Men Just Think They Know More

Who knows more about basic auto-related maintenance issues?  A new survey found that while 69 percent of men and 64 percent of women think men know more than women on the subject, their responses to basic car-care questions tell a different story. The study sponsored by Jiffy Lube International reveals that women who turn to men for car-care advice may not be getting good counsel as often as they think.  Ask anybody and they'll tell you the same thing.

"With peak driving season approaching and gasoline prices rising, we decided to see if men really have any bragging rights when it comes to getting the most out of your vehicle and every gallon," said Jiffy Lube International technical expert Mark Ferner.

What he discovered was that men think they know the answers to basic vehicle-related questions but often they don't.  For example, when asked where a vehicle's proper tire-inflation pressure information is located, 67 percent of men and 45 percent of women said on the tires' sidewalls. In fact, that's wrong.

Proper tire pressure is vehicle-specific, but tire sidewalls list the maximum pressure recommended by the tire manufacturer for that tire. The proper tire pressure information for a specific vehicle is found on a decal typically displayed in the vehicle's door jamb or in the vehicle owner's manual.  Twenty-two percent of women and just 16 percent of men correctly answered that recommended tire pressure is not on the tire sidewall, wheel rim or wheel well.

In a similar vein, two-thirds (67 percent) of men and 46 percent of women incorrectly assumed simply switching from conventional engine oil to synthetic oil enables the number of miles between oil changes to be safely extended.

"Switching from conventional to synthetic oil is not an automatic license to extend a vehicle's oil-change interval," said Ferner. "The vehicle manufacturer's recommendations and the conditions in which you drive are also important. Most vehicle owners' manuals list two oil change intervals -- one for normal driving and the other for severe driving. If you idle excessively or often drive in stop-and-go traffic or extreme weather conditions, your vehicle is likely a candidate for the severe service schedule."

A high percentage of men and women were off base on the normal life expectancy for typical windshield wiper blades. While about half of the men and women polled (54 percent and 49 percent) correctly answered six to 12 months, 39 percent of men and 38 percent of women answered anywhere from one to five years.

"Many drivers don't think about the condition of their wiper blades until they're caught in foul weather," said Ferner. "Checking and replacing them as needed could improve visibility to avoid a very dangerous situation out on the road."

When it comes to fuel-saving tips, the good news is that about half of men and women (50 percent and 48 percent) knew under-inflated tires, a dirty air filter, incorrect wheel alignment, and even a loose gasoline cap can all reduce gas mileage. But the bad news is the other 50 percent of the population didn't know these simple methods to decrease fuel consumption.  Independent studies suggest that maintaining proper tire pressure and replacing a clogged air filter can save an average of 10 cents and 29 cents per gallon of gasoline, based on a per-gallon price of $2.90.

"Avoiding fast starts and stops, speeding, and excessive idling can also help you get more miles out of every gallon of gasoline," Ferner said.

To be fair to men, they did fare significantly better than women on a few other car-care questions. For example, 47 percent of men versus 27 percent of women knew cabin air filters clean the air passengers breathe. We're not sure what the women thought, but then we're never sure what women are thinking.

Based in Villeperce, France, Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition.

Are You Getting the Coverage You Need?

We are dead in the middle of peak months for purchasing new cars, and that means millions of consumers are in the market to buy. By doing your homework -- comparison shopping and reviewing new car guides -- smart shoppers can find the best cars to suit their needs. But you might be in for an ugly (and expensive) shock if you fail to take the time to find the right insurance to protect your new wheels.
 
"Take a few minutes to ensure that you truly have the auto insurance you need," said Bob Smith, vice president and chief claim officer of MetLife Auto & Home. "Surprisingly, a new car depreciates up to 30 percent during the first year, and many insurers will take a deduction for depreciation during this time. That means that a person could pay $20,000 for a vehicle, but only receive $14,000 if it were 'totaled' due to a loss a few days later. By asking the right questions, however, you can avoid some nasty surprises, and also, find ways to save money on the insurance you're purchasing."
 
Many consumers think of insurance as a commodity, but all policies are not the same. To avoid coverage gaps and take advantage of all possible discounts, consumers should ask the questions before purchasing insurance for a new vehicle, and here are some good ones:
 
What does my auto coverage actually cover?

Determine in advance the level of protection actually afforded under the terms of the policy. For example, if your new car were damaged beyond repair, would your auto insurer replace the vehicle with a new one or would the company take the above-described deduction for depreciation?  The difference in value can run into the thousands of dollars.

Is image everything?

Certain cars look great and catch the eye, but you may end up paying more for the flair they offer if that flair also attracts thieves and lowlifes. Cars that are expensive to repair or have historically higher theft rates carry higher insurance costs. Specialty vehicles and sports cars typically cost more to insure, too.
 
