Archive for May, 2010

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Grills, Grub…and Safety!

May 26, 2010

Memorial Day is almost upon us. The official kick-off to summer fun, a popular activity for Memorial Day weekend is grilling out some grub with friends and loved ones. But one thing you may not be looking forward to is a trip to the local emergency room, which will happen to 19,000 Americans this year due to lack of grill safety precautions.

There are some basic tips to keep in mind before you ever light your grill. Keep your grill in an open area; don’t cook under a roof, car port or awning, because those can easily catch fire. (I need to go home and move my grill now; it’s under an overhang because we cooked out while it was raining. Oops.) Also be aware of any tree branches that may hang over the grill, and make sure to either cut those down, or move the grill to a different location. It’s important to keep the grill away from your house or any other building, like a shed or garage.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case. (Ladies, you may have to provide this, since most men will think they don’t need one. Kind of like directions.) It’s important to know how to use it, too. It’s really very simple. Remember the word PASS. Pull the pin, Aim the extinguisher, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep back and forth in a continuous motion.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, use only lighter fluid to start the fire. Don’t ever use gasoline or kerosene, because both are extremely flammable and can explode. And you really don’t want to have to use that fire extinguisher.

After you’ve got everything ready to go, and your coals are burning, remember to NEVER leave the grill unattended. Also make sure to keep kids and pets away, as they won’t realize how hot the grill can be. Coals can reach up to 1000 degrees, so let them cool completely before disposing of them. If your fire starts to dwindle, never add more lighter fluid while there is still fire present. Remember Chevy Chase in European Vacation? It’s very embarrassing to lose your eyebrows.

Last but not least, use flame retardant oven mitts and barbecue tongs while cooking. Don’t burn yourself, it’s not fun. Just to drive the point home on how important grill safety is, take a moment to watch this video and see how quickly an unattended grill can go up in smoke. And flames. We here at Car Country wish you a safe and festive Memorial Day!

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How to Cut Car Insurance Costs

May 25, 2010

Sure, you’ve had it since you were 16, but have you thought about how to maximize your policy and minimize payments?

Who Needs It Most

If you have a car, you need auto insurance. Most states have minimums, at least for liability, and insurers will generally suggest coverage ranges for other types of car insurance based on where you live, what you drive, and how you drive.

What to Ask Your Insurer

  • Are you covered against uninsured drivers, or do you need a separate policy?
  • Do you want or need roadside assistance with your policy? (If you belong to a roadside assistance club like AAA, you don’t need double coverage.)
  • Will your policy pay for a rental if your car is out of service?

How to Get Costs Down

  • If you haven’t consolidated policies with your spouse, make sure to do it. Statistics show that married couples are less of a claims risk, which means lower premiums. You also may be eligible for other discounts, so ask your insurer.
  • Bundling multiple insurance policies can lower your bottom line, whether it’s grouping your property, auto, and even life insurance policies.
  • As cars age, the cost of repairing them rises — so you may pay more for collision insurance on a clunker than on a new car. If it’s cheaper to replace your car than to repair it, reduce or eliminate your collision coverage.
  • Consider raising your deductible (maybe you’d be responsible for the first $500 in damages rather than the first $250). The increase may be offset in the long run by lower monthly payments.
  • Research the insurability of any new car you plan to buy. Vintage models or often-stolen cars (like Honda Civics, which are easy for thieves to strip for parts) may cost you more than a pricier but lower-maintenance vehicle.

Illustration by Joora Song

Kristen Finello

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Rain, rain, go away!

May 19, 2010

In light of today’s horrible rainy, stormy weather, we thought it would be appropriate to pass along some tips for driving safely in the rain. After all, we’re all about cars here at Car Country, right?

First, if you can, stay home! (Although if it’s a workday, your boss probably won’t look kindly on you calling in ‘rain’.) Driving in the rain, especially torrential rain like we’ve been having, is incredibly dangerous. It only takes a few inches of water to wash your car right off the road. If you’re trying to drive into a puddle, go slowly. If the water is more than a few inches high, turn around and find another route. Not only is it hazardous, but water can cause major damage to your car’s electrical system. Plus, bright lightning can temporarily blind drivers, which is never a good thing.

