Posts tagged ‘auto’

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 70 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

The Ideal Vehicle Speed for Best Fuel Economy

The precise number varies by car and environmental conditions, but the sweet spot is generally between 40-60 mph (65-95 km/h). Most small and medium size cars get the best mileage at about 50 mph (80 km/h).

A lot of factors affect the fuel economy of your car. Some of them don’t vary much with speed, such as the resistance of the engine pumps and accessories. Other factors, like the size of the frontal area and the drag coefficient create increasing resistance with speed.

The faster you drive, the more energy is needed to overcome the aerodynamic resistance of the car. Up to 40 mph, that isn’t really even a factor. So, if you’re driving a box then your best fuel economy is likely closer to 40 mph than 50. If you’re driving a teardrop shaped eco-car, then you’re likely closer to 60 mph. Of course, engine size and other factors are involved too. (more…)

February 25, 2010 at 12:01 am 5 comments

Warm Your Car Up Faster

My friend Todd told me about this secret many years ago. He has rebuilt more cars in his suburban home garage than anyone I know.

I met Todd at my first part time job, we used to work early weekend mornings during high school. I was too young to have a driver’s license, so my dedicated parents would always drive me.

That was before remote starters, so I would usually start the car a few minutes before leaving. Actually, that’s not true — my Dad was usually the one starting the car a few minutes before I was ready to leave, which was about 10 minutes after I told him I would be ready to leave.

It didn’t make much difference to the car — it was still cold for at least half the trip. On the rare occasion that I started the car, I would turn the heater to its hottest setting and turn the fan to full blast. That’s actually the slowest way to warm the car, so lets talk more about the fastest way. (more…)

February 24, 2010 at 1:09 am 35 comments

Sarcastic Secret: The Left Lane is for Passing

This is another one of those things that shouldn’t be a secret, but every time I go on the highway it seems like nobody knows about it.

I assume all my readers are perfectly safe drivers, only driving in the left lane when they need to pass another car, or in gridlock when proper traffic flow isn’t possible anyway. But if you know someone who blocks the left lane then you can share this with them as a subtle hint. Oh, and if someone shared this with you, they probably think you hate left lane bandits just as much as them.

We are constantly reminded by highway signs that say, “slower traffic keep right.” But, it’s not just the law, it’s common courtesy — we all need to share the road.

Keeping the left lane clear is important. Not just because it’s the other driver’s right to pass you, but because it is safer. When everyone plays by the same road rules, then everything is more predictable, there are fewer surprises and fewer accidents — that’s why these laws exist, they’re not just for fun.

One of these laws, at least in North America, is to pass on the left. If everyone did this, you would never have a car approach you from behind on your right side. Which, isn’t a big deal if you’re going to make a planned lane change, if you didn’t notice the car approach then you would see them when you check your blind spot anyway. But, if you need to make an emergency maneuver, it’s nice to be able to count on the fact that nobody will be there and you’ve got a safe “Plan B.” (more…)

February 4, 2010 at 12:41 am 2 comments

Idling a Cold Engine Is GOOD For The Environment

You may notice when you start a cold vehicle, its exhaust is visible at first and disappears after a few minutes. Here’s why.

Technically, modern vehicles do not require much warm up time before you can drive them; advanced lubricants and materials allow the vehicles to be driven shortly after a cold weather start. Of course, you may want to warm your car for your comfort and surprisingly, to reduce emissions.

This is not intuitive, unless you understand the emission control systems on modern vehicles.

The first system is called Exhaust Gas Recirculation, and it’s probably obvious from the name: it routes exhaust gases back into the engine. The vehicle computer system monitors and controls this process to lower the amount of Nitrogen Oxides, precursors to smog and acid rain, that are created in the engine and then expelled from the tailpipe. Depending on your vehicle, this system will not operate in certain conditions, for example: low engine temperatures.

Vehicles also have a component in their exhaust system that converts various pollutants into less harmful gases with various catalysts. That conversion occurs in the catalytic converter, and that chemical reaction doesn’t happen when the catalytic converter is cold.

According to WP, some catalytic converters can take up to thirty-minutes to reach ideal operating temperature. That isn’t to suggest you should wait that long before driving your car — there are countermeasures in many cars that make it effective long before that.

When your car is at idle, it uses less gas and releases less pollution than when you are driving it. Getting your emission system to an effective point before driving it helps reduce overall emissions. For my car, it take about 3-5 minutes before the exhaust is invisible and that’s about how long it takes to clear the snow anyway. It’s not an exact science and it varies by car and by temperature.

BrokenSecrets.com

Sources:  WP, WP, WP, EPA, GM

Photo: steveyb (Creative Commons)

December 14, 2009 at 12:53 am 2 comments

Rear Fog Lights

Most North American cars have one set of bright lights on the back, of course those are the brake lights.  But some American cars and most European cars have other bright lights on the rear: rear fog lights.Rear fog light on an Audi

If you’re not familiar with this concept, then you probably assumed their lights were malfunctioning or their break lights were “stuck.”

Rear fog lights make it much easier for the vehicle behind you to see your car when fog, rain or snow is heavy.

Some rear fog lights are a pair of lights mounted low on the rear bumper.  Other cars have a single light, mounted near the driver’s side rear turn signal.

There are debates about the validity of rear fog lights.  Some claim they can be confused with brake lights, others agree but believe that is still safer than not seeing the vehicle until it is too late.

In the photo of the instrument cluster, the icon on the left is the front fog light indicator and on the right is the rear fog light indicator.

Some cars have separate switches for front and rear fogs, other cars have one switch that activates both.

Studies have shown that in North America more people inappropriately use their fog lamps in dry weather than use them properly in poor weather

BrokenSecrets.com

Photo Credit: mroach (Creative Commons)

Sources: DriveAndStayAlive.com Wikipedia SAE

December 1, 2009 at 1:35 am 2 comments


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