or is in the shop for repairs sustained in an accident. There's usually a cap on the amount you're reimbursed per day and per occurrence.

Money-saving tips

Ask for the top tier. Insurers sort customers according to their likelihood of filing a claim, then assign them to one of several categories commonly referred to as tiers. Top-tier customers who have had few or no claims in the past several years and live in neighborhoods where auto-theft rates are low, for example, can easily save 15 percent or more off the standard rate. But simply because you qualify initially or improve your driving record doesn't mean you automatically get top-tier status.

Check rates before you buy a car. The difference in premiums between one car or truck and another can be substantial. Much of that has to do with the cost of repairing collision damage, which can vary greatly even among seemingly similar vehicles.

Get equipment discounts. You may qualify for extra discounts if your car has current safety equipment such as air bags or antilock brakes. Also check about anti-theft equipment such as an alarm system, which can get you a break on the comprehensive part of your coverage.

Group your policies. Most insurers will give you a multiple-policy price break if you let them write your auto, home, and personal-liability coverage.

Improve your driving skills. Completing a certified defensive-driving course can reduce your premium in some states.

Kid factors. If you have children who drive, you'll save if they get good grades or if they attend a school located more than 100 miles from your home and don't use the car there.

Group discounts. Insurers award discounts to low-risk consumers who share a common affiliation such as a membership in an employee group, a company pension fund, or an alumni association. These so-called affinity discounts can be sizable, so if they apply to you, it pays to take advantage of them. Ask your insurer if any groups to which you belong qualify for such a discount. Alternatively, ask representatives of the groups if they work with any insurance companies.

Keep repair options open. Some insurers insist you use generic replacement parts or encourage you to bring your vehicle to certain body shops in an effort to cut claims costs. While this arrangement may lower your premium, you may want to preserve your flexibility by insuring with a company that lets you decide which parts are used (original equipment or aftermarket copies), and who does the repairs. In tests a few years ago, Consumer Reports found none of the aftermarket replacement bumpers tested fit as well as factory-original bumpers or stood up as well to low-speed impacts. We also had trouble making generic fenders fit properly.
Copyright © 2004-2008 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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Everything old is new again!

After The Accident:

Steps to Take After a Car Accident

Although car accidents are more prevalent in the winter months, what you need to do after an accident never changes. Obviously it is hard to think clearly after a car accident so it is important to know before you get into an accident what to do first and what questions may need answered.

This checklist will help you know what to do after a car accident. It is best to review it now and then print it out and keep a copy with you in your car.

Determine the Extent of Damage or Injuries

Try to stay calm. Panic can make others panic and the situation worse. There needs to be a calm person to determine the extent of damage and to determine if there are any injuries that need immediate medical attention.

File a Car Accident Report with the Police
Even in a minor accident it is important to make sure there is a legal accident report.

Do not leave the scene until the police file a full report.

Discuss the Car Accident Only with the Police

With everyone all shook up it can be hard not to talk about what just happened, but that can also lead to you not thinking clearly and accurately about what happened. It is important to limit your discussion of the accident and not to admit any fault or liability. You should talk about the accident with the police and your insurance agent only.

Get the Facts

This is the part most people know to do, but often forget to after the accident for one reason or another. It is important to get names, address, and phone numbers of everyone involved in the accident. A description of the car and license plate number can also be helpful, but make sure you also get their insurance company and the vehicle identification number of their car. Don't just assume the license plate number will do because most insurance companies only record the type of car and the vehicle identification number, not the license plate number.

Call you Insurance Agent

Call your agent or insurance company's 800-number immediately, even at the scene with the police if possible. Sometimes the police officer can give your insurance company more accurate information rather than information you may not be recording properly because you are upset by the accident. This can save you a lot of time later waiting for your claim to be processed.

What Is Diminished Value?

Dear Bernard's

Maybe you can help me with something. After my wreck, a friend of mine said I should file a "Diminished Value" claim with my insurance company.

I didn't know what it meant, but I asked the other guy's claim adjuster about it and he said, "Naw. you don't need that. It's just a big headache and you won't get anything anyway."

Was he yanking my chain or is it something I should follow up on?

-Stan Dodson