Monday, April 08, 2013

Earl’s & Consumer Report’s Ten Handy Tips on Cars

My regular readers know that I highly recommend Consumer Reports (CR) as the number one source of information on buying, leasing, or servicing your car. What makes CR superior to all others is their objectivity derived from being a not-for-profit corporation. They accept no advertising and all of their revenue derives from subscriptions and donations. When Motor Trend or Car and Driver magazines announce their “Car of the Year” award, the manufacturer inevitably has spent large sums of money advertising their cars in that magazine. CR will not even allow a manufacturer to give them a car to test; they buy the car from the manufacturer at retail! Furthermore, if CR gives a particular car a high rating, they will not even allow the manufacturer to use CR’s name or good report in their advertising. There is absolutely no conflict of interest when you read CR’s opinion on a car. You should always consult CR when choosing which make and model to buy and when determining what a fair price is.

The May issue of CR has ten great tips that can help you make decisions about your present car and in buying your next car.   If you’re a regular reader, you may have already heard me mention most of these tips and I’m flattered that CR agrees with my recommendations. I have added my take and enhanced advice on these CR tips.

(1)   Try before you buy. Never buy a car without trying it out for a reasonable period of time. Over 25% of people who buy cars, never even take a demonstration drive in the car they buy. Often these people are disappointed in some way with their new car but it’s too late because they’ve already signed on the dotted line. You should either rent a car of the same make and model for a few days or ask the dealer to loan you a car so that you can drive it in all conditions that you will be driving it after you buy or lease it.

(2)   Don’t lose radio presets when changing your battery. Just plug in a jump-start battery into your cigarette lighter during the battery change process. This protects other electronic modules from losing data too.

(3)   Car dealers’ direct mail sales are almost always bogus. Car dealers do a large amount of direct mail advertising. These sales are contracted with outside companies that often supply trained hucksters to sell you a car. The premise of the sale is usually a lie. “We desperately need used cars of the same make and model that you are driving” is one of their favorites. Also, direct mail advertising flies under the radar of the regulators. They are far more likely to see TV, radio, and newspaper ads but the direct mail is directed specifically individuals car dealers choose. They don’t include the state Attorney General on their direct mail list. J

(4)   Don’t bother using nitrogen in your tires. It’s hard to believe that car dealers are still tricking customers into paying money to put nitrogen in their tires. CR tested the effectiveness of nitrogen on tire gas mileage and tire longevity and found it to be worthless. I conducted my own test even before CR did. Nitrogen is worthless in your tires mainly because that regular air is already 78% nitrogen.

(5)   Don’t be timid about filing a complaint on your car dealer. Too many people are either too embarrassed or too shy to notify the manufacturer, county office of consumer affairs, BBB, the DMV or the state AG after they’ve been ripped off by a car dealer. When you remain silent you allow and encourage that dealer to continue doing the same thing he did to you to others.
(6)   Leather seats are a good investment. There are lots of worthless accessories and options you should avoid like nitrogen and pain sealant. Not only does leather look, feel, and smell luxurious in your car it actually enhances the resale value. Another bonus is that it’s actually easier to clean than cloth interiors. But, beware of “dealer installed” leather. Try to always opt for factory leather. If you buy the dealer installed leather, look carefully at exactly what you’re buying and see how it differs from the factory installed.
(7)   Be wary of being among the first to buy that new model. It’s always safer to wait a year before buying a brand new model with a major redesign. Unfortunately the manufacturers often rush a new model to market without getting out all of the bugs.

(8)   Synthetic oil is now recommended by most manufacturers. This is one of CR’s recommendations that I don’t endorse 100%. They suggest you find out before you buy a new car if synthetic oil is recommended, suggesting that you might want to buy another make that recommends fossil oil because it’s less expensive. When synthetic oil first came out it was about twice the cost of regular oil. But the price is coming down as the sales volume grows. Also, the recommended interval to change oil with synthetic is twice as long. Synthetic oil will inevitably be recommended in all cars soon. It is consistent with today’s very tight tolerance engine designs and it does improve your gas mileage slightly. Also, if you choose, you may still use regular oil instead of synthetic but you must change your oil twice as often.

(9)   Consider leasing, not buying, that electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Battery technology is improving so quickly that you could end up with a hybrid or plug-in with an obsolete battery. Your resale value would plummet. Tesla just announced a leasing program for their electric vehicle out of desperation because buyers are afraid they will end up with an obsolete car. If you want to buy a Tesla (which I don’t recommend), by all means lease, don’t buy one.

(10)                       Pass up factory built-in navigation. These factory navigation systems are way over-priced, $1,500 to $2,500, and many of them aren’t as accurate or don’t have as many features as the Garmin you can buy at Costco for $250. You can mount a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS on your dash and have everything the factory navigation does and more. Smart phones today also have great navigation capability.  

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