Monthly Archives: August 2016

How to save your money for your auto

A quick way to save 20 to 40 or more cents per gallon of gas is to stop pumping premium and switch to regular grade. But how will you know if the switch is safe or if it will damage the engine in your car?

The key for drivers is to know whether premium gasoline is merely recommended for their car or if it’s required. In today’s automobiles, advances in engine technology mean that even if the owner’s manual recommends premium gasoline, the car will typically run on regular without issue and won’t damage the engine in any other way. The car’s performance might suffer only slightly: It might be a half-second slower from zero to 60 mph, for instance. But the average driver isn’t likely to notice this drop-off.

Drivers used to buy a tank of premium gas every once in a while to clean their engine. Years ago, premium gasoline contained more detergents and additives to stop carbon deposits. But experts say that because of government regulations aimed at cutting emissions, all grades of gas, including those you buy atindependent, low-price stations have plenty of additives to both protect engines and cut pollution.

Edmunds has compiled two lists: “premium recommended” and “premium required” for vehicles from the 2011-2016 model years (with some 2017 model-year vehicles). If your vehicle is on the “premium recommended” list, you’re OK to try switching to regular unleaded gasoline. If, on the other hand, your car is on the “premium required” list, then you have to run premium fuel. You can confirm the information on these lists by checking your owner’s manual.

Smarter Engines Protect Themselves
If you’re still in doubt about switching to a lower-octane fuel, here’s a deeper explanation of why the change is unlikely to hurt your car.

First of all, premium gas is more expensive because it contains a higher percentage of octane. Why is this important? When vaporized gas mixes with air and fills the combustion chamber, it is compressed by the rising pistons. This makes the gas-air mixture grow hot and it could ignite before the spark plug fires, pushing backward on the piston. Higher-octane fuels can be compressed to a greater degree without self-igniting. That’s why premium gas is used in high-performance engines.

In the old days, engines could not adjust to fuels with varying octane ratings. Use the wrong fuel and the engine would knock or “ping” audibly because the gas exploded prematurely. This knocking damaged internal engine components over time.

Today, engine control systems can compensate for low octane by monitoring knock activity and adjusting ignition advance to avoid knocking. This sophisticated electronic capability effectively tunes the engine on the fly and gives drivers more flexibility in the grade of fuels that they can safely use.

Compared to premium gasoline, lower-octane fuels don’t allow the engine to run as much ignition advance during situations calling for rapid acceleration. More ignition advance allows the engine to make more power, and accelerate more quickly, during these conditions. Since the engine doesn’t make quite as much power with lower-octane fuels, this translates into slower acceleration in cars for which premium fuel is recommended. The performance loss is especially noticeable in turbocharged gasoline engines, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.

The performance loss, however, is something you will only notice if you have a heavy foot and accelerate rapidly from a dead stop or while changing lanes at highway speeds. But if you accelerate moderately, the loss of power is barely noticeable, regardless of whether you use premium or regular-grade fuel.

When Premium Can Be a Money-Saver
Edmunds has noted, however, at least one case in which a car with a small turbocharged engine got better fuel economy when running on premium. The car in question was a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ and, perhaps befitting a car that’s marketed as a money saver, the owner’s manual only calls for regular unleaded gasoline. Yet in a specific test we noticed that we got better fuel economy (and ultimately saved a bit of money) by using premium fuel. One factor affecting the outcome of the experiment might have been that the testing was conducted in extreme hot-weather conditions, however.

If you want to see if you can save money by using premium gas in a car for which it’s recommended but that doesn’t require it, conduct your own test project. Monitor your fuel economy and performance over at least two tanks of premium gas. Record the trip mileage, gallons used, fuel price and octane rating in a notebook or in an app such as Road Trip or on a site such as Fuelly. If your car has an onboard fuel economy meter, make sure you reset it when filling up. Then, fill up on the same number of tanks of regular gasoline and record all the same data. Finally, compare the results. You’re looking for a drop-off in fuel economy or a sense that the car is slower or hesitant under strong acceleration.

Tips for Protecting Your Car

In Everett, Washington, Jasmine Vandelac awakened one morning to discover that someone had ransacked the Honda Odyssey minivan and Toyota Tacoma truck parked in her driveway and made off with her husband’s electric guitar. Vandelac has security cameras mounted around her home, but when she watched the video from around 2 a.m., she was puzzled.

“It was a group of four men who came down the driveway at the same time,” she recalls. “Each went to a different side of the vehicles. Then one man took something out of his pocket — it looked to be about the size of a cell phone — and aimed it at the cars. Then, instantly, the lights went on and all four doors opened.”

Vandelac is sure that both vehicles were locked. Nevertheless, the thieves apparently were able to open the vehicles’ keyless-entry systems as readily as if they’d been using the smart keys that she says were inside her home.

The still-unsolved theft is just one of numerous reports over the past year, in locales ranging from Sausalito, California, and Yukon, Oklahoma, to Saginaw County, Michigan. Criminals are gaining entry to parked cars, apparently by tricking their keyless-entry systems into unlocking the doors.

None of the perpetrators have been caught, and the gadgetry they are using remains mysterious. But some electronic security experts believe that the criminals may be exploiting the convenience of keyless-entry systems, which are designed to detect and authenticate the smart key inside a car owner’s pocket as he or she pulls on the door handle. They say that if the thieves can amplify the car’s signal (a “relay attack,” in electronics lingo) it can be fooled into using the owner’s key to open the doors, even if that key actually is on a nightstand or the kitchen table inside the house.

