Protect Yourself from Theft

If car theft were a legitimate business measured by stock analyst firms, it would instantly become a Fortune 500 company. There’s a lot of theft going on and, despite the fact that thieves aren’t the most reliable guys on the planet, auto theft is well organized. These days discriminating thieves don't simply steal anything they can get their hands on. They're stealing for economic gain, so they pick and choose. If you own a vehicle that’s popular with car buyers, odds are it will be popular with thieves too.

All this might sound a bit challenging. You certainly don’t want your car to be stolen, so what can you as an individual do to protect yourself from the huge and ever-more-organized hazard that can strike at almost any time?

The happy news is that doing something meaningful is both possible and not all that difficult. Your basic goal is to make your vehicle a tough target, one that will encourage the thief to move on to the next car. Remember, the more time the thief is forced to take to steal a car, the more likely he is to get caught, so if you make grabbing your car hard for him, it will usually pay off. Here are some helpful suggestions to do just that:

1. Lock your car. Approximately 50 percent of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked.

2. Take your keys. Nearly 13 percent of all vehicles stolen had the keys in them.

3. Never hide a second set of keys in your car. It might seem like a good idea, but thieves know all the hiding places.

4. Park in well-lit areas. Over half of all vehicle thefts occur at night, and thieves don’t like the spotlight.

5. Park in attended lots. Auto thieves don't like witnesses either.

6. When you park in an attended lot, leave only the ignition and door key. Don't give the attendant easy access to your glove box and trunk. (If you use the same key for your trunk and glove box as for the door, have one of them changed.) Upon returning, check the tires, spare and battery to ensure they are the same as those you had when you parked.

7. Never leave your car running unattended, not even if you'll only be gone for a minute. Vehicles are commonly stolen at convenience stores, gas stations and ATMs. Many vehicles are also stolen on cold mornings when the owner leaves the vehicle running to warm it up.

8. Completely close car windows when parked. Don't make it easier for the thief to enter your vehicle.

9. Don't leave valuables in plain view. Why make your car a more desirable target to thieves?

10. Park your vehicle with wheels turned toward the curb. Many car thieves use tow trucks to steal vehicles, so make your car tough to tow away. Wheels should also be turned to the side in driveways and parking lots so the vehicle can only be towed from the front.

11. If your vehicle is rear-wheel drive, back into your driveway. Rear wheels lock on four-wheel drive vehicles, making them difficult to tow. Front-wheel drive vehicles should be parked front-end first.

12. Always use your emergency brake when parked. In addition to ensuring safety, using the emergency brake makes your car harder to tow.

13. If you have a garage, use it. Parking your vehicle inside protects it from thieves as well as from Mother Nature.

14. When parking in a garage, lock the garage as well as your vehicle door. By locking both the garage and vehicle doors, you greatly improve the chances of deterring a thief.

15. Never leave the registration or title in your car. A car thief will use these to sell your stolen car. File the title at your home or office and carry your registration in your purse or wallet.

Looking for a Satisfying New-Car Deal?

If there is a silver lining to the deep recession we find ourselves in, it might be the fact that this year’s car-buyers are more satisfied with the actual buying process than they have been in the past.  At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from looking at a summary of the just-released J.D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction index (SSI), a measure of customer attitudes about the vehicle-buying process.  It does not capture consumer attitudes about the vehicles bought; J.D. Power has a couple of other indices that look more deeply at that part of the process.

A key finding was that consumers felt better about the way things went for them in the dealership this past year than they had in prior years.  The vast majority of vehicle brands – 29 out of a total of 37 – saw an increase in their overall score, indicating more favorable response from consumers.  The major reason for the uptick was that consumers reported that dealer sales personnel spent more time with them during the purchase and vehicle delivery processes, which was very likely the direct result of the fact there were fewer customers overall.  In the past 12 months sales are down some 25 percent from their year-ago levels, so the buyers who actually showed up in dealerships were treated better.  But at the same time, vehicle buyers reported that dealership personnel were more desperate and put on more sales pressure.  Again, this likely stems from the fact that there were fewer buyers, so salespeople became very reluctant to see a hot (or lukewarm) prospect leave without buying a car.

This year study marked the first time that an Indian-owned brand topped the list in sales satisfaction among American consumers.  Jaguar, which was acquired by India-based Tata Motors last year from Ford Motor Company, took the number one spot in sales satisfaction.  The brand has had a history of success in that category, winning top honors five out of the past six years.  Jaguar’s overall Index score was 898, largely driven by high marks for Jaguar salespeople and a smooth and consumer-friendly paperwork and finance process factors.

