RepairPal Blog:

 General Interest

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

Next month, the nation’s first mass-market electric cars will go on sale and while utility companies are happy for the revenue this will bring, they are also concerned about the impact it will have on the demand for electricity.When plugged into a standard 120-volt socket, an electric car can draw as much power as a small house. Some electric cars, like the first Nisssan Leafs and Chevy Volts set to be released in December 2010, will draw about 3,300 watts—for comparison, a microwave can draw about 1,000 watts. But Chevy and Nissan would like to boost that to 6,600 watts soon, so that the cars can charge faster. The Tesla Roadster can draw about 16,800 watts, which is the equivalent of 280 60-watt light bulbs.

Automatically, without a doubt, the first thing I do when I get in a car is put on my seat belt. I am sure most of us do. But it wasn’t always that way. The first time the world even heard about seat belts was for their use by stunt pilots who flew upside down. The jump from that to making them standard in automobiles seems unlikely at best. So how did seat belts go from stunt planes to automobiles?

My late grandpa, whom I loved dearly, had lots of wonderful qualities—humor, intelligence, forethought, compassion—but being a good driver was not one of them. I remember riding in his car, white-knuckled, shooting worrying glances at my mother as we narrowly avoided perilous accidents and helpless pedestrians. My mom used to offer to drive, but he always refused, stubbornness being another one of his qualities.Even when I was young, I had a feeling he really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. When I got older and started diving myself, I knew he shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The issue of seniors driving is an important one, one that is going to get even more attention as the Baby Boomers hit their golden years.

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.