Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how

via Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how. But there are some ways to lower the costs, clarionledger.com

PDF: Lowering car insurance

It was another sad statistic in which the Magnolia State didn’t fare well: In November, the Insurance Research Council released statistics showing Mississippi’s rate of insured drivers in 2015 was the second-lowest in the nation, with nearly a quarter of its drivers (23.7 percent) failing to carry required auto insurance.

Only in Florida was there a higher percentage of drivers without insurance; Maine had the lowest rate of uninsured drivers, with less than 5 percent of Pine Tree State drivers uninsured.

The statistics (gleaned from reports from the nation’s largest 14 insurers) illustrated a widespread problem nationwide that appeared to be getting better, but in the past few years has started growing again. Uninsured motorists are a major threat to the financial health and well-being of other drivers on the road, with accidents resulting in higher costs for motorists who do comply with the law. Here in Mississippi, drivers have been required by law to have auto insurance since 2001, and failure to have insurance can cost you steep fines.

As to why people don’t comply with the law, there are probably lots of reasons. Some probably just don’t care, or don’t think they’ll get caught. Others may be unaware of the law, but that would be a hard sell in court. Some may find it difficult to pay the cost of the insurance, perhaps weighing the cost against the possible risks of not having insurance and the likelihood they will get caught.

But there are some ways to lower the costs of auto insurance to make sure you comply with the law while keeping costs more affordable. In a recent article, “Nine ways to lower your auto insurance costs,” the Insurance Industry Institute suggests some ways to decrease the cost of car insurance, and to keep it affordable while at the same time keeping you out of legal trouble. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Shop around. Many insurance companies offer coverage to Mississippi drivers, and most will give you a price quote online so you can compare. But don’t just take the first offer, or the offer from the largest company (or the one with the cutest mascot or catchiest ad). Get three quotes, and make sure you’re getting quotes on the same levels of coverage. To provide insurance coverage in Mississippi, companies need to be registered with the Mississippi Insurance Department. Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best(www.ambest.com) and Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com/ratings) and consult consumer magazines and websites.
  • Shop for insurance before you buy a new or used car. Since car insurance costs are affected by several factors, including the car’s price, its repair costs, overall safety record and likelihood of theft, the price you pay for premiums may vary widely by the type of vehicle you get. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(www.iihs.org) has information about current vehicles.
  • Consider higher deductibles. A deductible is your portion of the cost for getting your vehicle repaired or replaced. In general, having a low deductible is a great thing when your vehicle has to be repaired, but it will cost you more in premiums. The Institute notes that increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. “Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim,” advises the article.
  • Reduce coverage on older cars. Dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars is widely recommended because it will likely lower your premium. As a vehicle gets older and its value drops, it becomes less likely that an insurance payout will cover much (if anything) toward the repair or replacement anyway.

Look for discounts. Insurers want your business in a competitive environment, so many companies offer discounts to lure you. Many insurers offer multi-policy discounts for customers who carry multiple lines of insurance, for example homeowner’s and auto insurance. Also, ask your agent about discounts, including for safe driving records, students with good grades, and others. But in the end, be sure you are actually getting a good, competitive rate by comparing prices.

There are several other good suggestions in the article, at http://bit.ly/2CoyHa0.

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Drive smart, save lives: MDOT website shows

via Drive smart, save lives: MDOT website shows, clarionledger.com

PDF: Driving smart saves lives

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about a new initiative by the Mississippi Department of Transportation called Toward Zero Deaths. This project aimed to reduce the number of people dying from preventable incidents and includes a range of strategies to help make Mississippi roadways safer.

But with the number of Mississippi traffic fatalities still rising, MDOT is responding by launching a new website to connect people with information and resources. According to a news release from MDOT, 690 people died on Mississippi’s roads in 2016, representing a 14 percent increase over the past three years.

“Even one traffic fatality in Mississippi is too many,” says Melinda McGrath, the agency’s executive director. In response, the agency has launched DriveSmartMS so drivers can learn how to be safer on the highways, featuring data, videos and information to help us drive smarter and safer.

Roadways in Mississippi, like everywhere else, are dangerous. Not only are there are lot of people who are really in a hurry to get where they are going, many seem to be paying more attention to their phones than to the road, don’t observe proper following distances, drive aggressively and ignore obvious hazards. But getting behind the wheel is serious business; vehicles and their cargo are getting heavier, turning your vehicle into a potentially deadly missile with tremendous destructive power.

