Posts filed under ‘Automotive’

Chewing Sunflower Seeds Can Help You Stay Awake

By Kaye Nemec

We’ve all been there: we’re driving late at night, determined to make it to our final destination, growing more tired with each passing mile. We roll our windows down, turn up the radio’s volume, gulp down caffeine — anything to keep our eyelids from dropping.

Drowsy driving is a dangerous situation. In fact, studies show that it can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Of course the best solution would be to pull over and get some rest. But if you have no choice and really need to keep on driving, try chewing sunflower seeds to stay awake.

Eating sunflower seeds (with shells) is not an easy task. The act of using your teeth to crack the seed, figuring out how to remove the seed from the shell and successfully discarding the shell, not to mention eating the seed, will keep your brain focused. Be sure to have an empty cup or bottle handy to spit the shells into or your car will be a mess when you finally get to your destination.  Grabbing a healthy drink to go with the seeds is a good idea too, they are certainly a salty snack and will leave you feeling pretty thirsty.

Mastering the art of eating sunflower seeds “hands free” can take a little time, so if you’re not quite there yet I recommend a few practice sessions at home before taking this trick out on the road. The point is to keep your mind active and alert, but not to be so distracted that you’re unable to focus on safe driving.

Want to kill two birds with one stone? At your next pit stop, get a package of SumSeeds.  They’re a brand of sunflower seeds infused with caffeine, taurine, lysine and ginseng. They come in four flavors; original, salt & pepper, honey BBQ and dill pickle. If your local store doesn’t carry them, you can get them from Amazon.

In addition to the mental concentration and energy it takes to eat sunflower seeds, their nutritional value will also help improve your overall health and wellness. Unlike the sugars and refined carbohydrates often found in common “pick me up” snacks, sunflower seeds are packed with healthy fats, protein and fiber.

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Sources: Wikihow.com,  AAAFoundation.org, SUMSEEDS.com, Sunflowernsa.com

Photo: photofarmer (cc)

September 22, 2010 at 5:00 am 4 comments

How Does Information Get On a CARFAX Report?

By Chad Upton | Editor

It’s not unusual for somebody to completely destroy their car and walk away unharmed.

This happens because newer cars are designed to crumple on impact, just like a bike helmet made from dense foam. The frame, hood and even the power train components absorb the energy from the impact in order to help protect the occupants. Of course, air bags may also deploy, which protect the occupants from hitting hard surfaces inside the vehicle.

When an insurance company declares a car as a “total loss” it means they are not going to pay to fix the car; although, they may sell the vehicle to somebody who plans to use it for spare parts. That person may then fix the car and try to sell it.

Unfortunately, a car that has been in a major accident may have hidden safety and reliability problems. So, if you’re buying a used car, you’ll want to know its history.

If you’ve ever looked at a used car, you’ve probably come across CARFAX.

It’s a service that provides historical information about used cars. For $35 or less, you can enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) of a used car and get a report about its ownership, accident history, mileage discrepancies, lemon status, flood damage, fleet use (taxi, police…etc) and many other things the seller may not want you to know.

I think this is a great idea, but I’ve always wondered how they get all the information.

hd car dvr

I was talking to a guy that runs an auto body shop, so I asked him. He said that he has done work on cars that were nearly totaled and the information did not show up on CARFAX; he had also done minor work that has shown up.

He said that CARFAX buys info from insurance companies and other sources. Some insurance companies have a non-disclosure agreement, where they will not disclose information about your car and its accidents while other insurance companies are willing to sell that information to make money.

I verified this information with CARFAX and it’s true. CARFAX gets information from thousands of sources and has over 6 billion records on file. They have deals with motor vehicle bureaus in every US State and Canadian Province, where they get information about mileage, flood damage, titles, lemon buybacks, accidents, thefts, liens and ownership transfers.

They also get information from auto auctions, car dealers, repair and service facilities, rental companies, state inspection stations, fire departments, law enforcement, car manufacturers, import/export companies and many others. That’s not to say that all companies of these types provide this information, but many do.

In some cases, they have mutually beneficial relationships. For example, car dealers may provide information about vehicles they service, but they may also request information about used cars that they want to take as trade-ins, buy at auctions or sell to their customers.

In any case, CARFAX warns that they may not always have all of the information, since there are many sources that they do not have access to. In 2005, they had 6,100 sources of information. Now, they have grown  to over 34,000 sources.

CARFAX does provide a couple of free services that may be worth while if you’re purchasing a used car. The Lemon Check is one of them. This free service, will tell you if the car you’re about to buy was ever declared a lemon, meaning it was serviced for the same problem 3 times and bought back from the owner by the manufacturer. You definitely want to avoid a lemon.

You can also perform a record check with CARFAX for free. This will tell you how many records they have on file for the VIN you entered. If you’re thinking about buying a CARFAX report, you should try this free option first to see if it’s worth buying the report about the car you’re interested in.

