Certified Pre-Owned – The Affordable New Car Option

Certified Pre-owned VehicleThere are few experiences in life that are as awesome as kicking the tires on a new car. Once you slide into the driver’s seat, take in that divine new car aroma, and realize that baby is all yours, well, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

Sadly though,  just because you want a new car, doesn’t mean you can afford one. If finances are a challenge, buying a “new” used car can be a great option. Though many car shoppers are wary of the risks that come with buying a used car, choosing a certified pre-owned vehicle can alleviate some of those risks.

Back in the early 1990s, automakers started offering certified pre-owned  vehicles to profit on low-mileage trade-ins and lease returns. Since vehicles were returning to dealerships in excellent condition, manufacturers decided to resell the cars complete with detailed inspections, reconditioning, and extended warranties.

Buyers usually get more car for their budget with a certified pre-owned vehicle than they can with a new car. To be considered certified, a vehicle needs to meet specific age and mileage requirements, and pass a dealership inspection. Certified pre-owned cars carry an extended limited warranty, but also go for a higher price. Many buyers are okay with paying that premium, because of the peace of mind the warranty gives them.

While a certified pre-owned vehicle, does minimize the potential for used car problems, there is no guarantee that you won’t have issues. With the certified used vehicle, you know that mechanics who are trained to spot trouble have inspected it. The manufacturers warranties vary, so it is important that you look at the warranty of each certified car you are considering. Depending on the program, you might get roadside assistance and a loaner-car when needed. Make sure you understand the extent to which the manufacturer will assist you if you need help resolving an issue at the dealership.

If you find a used car you like and it happens to not be certified, you might not have to rule it out. There are resources such as CARFAX and AutoCheck, which allow you to check on the background of car using its vehicle identification number (VIN) . The VIN can be found by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle or on the door post of the driver’s side door.

It is also a good idea to test drive the car and if you are seriously considering it, ask your own mechanic to check it out.  To assist you with what questions to ask and organizing information, Edmunds has a downloadable used car questionnaire you can use for each car you are considering.

With a little research and smart shopping,  buying a used car can be just as fun and rewarding as buying a new one. Plus you may end up with some remaining funds to take a nice summer road trip in your new ride.

Start the Holiday with a Safe Road Trip

safe road tripAccording to the American Automobile Association Travel Forecast, 48.7 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the holidays. More than 89 percent of holiday travelers will be driving this Thanksgiving. The 43.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip represents an increase of 1.9 percent over the previous year. If you are among the travelers, be sure to make it a smooth and safe road trip.

Although the fuel prices travelers will pay are slightly higher than last year, those prices will be the second cheapest we’ve seen in nearly a decade. According to the AAA forecast:

“Today’s national average price for a gallon of gasoline is $2.16, 11 cents more than the average price on Thanksgiving last year ($2.05). Most U.S. drivers will pay the second-cheapest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2008, when the national average was $1.85.”

Holiday road trips can be a fun part of the season’s festivities, as long as you are prepared and have a safe road trip. Whether you are driving home or to another special destination for the holidays, here are a few preparation tips:

  1. Be sure your vehicle is ready for the journey with a service check. Things to inspect include: battery, brakes, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, fluids, and tire pressure.
  2. Download an app like GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices along the way.
  3. Be sure your maps are current, whether it’s updating your GPS or getting the good old paper kind from a gas station.
  4. When packing the car, you may need to remove things you normally keep in the trunk in order to make room for gifts and your luggage. Just be sure not to leave behind your roadside emergency items such as jumper cables or a folding shovel.
  5. If you are traveling with kids, make sure they have something to do to pass the time. You don’t necessarily need a DVD player or a tablet to keep kids occupied. There are plenty of classic travel games for you and the little ones to enjoy together.

Whatever your plans are, have a safe road trip and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Do Fuel Additives Really Improve Gas Mileage?

Every driver, especially in today’s economy, wants to improve gas mileage and save money. Courting these desires are enthusiastic advertising claims that fuel additives are the way to substantially save on fuel costs. But do fuel additives actually provide gas-savings? According to  the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website, the touted advantages of fuel additives generally have little to back them up.

The vehicle engines of today are the product of decades of extensive research and technology. Engineers understand the demands placed on engines and have been able to design engines for optimal performance under the most challenging conditions. There are some fuel additives that may offer some modest benefits, however your engine was developed to perform without the need for enhancements like these.

If you are considering investing in fuel additives, rather than going with the recommendation of a clerk at your local auto supply chain, talk your mechanic. Your car care professional will have the experience and knowledge to advise you on the needs of your particular vehicle.

Fuel additives aside, here are some proven ways to improve your gas mileage:

Do not neglect  oil changes

Stay on schedule and use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil for optimal performance.

Maintain the correct tire pressure

Regularly check your tire pressure and keep them inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Regularly check tire tread

Keep in mind that worn out tires are not only unsafe, they cause your vehicle to operate less efficiently. 

