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Dealing with Vehicle Breakdown in Summer’s Heat

July 13th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

flat-tireAs temperatures soar, our cars become vulnerable to the heat, just like we do.

Idling too long at a stoplight, driving slowly through a neighborhood or forgetting to check the water in the radiator can cause overheating, leaving drivers stranded in the middle of the road.

Add to that debris that blows out tires, neglected maintenance that causes other types of breakdown and impatient drivers, and you’ve got disaster waiting to happen!

So how should you react on that fateful summer day when your car breaks down on your way to work? And how can you avoid having an accident with another car when yours breaks down, resulting in even more damage and high car insurance rates?

In a situation like this, your first concern should be for your own safety, says the Insurance Information Institute (III). Many drivers mistakenly think they can pull off on the shoulder of the road and safely inspect the damage or change a flat tire.

But that’s just not so.

In fact, getting out of the car is one of the worst things you can do. Whether on the highway or at a busy intersection, doing so puts you in harm’s way and could actually get you killed!

Instead, move your vehicle (coast it in neutral, if you have to) to a safe place away from traffic—even if it ruins a tire or rim—and turn on your hazard lights. Then use your cell phone to call for assistance and wait in your car until help arrives.

In the heat, most of us have very little patience behind the wheel. We’re often in a hurry to get where we’re going, and we don’t want to sit and wait patiently in traffic. This can lead to anything from a minor fender-bender to a full-fledged breakdown.

Remember, staying safe is the most important thing. So next time you find yourself stranded on the road in 100 degree heat, try to move your car away from other vehicles, signal your distress to cars around you and wait for help.

You’ll help avoid further accident, damage and high car insurance rates; have an opportunity to get your vehicle repaired—and maybe just save your own life!

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Teen Drivers Pose Added Risk at Night

May 10th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

driver_textingIf you have a teen driver on your auto insurance policy who’s still living at home, you might want to limit his or her access to the family car after dark.

According to a study released late last week by the Texas Transportation Institute, nighttime driving is becoming more and more hazardous for young people—and the most likely culprits are their cell phones.

Between 1999 and 2008, the number of fatal crashes that occurred dropped nearly 11 percent, including those that occurred after dark. In contrast, the proportion of fatal crashes at night involving teens between the ages of 16 and 19 increased 10 percent during that same time—a full 20 percent difference.

So what’s causing these nighttime problems with teenage drivers?

There are actually several factors at play here, say experts. The first, of course is inexperience. New drivers tend to make poor driving decisions most other drivers don’t because the risk involved isn’t readily apparent to them.

In other words, they haven’t been driving long enough to recognize what’s wise and what isn’t.

We’ve all seen kids hop behind the wheel of a car with their friends, peel out of parking lots, swerve in and out of traffic, and nearly run over everyone in their path. That type of behavior is doubly risky at night, when roads aren’t well lit, people are tired and responses are slower. 

But distraction is a teen’s biggest enemy while driving; and with the risk of having an accident already higher at night, cell phones can become a deadly weapon in the hands of a teenager.

Most teens think they’re invincible, and using their cell phones to call and text their friends is an intrinsic part of their lives. They think they can easily multitask while driving when, in reality, doing so puts their lives and the lives of others at risk.

According to the report, 34 percent of teens say they text and 52 percent say they talk on the phone while driving. Add darkness to the mix, and you’ve got an accident waiting to happen!

If you have a young driver at home, please consider having a heart-to-heart chat with him or her about the dangers of using cell phones while driving, especially at night, and limit access to the family vehicle during that time.

You might not be the most popular parent on the block; but you’ll increase your child’s chances of living into adulthood—and protect yourself and other drivers in the process.

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Practice Makes Perfect

March 4th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

How do you respond to intense situations while driving? Do you find yourself overwhelmed, afraid and unable to think clearly when forced to react quickly behind the wheel?

stressed_driverIf you’re like most people, you probably have a hard time problem solving in instances like that. Between other drivers’ rude behavior, complicated gagetry in your car and little to no time to react to changes around you, driving can be very stressful.

