I recently received a friendly reminder from my car dealer not to forget to winterize my car. With winter weather fast approaching, it makes sense to tackle some of the simple maintenance tasks that could keep your car in top running condition. Timely maintenance does more than keep your vehicle running smoothly. It can help increase its trade-in value, improve its mileage and save you time and costly repairs down the road.
Belts. With the engine off, check your car’s belts for cracks and missing pieces. To check for proper tightness, press down on the belt with your thumb. If the belt gives more than half an inch, it needs tightening.
Hoses. When the car is cold, feel your car’s hoses for bulges, cracks, soft spots or brittleness. With the engine running, look for (but don’t touch) bulges or leaks. If you detect any, have the hose replaced. Note: Avoid replacing air conditioning hoses yourself. Their pressurized gases can cause serious injury.
Coolant. Check the level of coolant in your radiator by looking at the coolant overflow tank. Maintaining a 50/50 mix of antifreeze will keep your engine cool in hot weather and prevent damage when temperatures fall as low as 40 below zero. Note: Do not remove the radiator cap until the engine is turned off and has cooled down.
Oil. Depending on the driving conditions your car is subjected to, change your oil and filter as recommended in your Owner’s Manual. Also, use the recommended oil grade.
Power Steering Fluid. To check, pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean, and insert it again. Pull it out again and check the level. If it is below the HOT range, add the recommended steering fluid up to the upper level mark. Note: If the fluid level is extremely low or fluid has been replaced, contact your dealer.
Brake Fluid. Check the fluid level on the outside of the tank using the lines on the reservoir as a guide. If the level is below MIN, add brake fluid from a sealed container to bring it up to MAX. You’ll notice a significant drop in fluid levels when there’s a leak. Note: Brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air. Any absorbed moisture can cause a dangerous loss of braking performance. If your brake fluid tank requires frequent refilling, there may be a leak. Contact your dealer immediately.
Air Filter. Again, depending on the condition of the roads traveled by your vehicle, routinely check your air filter for accumulated debris.
Battery. Check your battery terminals regularly, removing any corrosion with a toothbrush and a mix of baking soda and water.
Tires. Check your tire pressure (with tires cold) once a month or more. Keep tires inflated to manufacturer’s recommendations, which can be found on the driver’s side door frame placard and in the owner’s manual.
Wipers, Washers, Horn And Lights. Finally, be sure to check the operation of your car’s wipers, windshield washers, horn and lights. Tip: Isopropyl alcohol makes wiper blade clean-up a snap!
One of the most underrated topics in Auto safety is child safety, especially in regard to car seats. Before you even begin to read about safety tips, be sure you are following the two foundational axioms of Car Seat Safety:
Children are almost always safer when in the back than in the front.
Children MUST be in a car seat appropriate for their HEIGHT and WEIGHT.
Using a car seat correctly is one of the best ways to prevent injury to your child. However, incorrect usage is very common, and even a minor mistake in how the seat is used can translate to serious injury in the event of an accident.
Never put an infant in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger air bag.
Route harness straps in lower slots at or below shoulder level.
Keep harness straps snug and fasten the clip at armpit level.
Make sure the straps lie flat and are not twisted.
Dress your baby in clothes that allow the straps to go between the legs. Adjust the straps to allow for the thickness of your child’s clothes. Do not use bulky clothes that could increase slack in a crash.
To keep your newborn from slouching, pad the sides of the seat and between the child’s legs with rolled up diapers or receiving blankets.
Put the car seat carrying handle down when in the car.
Infants must ride in the back seat facing the rear of the car. This offers the best protection for your infant’s neck.
Recline the rear-facing seat at a 45-degree angle. If your child’s head flops forward, the seat may not have reclined enough. Tilt the seat back until it is level by wedging firm padding such as a rolled towel, under the front of the base of the seat.
All new car seats are now required to come equipped with top tether straps. A tether strap is a belt that is attached to the car seat and bolted to the window ledge or the floor of the car. They give extra protection and keep the car seat from being thrown forward in a crash. Tether kits are also available for most older car seats. Check with the manufacturer to find out how to get a top tether for your seat. Install it according to instructions. The tether strap may help make some seats that are difficult to install fit more tightly.