Never drive at a high rate of speed when roads are wet and slick.  Slippery terrain makes it more difficult to stop, no matter how awesome your brakes are. Try to use brakes as little as possible, and slow down by letting off the accelerator. Hydroplaning is a very real threat when driving on slick streets, so it’s important to go slowly and be careful. Don’t follow anyone too closely, either.

Water tends to puddle in the outer lanes, so try to drive in the middle lane, if possible. When driving next to large vehicles, like big rigs or buses, keep your distance. They tend to spray a LOT, and the sheets of water splashing across your windshield will reduce your visibility to zero.

Make sure to keep your headlights on at all times! This is the only way to guarantee that other drivers can see you during times of low visibility. This is especially important if you drive a light-colored vehicle, like white or silver.

Lastly, always keep up on your car’s maintenance. Make sure you always have windshield wipers in good working order, and your brakes and tires are always in good condition. Stay safe out there! And remember, you can always call in ‘rain’!

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Stranded? Be smart!

May 11, 2010

If you’re lucky enough to have never broken down on the side of the road, I applaud you. And warn you: your luck will probably run out sooner than later. Breaking down and waiting for help on the side of the road is no fun. But if you take a few precautionary steps and are prepared, it won’t be so bad. And don’t think that you only need these things when you’re on a long road trip; people often break down near their homes. I personally had a blowout just last weekend less than 15 miles from home. Boy, was I frustrated!

Make sure the manual for your vehicle is in the glove compartment. It’s full of handy information, and maybe you can figure out what’s wrong with your car; it helps to be informed. Don’t ever leave home without your cell phone and a car charger. If you forget it, you’ll break down, it’s Murphy’s Law. The last time I locked my keys in my car, I was four blocks from home, and didn’t have my cell phone, which left me walking through a semi-scary area in the dark while wearing a ridiculous ensemble of a short skirt and Ugg boots. If you have AAA, good for you! Keep your AAA card and contact info handy; they are lifesavers. It’s also good to keep a pen and paper in your glove box with all of this stuff, too; you never know when you’ll need to write down a phone number or an address in case of an emergency.

In your trunk, there are several items that are good to have on hand. Flares or a reflective triangle are good to have. It’s scary to be stuck on the shoulder; you need to pull off the road as much as possible into the grass. If you can’t make sure you set up the flares or triangle so that passing motorists can see you and steer clear. (And just beware, nobody is going to stop and ask if you need help in this day and age, as sad as that is. So be ready for a long, boring wait.)

You will also want to keep a couple of extra blankets and coats in the trunk, in case you get stuck during the winter time. Other essential gear includes a flashlight, first aid kit, car jack, battery-operated radio (and batteries!) and an ice scraper. Make sure you have jumper cables, too. Also, keep a supply of bottled water, and some non-perishable food items, like energy bars or beef jerky.

Last but not least, have something to do! I think that being stuck with nothing to keep me occupied is the worst. So keep an extra book, or some playing cards or something with your emergency roadside kit, just in case. And if you think this sounds like too much work, you can always purchase a ready-made kit from AAA, which is available online or from a local retailer.

Be smart, be prepared!

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The Big ‘D’, and I don’t mean ‘Dallas’

May 6, 2010

Want to hear something ironic? The Bible Belt is has the second-highest divorce rate in the country, following Nevada (hello, Britney Spears and drive-thru wedding chapels). Oklahoma falls within the top five states with the highest divorce rates. This is a very sad statistic. And while the failure of a once-happy union is bad enough, there are several other aspects of divorce which are just as crappy. Like bad credit.

So you said “I Do” and everything was peachy for awhile, maybe you had a couple of kids, maybe you didn’t. Something went wrong, and now you’re headed for divorce court. And your credit will go right down the tubes, unless you know what to do.

Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Make sure you read over it carefully, and note any mistakes that you see, because they do happen (a lot). If anything is incorrect, dispute it as quickly as possible. Notify the credit agencies of the mistake; they will mail you a form to fill out, explaining the situation. If there’s something on the report that reflects negatively on you, and you really didn’t mean to mess up, you may write a letter and tell them what happened; this shows the creditor that you really ARE a good person, and that you’re trying to fix your mistakes. (This happened to me: when I graduated college, my roommates and I canceled all of our services – phone, cable, electric, etc., and happily moved on with our grown-up lives. Or so we thought: when I got my first credit report about four years later, it showed that I had an outstanding bill owed to Southwestern Bell; somehow it didn’t get canceled. Since it was in my name, it went on my credit report as a boo-boo. No amount of begging and pleading would fix it; I ended up writing a letter to the credit agencies, and paying the $64 bill. It’s finally gone, but it haunted me for years. But I’m not bitter toward Southwestern Bell. Really.)

