Thursday, July 31, 2008

What to Do After a Driving Accident

Of course, I hope you never have a driving accident. But if you do, the DocuDent kit is a great resource to have at the ready, in the glove compartment.

The moments after a road accident – whether or not it was your fault – are a stressful blur, and not the time to be searching frantically for a pen and paper to write down all those important accident details. Let alone to try to remember exactly what information you need to collect from the other guy for your insurance claim, for the police, or both.

DocuDent is a handy kit that contains everything you need, inside a zippered pouch about the size of your overnight toiletry kit. Think of it as an auto-accident kit.

Instead of toothpaste, this handy kit contains the following --

  • An accident report form that includes spaces for the names and addresses of passengers or witnesses,

  • A pen to write it all down with,

  • A whistle, just in case,

  • Band-Aids, just in case,

  • A disposable film camera with flash to take photos of the accident site, more dependable than a cell phone camera that has no flash,

  • A gadget the size of your MP3 player that is a combination measuring tape and flashlight.

DocuDent also includes a handy pocket guide that suggests what photographs to take, and what you should not say to the other guy.

If you have a loved one heading off to college this fall, this is a great gear idea for the glove compartment. Consider it a $20 insurance policy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Drive Honda's New Fuel Cell FCX Clarity

A Los Angeles couple has become the first to lease a next-generation Honda hydrogen/fuel cell sedan, the FCX Clarity. It is Honda's answer to the Toyota Prius, not to mention that it may be the answer to the question all of us have had lately to alternative -- and green -- fuel-efficient great cars to drive as fuel prices have skyrocketed.

Honda is leasing 200 of these vehicles to customers around the country, although most of them will be in Southern California, plus so-called 'opinion leaders', such as celebrities who can generate headlines and U.S. Congressmen who can generate favorable legislation. It's the same marketing tactic BMW is using for its bi-fuel Series 7 Hydrogen sedan, which switches from gas to hydrogen at the flip of a switch.

I test drove an earlier version of a Honda fuel cell vehicle, a small SUV version. It handled exactly like its conventional gas-powered sibling, except for a thundering silence that takes about one nanosecond to get used to. I also test drove the BMW hydrogen vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, and was impressed at how its acceleration and handling were identical whether it was operating on gasoline mode or hydrogen mode. I have also tested the General Motors Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell prototype. Ditto. Great acceleration, great handling.

The Honda FCX Clarity is propelled by an electric motor that runs on electricity generated in the fuel cell. The only emission is water, and its fuel efficiency is three times that of a modern gasoline-powered automobile -- the equivalent of 74 mpg, and has a range of 280 miles before needing a hydrogen fill.

Hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars are not the answer. Neither are hybrids like the popular Prius, or plug-in electrics such as the GM Volt that's in the pipeline. But, most definitely, each and every type is a part of the answer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Avoid Flood Damaged Cars

Every year, thousands of vehicles are ruined by water. An unknown number of cars were water damaged last month when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks, breaking through levees and leaving much of the Midwest under water. Many of those cars will be dried out, fixed up and resold to unsuspecting buyers. Hopefully, not to you.

An estimated 250,000 vehicles were damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- and about half of them wound up back on the market. So, it is likely many of the cars still drying out from June's river flooding also will be found soon as bargains on auctions and on-line. Ditto any vehicles that will be damaged by this year's hurricane season, just now beginning.

Don't get soaked by buying a soaked car. Simply, they are dangerous -- too dangerous to own and drive. Today's cars have more computer circuitry than the original NASA rockets, and dried out circuitry rarely works the way the engineers intended. Just ask anybody who has ever knocked over the morning coffee or evening martini onto a computer keyboard, or even a cellphone. Water and computers -- not a good combination.

Ditto, water can permanently damage airbag and anti-lock brake systems. Even after the water has dried, and the smell of rotting fish or rotting garbage has aired out of the upholstery and carpeting.