To help drivers avoid the human error that’s responsible for most crashes, it’s important to learn the facts about the dynamic environment drivers face every day. That responsibility is especially important in work zones, where 20 people (including three highway workers) have died in crashes in the past three years. Work zones are particularly dangerous because there is often reduced visibility, workers are often just inches away from zooming traffic, trucks and other vehicles are entering and leaving the roadway, and road surfaces can change drastically. If you’ve driven through the I-55 work zone just south of Jackson recently, it’s obvious that people aren’t slowing down enough or paying attention.

“Whether it’s our workers or the traveling public, safety is MDOT’s number one priority,” McGrath said. “When entering a work zone, slow down and pay attention. Drivers play a vital role in improving work zone safety and moving Mississippi toward zero deaths on highways.”

But work zones aren’t the only concern; MDOT has added numerous safety features to the state’s roadways in recent years such as roundabouts, rumble strips and cable barriers. Some of these features slow down or alter traffic, or help reduce severity of crashes. Rumble strips, for example, are placed along the edge or centerline of the roadway to make a loud noise when you’ve crossed into the other lane or onto the shoulder. (I can attest they’ve saved my life a couple of times during long trips when I really should have pulled over for a quick nap.) In one study, McGrath noted, crash frequency dropped 36 percent on rural two-lane roads and 17 percent on rural highways when rumble strips were present.

You’ve probably also noticed cable barriers along interstates and other divided highways. These have been installed to absorb the force of a crash and prevent a vehicle from crossing the median into oncoming traffic. These have been proven to save lives.

But just slowing down, relaxing and driving without distractions or impairment can have a major positive impact. The release noted that 12 percent of the 2016 fatalities involved excessive speed, while distracted driving was cited in more than half of crashes involving teens. About one in five crashes involved alcohol, and about half of last year’s traffic fatalities were not wearing their seat belts.

The lesson for all of us: When we get behind the wheel, we should be as calm as possible, fully awake, aware and free of distractions, be patient, turn off the phone and pay attention.

There’s much more information on the website at http://drivesmart.mdot.ms.gov/.

Do you need an extended car warranty?

via Do you need an extended car warranty?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Do you need extended car warranty

Once every few days, my mailbox contains an official-looking letter with a dire warning: My car’s warranty is about to expire, and if I don’t do something about it I’ll be on the hook for some major expenses that won’t be covered by my car’s standard warranty. The letter even has my car’s make, model and year as it tries to persuade me to shell out thousands for an “extended warranty.” Often, the letters refer to vehicles I no longer own, or which are still covered by the factory warranty.

Millions of Americans get these letters every day, along with telemarketing calls and emails. Unfortunately, many consumers take the bait and shell out big bucks to cover the cost of an extended warranty (it’s actually not a warranty at all, but a service contract). The only problem is that much of the time, these products are worthless. It’s important to note that these are different from extended service contracts often sold when you buy a new vehicle.

Statistically, buyers of third-party extended-warranty coverage haven’t been happy with their decisions. In late 2013, Consumer Reports surveyed vehicle owners who had purchased extended warranties (and whose original warranty coverage had run out). More than half reported they’d never used the warranty, despite paying an average of $1,200. And about three in four said they wouldn’t buy an extended warranty again.

Consumer complaints against third-party warranty companies have typically centered around non-coverage of most-likely-needed services, failure to cover for “pre-existing conditions,” expensive deductibles, lack of cancellation options and not being responsive to complaints or questions.

There have been several high-profile cases in which auto-warranty companies have been accused of deceptive practices. For example, in 2016 the Federal Trade Commission announced it was sending $4 million in refunds to consumers who bought policies from a company called My Car Solutions, after a 2010 complaint that the company had falsely claimed affiliation with auto dealers and manufacturers.

 The decision whether to purchase extended warranties (of any type) should be undertaken with some deliberation. First, vehicles are a lot more reliable than they once were, and factory warranties are a lot better, too. Factory warranties vary in what they cover, how long they last and under what conditions they can be used. They’re generally serviced by your dealer, while third-party warranties might not be. According to vehicle website Edmunds.com, most factory warranties don’t charge a deductible for use, while many third-party warranties do.

