Monday, October 20, 2008

Is Your Teen a Safe Driver?

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people in the U.S. So, the question is -- how safe a driver is your teenager? Could he or she be a better, safer driver? And how can you help your teen drive more sensibly and safely?

Congress has designated October 19-25 as National Teen Driver Safety Week, a good time to think about the causes and solutions to teen accidents and car crashes.

There's an excellent program called Driving Skills for Life with advice for parents, teens and teachers, too. It is sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and the Governor's Highway Safety Association. The website has such obvious advice as slow down, don't drink and drive, and also a collection of videos by celebrities including some famous NASCAR racers, on how to drive more safely.

It's a great website for you and your teen to surf together -- especially the 3D driving challenge. No, it's not an animated video game -- it's more like a test on which rules of the road you remember from your own driving test way back whenever you took it. Call it a digital video car coach and driving coach.

Rules on teen driving vary from state to state -- so check Governor's Highway Safety Association website to find out what the rules are where you live.

Safe drives are great drives.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Toyota is First Green Dealership in Western USA

We already know about the great drives from Toyota -- the best-selling Prius hybrid and the Camry hybrid. Now, Toyota has the first green car dealership in the Western USA, also the first and only LEED-Certified car dealership in Utah.

Mark Miller Toyota in Salt Lake City was designed from the ground up with environmental standards in mind, using construction elements designed to conserve both energy and water, and construction uses lots of local and recycled materials -- including recycled windshield glass pulverized into use as a carpet backing. How's that for ingenuity -- your footsteps are cushioned by smooshed glass.

Some other eco-friendly construction and design elements include --
  • A high-performance, high-efficiency heating and cooling system;

  • Innovative sun-tracking skylights that make the most of natural daylight and help reduce use of lights inside

  • A cool-roof system to lower the overall heat that comes off large buildings

  • Landscaping that requires a minimal amount of water

  • Low-flow faucets and toilets and waterless urinals to conserve water

  • A cistern system to collect and store rainwater and air conditioning
    condensation for irrigation and for washing cars

  • High-speed glass service bay doors to reduce heat and cold loss from
    service areas at the same time they provide additional light to the interior

  • Recycled materials used in tile, carpeting, wood paneling and cubicles

  • A full-service cafe as well as a fuel facility on-site so employees and customers won't
    have to drive to get something to fill their bellies or their tanks.

Another feature of the dealership is a display that shows the building's energy use over the last half hour or so. It's the same kind of energy panel drivers of Toyota hybrid cars know well.

The dealership has applied for and expects to be awarded a Gold LEED certification in the next few weeks. Just so you know -- LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a voluntary program designed to promote and validate environmental leadership in the building industry. It's tough to get LEED certification -- there's an extensive application and review process, and you have to re-certify regularly to keep your eco-friendly status. As far as LEED certification is concerned -- you can honestly say (apologies to Kermit) it's not easy being green!

Pat Lobb Toyota in McKinney, Texas was the first dealership to earn LEED certification in 2006. Besides Mark Miller Toyota, five other Toyota dealerships in the country are built and either have received or are in the process of being reviewed for LEED certification. Three additional dealerships seeking LEED certification are under construction with several more in the design and planning stages.

So thank you, Toyota, for making great green drives and great green car dealerships, too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Drive Smarter and Save Gas

Yea, yea, I know -- the price of a barrel of oil is dropping, and so is the price of a gallon of gas. But, since the value of your stocks, 401k and IRA also are dropping, this is no time to return to the gas guzzling habits of old. Save gas, save money with these fuel economy tips.
  • Watch your speed. Your car creates the most pollution when driving at less than 15mph, and pollution decreases up to 60mph. After that, it increases again.

  • Take roof-racks off when you don't need them, since they create wind drag. Ditto driving with the windows open -- also creates drag that reduces fuel efficiency.

  • Take the junk out of the trunk -- remove unneccessary items from the car, such as tool boxes, golf clubs and bicycles to reduce weight.

  • Remember your RPMs -- Keeping the engine speed between 1,200 and 3,000 rpm will help improve fuel efficiency of whatever you are driving.

  • Keep your distance from the car in front. Sharp braking wastes fuel.

  • Maintain your car properly. Have the engine tuned, change air filters and keep the tires properly inflated to reduce friction.

  • Consolidate your trips --if you are picking up the kics from school, do the shopping on the way, in the same trip.

Some other things to remember --

  • When you turn on something electric in the car, it increases fuel consumption. There is only one source of energy in the car, and that's the fuel tank. Don't over-use some electric features, such as the rear-window heater, or even the heated seats that make nice to your lower back pain.

  • Keep the inside of your car windows squeaky clean. This stops the windows misting up, so that you don't need to use the rear-window heater or the air conditioning to dehumidify the car.

  • If you've got a garage, use it -- that's because if it takes you 10 minutes to warm up your car in cold weather, it's costing you around ten cents a minute.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New BMW 7 Series Costs $160,000

The Stock Market is tanking, not just in the US, but markets around the world, too. Our IRA, 40lK and Keogh investments have lost significant value in the last few weeks. We are worried about losing our homes, keeping our jobs, and getting the kids -- even the grandkids -- through school. And smack in the middle of these dismal headlines, BMW wants to sell us a $160,000 7 Series sedan. That's not a great drive -- that's a great insult.