So how do you avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle? Don't think that because you live in a 'dry' state that you are safe. The creeps and con artists who re-sell flood damaged cars move them to a different part of the country, even out of the country. Here's what to look for:
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust. Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
  • Turn the ignition key to make sure accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Ditto airbag and ABS lights.
  • Test all the lights, both interior and exterior, plus windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner. And check them several times to make sure they work.
  • Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires often become brittle upon drying and may crack.
  • Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
  • Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.

This may be the most important tip of all -- Ask to see a detailed vehicle history report. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can reveal many hidden problems from a vehicle's past, including flood titles and will indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car's history at

And remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Volkswagen Announces New Factory in USA

Poor sales are driving General Motors to slow down production and park many of its employees on the unemployment line. GM has some great drives, including the award-winning Cadillac CTS and the icon Chevy Corvette, plus fuel efficient green drives such as the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. But, apparently, that's not enough.

The bad news from GM is at the same time that Volkswagen sales are booming enough that the company announced this week it will spend $1 Billion to build its first U.S. production facility, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The new assembly line is part of VW's plan to triple sales in North America in the next ten years.

Prof. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG, said the company hopes to sell 800,000 Volkswagens in the U.S. by 2018. Many of those will be the iconic Beetle, and the Beetle convertible, pictured here. The new factory will be able to produce 150,000 vehicles a year, including a brand new midsize sedan designed specifically for the North American market. Production is scheduled to begin early in 2011.

The new assembly line will add 2,000 jobs to the Chattanooga area -- perhaps some of them will be workers who move to VW from General Motors. And, maybe some of those about-to-be unemployed GM workers will head for the assembly line Toyota just announced it is building in the US -- its third US factory. See my article about that just below this one.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Toyota Will Build Prius in USA

The most popular cars right now are great drives that are also the most fuel efficient, such as the top-rated Prius, which is so popular that Toyota cannot keep up with demand.

So the company will start building the Prius in the U.S. beginning in 2010, at a brand new factory now under construction in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

A Prius with a Southern accent! Fabulous.

Toyota, by the way, was the first foreign automaker to build a factory in the United States. That was more than 20 years ago. Now, the company has multiple factories and parts plants in the US and more in Canada. It's an investment worth more than $21 Billion, and employs more than 43,000 workers on the assembly line, as well as research and development, design, sales and financial services.

The Camry Hybrid already is built in the US, in Kentucky. Toyota also is switching its plant in Princeton, Indiana, from producing the full-size Tundra pick-up to produce the Highlander mid-size SUV instead. The Tudra will continue to be built at the Toyota factory in San Antonio. The engines for the Tundra and the super-size Sequoia SUV are made in Huntsville, Alabama, and although Toyota is stopping production on those large, gas guzzler models -- until sales pick up again -- the company says those workers will "continue to be provided work", whatever that means.

It's sad and ironic that as Detroit automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler scale back production of vehicles, more Toyota is increasing the number of its vehicles Made in America.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Top Tips to Save Gas

The relentless rise of gas prices has us all a bit crazy right now, especially at the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, when we would rather be taking a holiday from panic at the pump.

Here are some ways you can increase the fuel efficiency of Old Breakdown and squeeze more miles out of every high-priced gallon --

Check your tires -- Experts estimate that U.S. drivers waste nearly 3 Billion gallons of gas each year by driving on tires that are not inflated properly. If yours are under-inflated by 5-8 PSI, you are losing a couple of miles per gallon. Depending on how much you drive, that can add up to wasting enough gas this year to pay for a week's worth of groceries to feed your family. Always check your tires when they are cold, since driving even a short distance to the gas station can change the reading.

Slow down -- According to the Department of Energy, for every 5 mph over 55 mph you drive, is costing you 20 cents a gallon. Driving at 55 instead of 65 or 75 mph also reduces emissions. Not to mention reducing traffic deaths. At 55mph, a vehicle travels the length of a football field in just four seconds. It's less than 2 seconds at 75 mph. Wouldn't you rather have an extra couple of seconds to react to an emergency?

Step on the brake and gas gently -- Jack-rabbit starts and slam-dunk stops waste gas, so be more gentle with that gas pedal. div>

Lighten the load -- Get the junk out of the trunk. Every extra pound you carry around reduces how many miles you can squeeze out of that lemon you used to love.