Can I use my car's equipment to my advantage?

If your new vehicle comes equipped with such things as anti-theft alarm devices or anti-lock brakes, you may qualify for discounts.  Be certain your insurance representative is aware of all the anti-theft and safety equipment your car has.

Are there other discounts for which I qualify?

Insurers offer discounts for a number of factors, including driving record, safe driving courses, the number of drivers using the vehicle, low annual mileage, and whether the vehicle is kept in a garage overnight or parked on the street. Interestingly, in the event of a loss, only a few insurance companies will reward customers for good driving habits by reducing deductibles for each year of loss-free driving. Make sure to ask whether your company offers such a reward, and if so, whether you have to pay extra for this feature.

Do you want fries with that?

While it doesn't have anything to do with car insurance, this is a good all-around question to ask in most circumstances because many people do want fries and somehow, in the confusion, forget to ask.

More information on car insurance (but not about fries) is available in a free brochure called "Shopping for a Safer Car." This 20-page booklet outlines safety factors that should be considered to reduce the risk of death or serious injury in the event of a crash. Coauthored by MetLife and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it is available by calling 1-800-638-5433 (MET-LIFE).

Born in Boston, Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley now resides in Villeperce, France, where he reports on the human condition and frequently orders pommes frites.

Want Better Fuel Economy?

With fuel prices reaching new high levels, the average consumer's level of pain is also reaching new heights. In reaction to that many motorists are considering buying a hybrid vehicle, a sub-compact or even resorting to more drastic measures like ride-sharing or -- dare we say it -- walking.  Others are looking for significantly better fuel economy from a gizmo they or their local mechanic installs under the hood.  But the best solution to getting better fuel economy is among the least obvious ones to American drivers -- their tires.

Because today's tires are so high-tech and last so long, consumers have a tendency to forget that they need periodic checks.  It is not only a fuel economy issue; it is also a safety issue.  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that nearly one out of every three vehicles on the road has a significantly under-inflated tire.  Why is that important?  Nearly 660 fatalities and 33,000 injuries occur every year as a result of low-tire-pressure-related crashes.
 
Despite these statistics, though, the typical driver doesn't pay much attention to his or her tires.  Research shows that about 85 percent of drivers don't properly check tire pressure.  And simple eyeballing of your tires as you get into or out of the car is not enough.  It is nearly impossible to tell if today's radial-ply tires are low in pressure simply by looking at them.  Instead, you should acquire a tire gauge and check your tires' pressure at least monthly.
 
"Not knowing the condition of your vehicle's tires is equal to pouring money down the drain," said the Auto Club's Principal Automotive Engineer Steve Mazor. "Proper tire inflation is necessary for safe driving and to reduce gas costs."
 
While air for your tires is free -- that's one thing the government hasn't figured out how to tax yet -- gasoline is growing ever more expensive, so those consumers who let their tires go low are spending needless money on fuel, and they might be driving their vehicle in an unsafe condition.  Just a little air in the tires can make all the difference in the world.

"Under-inflated tires can cut fuel economy by up to two percent per pound of pressure below the recommended level," said Mazor.

During every other fill-up motorists are well-advised to walk around their vehicles and check tires for uneven or excessive tread wear and proper inflation. While the eyeball is a good guide to determine if uneven or excessive wear is taking place, a tire pressure gauge is required to check inflation properly. Not certain what your tire pressure should be?  Drivers can refer to the vehicle's doorjamb or glove box for original tire inflation specifications. 
 
And while you're in the process of saving money it is not a bad idea to try to save your life as well.  Lack of tread depth can be dangerous, because your car won't handle properly, especially in wet weather.  In response to this, many states have minimum tread depth laws. Passenger cars might not operate safely on tires whose tread depth has dropped below 2/32-inch.

To determine if new tires are needed, the Honest Abe test is so simple even those of us who live in France carry a penny around as our tread depth gauge. The procedure is easy -- place a U.S. penny, Lincoln's head first, into several tread grooves. If part of Lincoln's head is covered by tread, then more than 2/32-inch tread depth remains, and that's good. If you see all of Honest Abe's head, though, you should purchase new tires.  When you purchase the new rubber, ask the tire store expert about tires that can help you maximize safety and fuel economy.  And be sure replacements meet manufacturers' speed/load specifications for your vehicle.

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

Use your Fuel Dollars Wisely

As the average weekly retail price for regular gasoline vaulted toward a record high in the last few weeks, it sparked memories of last October, when the U.S. petroleum industry was struggling to recover from the damage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These days there is no natural disaster to point fingers at, but one reason for the high price at the pump is the record price of crude oil.  For instance in April, Alaska North Slope crude oil, which makes up a substantial percentage of the West Coast's oil supply, reached a record high of $67.18 a barrel. And that was accompanied by increasing demand from such burgeoning markets in China, India and the U.S., coupled with fear that instability in Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and other oil-producing regions could once again limit supply.