For the first time J.D. Power split the results of the 13 “luxury” brands and the “mass market” brands.  Though Ford executives probably wish Mercury’s mass market were a little more massive, the brand did bring home the crown in the mass market portion of the survey.  Interestingly, of the top 10 brands overall, five were luxury brands and five were mass market brands, which means some luxury brands really have some work to do. The top five luxury brands were Jaguar, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. Among the mass-market brands, the top five were Mercury, Smart, Buick, the now-defunct Pontiac brand and Chevrolet.

Which brands might you stay away from if you’re looking for satisfaction with the buying and delivery process?  The bottom five brands were (in ascending order) Mitsubishi, Jeep, Dodge, Mazda and Nissan.  Audi was the lowest-ranking luxury brand.

The study was based on responses from 48,000 customers who bought or leased a new vehicle in May or June of this year, and for the first time the study was done online. The index ranks brands on five factors of sales satisfaction that include: dealership facility, salesperson, paperwork/finance process, delivery process, and vehicle price.

Looking for a Satisfying New-car Deal?

If there is a silver lining to the deep recession we find ourselves in, it might be the fact that this year’s car buyers are more satisfied with the actual buying process than they have been in the past. At least that is the conclusion to be drawn from looking at a summary of the just-released J.D. Power and Associates sales satisfaction index (SSI), a measure of customer attitudes about the vehicle-buying process. It does not capture consumer attitudes about the vehicles bought; J.D. Power has a couple of other indices that look more deeply at that part of the process. 

Why a Recession Helps Car Salesmen
A key finding was that consumers felt better about the way things went for them in the dealership this past year than they had in prior years. The vast majority of vehicle brands -- 29 out of a total of 37 -- saw an increase in their overall score, indicating more favorable response from consumers. The major reason for the uptick was that consumers reported that dealer sales personnel spent more time with them during the purchase and vehicle delivery processes, which was very likely the direct result of the fact that there were fewer customers overall. (In the past 12 months, sales are down some 25 percent from their year-ago levels, so the buyers who actually showed up in dealerships were treated better.) But at the same time, vehicle buyers reported that dealership personnel were more desperate and put on more sales pressure. Again, this likely stems from the fact that there were fewer buyers, so salespeople became very reluctant to see a hot (or lukewarm) prospect leave without buying a car.

Best-selling Brands
This year's study marked the first time that an Indian-owned brand topped the list in sales satisfaction among American consumers. Jaguar, which was acquired by India-based Tata Motors last year from Ford Motor Co., took the No. 1 spot in sales satisfaction. The brand has had a history of success in that category, winning top honors five out of the past six years. Jaguar’s overall index score was 898, largely driven by high marks for Jaguar salespeople and smooth and consumer-friendly paperwork and finance process factors.

For the first time, J.D. Power split the results of the 13 “luxury” brands and the “mass market” brands. Though Ford executives probably wish Mercury’s mass market were a little more massive, the brand did bring home the crown in the mass-market portion of the survey. Interestingly, of the top 10 brands overall, five were luxury brands and five were mass-market brands, which means some luxury brands really have some work to do. The top five luxury brands were Jaguar, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. Among the mass-market brands, the top five were Mercury, Smart, Buick, Chevrolet and the now-defunct Pontiac brand. 

The Duds
Which brands might you stay away from if you’re looking for satisfaction with the buying and delivery process?  Here are the bottom five brands in ascending order: Mitsubishi, Jeep, Dodge, Mazda and Nissan. Audi was the lowest-ranking luxury brand.

The study was based on responses from 48,000 customers who bought or leased a new vehicle in May or June of this year, and for the first time, the study was done online. The index ranks brands on five factors of sales satisfaction: dealership facility, salesperson, paperwork/finance process, delivery process and vehicle price.

Will Small Cars Hit It Big?

Among the several things that the Obama administration would like you to do is buy a small car. Fuel economy is in; carbon dioxide emissions are out (please hold your breath as long as you can, and some would say the American car market is already moving in the desired direction. A look at the sales data for the past several years shows what seems to be an unmistakable trend: The American market has shifted toward small cars. 

Over the course of the past two years, small-car sales have gone up considerably and their combined share of market has skyrocketed, since the market has been shrinking. At the very same time, auto manufacturers have been falling all over themselves putting forward new hybrid, full-electric and “electrically driven” concepts. For example, October’s Tokyo Motor Show was full of news about the electrification of the automobile. Electrics were staged front and center, and many of these electric concepts are destined for America, so it is inevitable that in the next few years, we will see more alternative-powered vehicle models on American shores than ever before.