But there’s something else hampering your ability to respond, too. Experts say frightened people often can’t remember even simple steps to protect themselves in dangerous situations, when necessary, because their attention is so focused on what’s happening at the moment.

That leaves “no cognitive space left to think of alternatives,” says Dr. Boadie Dunlop, a psychiatrist and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at Emory University.

So when your brain can’t handle all the information it’s being bombarded with, how does it prioritize it all and choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore?

Let’s answer that question with another question. Remember telling your kids, “Practice makes perfect” to get them to keep working at memorization or help them hone certain skills? Apparently, it’s time to take your own advice.

“If you practice something over and over, that will be the thing that happens,” especially in stressful situations, says Peter Norton, associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston.

To make sure you respond appropriately while driving, Norton says you should sit in your car and go over the steps you should take in unexpected situations. He reasons that, when you go into “panic mode,” what you’ve already practiced doing has become a natural tendency, and that controls how you actually respond.

“To do something that’s not natural…is just not going to come to mind,” Norton adds.

For parents with new teen drivers, taking Norton’s advice makes even more sense. Your kids take classes and practice driving to learn how they should respond to situations on the road. If you follow their lead, not only will you react automatically the way you should when under stress; you’ll also provide a great example for your kids, help avoid accidents and keep your car insurance rates down.

Don’t let habit rule while driving. Start thinking about and practicing your responses when driving under pressure. It’s time to take your own (or your parents’) advice: ”Practice makes perfect!”

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Watch out for Those Golf Carts!

February 26th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

Ever seen golf carts puttering down the side roads of your city or town? If you’re naive like me, you probably thought they belonged on golf courses, right?

man_in_golf_cartWrong! Apparently, those cute little gas-savers don’t just roll around on the green anymore. In the majority of states, they’re also allowed on secondary roads within a few miles of owners’ homes.

Man, have I been missing out! If I had only known, I might have purchased one and taken the side roads to work in it every day, saving myself a ton of money on gas and avoiding piling all those miles on my car. I can see it now (vroom-vroom!)….

But last week, I read an interesting article in the Myrtle Beach Sun News online. South Carolina, which has apparently allowed carts on the state’s secondary roads for 23 years, is considering expanding the distance they can be driven from home from two miles to five.

Now, S.C. residents may be able to play 18 holes, bring their grocery list along, and stop off at the local Piggly-Wiggly on the way home from the golf course to pick up the week’s groceries. Or visit a local post office to mail some packages. Or maybe just stop off at a friend’s house for a cup of coffee in their little rolling cart.

How convenient!

With the rising cost of fuel and transportation, many people are looking for ways to trim costs, find alternate means of transportation and reduce vehicle emissions in the environment. At first glance, golf carts seem to meet all three standards. Whereas city busses or lightrail systems maintain a certain schedule that riders must adjust to, golf cart owners can come and go as they please, as if they were driving a regular car or other licensed vehicle.

In addition, many are electric, so they reduce gas consumption and avoid polluting the air. And because they’re small, they can be parked in much tighter spaces and easily maneuvered from one place to another.

But there’s actually a big difference. Not only do most carts lack safety equipment like horns and lights required for normal cars to be considered road-worthy; they’re also much more dangerous, as they’re completely open and offer absolutely no rollover protection.

Yet in many states, including South Carolina, all that’s required for owners to drive a golf cart on side streets–and to cross major highways–is a driver’s license, a $5 permit and proof of liability insurance. As long as they’re driven during daylight hours only and the owner carries the registration papers along on the ride, he can putter around town in this vehicle designed solely for the golf course to his heart’s content.

Maybe I should rethink this puttering-to-work thing. What happens when I’m toodling along at 15 mph, the top industry-recommended speed for carts on flat ground, and a line of cars with impatient drivers stacks up behind me? Should I pull over and let them by, or stand my ground because, after all, I have just as much right to be there as they do?

And what about crossing major roads? If I cut it a little too close, I could find myself staring down the nose of one of those vehicles going 65 mph–and end up roadkill!

It seems to me the risks outweigh the benefits. Maybe I’ll keep my safety-rated Altima and avoid those golf carts—for safety’s sake.