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Sources: CARFAX (Data Sources) MSN, MyVin

Photo: Ian Hampton (cc), jasonbolonski (cc)

August 23, 2010 at 5:00 am 69 comments

Cars Built Since 2008 Have Tire Pressure Warning Lights

By Chad Upton | Editor

Last week, I was driving behind a car with a tire that was nearly flat. The tire was so low, it was almost riding on the rims.

At the next red light, I waved at the driver and they opened their window. They put their cell phone down while I told them about the tire. They were surprised, thanked me and went back to talking on their phone. Even though there was a service station across the street, where they could have easily added air or at least checked the tire, they drove off like nothing was wrong.

I was shocked.

Apparently, some people don’t understand how dangerous a flat tire can be, not to mention the poor gas mileage and possible damage to your wheel. In fact, it’s not just this person. 33% of drivers don’t know what the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning light is when it lights up on their dashboard.

Since 2008, all cars in the US are required to have a tire pressure monitoring system. Many cars, especially luxury cars and SUVs, have had them for longer, but the importance of these systems became clear during the Bridgestone/Firestone Tire debacle in the year 2000. Some sources report there may have been as many as 250 deaths and 3000 catastrophic injuries from under-inflated tires and that tire pressure monitoring systems could have saved lives and reduced injuries.

The tire pressure monitoring system will illuminate an icon on your instrument cluster when the pressure in any tire drops more than 25% below the recommended inflation level. The icon is a cross section of a bulging tire with an exclamation point inside of it.

Some cars have more advanced systems that will identify which tire is under-inflated. The more advanced systems can also tell you if a tire is over-inflated and when it is just a warning that can be addressed soon or if it is an emergency that requires immediate attention.

As the seasons change and the weather gets warmer or cooler, tire pressure changes too — that’s a good time to pay extra attention to tire pressure. If your vehicle warns you of a tire pressure problem, you should pull over to check the tires. This could really be a life saver, especially if you’re driving at highway speeds when the light comes on.

Whether you have this light or not, you should check your tire pressure regularly, and especially if they’re bulging. Most service stations have an air compressor to fill your tires, many of these are equipped with a pressure gauge that you can use without turning on the compressor (which costs money in some cases). Otherwise, the service station may be able to lend you a gauge.

On the inside of the driver’s door frame, there is usually a sticker that indicates the proper tire pressure for your vehicle. If not, check your manual.

Your manual will also tell you how to calibrate the tire pressure monitoring system. If your system is capable of telling you which tire is improperly inflated and you check the pressure in that tire, only to find that it is perfect, then your tires were probably rotated without calibrating the system to match the new tire locations.

Some systems use wireless sensors on each wheel, these are known as direct measurement systems and they are more expensive. The other main type of system relies on the ABS sensors to determine that one wheel is turning at a slightly different speed, indicating it is low. This system is cheaper, but it only works when the vehicle is in motion.

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Sources: Jalopnik, Firestone Tire Recall, USA Today, NHTSA

Photo: jronaldlee (cc),  dimmerswitch (cc)

August 13, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Air Conditioning Affects Gas Mileage

By Chad Upton | Editor

In most cars, the air conditioner’s compressor is powered by a drive belt on the engine. When the air conditioner is activated, the compressor adds resistance to your engine. That extra resistance means your engine requires more fuel to turn at the same speed.

In other words, using your air conditioner burns more gas than not using it. Modern cars have very efficient air conditioners, but this truth still stands.

On a hot summer day, you have to keep cool. Does that mean it’s more fuel efficient to drive with your windows down?

Yes and no.

The Society of Automotive Engineers performed a study that examined this question in detail. They performed wind tunnel and track experiments comparing a car and an SUV. With the windows down, the car was half as efficient at 50 mph (80 km/h) than the SUV’s at 30 mph (50 km/h). It’s clear that driving the car with windows down has a dramatic effect on fuel economy, but it affected the SUV even more, especially when a 10 mph (16 km/h) crosswind was added in the wind tunnel.

Consumer Reports found that below 40 mph (65 km/h), drivers are better off with their windows down and air conditioner off.

Jason Toews from GasBuddy.com found at speeds above 45 mph (70 km/h), “wind drag becomes an issue.” He says, “Drive at speeds over 55 mph with windows down and you’ll decrease fuel economy by up to 20 percent or greater.”

Myth Busters has also looked at this issue on a couple occasions. The first time around, their methodology was flawed, so they tried it a second time. The second time, they came to the same conclusion as Consumer Reports and GasBuddy, that windows down are more efficient than running the air conditioner at speeds less than 45-55 mph (70-90 km/h) and the drag at higher speeds makes the air conditioner the more efficient option.

Of course, results vary by vehicle.

There are many factors other than windows and air conditioning that affect fuel economy: drive train, power-train, body aerodynamics and tire rolling resistance. If you want to know exactly how it affects your car, you might try experimenting for yourself. Some cars have a driver information center that displays fuel economy, otherwise you could order an after market product, such as CarChip Pro ($75-$85), which may help you get that data. If you’re interested, some of these are explored in more detail in another post, The Ideal Vehicle Speed for Best Fuel Economy.