 

Here are a few other tips about third-party warranties:

No warranty covers everything. Even the best “bumper-to-bumper” warranties have limits on what they’ll cover, so be suspicious of claims to the contrary. And few warranties will cover damage due to excessive or improper use, or failure to perform basic maintenance (the limitations should be spelled out clearly in the fine print).

Make sure your warranty has a servicer. If you purchase an extended warranty without doing your homework, you may find yourself with no one to service it. Before you decide to buy, call your dealership or mechanic and ask whether they will accept the warranty.

Keep up with your car’s warranty requirements and deadlines. When you buy a new vehicle, there should be paperwork that clearly spells out the terms and limitations. Be aware of when the manufacturer’s warranty expires, and what it does and doesn’t cover.

Avoid scams. If you get a solicitation by mail, phone or email, be careful about responding. Some solicitations come from scammers, looking to get your personal information. Instead, contact your vehicle dealer to explore your options when your vehicle is nearing the end of its warranty.

Consider self-insuring for car repairs. Instead of putting money into a costly contract you’ll never use, get a reliable vehicle, service it as the manufacturer prescribes, and take what you would have spent on a service contract and set it aside in a bank account. That way, the money will be there if you need it later (and, if you don’t need it for repairs, you can use it for whatever you want).

For more advice on auto warranties, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0054-auto-service-contracts-and-warranties.

What if your sunroof exploded?

Source: What if your sunroof exploded?, clarionledger.com

It’s a cool, sunny day, and you and your family are taking a nice leisurely drive up the Natchez Trace to see the spectacle of the changing leaves. You’ve retracted your car’s sunroof shade to let the sunshine fill the car with its warming rays, when suddenly you hear loud popping sounds, like gunshots, and you and your kids are covered in a shower of glass fragments.

Sound far-fetched? It’s not.

Since 1995, nearly 900 reports of exploding sunroofs have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about three-quarters of those since 2011 and peaking in 2015. No deaths have been reported, but there have been at least 36 reports of injuries, according to an extensive report released Oct. 12 by consumer watchdog Consumer Reports. And, the authors discovered, the number of incidents reported to the NHTSA is likely a small fraction of the actual incidents.

“These incidents have happened in every month of the year in every part of the country, in vehicles from all over the world,” Consumer Reports noted in its report. “They have occurred on interstates, on country roads, and even while parked in driveways.”

Consumer Reports listed Hyundai and Ford as the brands from which sunroof failures were most reported, and covered the spectrum of car brands, but some specific models such as the Scion tC and Hyundai Veloster had the highest rates of reports. The magazine reported that the government is investigating only the Kia Sorento for sunroof issues. It must be stated (as Consumer Reports acknowledged) that the odds of an exploding sunroof are pretty low, but it becomes a big deal when it happens to you.

Vehicle owners report that automakers have in some cases been reluctant to acknowledge the failures of the sunroofs as a design flaw, leaving vehicle owners to pay for the damage themselves in many cases.

As to what causes the sunroofs to shatter, Consumers’ Union scientists quoted in the article say it’s still an open question, but they suspect it has to do with the ever-increasing demands for larger sunroofs, leading automakers to use under-engineered sunroof designs. Many of the newer designs use tempered glass (the same as those in car windows), but also require glass to be more curved, which places stress on the glass that standard tempered glass may be unable to withstand. As heat causes the materials surrounding the glass (and the glass itself) to expand at different rates, it can stress the sunroof to the breaking point.

As for a remedy, Consumer Reports suggests that — if the curving and large areas of newer sunroofs are to blame — the solution could be to use laminated glass to make sunroofs stronger, or a hybrid glass that blends the best characteristics of both.

So, if you’re in the market for a vehicle with a sunroof, Consumer Reports recommends you ask the dealer if the sunroof is made of laminated glass. (It should be stamped in an inconspicuous place on the glass.) Ask about whether the warranty covers sunroof failures, and contact your insurance agent to see if your policy covers such an incident. If you hear unexplained popping sounds, which often precede a sunroof failure, ask your dealer to take a look at it.