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Toyota Accident Trend No Surprise to State Farm

February 18th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

As we alluded to in our previous post (and you may have already heard in the media), mechanical issues involving Toyota vehicles came as no surprise to the nation’s largest auto insurer.

In fact, State Farm reported a disturbing trend involving some Toyota models way back in 2007.

Late that year, the company contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to report a worrying accident trend it was seeing amongst drivers of some Toyota vehicles.

State Farm processes a huge volume of consumer claims each year. The company felt the pattern of accidents it was seeing was not normal and indicated a problem, though few other insurers saw the same.

Few others, however, write enough auto policies to make such a trend noticeable. State Farm, on the other hand, holds more than 42 million auto policies nationwide.

As reported in the Insurance Journal, spokesman Kip Diggs said of the company’s actions, “When you start to see significant claims activity that indicates that there may be widespread problems with a product, that’s when you go to the NHTSA. There had to have been significant activity, a noticeable trend, for that to happen.”

Now, two Congressional leaders are requesting information from State Farm and four other top auto insurers, including Geico, Allstate, Farmers and Progressive. Lawmakers are looking for any information regarding consumer complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas and any warnings these companies may have provided the NHTSA concerning defect trends in those vehicles.

Consumers who own recalled Toyotas and were involved in accidents during the past few years may have seen their insurance rates rise unfairly due to mechanical defects like stuck accelerators and floor mats that caused braking issues.

With further research, if some of those mishaps are proven to have been caused by vehicle fault, rather than driver error, some Toyota owners may see their insurance premiums return to the rates they were paying pre-accident.

This isn’t the first time State Farm has come to consumers’ aid regarding safety. The company also collected data and tracked problems that linked rollover accidents in Ford Explorers with Firestone tires 10 years ago. 

With the previous trends the insurer noted concerning Toyota, it seems State Farm is at work on drivers’ behalf once again.

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Car Recalls, Accidents & Your Insurance

February 10th, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

In the wake of Toyota’s recent recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide, you may find yourself wondering what effect, if any, an accident due to a defective part has on your insurance.

That’s a great question…and we’re here to answer it.

Say you’re driving your brand new, 2010 Toyota Camry down the street and your accelerator (the defective part, in this instance) sticks. Suddenly, you’re careening through your neighborhood at speeds upward of 50 mph, totally in a panic.

You smash on the brakes but, before you can regain control, your car smashes into the back of a vehicle that pulls out in front of you, propelling both cars off the road and into a ditch. 

jetta-back-closeWhat now? Should you file an insurance claim? Though the accident was technically your fault, it would never have happened if that defective part hadn’t left you without control over your vehicle.

If this should happen to you, try to relax. If your car is driveable, move to a safe place out of traffic, call 9-1-1 and report the accident. When the police arrive, tell them what happened, and then call your insurance company to relate the incident and file a claim.

Once your insurer has investigated and confirmed your account of the story, they’ll pay the claim under the liability or physical damage section of your insurance policy. Afterward they’ll likely seek reimbursement from the car’s manufacturer (in this case, Toyota), because the defective part actually caused the accident. 

“This type of unforeseen event is what insurance is for,” said Robert Passmore, senior director of claims for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) in an article on accidents involving recalled Toyotas published in yesterday’s Insurance Journal.

 But what about your insurance rates? Will you have to pay more for insurance coverage following this type of accident?

Not likely, says Passmore—not unless a large number of accidents can be attributed to the defective part and the vehicle involved is expensive to repair.

“Insurers look at the cost of claims over a period of time. They are interested in how much it costs to repair a vehicle and how often the vehicle is involved in an accident,” he remarked.

With the previously good safety record Toyota enjoyed prior to recent recalls, these issues aren’t likely to cause thousands of accidents—or drive up insurance rates. Still, we have to wonder what went wrong.

Apparently, safety problems have been present but under wraps for the maker of the most popular car in America for some time, says the nation’s largest auto insurer. We’ll address that next time on the blog. 