Use cruise control  on the highway

Avoid getting a ticket and improve your gas mileage by maintaining a safe and consistent speed on the highway.

Always combine trips  

You’ll be surprised to find out how much you can save on gas by simply planning and combining trips. 

Simple Car Maintenance: Windshield Wiper Check

When your windshield wipers are worn or damaged, they will not be able to adequately clear the windshield. Windshield wipers are extremely important to ensure visibility for safe driving.

A number of factors contribute to the deterioration of your windshield wiper blades. These can include UV damage from the sun, oil from car waxes, dirt and other airborne debris, as well as salt and other contaminants in rain.

Checking your wiper blades every six months and replacing them annually is a very important part of your simple car maintenance routine.

Problems that mean your windshield wiper blades may need to be replaced include:

  • Corroded metal, particularly around the claws and joints
  • Frame is detached at any connection points or joints
  • Cracks, tears, or damage to the edge of the rubber squeegee
  • Lack of flexibility in the squeegee rubber
  • Rounding at the edges of the squeegee
  • Rubber blade is loose or not in secure in the frame

Along with inspecting your wipers, look for signs that your wipers are not working correctly:

  • Streaking on the windshield
  • Squeaking sound when in use
  • Skipping across the windshield

You can also care for your windshield wiper blades on a more frequent basis by cleaning your windshield and your wipers every time you fill your gas tank. In the winter months, clear snow and ice from your windshield before turning on your windshield wipers.

Simple Car Maintenance

There are few possessions you depend on in life as much as your car. For most it is a huge investment. We rely on our cars each day to get us to work, help us run errands, and transport us to the fun destinations we enjoy in between. It is easy to take your ride for granted, but eventually the day will come when your vehicle will fail. If you don’t take proper care of it, that day maybe sooner than later.

Taking care of your vehicle means making sure that you take your car into a professional for the regular maintenance it needs. Not only do you need to protect your investment, you need to know that you and your passengers are as safe as possible while on the road.  Your trusted auto service provider can help you be sure your car stays in top condition.

There are also some basic auto maintenance things you can check on your own to keep your car running smoothly:

  • Oil Check
  • Engine Leaks
  • Air Filter
  • Accessory Belts
  • Wiper Blades
  • Tire Care

Over the next several weeks, I will expand on how to do these checks on your own. In the meantime, knowing your vehicle and finding a trusted local auto service professional will keep you driving safely,  reliably, and efficiently.

Storing Winter Tires

Could it be true? It looks like winter may finally be behind us! As thoughts turn to warmer weather and Springtime, there is something you may not be thinking of, but probably should consider – your winter tires.

An important part of tire maintenance, proper tire storage is typically overlooked. Storing your winter tires the right way will keep them looking great and performing well.

Tires should be stored in a clean, cool and dry place. Keep them away from sunlight and be sure they are not exposed to strong air currents. It is true that the rubber used to make tires is engineered to resist the effects of sunlight, ozone, and water, however these elements still cause wear. Seasonal storage time provides a great opportunity to minimize exposure to these stresses and give your tires a break.

The following are some storage tips to keep in mind:

  • Tires stored while mounted on rims should be inflated to 10 psi.
  • Tires that are put in storage during warm weather should be inflated to about 15 psi to offset the pressure drop during cold weather months.
  • Cover or wrap tires for storage. Many types of covers are available from auto parts retailers.
  • If tires are mounted on rims, they should be stacked four deep underneath a tire cover.
  • Tires should be stored upright and under a cover if they are mounted on rims, rather than stacked or suspended from the ceiling.
  • Tires with whitewall or raised white lettering should be stored with the whitewall or raised white lettering facing each other to avoid black rubber staining.
  • It is best not to store tires outside, but it is unavoidable, keep them raised off the storage surface.

Winter Wash

Dear Tracy,

I am concerned about the salt that has been building up on my car this winter, but I am reluctant to wash it because I have heard the locks, trunk, and gas cap can freeze. Is freezing a problem or is it okay to wash during winter? I am really worried about the salt damaging my car and my tires!

Rachel B.

Dear Rachel,

It is definitely a good idea to keep your car washed in the winter. While salt is a quick and effective way for municipalities to make roads safer during periods of ice and snow, it is also a very caustic substance that can lead to pitting and rusting on your car’s finish. To prevent lock freezing and other such issues, you can apply WD40 to help water from penetrating these areas.

If you have newer winter tires that have a decent amount of tread, you shouldn’t have to worry about salt damaging your tires. But the metal surfaces of your vehicle, including your wheels, are vulnerable to salt damage. Salt can ultimately lead to rust occurring on the body and underside areas of your car.

Fortunately the process of salt leading to rust takes time. The coatings and paint finishes used today do a very good job of providing protection.  With regular washings during the winter months your car should handle the salt abuse just fine. How often you need to wash the car will depend on how much salt and road sludge you encounter. Since salt is particularly hard on chrome, it may be worth swapping your wheels out it the winter months, if you have really expensive wheels. Also, waxing your car during the autumn months will provide extra protection that will make your winter washes more effective.