And if you experience a sunroof failure, don’t panic; stop as safely as possible and make sure you’re not injured by falling glass. Document the damage by taking photos, and file a report immediately. More details are in Consumer Reports’ report at http://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/exploding-sunroofs-danger-overhead/.

Road rage? Blame those stress hormones … and chill

Source: Road rage? Blame those stress hormones … and chill, clarionledger.com

Something happens to us when we get behind the wheel. Even mild-mannered people seem to turn into vengeful agents of doom when we close the drivers-side door and crank our engines. This Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation occurs without warning but can lead to serious — even deadly — consequences in the form of road rage.

According to an American Automobile Association study released in 2016, nearly 80 percent of drivers admitted to aggressive behavior behind the wheel at least once during the previous year. Such behaviors included purposefully tailgating (104 million drivers, or more than half of all drivers); yelling at another driver (95 million); honking to show annoyance or anger (91 million) and making angry gestures (67 million). Others have tried to prevent other drivers from passing or changing lanes or cutting off another vehicle on purpose. And a few have resorted to more extreme measures, including getting out to confront another driver, ramming another vehicle or even brandishing or using a weapon.

While psychologists list a number of reasons why we turn loose our inner Hulk while driving, the most likely is something called “amygdala hijacking”, in which our bodies are taken over by stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol when we feel threatened. We’ve all experienced this during times of extreme stress when our bodies are poised to defend against real or perceived enemies. Unfortunately, for many of us, being cut off in traffic or having another driver drive aggressively around us can trigger us, prompting us to make decisions we may regret later.

Recently, the website InsuranceQuotes.com published a study about the phenomenon. They took an interesting approach by looking at more than 65,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #RoadRage and compiled the posts by time, date and location. When they analyzed the data, they found that the highest number of road rage-related posts occurred on Friday afternoons, and in August.
“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” says Jurek Grabowski, former director of research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”
As to why incidents seem to peak in summer, we can only guess, but (at least here in the South, with our sweltering summers) we know that tempers flare with the rising heat. (Incidents are lowest in April and May). Other possibilities, the study authors suggest, could be that summer is a time for family vacations, with families stressed after traveling together on crowded highways.

And it’s not hard to imagine that, on Fridays, people are ready to get home and relax from their busy work weeks, making them impatient to get home. It appears that the number of incidents rises steadily during the week, with the least activity on Sunday. And, although you’d think that road-rage incidents would swell during the morning commute, then taper off until the afternoon, incidents steadily rise during the day.

 Finally, the study looked at which states had the most road-rage incidents, and — perhaps surprisingly — found that drivers in Hawaii appeared the angriest. Contrary to the popular relaxed image of Hawaiians, their highways are notoriously congested and full of tourists who are unfamiliar with the island and cause frustration for the locals.

Road rage incidents can cause your insurance premium to rise, notes Insurance.com’s Laura Adams. “Auto insurers charge drivers with a history of moving violations or at-fault accidents higher rates than those with clean records,” Adams notes. “So, getting a ticket due to a road rage incident typically causes your auto premium to rise. Also, drivers who live in urban areas with heavy traffic typically pay higher rates because accidents happen more frequently.”

As to how to prevent and deal with road rage, Psychology Today’s Steve Albrecht suggests a few strategies. I’ll summarize a few of his excellent points here:

Drive carefully. This means putting down (or turning off) your phone or not letting your attention be distracted. Driving carefully will make you less likely to trigger another driver into road rage.

Don’t engage. “This means no eye contact, no retaliatory finger-flipping, lane change swerves, mutual tailgating, or slamming on your brakes to ‘teach him a lesson,’” Albrecht advises. “Tint your surrounding rear and passenger windows to give yourself some privacy. Many road ragers seem to go after people they think they can fight and win. Don’t allow them to target you.”

Report them. Call 911 if a driver is behaving dangerously, taking care to get their tag number. If you have a passenger, ask them to video the behavior.

Save your life. If you’re targeted by a “rager,” get off the road as soon as safely possible and go to an occupied police or fire station in the area. Call 911, and don’t get out of your car until help arrives. If the other driver gets out and approaches, don’t open the windows or doors. Be prepared to drive away if necessary if you feel you may be attacked.

Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening

Source: Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening, clarionledger.com

If you drive in Mississippi, it’s likely that you’ve hit a deer, witnessed a deer-vehicle collision or had a near-miss with one of these hoofed highway hazards. A drive down any country lane or highway at night in the fall will reveal whole herds of deer grazing near the roadway, their eyes reflecting in your headlights. If you’re lucky, they will just ignore you and keep on munching; if not, you could find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Mississippi’s deer population has exploded in recent years, and while that’s great news for hunters or those of us who like deer sausage, it’s not so good if you hit one with your vehicle. The MSU Extension Service estimates there are about 1.75 million whitetail deer in the state, the highest population density in the nation. Therefore, the possibility of hitting a deer is pretty high. Often, deer are hit while they’re trying to cross the road or highway, with little ones trailing closely behind. As a vehicle approaches, they’ll often panic and dart in front of oncoming traffic.

Nationally, the statistics are grim. The Insurance Industry Institute estimates there are about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in about 150 occupant deaths, thousands of injuries and more than a billion dollars in damage. (And it doesn’t usually work out too well for the deer, either.)

“Mississippi averages over 3,000 deer-related crashes per year,” MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said in a news release. “Hitting a deer can be a very costly expense and sometimes it can be a life-threatening accident.”

McGrath notes the increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours, coupled with the fact deer move around a lot more during the fall. Insurance claims for deer collisions increase dramatically from October through November each year, note industry experts. According to a 2014 Insurance Industry Institute study, most damage claims (87 percent) submitted to insurance companies are for damage to the front of the vehicle, followed by the driver’s side, passenger side and rear.

 While there is little you can do to avoid a collision, technology may have some answers in the future. For example, Swedish automaker Volvo is testing a Large Animal Detection System that will scan the scene in front of the vehicle and hit the brakes if a deer (or horse, cow, or other large critter) is in the roadway. Similar systems have been available for years in other brands, but they work mainly at night, since they use infrared technology.

So, until your car is smart enough to figure out if you’re about to hit a deer and make you safe, the job is up to you and me. MDOT has these tips for avoiding crashes:

  • Don’t swerve. “Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle, causing an even more serious accident,” MDOT notes.
  • Remember that deer are herd animals that live in families, so if you see one, watch for others.
  • Pay attention when driving at dawn and dusk. About 20 percent of crashes occur in early morning, while more than half occur between 5 p.m. and midnight, MDOT advises.
  • Wear your seat belts and drive at a safe, sensible speed.
  • If possible, use high beams at night when no traffic is approaching. This will illuminate deer eyes better.

“No matter if a driver is traveling rural roads or busy highways, the threat of hitting a deer while driving is very real,” McGrath noted. “All motorists should take extra precautions during deer season to ensure their safety while traveling.”

 For tips, visit GoMDOT.com/drivesmartms or follow @MississippiDOT on Twitter.

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars

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motortorque.com

via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

PDF: Kids and Pets in Cars

Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes

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via Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes, clarionledger.com

PDF: Automation1Automation2

A few months ago, I wrote in this column about how pedestrian deaths are becoming increasingly common on our roadways, with some of the alarming increases blamed on our being distracted by the ever-present devices we have with us constantly. While reading through on the findings of a study of the phenomenon, one statement, in particular, caught my eye: The number of pedestrian deaths might be higher still, if not for the installation of automated collision-avoidance systems now on many vehicles.

Our cars and trucks are steadily becoming self-thinking robots. Today’s cars can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows or stops; sound an alarm if you’re nodding off at the wheel; alert you if you’re about to hit a vehicle in your blind spot; keep you from backing into an object, animal or person behind you; enable your vehicle to parallel-park itself and many others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 35,092 people who died in vehicle crashes on American roads in 2015, the vast majority (94 percent) were at least partially caused by human error or poor decisions.

All these technologies are paving the way toward a future in which the vehicles will be doing much — if not all — of the driving. Depending on your point of view, that could be comforting or alarming. It’s an established fact that humans are just not very good at making decisions all the time, and we can suffer from fatigue, distraction, poor judgment and lack of impulse control. On the other hand, we know computerized systems are subject to security flaws, equipment failure, and poor programming.