For now, if you drive a Toyota (or any other vehicle involved in a nationwide recall), check with your insurance agent to make sure you have plenty of liability coverage under your present policy. Then rest assured: Your auto insurance has you covered!

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Get a CLUE!

January 22nd, 2010 by Penny Hagerman

Ever wonder how your present insurance company found out about that insignificant auto insurance claim you filed with your previous insurer three years ago?

Did you call your insurer simply to discuss a potential home insurance claim—only to find yourself and your home uninsured shortly thereafter?

In case you haven’t heard, insurance companies track any and all property insurance claims you make, on both your home and vehicles, using a system called CLUE. That stands for Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange, which is simply a fancy name for an online insurance reporting system.

Similar to the way companies pull your credit report from one of the three participating credit agencies, insurance companies can pull your CLUE report to help them determine how likely you are to file a claim against your policy.

What’s in your CLUE? Besides general information like your name, date of birth and social security number, it includes information on past, paid claims and, in some states, even inquiries about coverage that don’t result in a claim—yes, just like your credit report.

By sharing claims and inquiry information amongst themselves using the CLUE system, insurers can calculate claims risk when you apply for new insurance and determine whether or not they’d like to do business with you.

If you haven’t seen your CLUE report (and, until now, you had no idea there even was such a thing), we’d advise you take a look at yours and check it for errors. You can order a copy here so you’ll know what you’re facing come time to shop your insurance rates again.

Get a CLUE! You’re entitled to it.

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Seat Belts and Car Seats: Is Your Child Safe?

November 9th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

girl_in_car_seatDriving with kids in the car can get hectic. When it’s nap time, the kids are screaming and fighting and you need to run errands, it’s hard to get things done and meet your kids’ needs, too.

But our kids are our life. So when it’s time to climb in the car, boost them into their car seats and buckle them in, we want to know they’ll be safe and secure, whether we’re making a mad dash for the post office or trying to cross three trips off our errand list at once.

So let me pose this question: Are you confident you’re buckling your kids up right? Do you know the proper positioning for a 3-year-old versus a 12-year-old?

And what about car seats? When is it safe to move your child from a child safety seat to a booster seat? Or to the regular car seat, where he or she can buckle up with the same safety belts you use?

If you’re confused about forward- versus rear-facing safety seats, or you can’t make heads or tails of that brand new car seat you just bought and are trying to install in your SUV, there’s good news: You’re not alone. Research by GMAC Insurance shows that more than a third of parents don’t know how to properly buckle their kids up either.

I remember when my daughter was young. Back then, the experts said it was OK for infants to ride up front with mom and dad, as long as they were buckled tight and facing the back seat. So that’s where my daughter rode. It did make shoving a bottle or her pacifier in her mouth while driving much easier—but I had no idea it was putting her life at risk.

It seems safety guidelines for this kind of thing change every few years. So if you’re still not sure where to buckle your kids, or when to move them into a different type of car seat, ask your insurance company what their guidelines say, read our article on the subject, or check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which compares child safety and booster seats to help you choose the best one for your needs.

You love your kids, so don’t risk their lives unknowingly when buckling them in for a car trip. Find out how to use those safety seats and seat belts properly so everyone can return home safely.

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5 Secrets to Cutting the Cost of Driving

October 28th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

woman_enjoying_car_rideFor those of us who enjoy driving our own car, coming and going as we please and not having to rely on anyone else for transportation, our vehicles offer us freedom and flexibility we wouldn’t have otherwise.

But driving can be expensive. By the time we pay for gas, auto insurance and maintenance—along with making a car payment and paying all our other bills—that cheap used car may suddenly not seem so cheap after all.

But if, like me, you’re determined to keep driving despite the cost, there are ways to spend less so you have more resources for other things.

For instance, one way to save is to consider sharing a ride. By being flexible enough to carpool with a co-worker or neighbor who works near you, the two of you can split the cost of gas—and you can use the extra time when you’re not the one driving to talk, read or finish getting ready for work. What a time-saver!

Another secret to cutting the cost of driving is to shop close to home and plan shopping trips to avoid wasting gas. By mapping out your destination ahead of time, you’ll know where you’re headed next—and avoid driving any further than necessary to get what you need.

