Sell Your Car Hassle-Free

Buying a new car can be great fun, but it often involves having to sell your current vehicle at the same time. And we all know that can be a pain in the neck...or lower. But hassles can create new businesses, as witnessed by the new range of services, such as dry cleaners, car detailers and even providers of freshly prepared meals who are now coming right to the home or workplace. These services mean that a widening array of chores no longer need wait for evenings or weekends (or wherever they can be squeezed in), but they can be accommodated during breaks or lunch hours. Now, getting your car sold privately is joining in the ranks of such "lunch break" services and can be done in half an hour or less at a satisfactory price.

"It's a really great service," said Evangelos Katsouridis, digital product specialist for Konica Minolta in Torrance, Calif., who sold a car using this method. "They made an appointment with me and came right to my office. They gave me a good price immediately and had the paperwork all prepared for me to sign. We shook hands and it was a done deal. All in all it took about 30 minutes."

As Katsouridis knows, selling a private vehicle can be inconvenient and extremely stressful. Initially, Katsouridis placed a classified ad and also placed a sign on the car out on the street. He got absolutely no calls from either source.  The time wasted was serious...and expensive because his car continued to decline in value as it remained unsold.

Another well-worn method of selling a private vehicle is the trade-in, something Katsouridis went through with a previous vehicle. On top of feeling like he got the lowest possible price for his trade-in, he found the give-and-take in the dealership to be time-consuming.

"It was a nightmare," Katsouridis said. "I had a massive headache afterward, and for about three months I felt like I was done in. I lost my socks on trading in that car."

The next time around, Katsouridis called Gulliver U.S.A., a company that specializes in private auto purchasing. Based on a business model first developed in Japan, Gulliver adds a significant twist to the old car-selling procedure by visiting prospective sellers in their offices and other places of employment. In Katsouridis' case, a company representative arrived at his place of employment, appraised the automobile, and within half an hour Katsouridis agreed on a price, finished the paperwork and got a check.

Another avenue for private owners is the dealership that promises: "we'll buy your car whether you buy ours or not." The possible hassle here is that the dealership often pushes hard to sell another vehicle from their lot to the customer regardless of whether it is car the customer wants.

Maureen Miller, an office administrator for a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, recently went to a dealer who promised to "buy any car," but she and the dealer could not agree on the price and she left disgusted. Later, Miller ended up selling her car through Gulliver.

"They came right over to my office on my lunch hour," she said. "We went through everything very quickly, they gave me a fair price and we were done. It couldn't have been more than 20 minutes."

Companies like Gulliver can offer better purchase prices to consumers because they operate with much lower overhead than a traditional dealer and they re-sell the cars they buy almost immediately. A typical dealer, on the other hand, has a significant amount of money invested in land, buildings and equipment, so his cost of doing business is higher. For more information, visit Gulliver Car Connection Center or call 800-898-1173.

Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini has bought and sold more than his share of used cars and trucks.

Saving Fuel Saves Cash

Fuel prices have taken a dip recently, but there are still significantly higher than most people are used to and, more important, comfortable with. The happy news on this unpleasant subject is that there are simple ways you can improve your fuel economy to save money (and the planet) without opting to buy an expensive hybrid vehicle.

Experts suggest that consumers invest in seven short-term maintenance tactics to achieve long-term savings from improved engine efficiency and fuel mileage. Specifically, replacing air filters, fuel filters, oxygen sensors and spark plugs will help boost fuel mileage, and using products like octane boosters, fuel system cleaners and locking gas caps can reduce costs at the pump, too.

Here's the lowdown on these magnificent seven: 

Air filters Properly cleaning, maintaining and replacing air filters when necessary will ensure better air flow through the entire engine system. This will improve engine efficiency and will result in more power and better fuel mileage. A recent EPA study found air filters can increase fuel mileage by as much as 10 percent.

Fuel filters When fuel filters become plugged, sensors signal a car's computer to send more fuel into the engine, resulting in poor fuel economy, emission testing failure and engine system wear. Regular cleaning of fuel filters will help reduce consumption by not triggering the sensors.

Octane boosters These additives can act as a catalyst in the fuel that actually slow the burn rate of the combustion, which allows fuel to burn more completely in the engine cylinder. Using octane boosters increases the engine's efficiency, thus saving fuel.

Spark plugs Spark plugs are subjected to extreme conditions in the engine's combustion chamber, which can result in the engine misfiring and fouling.  Replacing spark plugs at regular intervals will help keep the engine operating at an optimum level, while improving fuel economy and reduce emissions.

Oxygen sensors When properly functioning, oxygen sensors are good for the environment and can save hundreds of dollars in fuel costs over the life of the sensor. Replacement intervals for oxygen sensors are similar to those for spark plugs and range from 30,000 miles to 100,000 miles, depending upon the type of sensor. Almost all gasoline-powered vehicles made after 1986 have at least one oxygen sensor, with those manufactured in 1996 or later having at least two sensors.