But in labs and research facilities around the world, engineers are working towards a more automated future, and are watching as these features are tested on a massive scale on today’s roads. The results, Consumer Reports noted recently, can be found in saved lives and happier drivers. Consumer Reports asked its subscribers to report on their experiences with some of these technologies and found most of them reported they were not only satisfied with these systems but also, in some cases, credited those systems with avoiding crashes.

More than 57,000 vehicle owners responded to the magazine’s request to provide information, reporting that their vehicles included such features as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-departure warning. Consumer Reports noted that drivers were most appreciative of blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warnings (although these systems have been panned in the past; the American Automobile Association in 2015 cited high error rates for RCTA systems).

In particular, for vehicle owners who said these features had saved them from accidents, blind-spot warnings were cited for preventing 35 percent of potential crashes. Even experienced drivers can fail to see a car that’s in their own vehicle’s blind spot and sideswipe neighboring vehicles when changing lanes. A blind-spot warning system sounds an alarm when it senses you’re about to change lanes into another vehicle.

While many of these features simply give you a visual, auditory or even tactile warning that a collision is imminent, others actually take control of the vehicle if the system senses a dangerous situation. For example, lane-keeping systems use cameras to detect lane markings and will steer your vehicle back to its lane if you’re drifting out of the lane. AEB will automatically apply the brakes if it senses you’re about to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.

Of course, with all of these technologies comes the potential for errors, which can annoy drivers and cause them to lose faith in the technology. For example, owners of vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning reported the highest number of false alerts. About 45 percent of these drivers reported getting at least one false alert.

Still, Consumer Reports (and many consumer advocates and regulatory bodies) think these technologies are a great idea (even with the occasional error) and recommend more of these technologies become standard equipment in the future. “Consumer Reports believes that FCW and AEB should be standard equipment, even with occasional false alerts,” noted the survey authors. “The latest study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supports this: Rear-end crashes are cut by 27 percent when a vehicle has FCW and by 50 percent when it’s also equipped with AEB.”

To read Consumer Reports’ full article, which includes more results about each of the technologies covered, visit http://bit.ly/2twfCBc. For more on each type of feature and videos to explain them, visit the NHTSA’s site at http://bit.ly/2oCBSVM.

Getting the most from your car’s A/C

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via How to get the most out of your vehicle’s AC, clarionledger.com

PDF: ACTips1ACTips2

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the old “4/40” system for keeping cool while driving in the summer months. Driving around at around 40 miles per hour with all four windows down got the air moving in the torrid heat of a Southern summer, and provided a welcome escape for generations of Mississippians.

While most of us consider air conditioning to be a necessity in our vehicles, it wasn’t always so. Early automobiles were uncooled, even as the new air-conditioning systems (if you could afford them) made homes and businesses feel like a crisp March morning even in the dog days of August. In 1933, Popular Science reported that a New York company had installed an air conditioning unit in a commercially available vehicle for the first time.

Although not commercially successful at first because of the unwieldy equipment required, cost and danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, the idea took off, and the technology made steady improvements. In the years after, Packard and Cadillac experimented with various technologies. But in 1953, the new Chrysler Imperial featured an optional air conditioning that would be recognizable as a modern system.

Since then, many more innovations have made air conditioning a staple on most vehicles. But many drivers still are probably not getting the most effective use of it. Recently, Consumer Reports’ Patrick Olsen wrote a great column with five tips:

Don’t pre-cool. Olsen explains that your car’s air conditioning works much better when you’re actually driving, because the faster the engine turns, the faster the compressor runs, which lets the system cool more effectively. Don’t waste time and gas by letting your car run before you go.

“If the interior is really hot, crank up the fan when you start driving, and open just the rear windows for 10 to 20 seconds,” Olsen advises. “This forces all the hot air out of the cabin. Don’t open the front windows — that only moves the heat out of the front of the car, and it will leave the air in the back of the cabin hot and stagnant.”

Go low. Since most vehicle air-conditioning systems cool the air to about 38 degrees, if you set the temperature higher, you can be making the system work harder since it must re-heat the air. Olsen advises setting the temp to the lowest setting, then using the fans to adjust the temperature.

Don’t recirculate. Most cars have a “recirculate” button, which takes air from the front of the cabin and pulls it back through the system. But while using this feature might make the driver and front-seat passengers comfortable, it can make rear-seat passengers hotter.