Do not use a car seat if any of the following apply:
It is too old. Look on the label for the date it was made. If made before January 1981, the seat may not meet strict safety standards and its parts are too old to be safe. Some manufacturers recommend using seats for only 6 years.
It does not have a label with the date of manufacture and model number. Without these, you cannot check on recalls.
It has been in a crash. If so, it may have been weakened and should not be used, even if it looks all right.
It does not come with instructions. You need the instructions to know how to install and use the car seat properly. Do not rely on the former owner’s instructions. Get a copy of the manual from the manufacturer.
It has cracks in the frame of the seat.
It is missing parts. Used seats often come without important parts. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you can get the right parts.
To find out if your child safety seat has been recalled, you can call the Auto Safety Hotline ( 888-DASH-2-DOT ). If the seat has been recalled, be sure to follow the instructions for the recall or to get the necessary parts. You should also get a registration card for future recall notices from the Hotline.
When to switch your child to a regular seatbelt:
Keep your child in a car seat for as long as possible. When he or she is big enough, make sure that seat belts in your car fit your child correctly. The shoulder belt should lie across the shoulder, not the neck or throat. The lap belt must be low and flat across the hips, not the stomach. The child’s knees should bend easily over the edge of the vehicle seat. Seat belts are made for adults. If the seat belt does not fit your child correctly, he or she should stay in a booster seat until the belt fits.
Never tuck the shoulder belt under the child’s arm or behind his or her back and use lap belts only as a last resort. Try to get a lap-shoulder belt installed in your car if it doesn’t already have one. If you must use a lap belt, make sure it is worn tight and low on the hips, not across the stomach.
For many young adults, college is an incredibly liberating experience and a time of emotional and intellectual growth as fledgling freshman adventure further along the path of higher education. Unfortunately, many of the high tech gadgets and electronics that pepper dorm rooms can also find it an incredibly liberating experience… as they adventure out of the dorm in the hands of a thief. The reality is that theft on college campuses does occur, according to the Newton’s 2nd law of theft:
Expensive Electronics + Doors Left Open + The Occasional Dorm Party = Theft
Fortunately, insuring the things your student takes away to college can be insured easily and affordably. Here’s what you should know.
You’re probably already covered: Most students are covered under their parents’ homeowners policy, as long as they still list their primary residence as their home address rather than their dorm room. No need to fear if your student has enough electronics littering his or her dorm room to disrupt aircraft radar within a five mile radius; there is generally a 10% coverage rule that protects 10% of the value of your personal belongings worldwide (which includes hotel rooms, temporary residences, etc). Even so, it’s probably a good idea to call your insurance provider and double check that your college bound daughter or son is covered.
Yes, that includes Healthcare: A recent change in national law recently superseded the state’s coverage policy. The old law stated that all full time students who are still dependent are covered under their parents’ policy to age 25. The new healthcare legislation further extended this to all non-married children up to 26 years of age.
The abandoned car: many students go off to college and leave their cars at home. Make sure you aren’t paying top dollar for a car that will sit in your garage all year and only endanger the lawnmower next to it. Call your insurance agent and ask for a discount if the car will not be at school. Furthermore, ask if good student discounts are available should your studious scholar return home to use the vehicle.
After Graduation: After your college student graduates and takes up residence elsewhere, the rules of the game change. They will no longer be covered under your homeowner’s policy, but will instead most likely need tenant insurance for their apartment or rented house. However, these policies are very affordable and will cover anything in the apartment that would break if someone “turned the apartment upside down and shook it” (Meehan Insurance).
Even with this information, it’s a good idea to call your professional insurance provider and have a conversation about your son or daughter’s coverage before they leave for college. The short amount of time on the phone could save you time, money, and headaches in the future.
