RepairPal Blog:

 General Interest

Gas prices? The future of hybrids? Find out what's in the news today!

Consumer Reports just published its 2010 Annual Auto Survey, which rates the reliability of foreign and domestic vehicles based on subscribers' experiences. While Toyota and Honda still dominate the list, some U.S. brands have made great strides in their reliability ratings. Here are some of the findings.Despite the recall of nearly 10 million vehicles over the past year for such problems as sticking brake pedals, defective electronic control modules, and leaky master cylinders, Toyota still tops the list of most reliable cars. Honda and Acura, which have both suffered many recalls as well, also remained at the top of the list. Other Asian models—the Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, and Nissan—rated high in the report, but did not show big improvement over the previous year.

For as long as I have been driving, I have topped off my gas tank when refueling. I think I started doing it so I could be sure I had filled up my car all the way to the brim because refueling was always kind of annoying. I also remember topping off the tank so I could round off to an even dollar amount—for some reason, $26.00 seemed much better than $25.47.The other day though, I was filling up my car and when the pump clicked, I removed the nozzle, put it back in its holder, and went on my way. After nearly twenty years of driving, why would I suddenly change my mind?

The first minivans rolled off the assembly line in 1984, when the Baby Boomer generation started having their own babies. Save a few models, their popularity has declined over the years, as they became the much-blighted symbol of soccer moms and suburbia. But the times, they are a-changin’.

Last week, Forbes published an article rating the best and worst states for drivers. Using a number of published studies, which evaluated various elements of the driving experience—gas prices, insurance rates, infrastructure, and legal protection—the article focuses on what matters most to drivers … their wallets. Gas prices seem to be the biggest concern for drivers, probably because we feel the impact of price changes instantaneously. It’s easy to forget how much you are forking out in insurance costs or oil changes because you only have to do them a couple of times a year. Filling up our tanks, on the other hand, hits the pocketbook immediately and frequently. Gas prices can vary as much as 36 percent between states.

The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, I was 14. As a freshman, I made the varsity soccer team, so I was hanging out with girls who were much older than I was—girls who also enjoyed having a few beers on the weekends. I was out with some friends one night and they didn’t want to drink and drive, so I was unceremoniously put behind the wheel—luckily, no one got hurt. No one in their right mind would say that a 14-year-old is old enough or mature enough to drive, but I was fine and went on to become a safe and responsible driver when I got my license at 16. Things were also very different back then—no cell phones to talk or text on, for one thing. I also remember a school assembly where we were shown the morgue photos of a drunk driving victim—those images will never leave me and scared the crap out of me. I wonder if schools are so direct these days.

I remember a couple of years ago when the automobile industry couldn’t give away cars and companies started offering all kinds of incentives to get people to buy their vehicles. Like, if you lost your job, you could return your car, no questions asked. Some companies promised you could return your car in sixty days if you simply weren’t happy with it. Others would buy your gas for a year. Or you could get a $5000 rebate on the spot. How about interest-free financing for sixty months—that’s five years! It was a sweet time to buy a car.Now that things have calmed down (a bit) and the industry is slowly rebounding, those deals have gone the way of Yugo, but that isn’t to say there aren’t still good incentive programs. Here are some of the top free scheduled maintenance programs, one of the best incentives you can find today.

Parking in San Francisco is nothing short of a nightmare. I actually live in one of the easiest areas to park in—Twin Peaks—where there is no monthly fee/sticker for parking, but I often find myself circling the streets, searching for the elusive perfect spot. Don’t get me started on the Financial District, the Powell Street area, or the Castro—it’s more likely I would find a four-leaf clover springing up through a crack in the sidewalk than a meter anywhere near my destination. And if I did happen to find a meter, I have about 6.5 seconds to do my business before the meter expires and I get slapped with a huge fine.Think I am exaggerating? I’m not.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Eating carrots improves your eyesight. A watched pot never boils. If you swallow gum, it will live in your belly forever. We’ve all heard these old wives’ tales since we were little, but which ones should we believe and which ones are simply fairytales?As far as car-related old wives’ tales go, none is more enduring than the recommendation that you must change your oil every three months or three thousand miles—whichever comes first. Obviously, your car won't grind to a halt if you wait until your 3,001st mile to change your oil, but does this adage hold true? And if so, are you damaging your vehicle if you wait too long?

We’ve all heard it—that nails-on-the-chalkboard-horror-movie-screeching sound brakes make when they have passed their prime. Where I live, I am pretty confident there is an unwritten rule that all cabs must emit this horrific squeal. You don’t even need to look for a cab in the city—you could walk outside blindfolded, listen for the screaming brakes, hold up your hand, and voila! Your cab has arrived.Even though cab drivers are deaf or just don’t bother to repair their brakes until they drop from the bottom of their vehicles, it’s not a good idea for the rest of us to ignore brake screeching. They are making noise for a reason, and it’s never a good one. Learn more >>

Last night, I traveled from San Francisco to Oakland to pick up my partner from the airport. On the stretch of 880 from downtown Oakland to the airport, the road conditions were so bad, I felt like I was riding a bucking bronco. At some points, I swear my tires left the road. Going the speed limit actually felt too fast. With what I pay in taxes out here, I expect better—or at least not to fear for my life every time I hit the highway. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s driven on a highway lately that our nation’s roads are in poor condition, but a report released last week by TRIP, a transportation research group, reveals that nearly a quarter of the country’s major urban roads are in substandard or poor condition.