Turn off stop/start mode. Some newer vehicles have a system that stops the engine when idling, to cut down on fuel use and emissions. Olsen suggests turning it off, because it can make the compressor stop running, making your car hotter when stopped or in stop-and-go traffic.

Clean the filter. A dirty cabin air filter (just like the one in your house) can reduce the efficiency of your system and make it work harder. If your filter is easily accessible, clean it often.

And as for the age-old debate about whether using the air conditioner uses more gas than riding with the windows open, most expert sites I consulted noted, “it depends.”

Conventional wisdom says the air conditioner uses more gas, and that’s usually true. Car and Driver did a study in 2008 in which they tested this theory and recommended turning the air conditioner off and opening the windows (at lower speeds) to save a few miles per gallon. But at higher speeds, the engine is running faster, making the air-conditioning system use less fuel. Automotive site Edmunds.com notes, “in our experience, it’s not worth the argument because you won’t save a lot of gas either way. So just do what’s comfortable.”

Auto Repair Task Force releases guide for consumers

via Auto Repair Task Force releases guide for consumers, clarionledger.com

PDF: Auto Repair Task Force

March 18, 2013, was a date many Mississippians are unlikely to forget. That day, a cold front rolled through the state, bringing with it severe thunderstorms and hail as large as baseballs.

Roofs throughout the region sustained heavy damage, and vehicles parked outside faced a merciless pummeling which resulted in shattered windshields and severe body damage. The Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy in Pearl reported that 87 vehicles were destroyed in its parking lot, with many buildings heavily damaged as well. Auto dealers across the region reported catastrophic damage to their inventories. Within a couple of weeks, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney noted at the time, vehicle owners had filed more than 31,000 insurance claims. Local body shops found themselves inundated with repair jobs, with consumers often facing long backlogs for repairs.

The crisis illustrated the often-complex landscape of the auto repair industry, often the subject of myths and miscommunications resulting in frustration for all involved.

Over the past several years, the auto repair and insurance providers have been taking a look at ways the two industries can make the process better. Last August, Attorney General Jim Hood convened the Mississippi Auto Repair Task Force, bringing together representatives from the Mississippi Insurance Department, body shops, insurers, auto manufacturers, aftermarket parts manufacturers and others to “find common ground on best practices for the future and discuss concerns and desires to better meet the needs of consumers.”

Their work has resulted in a publication called the Consumer’s Guide to Insurance and Auto Body Repair. Hood released the publication last week, noting that new technologies have made getting your car repaired more complicated than ever.

“Our Consumer Protection Division receives complaints from consumers about disputes between insurance companies and collision repair shops,” Hood noted. “Our goal is to help consumers be aware of issues and understand their rights in the repair process.”

“To say this is a monumental day would be an understatement,” noted the Mississippi Collision Repair Association on its Facebook page following the release of the guide and urging its members to download and distribute it. “…This is a testament to the good that can come when shops, insurance companies, parts makers, and regulators come to the table for the good of consumers.”

To place a vehicle back in its pre-accident condition, some body shops must buy expensive machines or tools and have their technicians trained and certified on the repair procedures for certain makes of vehicles, Hood noted. “Some collision repair shops which do not obtain these certifications and tools,” Hood said, “may offer to do a repair cheaper.”

The tug-of-war among consumers who want top-notch repairs, body shops trying to keep costs low and insurance companies in the middle can result in conflict.

The guide covers a wide variety of topics, including what consumers should know when selecting a body repair shop; understanding the difference between original equipment and other types of parts and the implications of that choice; and what to do after the repairs are completed.

Although the guide’s publication received general support from the industry, some dissented. In a statement on its website, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America said it could potentially cause confusion and “mislead” consumers.

“Because of the likelihood of confusion for consumers, PCI cannot sign on to or otherwise support the Guide,” said the statement, attributed to Joe Woods, PCI vice president for state government relations. “While PCI generally appreciates all efforts to educate consumers on auto body repairs, we are disappointed with the Consumer Guide to Auto Body Repair recently issued by Attorney General Hood. Principally, PCI is concerned that the Guide may confuse and mislead consumers and body shops because it differs significantly from repair requirements proscribed by Mississippi law and from directives issued by the Mississippi Department of Insurance.”

To download a copy of the guide, visit http://bit.ly/2rjLTLl.