For more secrets to cutting the cost of driving, check out our article on cheaper driving. You might be surprised how much money it can save you!

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Watch out for Falling Rock!

October 15th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

falling_rock_signHere in Colorado, rock slides are nothing new. With the Rockies (the mountains and the baseball team) only minutes away, many of our state’s residents hit the road weekends and holidays to hike, ski, rock climb or take part in one of many other physical activities widely available.

But sometimes, mountain passes can be dangerous. (And I’m not just talking about ice and snow here.) It seems we’ve all heard stories or read accounts of rock slides occurring suddenly and causing accidents and injuries, as the rocks rolled down the mountain and into the path of oncoming cars.

Some of us even know people who have rounded corners and watched falling rocks smash into the roadway just ahead.

Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you, whether you live in Colorado, Nevada, Washington or one of the other mountainous states where rock slides threaten. But the real question is, if it did, would your insurance cover it?

As with any other ‘act of God’ that’s not specifically listed as uninsureable in your car insurance policy, damage by falling rock falls under the comprehensive portion of your auto policy as an unexpected, uncontrollable, unpredictatable event.

But many people don’t realize comprehensive coverage is optional and neglect to buy it when they’re negotiating insurance rates.

Sure, rocks falling off mountains and onto your car may seem like a random event. But it happens all the time, so it’s really not advisable to bypass comprehensive insurance if you live in a rocky or mountainous area.

If you’re not sure whether you have comprehensive coverage as part of your auto policy, pull it out and read the details. If you don’t see it listed there, we recommend giving your insurance agent a call and asking him or her to add it.

Cost is minimal—but the security and peace of mind it offers is unmistakable.

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Red, White—and Green

September 2nd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

green_energyIn these days of high prices, layoffs and budget cuts, saving money is the name of the game.

In the midst of a hurting economy, local and national government is doing everything it can to encourage us to go green.

Enter Cash for Clunkers, tax breaks for hybrid car owners, and incentives for homeowners purchasing and using energy-efficient appliances.

For natural environmentalists, going green is a way of life. But for some of us, it takes more effort.

However, some insurance companies like Travelers, Farmers and Allstate are making it easier. They’re giving us further incentive to reduce our carbon footprint by rewarding us with insurance discounts, such as those for green-certified or solar-powered homes.

A five to 10 percent insurance discount may not sound like much; but start adding up the discount possibilities and you could make a significant dent in your insurance premiums.

Insurers say that green consumers (whether patriotic or not) tend to drive less, stay healthier, be more mature and act more responsibly than the less environmentally friendly. They’re also less likely to file insurance claims.

And, since that’s the kind of customer they’re looking for, they’re willing to reward us for our efforts—whether at home, in our car or elsewhere.

If you have car or homeowners insurance but you’re not taking advantage of all the green discounts, take a few minutes to give your insurer a call and ask what they have available. You might be surprised how much money you can save.

Resources:

Going Green Brings Insurance Discounts

Green Insurance, the Eco-Alternative

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7 Important Facts about Texting That Could Save Your Life!

August 11th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

driver_textingWe all know that familiar sound: Bleep! It’s another text message that needs our attention.

When that noise bombards our ears, most of us automatically reach for our phone, BlackBerry or PDA to see who’s texting us and why.

But according to the results of a new study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, along with prior studies by Liberty Mutual Insurance and state-funded organizations, we’d best leave that little device alone—and keep both hands on the wheel.

As it turns out, texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, increasing the risk of accident more than 23 times. In fact, it’s much more lethal than talking on the phone—or even driving drunk!

We hear all the time about local and national campaigns to stop drunken driving. But with this new evidence, it seems it’s time to outlaw texting while driving, too.

So far, 14 states and Washington, D.C., have made this deadly combination illegal. And more states are joining the fight each year, encouraging drivers to shelve electronic devices to avoid accidents and high insurance premiums.

Lawmakers are jumping in now too, proposing legislation that would require states to ban texting behind the wheel or face losing highway funds.