"Unfortunately high crude oil prices are driving gasoline prices up this spring," said Joseph Desmond, Chairman of the California Energy Commission. "To help consumers, the Energy Commission has prepared some easy ways to reduce your fuel costs and keep more of your money in your wallet."

While consumers often consider drastic measures like replacing their current vehicle, the CEC tips are much simpler, yet will likely have more beneficial effects.  Tip number one -- shop wisely -- seems like a no-brainer, but many consumers don't realize that they can save as much as 20 percent simply by looking for the stations with the lowest prices. Fuel prices can vary 10 percent within a few blocks.
   
Another tip that might be harder to execute depending upon your commute is avoiding filling the tank during high-price periods. But the accompanying piece of advice -- don't waste money on premium or mid-grade gasoline if your car doesn't require it -- is much easier to follow.  While premium gasoline typically costs an extra 20 cents a gallon, approximately 90 percent of the cars on the road today are designed to run on regular.
   
Carpooling, even just once or twice a week, can have a marked effect on your overall fuel costs.  Sharing a ride to work with a friend or two effectively doubles or triples your fuel economy for the trip if you don't travel with deadbeats, and it has the additional advantage of allowing you to use the carpool lane in many areas.  More extreme measures can be taken, too. For instance, you can cut your fuel costs by 30 percent or more by walking, biking or taking mass transit.

Another way to save money on fuel is by not commuting at all.  No, we don't suggest you quit your job and move to Tahiti, but then again, why not?  However, if that option doesn't work for you right now, the good news is that more and more employers offer telecommuting as an option. You can also reduce the need to drive by using the computer and telephone to replace vehicle trips for business, shopping and services when you can.
   
These and other gas-saving tips are on the California Energy Commission's consumer Web site.  And even if you don't live in California, they'll still let you look at them.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini doesn't live in California.  He lives in Cleveland where he follows issues like the world's fuel prices and the ever-escalating cost of cheese Danish.

Eating on the Run

We all do it.  We know we shouldn't, but we do it anyway.  No, we're not talking about cheating on taxes or enjoying the Paris Hilton hamburger commercial; we're talking about eating while we drive.  As bad behavior goes, it's not up there with murder or stepping on a sidewalk crack, but eating at the wheel is not a good thing.  It can distract you from the important task at hand, namely, driving, and no one knows how many spilled soft drinks and errant plops of mustard have caused accidents on the highways.

So given the fact we know eating in our cars can be bad, why do we still do it?  Time crunch is the major reason.  Traffic is routinely more congested these days, and people are spending more time in their vehicles than ever.  The average American spends more than 100 hours commuting to work each year.  This leads to the desire to multi-task, i.e. drive and chow down simultaneously.  A recent study shows that nearly a third of Americans (30 percent) eat in their cars at least once or twice a week.

So given that many of us will continue to eat the occasional snack or meal on the move, how does one limit the potential distraction of dining and driving? One way, of course, is to dine in the car only as a passenger, letting another take the wheel during those key times when food is being ingested.  Of course, eating in the car even as a passenger still has its drawbacks -- mess, smell and clutter being among them.  But for the first time a consumer study -- The Dashboard Dining Index Study conducted by Kelton Research -- has attempted to rate the messiness, convenience and portability of "on the go" menu items found at leading quick-service restaurants.  Study participants were randomly selected at "drive-thrus" and then surveyed after eating a specific menu item as a passenger in a moving vehicle.

While 68 percent of Americans say they eat in their cars to save time, they also have concerns about messiness, trash or spills that come along with eating on the go.  In fact, 37 percent of respondents cited messiness and spills as their primary concern while eating in the car.  Happily another 33 percent cited safety.  

The survey, which was funded by Taco Bell, also examined various menu items from the top chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Subway.  Not surprisingly, Taco Bell's new Crunchwrap Supreme, which was designed specifically for in-car eating, led the way among those surveyed as the most "Perfect to Eat-On-The-Go" menu item.  McDonald's Chicken McNuggets finished second and Subway's tuna wrap was third.   

The vast majority of car passengers (85 percent) agreed they could eat the Crunchwrap Supreme with only one hand, and it was a leader in that category along with Wendy's Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger.  What consumers decided to do with their free hands in this scenario was left tactfully unsurveyed.  When it came to mess, Chicken McNuggets, largely because of its dipping sauces, required the most napkins.

Lesson to be learned?  Don't get any on you.  Don't say we didn't tell you how.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini doesn't just eat in his car; he eats almost constantly, because he's so good at it.