But the vulnerability doesn’t stop with the doors. European researchers actually have used the same sort of electronic trickery to start cars’ ignitions and drive them away — though fortunately, thieves haven’t followed suit. At least not yet.

The hacking of keyless-entry systems is so new that there isn’t yet any reliable data on how often it is occurring, says Carol Kaplan, director of public affairs at the National Crime Insurance Bureau, an industry organization that tracks auto thefts and break-ins.

“But we hear increasingly from law enforcement agencies that we work with that there are more and more cases like this,” she says. “One problem is that it’s very hard to prove that a car has been broken into by using this method. There’s no evidence left behind, no broken glass or scratches on your car. All you know is that you come back, and your stuff is gone.”

How to save your pet on driving car

images-40Sensible drivers buckle in themselves and their children before starting the motor. But what about their dog’s safety? Many drivers simply command their pets to jump into the backseat, the pickup’s cargo bed or even onto their laps. Lap dogs they should never be. In fact, dogs shouldn’t be anywhere near our laps when we’re driving, safety experts and pet advocates say. But many drivers ignore the safety risks and allow their dogs to roam freely in cars.

That can be a big mistake, says Dr. Kimberly May, a veterinarian since 1994 and the director of professional and public affairs at the American Veterinary Medical Association in Schaumburg, Illinois.

“Even a low-speed crash can cause injury to unrestrained dogs,” she says. “There are all kinds of prominences inside a car, so depending on what structures they hit, dogs can suffer broken ribs, broken legs or eye injuries. They can hit the windshield or be thrown outside of the car.

“A dog riding on a driver’s lap can interfere with driving, climbing down into the footwell, or otherwise distracting the driver,” May says. “In a crash, the dog could be suffocated or crushed by a deployed airbag or thrown into the windshield.”

Harness and Seatbelt Are Best
May says that the best restraint for dogs is a good harness and a seatbelt. A properly secured crate is a close second — but crates can have drawbacks, too.

“If the crate is too big for a dog, the dog can still be hurt slamming against the sides of the crate, even in a low-speed crash,” she says. The best choice seems to be an individual restraint, such as a good-quality, properly fitted harness.

“Crates are all right,” agrees Dr. Thomas Scherer, a Fountain Valley, California, veterinarian who has been in practice for 40 years. “But are you going to secure the crate well enough? With the forces that happen in car accidents, will the crate hold?”

A harness and seatbelt are a better solution, he says. “Do the same for dogs that you would do for people.”

Dangerous for Drivers
Of course, injuries to dogs aren’t the only reason to properly restrain four-legged automobile passengers. They can put humans at risk, too.

In an August 2010 survey by AAA and pet-travel products company Kurgo, nearly a third of 1,000 dog-owning drivers admitted they’d been distracted by their dogs and 21 percent allowed their dogs to sit in their lap. Five percent played with their pets as they drove. These and other behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only 2 seconds doubles crash risk.

The exact number of accidents caused every year by such dogs is unknown, but Paws to Click, which seeks to educate drivers about riding with unrestrained dogs, puts the number at about 30,000 accidents annually.

There are very few laws making it illegal to drive with a pet in your lap, though several states’ legislators have proposed such bans in recent years. Hawaii is an exception: It explicitly bars drivers from having any “person, animal or object” in their laps while driving.

Driving with a dog in your lap could, however, be considered illegal in several states under distracted driving statutes.

The danger posed to humans by an unrestrained pet can be big even if the pet isn’t. In a USA Today storyabout drivers distracted by unrestrained dogs, an AAA official said a 10-pound dog would strike at 50 times its weight in a crash at 50 mph. And that’s not the only danger to humans, since an unrestrained pet can hamper a rescue, cause another accident or hurt rescue personnel.

Outside Dangers
And don’t even think about letting dogs ride with their heads out the window, even if they’re restrained. May says that if the restraint allows a dog to hang its head out the window, it’s probably an indication that it would not sufficiently protect the dog from injury if a collision occurs.

Also, she says, “Dogs with their heads hanging out of the window are at risk of injury to their eyes, nose, ears, mouth and face from airborne debris.”

As dangerous as riding unrestrained inside a vehicle can be for dogs, doing so in the bed of a pickup can be even worse because animals can jump or be thrown at high speed. An AVMA paper puts it this way: “Dogs transported in open truck beds are at risk of severe injury.” They can suffer critical, multiple fractures and abrasions.

Several states bar dogs from being transported in the bed of a pickup unsafely or inhumanely, and still others, including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Oregon, require that dogs carried in pickup beds berestrained.

Heat Risks
Riding unrestrained isn’t the only danger to pets in cars, however. Being left unattended in vehicles also can be harmful and even deadly, especially when the weather turns warm.

“Heat prostration can be a lot more serious than it looks because some things don’t happen right away,” says Scherer, the California vet. “It takes maybe three or four days for organ-function problems to become an issue. But there are things that happen right away that are really bad (such as) seizures and serious central nervous system problems.”

Owners should never leave pets in a car unattended, even on a temperate day, May says. “People don’t realize that on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside the car could reach 110 degrees or higher. On a 60-degree day, it could get up to 100 or higher. Unless you’re taking your pet to the vet or traveling with your pet, just leave him at home.