But, like most things, it’s all a matter of personal responsibility. For example, illegal or not, there will always be those who choose to break the speed limit, pass in no-passing zones and park in handicapped or striped areas without authorization.

But for those people who just can’t ignore those incoming text messages, do us all a favor, would you please, and pull over. You can take care of business when you get where you’re going.

Meanwhile, you’ll help us all stay 23 times safer—and help keep car insurance much more affordable, too.

For more life-saving information on texting while driving, see our feature article here.

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Hey, Dude—Where’s My Car?

August 3rd, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

car_thiefIt’s your worst nightmare (and reminiscent of an Ashton Kutcher movie from a few years back): You drive across town to a friend’s house, park your car across the street, and head over for a rockin’ good time at a party.

Later that night (or early the next morning), you stagger outside, head across the street—and your car is gone.

Nowhere to be seen. Vanished—like Cinderella from the ball. Now what?

Though this scenario may not fit your lifestyle completely, vehicle theft is serious business, one you’d never expect to encounter during the course of a normal, routine day. But it happens all the time, leaving innocent drivers holding the bag and wondering what they did to deserve such a bad break.

How likely are you to have such a horrible, nerve-wracking experience as car theft? Well, that depends. If you happen to live in Modesto, California and/or drive a Honda Civic, you’re more likely than most.

It seems Modesto is the top U.S. city for car theft, and the 1995 Honda Civic is the most frequently stolen car in the country—increasing your chances if you live in that area or drive that particular car.

But no one is immune. According to the FBI, a car is stolen every 29 seconds in the U.S., and the rate of theft in 2007 was an estimated 363.3 per 100,000 people. Property losses in 2006 were nearly $8 billion, for an average of $6,649 per stolen car.

So what do losses like that mean to the average Joe (or Jane) like you and me? Other than possibly losing our prized speedster, economy model or SUV, it means higher insurance costs—something we’d all like to avoid.

For a list of the most-stolen cars, check out Jeb’s article on the subject here. Oh, and next time you head out to party with a friend, play it safe and do what you can to avoid theft: lock your doors, park in a well-lit area, and use a Club or other restrictive device to discourage joy-riders. It could make all the difference.

More Information:

Auto Theft

Auto Insurance Quotes & Theft

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How Smart Is Smart?

July 31st, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

smart_carUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably seen a few Smart cars puttering around your town’s roads and highways.

In fact, it seems more and more of these tiny cars drive side by side with the rest of us every day.

So what’s the big draw that has people trading in their cars of all sizes for these miniature, itsy-bitsy versions?

And how safe are they, anyway?

Only about eight feet long and a mere 1,800 pounds, the Smart car is known and loved for it’s affordability, fuel economy, maneuverability, safety features and—its real forte—the fun factor.

Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it isn’t safe, says Smart car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. Well known for putting safety first, the automaker swears by the vehicle, which has earned one of the top spots in safety tests among small automobiles.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) president Adrian Lund agrees, saying, “Among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package.”

Ask anyone who owns one, and they’re likely to tell you Smarts are a bit under-powered, but worth their weight in gold otherwise.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective ride that’s as smart as its name, do yourself a favor and check out the Smart car. This little car’s got a lot going for it!

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Cash for Clunkers, at a Dealership Near You!

July 27th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

old_carIn these days of high gas prices and needle-pegging pollution levels, many people are downsizing from larger to smaller cars to help save money on fuel and reduce emissions.

Now, the government’s new  ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program might help. If you’ve been listening to the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the rewards this program offers drivers willing to trade in their old gas-guzzlers, including rebates of between $3,500 and $4,500 on newer, more fuel-efficient cars.

To qualify, customers trade in older models that get 18 miles per gallon or less, are fewer than 25 years old, are currently registered and in running condition, and cost less than $45,000. In exchange, they may purchase any foreign or domestic car using those money-saving incentives—as long as the vehicle chosen gets at least 22 miles to the gallon.

Though the program didn’t officially start until this week, many dealerships nationwide began promoting it last week, reports ABC news. For those ready to finally let go of their older vehicles in favor of something greener and new, this program offers a step in the right direction.