Fuel system cleaners These additives can help keep the entire system in top operating condition by cleaning everything from the fuel tank to the combustion chamber inside the engine. A complete fuel system cleaner contains special solvents that help remove carbon build-up and keep internal components in the engine operating efficiently. This tactic also reduces fuel consumption.

Locking gas caps This device can contribute to fuel economy by preventing theft of precious gasoline. Gas caps are available that include a dual breakaway feature and reinforcing ring that help deter thieves trying to steal fuel. If someone tries to pry off the cap, the top of the cap will break away, leaving the cap neck in the tank. This will deter even more determined thieves who are unlikely to take the time needed to pry the neck from the tank. Car owners can then retrieve the filler neck with pliers or a set of channel locks using a counterclockwise turning motion. Caps are also available that lock into the neck automatically, which save motorists time.

Cleveland-based Luigi Fraschini is a Contributing Editor of Driving Today. He writes frequently about environmental and maintenance issues.

Getting Bit by Bumpers

It happens every day -- drivers and their cars get into minor fender-benders in parking lots. Because the cars are traveling so slow no one is hurt, but there still is a big element of pain -- in the wallet. A simple six-miles-per-hour crash in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class was recently estimated to cost more than $5,000 to fix, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And that is just one example of the fact that bumpers on many luxury cars don't seem to be capable of doing what they are supposed to do: protect the rest of the vehicle from damage in slow-speed crashes.

In the Mercedes-Benz C-Class cited above, its front bumper is mounted so low that it under-rode the barrier in the Institute's front full-width test, so the bumper itself escaped virtually unscathed. A little touch-up paint was all that was needed to repair the plastic bumper cover. The bad news is what absorbed the energy of the impact was the C-Class's grille, hood, radiator, headlight and air conditioning condenser, all of which were damaged. This is how the repair costs escalated to more than $5,000, the highest total sustained by any of the 11 luxury cars in any single test.

"This is exactly what we don't want to see," said IIHS senior vice president Joe Nolan. "The car body took the hit."

To assess and compare bumper performance in low-speed impacts, IIHS has begun conducting a series of four low-speed tests -- full front and rear into a barrier designed to mimic the front or back bumper on another vehicle plus front and rear corner impacts. The full-width impacts are conducted at six mph while the more demanding corner impacts are run at three mph. These tests replace the five-mph flat-barrier and pole tests the Institute conducted for decades to assess bumper performance. The new tests, which reflect years of development, are said to replicate more closely the damage patterns in today's low-speed collisions between vehicles. The first set of results of the Institute's new tests involved inexpensive and moderately priced midsize cars, which sustained up to about $9,000 damage in the four tests.

"Luxury cars don't perform any better than cheaper cars," Nolan pointed out. "There's nothing luxurious about shelling out thousands of dollars to fix damage from a bump at a speed about like a brisk walk."

While the C-Class fared the worst in one individual test, the Infiniti G35 was the worst performer in the four tests combined. It sustained almost $14,000 damage in the total series. The Saab 9-3 was the best, sustaining $5,243 damage. Only three cars -- Saab 9-3, Audi A4 and Lincoln MKZ -- sustained less than $6,000 damage, while four -- Lexus ES, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Acura TL and Infiniti G35 -- would cost more than $10,000 to fix.

This is especially frustrating for the insurance industry and those of us who pay insurance premiums, because these low-speed, non-injury crashes cost millions of dollars each year. The purpose of a bumper is to absorb the energy of a low-speed collision before it damages expensive-to-repair parts like fenders and hoods. But there are multiple problems, the first of which is that the bumpers on colliding vehicles often don't line up so they don't engage in a collision to begin with. And even some that do line up don't stay engaged during an impact. Their aerodynamic styling may allow them to slide under the bumpers of the vehicles they strike. This means they can't do the job of energy absorption.

Another problem is that the bars underneath bumper covers, which are supposed to do the main work of absorbing crash energy, often aren't up to it. They may not be big enough to provide much protection from damage, especially if they don't extend to vehicle corners, or they may be too flimsy to absorb much energy.

High repair costs after minor bumps also reflect the high price of replacement parts to fix the damage. This is especially true of luxury cars, which are expensive not only to purchase, but also to repair.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much impetus among car manufacturers to do anything about the issue. But good design can make a difference. For example, the Audi A4 was the best performer among the luxury cars in both front and rear full-width tests. Equipped with components that work like shock absorbers to dissipate crash energy before it can damage the car body, the A4 sustained less than $1,000 damage in each test.

"It isn't coincidental that the A4 is the only luxury car among the 11 we tested with this kind of absorbers, which usually outperform other methods of managing the energy of crashes," Nolan said. "If the A4 had longer bumpers for protection in corner impacts, it probably would have been the best performer among this lot of cars instead of second to the Saab 9-3. A bonus of stroking energy absorbers is that they don't have to be replaced after every impact. They can absorb energy again in subsequent collisions."