Home for the Holidays – Make it a Safe Trip!

Image courtesy of Pintrest

The American Automobile Association Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast reports that 98.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the holidays, and that year-end holiday travel volume will reach the highest peak since AAA began recording holiday travel stats in 2001.

According to the AAA forecast, nearly 91 percent of all travelers will celebrate the holidays with a road trip, which is an increase of 4.2 percent from last year. With today’s national average price of gas at $2.53 per gallon (70 cents less than last year), the report also says that lower gas prices will help boost disposable income this holiday season.

Holiday road trips can be a fun part of the season’s festivities, as long as you are safe and prepared. Whether you are driving home or to another special destination for the holidays, here are a few preparation tips:

  • Make sure your vehicle is ready! Get a service check including: battery, brakes, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, fluids, and tire pressure.
  • Download an app like GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices along the way.
  • Whether it means updating your GPS, printing a fresh set of Mapquest directions, or picking up a paper version from a gas station, make sure your maps are current.
  • As you pack the car, you might be tempted to remove things you normally keep in the trunk in order to make room for packages and luggage. Be sure not to leave behind roadside emergency items such as jumper cables or a folding shovel.

Whatever your plans might be, have a Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays!

What the Smell? What Car Odors Can Mean

Recently, a friend of mine nearly went crazy trying to find the source of an obnoxious smell, which had developed in her new car. Her first inclination was to blame her toddler, who likes to munch snacks and sip drinks in the car. When an inspection of his car seat, and thorough vehicle inspection failed to turn up a cause, she was ready to give up and hand over a tidy sum to an auto detailer to fix the issue. That’s when her oldest child finally confessed to spilling milk on the floor and merely patting it dry. Once the carpet deep cleaned, the problem was solved!

Sometimes, mystery odors in your car can be more than the result of a careless mishap. Often they are a warning of potential problems relating vehicle operation. Below is a list of some possible offensive odor auto issues (try saying that five times fast). Whatever it may be, if you find yourself with a mysterious car odor, have it checked out to make sure it is not a serious issue.

Maple Syrup

If you start craving pancakes as your engine warms up, it could mean  a ethylene glycol leak, which can smell sweet, like maple syrup. An ethylene glycol leak can come from failures in the intake manifold gasket, heater hose, radiator hose, or cylinder head. When the odor is most noticeable outside of the car, the problem may be a radiator cap leak. If the smell is stronger inside the car, it could indicate an issue with the heater core.

Rotten Eggs

A sulfur smell that seems like rotten eggs can be caused by a bad catalytic converter. During normal operation, gas that passes through the catalytic converter is transformed into odorless sulfur dioxide. If the sulfur is not being converted, you may smell it, and that may mean that your catalytic convertor is not working.


A leak in the fuel tank vent hose or the fuel injection line may be to blame if your car smells like a gas station. Since gasoline is flammable this is obviously not a good situation. While a gas smell can be common in classic cars that were manufactured in the 1970’s or earlier, it is not normal in newer cars and likely the sign of a serious issue.

Carpet Burning

If you smell something like burning carpet, it could be the result of hard braking causing the brake pads to overheat. While it may be normal to smell this temporarily during some driving situations, if you smell a burning smell regularly, during normal driving, it could mean you are driving with the parking brake on, or it could mean faulty or damaged brakes.

Damp and Musty

If climbing in your car is like climbing into your high school gym locker, it could be mildew in the air conditioning system. Simply turning off the air conditioning system and running  the fan on high will often cure the problem by drying out your system, but if it persists, you may need a more thorough cleaning.


Two New Tires: Put the Best in Back

Dear Tracy,

I recently parked in a spot that had some broken glass I did not notice, and now I have to replace my two front tires. Since the rear tires are still in good shape, and my budget is tight, I am only going to replace the damaged tires.

I was planning on putting the two new tires put on the front of my car because it is a front wheel drive car, and it seems like the better tires should be in the front. Is this true?

Eric C.

Dear Eric,

Sorry to hear about your mishap, Eric! I have had this happen, too, and it’s very frustrating.

Regardless of the type of car you have, your two new tires should go in the back. This is because the driving stability that enables you to control your steeling and braking is provided by the rear tires. Installing  the tires with the best tread in the back will help you maintain better control on wet roads and avoid the dangers of hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning occurs when tires lose contact with the road due to the tire’s inability to channel water through tread patterns. As front tires hydroplane, the vehicle tends to under steer and remain straight. But when rear tire hydroplaning happens, the vehicle tends to oversteer, or spin. Under steering can be can be controlled to a large degree by releasing the gas pedal and slowing down. In the case of over steering, it is a lot harder to resume control. This is why it is important to have the better tread on the rear tires.

Once you have your new tires installed, makes sure to stay on schedule with regular rotation and alignment checks, and always keep them properly inflated.