But before you head to the dealer’s lot to take a look at your new-car options, remember: think safety first! It’s important to make the right decision regarding the vehicle you choose, because once you drive off the lot in that shiny new car, your life—and your insurance rates—might just depend on it.

Each year, the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs crash tests and determines accident survivability based on individual car ratings. If you’re looking to trade in your large truck or older sedan for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, we recommend you find out which small cars rank safest and best.

It’ll help you go prepared and knowledgeable—and you’ll save on your auto insurance, too.

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Drowsy Drivers, Wake Up!

July 17th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

man_asleep_at_wheelWe’ve all slid behind the wheel of a car after a long day, totally wrung out and with no business driving.

Haven given our all to job and family, it’s easy to space out or even nod off with what they used to call ‘highway hypnosis.’ (Basically, that means becoming hypnotized by the never-changing road ahead and falling into a dreamlike, hypnotized state with your eyes open.)

What do most of us do when we’re driving drowsy and trying to stay awake? Blow the AC on our face, turn up the volume on the radio and anything else we can think of to stimulate our senses and keep our eyes open.

But that’s not enough. A recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that fatigued driving causes up to 100,000 passenger vehicle crashes, kills at least 1,500, and injures 71,000 people every year.

That means too many of us are getting behind the wheel in an unrested state and conning ourselves into thinking we can drive safely anyway. That puts lives at risk, increases the chance of having an accident when we nod off—and raises insurance rates as a result.

So how can you know when you’re too tired to drive?

According to a recent article on Edmunds.com,  it’s time to take a break when you:

  • Feel sleepy
  • Yawn repeatedly
  • Drive for more than two hours or travel more than 100-120 miles
  • Can’t remember driving for a period of time
  • Have wandering or disconnected thoughts
  • Begin lane-weaving, tailgating or missing traffic signs
  • Nearly have an accident

What does drowsy driving look like? Sometimes exhausted drivers blink slowly and aren’t aware their eyes are closed for so long. Others drift off and wake up when their head begins to bob up and down.

Whatever drowsy driving looks like for you, it’s dangerous to everyone around you. So don’t hit the road without sufficient sleep and think you can fake it.  Read our article on drowsy driving for more information—and prepare ahead for a safe road trip!

More Resources:

A Wake-Up Call for Drowsy Drivers

Asleep at the Wheel

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Traffic Triples Risk of Heart Attack

June 9th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

For the sake of your health, keep your cool in traffic!

For the sake of your health, keep your cool in traffic!

Enduring traffic can be more than a little stressful.

From rude drivers, to constant stop and go, to accidents that inevitably tie up major thoroughfares, it’s all some of us can do to keep our tempers from flaring and taking our frustrations out on everyone around us—like that guy who just cut us off or the driver who squeezed in at the front of the line where the road narrowed.

But no matter how badly you’re tempted, don’t do it. In fact, don’t do anything but try to relax while sitting in heavy traffic. Not only could you risk your health if you do otherwise; you could also risk drastically raising your health and auto insurance rates.

How? According to a new German study, traffic can be heartbreaking. The pollution and exhaust we breathe while backed up on the freeway seems to exact a heavy toll on our health.

Combine that with increased stress levels, concentrated emissions and amplified noise, and research now shows our risk of heart attack soars to more than three times the norm for up to an hour after sitting in heavy traffic.

How do we know? Researchers at the Institute of Epidemiology in Munich, Germany, interviewed 1,454 people who waded through traffic and then suffered a heart attack within 60 minutes.

The study tracked what participants did the day of the heart attack, where they went, their means of transportation and the amount of time they spent in traffic.

Analysis and follow-up showed their risk of heart attack multiplied 3.2 times normal rates.

Of course, those in poor health, the elderly and children topped the list of those at greatest risk. But even more puzzling: traffic proved five times more dangerous to women than men. It will take some work to find out why.

Drivers weren’t the only ones affected, either. Bus and bicycle riders suffered just as much, leading researchers to suspect a strong pollution/heart attack connection.

Annette Peters, PhD, who led the study, says, “One potential factor could be the exhaust and air pollution coming from other cars. But we can’t exclude the synergy between stress and air pollution that could tip the balance.”