If you’ve got any random credit cards that you don’t need now that you’re on your way to being single, get rid of them. I had a zillion cards for different stores at the mall, since my ex-husband made good money and I liked to shop. But with him out of the picture, I still tried to shop. And then realized that I couldn’t pay all of the bills on my own. And what did that do to my credit? Dragged it way down. Know how many random store credit cards I have now? One. Which means I owe ONE store, and not eight. It’s much easier that way.

If there are extra frivolous expenses that you know you can’t afford on your own, nix them. I had a subscription to “People” magazine. That’s what, $100 per year? My feeling was that since it was such a small amount, I could put it on the back burner. My household could still run without paying the “People” people; they wouldn’t shut off my electricity and I would still have hot water. What I didn’t count on was the “People” people turning me over to a collection agency for the measly 100 bucks. And guess what? It showed up on my credit report as a delinquency. I can’t stress this enough: pay your bills on time!

If you mess up your credit, whether it’s due to divorce or something else, Car Country can still help you get into a reliable used vehicle. That’s why we’re here. It’s more ideal to keep your credit score high, and don’t goof on making your payments (they WILL come after you!). But if something goes wrong in that perfect world, Car Country is still here to help. We know you need a car, and we can make that happen!

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Woman? Car Maintenance? Yes, You Can!

May 3, 2010

So you’ve come to Car Country, and you’ve bought a reliable used car. Now, you have to take care of it! It’s vital to maintain your vehicle so that it will last you for many years to come. Although if you don’t take care of it, and you need another car, you can always come back to Car Country!  A lot of these things seem routine, especially if you’re a man. Let’s face it, women are not as adept at auto repair. (I’m a woman, so I can say this. I have routinely driven my car without oil, without an oil cap, with the emergency brake on, and with a loose belt that made a horrible noise, yet I kept driving. Please keep in mind that this is over the course of 15 years of driving, and I’ve gotten a bit better. But just a tiny bit.)

Seriously, maintenance is number one when it comes to keeping your vehicle in good shape. First, it’s important to get a tune-up once a year. It’s like going to the doctor for a yearly physical. It’s important, I promise. Take the car to a local dealership or auto repair center that you trust. Have them check the hoses, fluids, plugs, filters and battery. This is a good way to know if something may go wrong; it’s easier to stay ahead of any problems you might have.

You MUST get your oil changed every 3000 miles. If you don’t, it spells serious trouble for your engine. It’s a good idea to check your oil every time you get gas. And if you happen to be checking the oil, or adding oil yourself, do NOT talk on your cell phone. You WILL forget to put the cap back on, and you WILL drive away. And when a man finds out, he WILL laugh at you. Yes, I’ve done this in the past two years. Twice. If you’re one of those people who like to take your dog with you for car rides (like me), don’t take the dog to get your oil changed. They don’t like the noise that the compressor thingamajig makes, and your pup will freak out, causing much laughter on the part of the service technicians. If your oil light comes on while you’re driving it, get your oil changed immediately. If you have to wait another day, buy some oil at the store and add it yourself to tide you over. (But don’t talk on the phone.)

Keep your tires at the right pressure. It makes a difference with your alignment, the life of your tires, and even your gas mileage. If you don’t know how to check your pressure, ask. First you buy a tire gauge. You can get the old-school “pencil” gauges at Walmart for less than a dollar. To check the pressure, remove the cap on the tire, place the gauge over the opening and push down. The lever will pop out of the gauge, and then just read it. It’s really easy, I just learned how myself. If that’s too overwhelming, go to an auto parts store, and act pathetic and ask. This generally works better for women than men.

While you’re checking the pressure in your tires, check your tread, using the penny test. Place a penny between the treads. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you need new tires. Or to save money for a short time, have the front tires moved to the back, if the back tires are in better shape, which they should be, because front tires wear out faster than back tires. It’s good to have your tires rotated once a year, as well. You can go to a tire shop, like Hesselbein or Hibdon, or you can go to Walmart or Atwoods for tires.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Trust me, if you do something silly, you aren’t the first. I guarantee you I’ve done it, and while I may have gotten laughed at, I survived, and so will you.