If it’s hot outside, you should probably start with your windows down anyway. This gives your air conditioner a bit of a break by clearing the extremely hot air out of the car first.

Do prefer windows down or the air conditioner on?

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Sources: SAE (PDF), MythBusters (Ep 22, Ep 38), Edmunds, Bankrate, Consumer Reports, Missouri Gov

Photo: Tomás Fano (cc)

August 10, 2010 at 5:00 am 12 comments

Warning Gauges are Usually Center Normal

By Chad Upton | Editor

Even if you don’t know anything about cars, this can help you spot a problem, even if you don’t know what it is.

Virtually every car has a speedometer and a fuel gauge and you can obviously read those gauges. Many cars also have a tachometer; it measures the engine speed in revolutions per minute (rpm). This can help you understand when to shift gears and when you’re burning the least/most fuel.

Some cars have other gauges too. Generally speaking, the needle on most of these other gauges should be near the middle of the gauge when the vehicle is operating normally. Depending on the gauge, it will usually have a red mark on one or both sides of the gauge, indicating trouble if the needle reaches that mark.

Some of these gauges take a few minutes to settle near the center, particularly the various temperature and pressure gauges that may appear in some vehicles.

These are called center normalized gauges and have been a popular gauge design standard for a long time. With so many in-car distractions, simplifying gauge design makes it easy to identify a problem.

In racing some drivers even tape over the sides of the gauges, leaving on the center visible — then they can only see the needle when it is in the center position, making it even easier to identify a problem.

One of the most popular additional gauges is the engine coolant temperature gauge. It is identified by a symbol that looks like a thermometer partially submerged in liquid. This gauge indicates when your engine is overheating.

The following gauges are not exactly warning gauges, so they’re exempt from the center normal rule: speedometer (mph or km/h), tachometer (rpm), fuel, and turbo (boost).

Of course, not all cars use center normal gauges, but you’ll be able to tell a few minutes after your car has been running normally.

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Sources: Answers.com, umich.edu

Photos: Photo courtesy of Aaron Gold at _cars.about.com_, rastrus (cc)

August 2, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Drinking and Driving is Legal in Mississippi

By Chad Upton

Ever since I can remember, “Don’t Drink and Drive” has been drilled into my head.

But, the range of acceptable blood alcohol content varies from 0.01% in Albania, Guyana and a few other countries, to 0.08% in Canada, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom, United States and many others.

It’s obviously dangerous to be drunk while driving. But, it’s arguable when alcohol consumption becomes dangerous.

Some countries have lower limits for drivers who are new or have other special circumstances and more strict penalties for blood alcohol readings at other levels above the legal limit. In some cases: state and provincial laws are more strict than federal laws or county and city laws are more strict than state and provincial laws.

Countries, such as Brazil and the Czech Republic, have a zero tolerance policy for blood alcohol content. In those countries, and a few others, you cannot have alcohol in your bloodstream when you drive.  Other countries, permit up to 0.08% blood alcohol content.

I couldn’t find a country with more internal disagreement than the United States. In most states, it is illegal to have a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08%. The rules are even more strict for drivers under the age of 21. In most states, you can’t have open containers in the passenger compartment of a vehicle — that is a container where the seal has been broken.

Conversely, there are a number of states where passengers are allowed to consume alcohol while the vehicle is moving. These states are Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia. Actually, Mississippi allows drivers to consume alcohol as long as they do not exceed the blood alcohol limit of 0.08%.

States that do not conform to federal open container laws are financially penalized. But, that doesn’t stop them, in fact, drive thru restaurants in some states serve alcoholic beverages too.

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Sources: Wikipedia (US Open Container Laws, Drunk Driving by Country), Open Container Laws, The Monitor, State Line

Relevant:

An alcohol abuse program makes use of various methods, all designed to help an alcohol abuser get the all that drinking off his system.

July 28, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Sarcastic Secret: Signal Lights

By Chad Upton

Tickers, blinkers, indicators and flashers. They have many names, but only one purpose: to let people know your car is about to change course.

In most vehicles, a lever on the steering column moves up or down to activate flashing lights on either side of the car.

I suspect a lot of people don’t even know their car has such lights, but they’ve been standard on cars since cars.

Maybe it’s a confusing concept, so I’ll try to explain it in a straight forward manner: if you’re about to turn your steering wheel, put these lights on first.

I find that some people use signal lights like the horn. They know they’re there, but they only use them when they need you to move.

Most vehicles also have a way to put all four blinkers on at the same time. The vehicle manual may refer to these as “four way flashers” or “hazard lights” but a lot of people know these as “park anywhere lights.” Their understanding of this feature is, when you want to double park, park in a fire lane or any other no parking zone, these flashing lights give you temporary immunity from parking regulations.

In all seriousness, signal lights first appeared on cars in 1907, but weren’t patented until 1938. Some cars from the 1920s to 1950s used solid (non-blinking) retractable lights on the sides of the car, called a trafficators.

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Source: Wikipeda (Signal Lights)

Photo: Wikimedia (gnu free)

July 23, 2010 at 5:00 am 9 comments

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