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Invest Tax Refund in Auto Care and Earn Valuable Dividends

Woman with car keyAlthough you may be thinking of ways to splurge with your tax refund, the Car Care Council recommends something more practical – invest some of that money in auto care and reap the financial benefits.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average tax refund is over $3,100. By simply allocating a portion to vehicle maintenance and service, you will realize big dividends in the form of safety and dependability. The benefits of auto care don’t stop there. Your vehicle will perform more efficiently, saving money at the pump, and its useful life will be extended, postponing the major expense of purchasing a new car.

With proper care, the typical vehicle should deliver at least 200,000 miles of safe, dependable performance. The most common routine maintenance procedures and repairs include checking the oil, filters and fluids, belts and hoses, brakes, tires and the HVAC system. The non-profit Car Care Council also recommends an annual tune-up and wheel alignment.


The 20-Minute Tech Inspection


Modern cars need little routine maintenance, compared with the cars of two or three decades back. However, that doesn’t mean no maintenance. For instance, a car’s radiator can be filled with “lifetime” coolant that never requires changing. But that doesn’t matter much if a radiator hose leaks and the engine destroys itself for lack of the coolant. Catch the leak early and you can prevent an inconvenient and perhaps costly breakdown.

First, peek under your car, which contains a wide assortment of fluids. All should remain in the car, not drip on the garage floor. They’re a colorful bunch—red, green, yellow, orange, brown—and if you spot one of them on the ground, note what part of the car it seems to come from and have your repair shop track down the leak and stop it. The only fluid you should see under the car is clear water—normal condensation from the car’s air conditioner after you shut it off.

Now, with the car on a level surface and the engine off, pop open the hood. Can you see the engine? Good. That’s an accomplishment, given all the covers and paraphernalia automakers put in the engine compartment these days. Find the oil dipstick. If it seems to be missing, consult your owner’s manual, because it might be. Some cars now have an electronic oil-level gauge.

Dipstick or sensor, if the level is down more than a quart, ask your mechanic why. If the oil on the dipstick is a nasty black color, it’s time for an oil change. Look up oil-change intervals in the owner’s manual.

Your vehicle also has reservoirs for windshield washer, radiator, transmission, brake, and power steering fluids; your owner’s manual will tell you where and how to check each. As with engine oil, these fluids should be relatively clean. Coolant that looks like dirty dishwater or transmission fluid that smells burned should be changed.

The manual will indicate what kind of fluids to add, if needed. Be sure to add them in the proper place. An oil company did a survey and discovered that car owners put fluids in the oddest places—motor oil in the radiator, transmission fluid in the engine, and water just about everywhere. Not good. Modern car batteries are usually sealed. But see that the battery terminals don’t have mosslike stuff growing on them and that the cables are tight. Examine any belts you find for cracks or fraying, and any hoses for cracks or odd bulges. Now switch on the engine. Does it settle into a smooth idle? Do you hear any ominous sounds? Close the hood and turn on all the lights. Walk around the car to make sure they work; you’ll need a friend to help check the back-up and brake lights.

Turn the steering wheel to one side and shut off the engine. Examine the tires. Do they have plenty of tread? Are the sidewalls cracking? Are there any nails or screws in the tread that could cause a slow leak? Inspect the front tires closely for uneven wear that could indicate an alignment problem.

With a tire gauge (it costs less than $10 at an auto parts store) check the pressures—including the spare. Correct pressures are listed in the owner’s manual, on the driver-side doorjamb, the fuel-filler door, or the glove box door. Finally, make sure the windshield wiper blades are intact and flexible. Follow this routine once a month, fix any issues you discover in your inspection, and I’ll wager that you’ll avoid trouble down the road.


Are Rear-View Cameras Useful?


The results of a  AAA survey of motorists who own a car with a rearview camera or a sensor-based backing aid (a device that produces warning beeps) may answer your question. Of more than a thousand respondents, 93 percent said they wanted one in their next vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds rearview cameras to be so beneficial that it’s requiring all new cars and light trucks to have one by May 2018. Take a peek at the website and you’ll understand why. One page is filled with photos of adorable little kids who were killed while being backed over, 70 percent of them by a parent or another relative. The website says that each week in the U.S., 50 children are backed over—and that two of them die from their injuries.

All reason enough for NHTSA’s mandate. But also think of all the damaged bumpers and fenders—that is, property damage—that could be prevented if drivers had a clearer view behind their vehicles before they backed into a post, a wall, or another vehicle.

What’s more, the potential for back-up accidents has increased in recent years. Here’s why:

An aging population. Age often brings reduced head and neck flexibility, making it difficult for older drivers to look behind their cars.

Styling trends. The coupe-like body design of many sedans these days dictates wide rear pillars and narrow rear windows, both of which reduce rear visibility.