Efforts are now underway to try and determine the effect various elements have on humans sitting in traffic. Meanwhile, until results are more conclusive, you might want to try taking “the road less traveled,” to borrow a phrase—and avoid heavy traffic whenever possible.

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Teaching Your Teenager to Drive

May 28th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

student_driver_with_parentRemember the sense of freedom you experienced when you were a teenager and just learning to drive? Remember how the wheel felt in your hands…and the exhilarating feeling of power when your foot hit the gas?

Then there was that pole you backed into while doing your best to parallel park—and the emotional explanation that followed when your parents saw the car’s crumpled fender.

And the rear-ender you had when you got preoccupied trying to change the channel on the car radio—and the insurance rates that soared as a result.

Raising a responsible, mature driver isn’t easy. Now, as an adult with teens of your own, you wish you could skip the white knuckles and fast-forward to the day when your teenager drives like a normal, sane human being.

But before they set out on their own in the family car, teens need lots of practice to learn how to drive safely. In many states, graduated driver licensing, in which teens gain experience driving under specified conditions and restrictions for a particular period of time, help ensure they learn as they go, reducing the likelihood of accident.

But that’s not enough.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the risk of being involved in a car crash per mile driven is four times that for 16- to 19-year-olds than for veteran drivers.

Why? Because along with lack of experience comes immaturity and unwise decision making—and both can kill when teens are learning to drive.

To help overcome these statistics, experts say parental coaching is the key to training teen drivers adequately—which helps keep them, and everyone around them, safer.

That means spending an abundance of time one-on-one, talking, observing and setting a good example of mature driving behavior, such as buckling up, yielding the right-of-way when appropriate, and driving within the speed limit.

No matter how crazy they act sometimes, our teens look to us for advice and coaching. So learn how to coach your teenager effectively, encourage him to drive safely, and keep insurance rates down in the process.

Some day, he’ll fill your shoes by teaching his own teen to drive—and pass along the wisdom you shared with your grandchild!

More Resources for Parents:

Keeping Young Drivers Safe

Novice Driver Road Map

Raising Safe Drivers

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It’s Official: Men Are Menaces

March 9th, 2009 by Jeb Foster

this-man-shouldnt-be-driving

If you look at car crash statistics, it’s hard to escape this conclusion: men are terrible drivers, and the world would be safer if males rode shotgun more often.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, men have the dubious distinction of getting in the most accidents—of any type, large or small.

The gender stereotype of women being more likely to get into fender-benders is not accurate; men dominate that category as well.

This isn’t news, of course: insurers have known for years that men are more likely to drive aggressively and erratically, and that’s why they typically charge men more for insurance.

Among males, men ages 16-20 have the highest accident-involvement rate, which also not surprising, given the deadly correlation of inexperience and willingness to take risk among young men.

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Car Insurance Quotes and Financial Freedom

February 11th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman

folded-dollar-billsIf you’ve ever listened to, or read up on, some of the leading financial gurus like Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman or Robert Kiyosaki, you know they promote principles like saving money, setting up a household budget and paying off personal debt as mainstays to financial freedom.

Good advice! But with our economy in recession (depression?), layoffs occurring by the thousands and most of us struggling just to maintain daily life, paying the bills without racking up credit card debt may be all we can manage.

Some may not even be able to accomplish that.

Consider the following facts:*

  • The average American carries more than $8,000 in credit card debt.
  • Fewer than four out of 10 American adults have an emergency fund to fall back on.
  • At least one in six homeowners owes more for their homes than it’s worth.
  • 11.6 million people are currently unemployed—a 25-year high.

With statistics like those—and all the doom and gloom in the air—anything we can do to free up finances, save money and improve the future just makes sense—including comparing insurance quotes.

We know how stressful and frustrating it can be trying to balance all the balls in the air during times like these. But take the experts’ advice, cut your insurance costs with free home, health, life, long-term care or car insurance quotes, and save some money today.

You’ll leave more resources for tomorrow—and that’s the basis of real financial freedom.

*Hat tips: Bankrate.com, WalletPop.com

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