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.

Who Do You Love?

These days, with so many great models to choose from, there is no reason not to love your car. But besides the sheer visual appeal of a vehicle's exterior design, how can you gauge whether you are going to love it or not? Well, one way is to look at what cars other people love with the expectation that, if they have a love affair with their model of choice, it is likely you will, too.

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at some of the results from the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, keying on the luxury side of the market. But not all of us are rich, so we decided it would be equally useful to look at the cars and trucks for the rest of us, and the APEAL Study is a good place to start. Now in its 12th year, it measures owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles. While the well-known J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study focuses on stuff that goes wrong, the APEAL study focuses on things that go very, very right. In other words, it measures love.

And one thing is clear from the data, people love their Hondas. Four Honda models were at the top of four different segments -- Honda Fit sub-compact car, Honda CR-V small crossover utility, Honda Ridgeline midsize truck and Honda Odyssey minivan were all at the top of the charts. Beleaguered Ford Motor Company, which has been in sales decline for the past several years, managed to score with two segment-leading models -- the Ford Mustang sporty car and the Ford Edge midsize multi-activity vehicle, a new crossover. 

Volkswagen continued to demonstrate that many people who buy its cars are not just happy, but are passionate about them. The VW Jetta topped the compact car category and the VW GTI accomplished the same trick in the compact sporty car category. Nissan turned in segment wins in two fairly unlikely categories. Its Altima sedan triumphed in the midsize car category that is also home to perennial sales leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. (Those two worthy cars didn't even make the top three, proving yet again that people don't fall in love with their refrigerators.) The Nissan Armada was the winner in the large multi-activity vehicle category, beating out the all-new and highly regarded Chevrolet Tahoe.

The list included several other surprises, as well. Among large cars, the vehicle with the highest APEAL score was the Hyundai Azera, which bested the Toyota Avalon and Dodge Charger, among other worthy opponents. And among full-size pickups the GMC Sierra LD was a mild surprise, taking the crown over the Chevrolet Avalanche and Chevrolet Silverado LD.

One brand name that is largely missing from the list of APEAL segment leaders is Toyota, a brand that is on a terrific sales roll in the United States. Its success indicates that a lot of folks will buy plain vanilla if it's good vanilla, because the Toyota Yaris sub-compact car was the only model to top a segment and then it was in a tie with the Honda Fit.

Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about the auto industry and consumer issues from the Cleveland shores of Lake Erie.

Which Luxury Cars have the most Appeal?

Who likes their vehicles more: Lincoln owners or Volvo owners? Cadillac owners or Acura owners? Audi owners or Infiniti owners? Well, if you answered Lincoln, Cadillac and Audi, rather than Volvo, Acura and Infiniti, you'd be right on target.  Those are some of the fascinating, and sometimes surprising, results from the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout Study, that is commonly referred to by its acronym APEAL. Now in its 12th year, the study measures owners' "delight" with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles, and it is designed to complement the more well known J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), which focuses on problems experienced by owners during the first 90 days of ownership. APEAL measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive.

An analysis of the results offers some intriguing insights into what owners think about their new 2007 model year vehicles after they have owned them for three months or so. For some buyers, the love that was in their eyes at the dealership still burns strongly, but for others that initial lust has cooled significantly and, perhaps, turned to heartburn. 

One thing that was no surprise is that Porsche owners love their vehicles.  Porsche was the highest-ranking nameplate in APEAL for a third consecutive year, and the Porsche Cayman topped the rankings in the Compact Premium Sporty Car segment, followed closely by its kissing cousin, the Porsche Boxster.

BMW owners also demonstrate a love for their vehicles. The Bavarian nameplate finished second in the overall rankings, while individual models took crowns in the Entry Premium Car segment (3 Series) and Premium Sporty Car segment (6 Series). In the latter category, the BMW 6 Series out-pointed two other models that traditionally engender passion among their owners -- the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class and the Chevrolet Corvette. Mercedes-Benz ranked third overall in the study with segment wins in the Midsize Premium Car segment (E-Class) and Large Premium Car segment (S-Class).

One of the surprises in looking at the data is that Lexus -- a perennial leader in J.D. Power and Associates quality and reliability studies -- ranks only fifth among all brands in APEAL, trailing not only Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but also Jaguar. One has to ask, where is the love? Jaguar finished fourth overall in the ranking of brands without placing a single model in the top three of the various segments in which it competes.

Looking at the sport-utility-vehicle side of the luxury market, BMW garnered the top spot in the Mid-size Premium Multi-Activity Vehicle segment with the X5, followed by a tie between the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. In the Large Premium MAV segment, the Cadillac Escalade EXT and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class finished in a dead heat for the crown, followed by the Lincoln Navigator.

The first 11 spots on the overall APEAL list by brand were taken by the luxury marque, which proves, yet again, that it pays to be rich.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from the luxurious environs of his home in Villeperce, France.