Additionally, an ounce of prevention is worth a time honored cliché (or a pound of cure). It’s worth taking the time to prevent the theft of items that your students own. You can protect laptops from theft by purchasing a notebook combination lock (several affordable products are listed here). Another good use of time is to photograph all valuable items and take down serial numbers and other information then store them in a GoogleDocs document; if you have a google account, you already have access to this feature. If you don’t, setting up an account is free, easy, and you can access your documents from any computer with internet access. Taking preventative measures before the next dorm party can keep your son or daughter’s electronics from “walking out” in the middle of the chaos.
Now that the weather (in MA anyway) is growing more amenable to outdoor activities, you may find yourself on a bike. Unfortunately, bicycles are favorites for thieves, especially on college campuses. An unlocked, unguarded bike is one of the easiest things to steal; don’t forget, thieves are enjoying the warmer weather too.
The National Bike Registry is a pretty cool service; by registering with them, if your bike is stolen, police have a way to identify it as yours if found. Otherwise, it will end up in police auction. As the name suggests, this is a national database that covers all 50 states. It’s definitely worth the time to register with them, especially if you have a nice bike.
Bicycles are generally covered under homeowners or renters insurance. However, there is usually a $250 – $500 deductible. Your homeowners or renters policy also provides liability coverage in the event of a collision that results in injury to another person. There are no deductibles for liability claims.
Once you purchase a bicycle, keep the receipt for it and any accessories you add. Also, take photographs of the bike. Store these documents off-premises and alert your insurance professional to your new purchase. If you own an expensive bike, consider purchasing a floater. This will provide more coverage than a homeowners or renters policy. For instance, in the event of an accident, a floater covers the cost of bike repairs. A floater costs approximately $9 for every $100 of the bike’s value and there are no deductibles.
The best way to prevent bicycle theft is simply to lock your bike up. Cable locks are generally able to be cut, so invest in a sturdy U-Lock. In addition, make sure your bicycle is locked up correctly:
Summer for most Americans means “busting out the grill” and hosting some barbecues in the warm weather, whether it be with friends, family, or both. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Americans enjoy more than three billion barbecues each year. By my calculations that’s enough chicken and steak to reach around the circumference of the Earth four times! (I just made that up, but still, there’s a lot of grilling going on). As you prepare a succulent host of BBQ food this year, remember to keep grilling safety in mind!
Some things to remember:
Wear a protective fire-resistant apron or similar garb, and mitts that reach up to your forearms to avoid burns.
Keep you grill’s gas cylinder AWAY from your house or flammable structures.
Check for leaks often by sprinkling soapy water around the gas valve; if there’s a leak, bubbles will form. Never check for a gas leak by using a match. This can happen.
Make sure the gas is off whenever the grill is not in use.
If using a charcoal grill, only use lighter fluid specified for charcoal grills. NEVER USE GASOLINE. Also never add more lighter fluid once a fire has already started; if needed, add small sticks or other tinder to augment the flame.
When finished, douse coals with water before disposing of them in the trash.
Popular culture has largely portrayed a lightning strike as an event akin to winning the lottery or another extremely improbable occurrence. However, better data collection efforts over the last decade have shown lightning’s danger to be underrated at best.
To put the statistics in perspective:
According to the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI), lightning strikes thousands of people each year, injuring a few more than 1,000. Have you ever been afraid to go swimming after watching ‘Jaws’? Well the probability of being struck by lightning is approximately 30 times more likely than being attacked by a shark. You should be watching the sky, not the water around you!
I personally know two people who have been struck by lightning; one lived, one did not. While this is entirely anecdotal evidence, it does beg a question as to why lightning is generally not taken seriously as a threat. My personal theory is that it’s a combination of the misconception that lightning strikes are extremely rare and the commonness with which we encounter lightning.
Lightning can also be very damaging to property; according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), there were 213,000 lightning related claims last year. These losses include damage to expensive electronics and structural fires. The I.I.I. further estimates that the average lightning claim to be $4,846.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Wrong. Lightning often strikes the same place twice, especially if that place is tall, metallic, and isolated. While we’ll forgive you for using the expression in casual conversation, don’t believe it to be true.
You are safe from lightning if you can see the sky. Wrong again. Lightning often strikes outside the area of a thunderstorm or rainstorm, sometimes several miles away. Just because the storm is not overhead does not mean you are safe.