In all fairness, this is a special edition Beemer, being sold through the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. In past years, this annual catalogue of conspicuous consumption and over-the-top excess has offered things like matching his and her helicopters. And, in all fairness, this limited edition six-figure BMW was planned before the world economy slammed on its brakes.

This 7 Series is based on a 750Li, customized by BMW Individual. Only 31 of these limited edition cars are being produced -- that's to honor the 31st anniversary of BMW's flagship 7 Series. Yay! Happy $160,000 birthday, 7 Series.

Okay, so part of the riduculous price includes a European vacation that begins in Munich, where owners pick up their new Beemer at BMW Welt, the company's factory and auto museum complex, including a behind-the-scenes VIP tour . The lucky 31 then get to drive on what BMW describes as a "multi-city lavish vacation in the South of France," including Monaco, Nice and Cannes. And when this lavish vacation is done, BMW will ship your 7 Series to the United States. Hopefully, they'll put a pretty ribbon on it.

$160,000 for a car and a vacation. Something those Wall St. guys with the golden parachutes can afford. Not the rest of us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Top Five Wagons for 2009

Forget the minivan. Forget the SUV. The newest great drive is the old-fashioned family wagon, updated with modern styling, plenty of power under the hood, plenty of room for the kids and the dog, plus excellent handling and state-of-the-art safety features.

The 2009 models are arriving in showrooms now. Here are the five top wagons, as chosen by the editors at, the vehicle pricing and information website.

1. 2009 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 GT
The top wagon pick is for its fun and sporty styling, spacious interior -- enough to haul friends, family, groceries and golf clubs in one shot -- and a racy turbocharged inline 4-cyl that generates 263 hp under the hood. The MAZDASPEED3 GT -- pictured here -- easily jumps off the line as hip and practical. And, it's a best buy at under $25K competition.

2. 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0L TDI
If you're looking for a new station wagon that will run forever and gets great gas mileage, this is the model for you. The TDI in the name indicates it's a diesel. This one gets impressive EPA estimates in the 29 City/40 Highway range). And the SportWagen name tells you this model will give you traditional German performance and handling. also was impressed with its top-notch interior, and its sub-$25K price tag, which only seals the deal.

3. 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero AWD Wagon
When they say engineered from jets, they mean it. The 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi Wagon has a 280 hp 2.0L turbocharged V6 and optional AWD. In this category, people might opt for a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes badge, but they'd be missing out on something special, according to, which calls this a great looking wagon with a laundry list of standard equipment.

4. 2009 BMW 5-Series Sport Wagon 535xi
Handling and performance make it hard to believe this eager Beemer is a wagon, but it is and, according to the editors at, "every bit what a BMW should be." The AWD-equipped, 300 hp-enabled, twin turbo-charged inline 6-cylinder-powered luxury car offers more than 58 cubic feet of space when the back seats are folded -- larger than some mid-sized SUVs.

5. 2009 Mercedes-Benz E Class 6.3L AMG Wagon
Rounding out the top five is this wagon, priced at $86,000 plus, thanks to its AMG heritage. Steep, for sure, but what you get is thrill-a-minute driving performance with beautiful styling thrown in. A sports wagon, for sure, with a 507 hp 6.3L V8 that generates 465 lb-ft of torque, as well as a 7 paddle-shifted automatic transmission, a sport suspension for improved handling and optional seating for seven. Make sure they are all buckled in, and then floor it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ford Model T Celebrates 100th Birthday

It was one hundred years ago today -- on October 1, 1908 -- that Henry Ford put the very first Model T on the road. So happy birthday Model T. For better or worse, you changed the world -- an iconic vehicle, a great drive with lasting impact on all of us.

Here are some of the ways --

The Model T officially ushered in the age of the "horseless carriage", and a burst of technical innovations that jump-started the aumotibile industry. More than 15 million Model T's were produced, including the 1924 Tourer pictured here. By 1921, the Model T accounted for an astounding 56% of the world's automobile production, and since it was manufactured in several countries and had dealerships in six continents, you could call the Model T the world's first global car.

Henry Ford essentially invented the assembly line to produce the Model T, and that manufacturing efficiency lowered the price of a car enough that most people could afford. In 1908, the first Model T cost $825. By 1925, it sold for only $260.

The Model T is responsible for establishing a minimum wage and the eight-hour work day. The factory work also gave jobs to people who usually could not find work, such as immigrants, women, minorities and people with disabilities, and helped create a middle-class.

Model T owners were able to personalize their vehicles with accessories. Now, that is called the aftermarket supplier industry, and it's a $38 Billion industry. So any time you see a car with custom hubcaps or pin-striping, or a dealer-installed audio system, you can thank the Model T, which started the customization trend.

By 1925, Ford was building its first factory-produced domestic pickup truck - the Ford Model T Runabout - with a pickup body. There also was a heavier-duty, one-ton-rated Model TT pickup that is a grand-daddy of today's F-Series Super Duty.

The Tin Lizzie had a top speed of 40-45 mph, from a front-mounted, 2.9-liter, four-cylinder, engine, and it was the best-selling vehicle ever, until 1972 when the VW Beetle finally surpassed it. More than 20 years later in 1999, a panel of 126 automotive experts from 32 countries still chose the Model T as the most influential car of the 20th century.

So Happy 100th Birthday Ford Model T.