Larger vehicles. Large vehicles often have blind zones behind them; objects in those areas can’t be seen in rearview mirrors. Moreover, vans and SUVs often have several rows of seats with a forest of head restraints that block rear vision.

The 2002 Infiniti Q45 was perhaps the first production car in the U.S. with what we now call a rearview camera—a small camera lens in the rear bumper that sends an image to an in-dash screen. Today, about one-third of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. include a rearview camera as standard equipment. But you don’t have to buy a new car to get one. Aftermarket rearview cameras are available at car audio, auto parts, and big-box electronic stores, starting at about $80.

Last year, the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center (ARC) tested both factory-installed and aftermarket rearview cameras. They generally worked well, increasing visibility in the blind zone by an average of 46 percent.

It’s important to note that that’s not a 100 percent improvement. A single camera lens typically mounted near the license plate doesn’t see all—a cat or a child under the bumper, for example. Pavement that slopes up sharply behind a car makes objects appear farther away than they are. Snow and dirt can cloud the lens, and so on.

All of which means that a rearview camera is no substitute for walking around your car and looking in mirrors and over your shoulder before throwing your car into reverse. “The camera is only an adjunct device,” says Albert Austria, lead engineer at ARC.

But rearview camera systems are improving. Tesla and Volkswagen are testing cameras that will replace traditional side-view mirrors. I’ve recently driven a sports car (BMW i8), a crossover (Nissan Rogue), and a pickup truck (Ford F-150) with multiple cameras that give an impressive bird’s-eye view all around the vehicle. One more plus: Not only do such camera systems have the potential to save lives, they also make exiting a crowded parking lot easier and safer.

Watch out for Road Debris

dreamstime_s_53673846.jpgBlown tires, hubcaps, ladders, landscaping tools, and even large furniture are seen on our roads every day, particularly on freeways, where a poorly secured load can go airborne if the vehicle carrying it reaches a high speed. Not only can debris damage your vehicle, it can also cause a collision as vehicles swerve to avoid it. What can you do to help prevent contact?

Slow down. Exceeding the speed limit is not only against the law, it also reduces the time you have to react to unexpected situations while behind the wheel, such as having to avoid roadway debris in your travel lane. Wet or icy roads in winter can add extra danger, since your tires have less traction.

Watch all lanes, not just the one you’re driving in, in case you need to quickly change lanes to avoid debris ahead of you. Sometimes the safest choice is to veer onto the shoulder rather than dart into another driving lane. If other vehicles have you boxed in, your only choice is to hit the brakes.

Don’t tailgate. If the vehicle in front of you swerves to avoid hitting an object, you may not have enough time to follow suit if you’re driving too close. Be cautious when following vehicles that are carrying a load such as tools, equipment, or furniture; if not properly secured, these items could fly out of a truck bed and toward your vehicle.

Sometimes there is no way to avoid hitting debris. This is particularly true if the roads are wet, if you are driving a tall vehicle with high rollover capacity, or if you’re unsure of your ability to safely maneuver around the object. If you run over debris, you should have a trusted mechanic inspect the underside of your vehicle for damage.


Blind Spot Detection

gallery_sorento_2016_exterior_033-kia-1280x-jpgIn the new Sorento, when blind spot detection senses another vehicle or object in your blind spot, the system will warn you with a visual signal on your side mirror.

To Buy or to Lease?

You’re more likey to buy

  • When you lease a car, you are typically capped at 15,000 miles a year. Additional mileage can cost you up to 35 cents per mile. And that can really add up.
  • If you like to personalize a car, this investment can be lost on a leased car.
  • If you like the idea of ownership, you are less likely to be happy with the lease option.
  • If you like the feeling of accomplishment that paying off a large purchase brings and should consider that when you lease a car, the payment ends only when you return the car.
  • If the car you presently own is over 3 years old you are more likely a buyer. While not always true, you can usually drive for less if you’re willing to buy and drive for at least 3 years.
  • If you don’t mind doing your own car repairs, you probably don’t mind driving a car after the warranty expires.

You’re more likely to lease

  • Lease arrangements usually involve a 15,000 miles-per-year cap and charge for extra miles. If you drive very little, you may be a candidate for a luxury lease.
  • When you negotiate a 24 or 36-month lease, you can be sure you’ll always be driving a new vehicle.
  • Although you need to maintain and repair your leased vehicle just as you would an owned vehicle, because you typically lease for 2 to 3 years, the car is normally under warranty.
  • Many people prefer to drive a vehicle that is priced above their means and leasing provides the solution.
  • If you don’t mind not owning the car, you are free to enjoy the benefits of leasing like low monthly payments and a low down payment.
  • If you own the company, and you use your car for business, check with your tax advisor. You may be able to deduct your auto expenses, including your monthly lease payment. And if the company you work for gives you a monthly car allowance, you may want to lease since you’ll be able to drive a nicer car for a lower monthly payment.

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