Lightning rods attract lightning. Wrong. Lightning rods provide a safe place to ground the surge of electricity should lightning strike.
Lightning Warning Signs:
If you are caught in a storm, pay attention to how you feel. If your skin beings to tingle, you hair stands on end, you smell an acrid odor in the air, or you get a metallic taste in your mouth, you might be about to experience a lightning strike. Get low to the ground and follow the steps below. What to do and not to do (Compiled from the I.I.I, LPI, & Essortment):
Stay away from bodies of water, such as lakes and swimming pools – even indoor swimming pools.
Stay clear of isolated trees, flagpoles, telephone poles, hills, and rooftops. Get out into an open field or road.
Of course NEVER touch metal objects such as wire fences, golf clubs, aluminum baseball bats, bicycles, during a lightning storm.
If you are caught out doors during a thunderstorm, crouch down and keep your head as low as possible and only let your feet touch the ground – rock forward on your toes if possible to get as much of your feet off the ground. Do not touch the ground with your hands to balance yourself.
NEVER lie down on the ground – you want as much of you off the ground as possible. The electrical current from a nearby lightning strike can travel toward you along wet ground.
Even indoors you must use common sense. Always stay away from electrical appliances, metal pipes, get off the phone, stay out of the shower and bathtub and do not use any wired appliance.
If you are caught outside with a small child, hold the child on your lap up off the ground as you crouch around them.
Realize that lightning is a powerful force of nature and it demands that you develop a healthy respect and fear of it. Stay indoors during lightning storms!
If someone has been struck by lightning, provide first-aid immediately. It is perfectly safe to touch someone who has been struck by lightning—you will not get an electrical shock. Call 911 immediately and begin CPR or use a defibrillator if available.
Invest in a lightning protection system for your home and or business. A building with a properly installed lightning protection system is a smart investment as it provides proven protection for your family, home and valuables. It is an important safety investment in areas prone to lightning.
One of the more unpredictable and dangerous things drivers tend to forget about is the possibility of hitting a deer. If you live and drive in a city one hundred percent of the time, stop reading this post or come back to it in 20 years when deer are forced into cities, too.
If you live outside the 128 belt however, deer are everywhere and particularly active in the fall.
Perhaps you still think that a collision with a deer is unlikely; according to the National Safety Council there are roughly 530,000 animal-related accidents per year. Accidents with deer are
disproportionately high in October, November and December, both because colder weather
changes feeding patterns, and the rut in late fall, when deer mate and hormones are surging in males and females alike
Also, depending on what type of car you drive, you could be looking at serious damage or bodily injury from a collision with a deer. Our children's drivers’ ed instructor, a former state trooper, warns fledgling drivers about how he and his partner hit a large buck and totaled their police car.
The I.I.I. lists several steps you can take to avoid unnecessary collisions with deer:
Have you ever heard the expression ‘lone wolf’? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to deer. It is very rare for deer to travel alone; if you see one by the side of the road, slow down and keep your eyes peeled. Others are most likely nearby.
Pay attention to deer crossing zones; as obvious as this may sound, drivers typically notice road signs like speed limits and tend to ignore deer crossing signs. If a municipality is willing to fork over the money to erect a sign for deer, there must be a significant deer presence. Proceed with caution.
Drive carefully at dawn and dusk. These are active times for deer, and statistically the most likely time for you to hit one.
When driving at night, use high-beams when there is no on-coming traffic. Deer on the side of the road will be much easier to see, and their eyes reflect the light brightly, even at a distance.
If you encounter a deer, blow your horn with one sustained blast to scare them away. Be aware that they might run into the street though, so brake when you do so.
If there is a deer in your path, brake firmly but DO NOT SWERVE. Minor crashes become serious crashes when drivers swerve into oncoming traffic or off the road.
Do not rely on "deer whistles" or "deer reflectors." There is no evidence to suggest that these devices are even marginally effective.
Call us or your existing insurance agent if you do hit a deer and report any damage to your car. Animal collisions are included under "comprehensive" coverage (not collision - go figure) with your auto policy.