Some are drawing the conclusion that Americans finally get it: They realize their large cars, sport utilities and full-size trucks are profligate users of energy, spewers of harmful greenhouse gases and wasters of resources. American consumers, the newly coined thinking postulates, are becoming much more like their global brethren in Europe, Asia and South America, where small cars are the thing. In other words, Americans of all stripes are going green, and that environmental consciousness will be reflected in their increasing preference for small cars versus big trucks. So the future of the small car in America, and the futures of the companies that sell them, are as bright as the mid-summer sun.

Well, maybe. But then again, maybe not. Sales and market share of small cars enjoyed big gains in 2008, and that trend continued in 2009. It could market the beginning of a long-term trend or it could be the result of short-term factors. So what was going on in 2008 that might have persuaded consumers to eschew large vehicles and move toward small cars? Do you think $4 per gallon of gasoline qualifies? Of course, gas prices have since moderated. So what was going on this year that might have persuaded consumers to continue to turn to small cars? There are two logical answers: the collapse of the global economy that has sent car buyers (those few who are left) on a quest for more cost-effective transportation solutions (read: small cars) and the federal government’s reaction to the collapse that found expression in the Cash for Clunkers program. The Cash for Clunkers effort alone was enough to cause a big spike in small-car sales this year.

Will the global market electrify its cars? There is a strong movement in that direction among vehicle manufacturers -- perhaps largely for political reasons -- but it is far from an across-the-market trend among American consumers. Yes, Americans are turning toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars now, but as the economy recovers and consumers feel more flush again, will they continue to seek small vehicles? Odds are they might turn back to the larger, more comfortable cars they enjoyed in the past.

More Cars to Be Thankful for

For Thanksgiving week, we brought you a collection of cars we are thankful for.  Certainly the global economy has limited our expectations, and it may well have stunted your own economic picture. There is no doubt it has cut a huge swath through the car companies themselves, yet many vehicle manufacturers are still bringing us cars that get our juices flowing … in fact, so many cars that we didn’t have room for them all last week. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are more cars to be thankful for:

1. Ford Fusion Hybrid
It may be the best hybrid sedan we’ve ever driven, and it doesn’t come from a Japanese manufacturer. The new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid not only turns in eye-popping mileage numbers -- 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway, to be exact -- but it’s also a sweetheart to drive. While other hybrid sedans have their idiosyncrasies, the Fusion Hybrid seems just like a typical car. The interior is nicely crafted, and the animated electronic dash layout is perhaps the most imaginative we’ve ever seen.

2. Honda FCX Clarity
The talk about hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles is a lot like an extended weather forecast. The proof lies somewhere in the future -- at a time when we might not remember what was predicted in the first place. But the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle is in the here and now. The model is currently being leased to consumers and is so pleasant to drive that it spoils you for even the best conventionally powered cars.  From its avant-garde exterior design to its well-equipped, bio-friendly cabin, the FCX Clarity is a joy to live with. 

3. Jaguar XFR
It’s so drop-dead gorgeous, it’s hard to believe it’s a sedan. And on top of that, it’s fast. Jaguar describes its all-new XFR as “the ultimate Jaguar sports saloon.” We’re right with them on that, although we would call it a “sports sedan,” and it happens to be a sedan with the luscious good looks of an upscale coupe. But in this case, the XFR’s beauty is more than chrome deep. What really sets the XFR apart is its performance potential. An all-new 5-liter, direct injection, supercharged V-8 delivers 510 horsepower and massive amounts of torque, and the quick-to-spool supercharger means instant acceleration is just a tweak of your right foot away. The interior oozes Jaguar class while offering whimsical touches like the Jaguar Drive Selector that pops up to welcome you after you hit the start button. 

4. Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
If you can get over the fact that the C63 AMG is significantly smaller than a Honda Accord in every dimension that matters, yet it costs about twice as much, you can really begin to appreciate this jewel of a sedan. There’s just something about 451 horsepower in a car this agile that can make you fall in love with driving all over again. That serious dose of horsepower comes from a sweetly smooth 6.3-liter V-8, and it turns a very good car into one of the most satisfying sedans we’ve driven in years. Inside, you won’t lack for luxury amenities, and the power-actuated front seats are nothing short of superb. 

5. Volvo XC60
Volvo has long been known for auto safety, so when it says its XC60 crossover is the safest model ever, you have to pay attention. Looking at the vast array of safety features, the XC60 has a right to that claim, especially because it is the first vehicle to offer Volvo’s new City Safety system, which can prevent crashes at speeds of up to 9 mph and mitigate the damage from crashes at speed up to 19 miles per hour. The XC60’s styling is smoothly contemporary while at the same time unmistakably Volvo, and the performance from the 3-liter, 281-horsepower, turbocharged six-cylinder engine is more than adequate, aided by the six-speed “geartronic” automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.