Learn more about other auto insurance options here.
Have you considered damage to the frame of your car after a collision? It may surprise you to know that most cars today don’t actually have frames; most cars today use what is known as a ‘unibody,’ a technology that originated for use in aircraft design but was adopted by automobile companies in the late 20th century. The idea is that a strong exterior shell is more sturdy and impact-resistant than using an internal frame with structures around it.
However, what’s important with unibody design is that it must be repaired very meticulously to perform as well in a second crash. Any car manufacturer or engineer will tell you that you don’t want to be in a car that has incomplete structural repairs.
Improper chassis repairs can severely affect the drivability, tire wear, and structural performance of your car. Further, improper chassis repairs can prevent your airbags from deploying correctly. Get a second opinion after taking your car to an auto-body shop. Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it’s ready to head into battle again.
Learn more about your auto insurance options here.
Most people understand that a major moving violation (DUI, reckless driving etc) will lead to a surcharge by giving you ‘points’. But not everyone knows that many minor moving violations will also result in surcharges.
Here are some you may not have known:
Failing to stop for a blind pedestrian- regardless of circumstance, you MUST stop for a blind pedestrian
Leaving your car running unattended – we’re all guilty of this one, but it could get you ticketed
Lane change without a directional signal (either a hand signal or a blinker) – again, a common infraction that is more than courtesy; it’s the law
Failing to yield right of way to an emergency vehicle
Failure to fasten a trailer with proper safety chains and/or equipment
Tailgating –yes, you can be ticketed for following another car too closely - do your fellow driver a favor and stay off his tail
Keeping your high beams on – be mindful of who you’re flashing with your brights; if it’s a trooper, you could get ticketed
Failure to use headlights from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise
Wearing ear buds or headphones while operating- Bluetooth is ok, headphones are not
Improper use of your horn – if you honk just because you’re angry; you’re guilty. A horn is used to alert other cars of danger.
Leaving your keys in the ignition – even if your engine is off, your keys should not be in the ignition
Passing on the right
Liquor: any minor cannot have liquor in the vehicle and anyone over 21 cannot have an open container in the vehicle
Operating a vehicle without all mirrors functioning properly
Passing on a motorcycle not in single-file
Operating your vehicle on a bet or wager
Obstructing funerals and processions
Operating through a ‘peekhole’ in the windshield – if you have an incompletely defrosted windshield, don’t drive the vehicle. Let the windshield defrost first
Passing any vehicle with less than 400 feet of view
Many people don’t know the difference between ‘Collision Insurance’ and ‘Comprehensive Insurance.’ So we’ll give you the basics.
Collision insurance covers the damage done to your vehicle if you are in an accident, whether you are at fault or not. However when not at fault, some people choose to settle the whole thing through the insurance of whoever IS at fault, meaning that they don’t have to go through their carrier.
We recommend that you do go through your carrier, even if you are not at fault, for 2 reasons;
If you are not at fault, you generally pay no deductible (an insurance deductible is the amount of money you pay towards repairs before your insurance kicks in; the higher deductible you’re willing to pay, the lower the cost of your policy will be). So you don’t pay for the repairs to your car if you are not at fault; even if you go through your insurance provider. Ultimately, at the end of the day, your insurance provider is going to be giving the bill to the other company; you just get to deal with the people you know throughout the process.
As a paying customer, you have much more leverage with your insurance company than with the insurance company of whoever hit you.
Collision insurance is not required by law. But if you owe money on your car or truck, the bank is going to require it.
Comprehensive insurance is similar to collision insurance, but it offers protection from damage caused to your vehicle by unknown losses, including any ‘act of God.’It is also known in some states simply as “other than collision” coverage.
So let’s say someone breaks into your car, or steals it while you left it parked; these are covered through your comprehensive coverage. Collision with an animal such as a deer or moose are included too, but as always, be sure to check with your agent on the details of your policy to know where your coverage begins and ends.
Comprehensive also generally covers flood, hurricane, fire, and other damage caused by ‘acts of God.’ Like collision insurance, comprehensive coverage will pay for repair or replacement, up to the fair market value of your car.