Tips on Purchasing Tires Online

Photo by Craig Sunter, Flickr.

Photo by Craig Sunter, Flickr.

Over the years, online shopping has become very popular. In fact, shopping online grows about 10 percent every year mainly due to the convenience of being able to shop at any time of day, as well as the potential for greater savings thanks to online-only discounts.

Nowadays pretty much anything can be found for sale online, including tires. And if you’ve recently purchased a used car, you may find yourself in need of a new set of tires. While online prices may be enticing you to purchase your vehicle’s new tires online, there could be some potential risk. In fact, a recent report by Consumer Reports talked about the potential risk of defective or counterfeit tires when purchasing online.

So how can consumers protect themselves when purchasing tires online? Here’s a few ideas.

Know What Tires You Need

This may sound like common sense, but before online shopping for tires for your used car, you need to know what type of tires you need. For instance, you will need to know what your tire size is, which unless you know where to look can sometimes be hard to find. And depending on what type of car you are driving and the season may determine what type of tire you need.

Find a Reputable Site

Just like if you were shopping for tires in a brick-and-mortar store, you want to shop for tires online at sites that have a good reputation for both products and service. Starting your search through a search engine like Google Shopping can be a help thanks to reviews that customers may leave. SiteJabber.com is a website that provides reviews of online businesses — just search for “tire” and up pops a variety of online tire stores. And you can also search for information on businesses through the Better Business Bureau.

Read Product Reviews

Another feature to look for in a good online tire store are product reviews. These can be invaluable as they give real customers just like you the chance to tell what the tire was really like in person, since with online shopping you normally do not have the opportunity to see what you are buying before you purchase. And if you do purchase your tires online, make sure to return the favor and leave a review of your experience to helps others!

Check for Recalls

Just like with anything that is manufactured, sometimes something goes wrong during the making process that is not realized until it’s being used by consumers. If something is found to be defective with the tire, the tire company will issue a recall. To find out if the tire you are considering for your used car has had any recalls, you can search on sites such as the US Department of Transportation’s SaferCar.gov.

Know Your Prices

Just because something is being sold online does not mean it’s at a lower price, so a bit of detective work is required to make sure you are getting a good deal. Websites like PriceGrabber.com and Shopzilla.com can help you search and compare prices on different websites, as well as read product and online store reviews. And remember, it’s not just the cost of the tire you need to worry about — you also need to factor in shipping costs, as well as how much it will cost for someone to properly install the new tires on your used car. So make sure to take all of this into account before hitting the “purchase” button.

Wrap It Up! A Look at Car Wraps

Photo by Ryan Gsell, Flickr.

Photo by Ryan Gsell, Flickr.

The paint job on a brand new car fresh from the factory usually looks amazing and can be a big selling point for consumers. However, a car can encounter a lot of obstacles throughout its life — things like rain, the sun, birds, shopping carts, gravel — that can eventually take a toll on its exterior paint, leaving it in less than pristine condition.

If you’re currently used car shopping, you may be given the tough decision of deciding on a car that might not be as great looking on the outside as you would like. Obviously you have the option of having your used car repainted, however, that can sometimes be a very expensive option. Another idea to consider is having a professional car wrap applied to your used vehicle.

What is a Car Wrap?

Unlike paint that is wet and applied by a sprayer, a vehicle or car wrap is made of an adhesive vinyl that comes in large sheets, also sometimes called decals. The sheets are applied to the car and then heated, which activates the adhesive. The vinyl sheets are very stretchable, allowing them to be molded over the various curves in a car. This video shows how the vehicle wrap is applied.

Car wraps originally became popular as a way for business owners to place advertising and marketing information on their vehicles, as well as buses and streetcars. However, due to certain advantages compared to repainting, vehicle wraps are beginning to become popular for car owners looking for an alternative to sprucing up their vehicle.

Car Wrap vs. Paint

So why would a used car owner decide to have a car wrap placed on their vehicle, rather than having it repainted?

The first reason would be the cost. A high-end repaint of a car can cost anywhere between $1,000 to $3,500, while a paint job that will leave your car looking like it just rolled out of a showroom can go as high as $20,000. In comparison, a professional full vehicle wrap will normally cost between $2,000 to $4,000.

Another reason some car owners are choosing car wraps is how long they last. With paint, again the elements and other obstacles can leave you with nicks and scratches. If applied and protected correctly, a car wrap can last for up to 10 years. Plus the wrap itself can help protect your car’s original paint.

Other pros for car wraps include the installation time — they normally take about two days to be applied — and easy maintenance.

However, there are some cons to applying a car wrap to a used car rather than a new paint job. For instance, car wraps are not permanent and when they are removed some adhesive residue can be left that will need to be removed. Additionally, heat from the sun can potentially cause issues for car wraps, which is good to know for used car owners in warmer areas.

Really the final decision on whether to repaint or apply a car wrap to your used car will be determined by budget and the type of look you are going for. With a little bit of research, you will be able to bring new life to your used car!

5 Tips for Purchasing Car Seats For Your Child

Car seat advice for your child.

Photo by Ryan Dickey, Flickr.

Of all the items you may purchase for your child, the car seat will probably be the hardest and the most important. Using a car seat can help lower the risk for death for an infant under the age of one by 71 percent, and for toddlers ages one to four years by 54 percent.

All 50 states require car seats be used for infants and children, and 48 states require children who have outgrown car seats to use booster seats.

How can parents and caregivers figure out which is the best car seat for their child? To help, here are five tips to help guide you in purchasing the right car seat for your child to travel safely in your new or used car.

Tip #1: Your Child’s Size Matters

The car seat you select to use in your used car needs to be designed to properly fit your child based on their height and weight. This information can be usually be found on the car seat’s box and on an information label on either the front of the back of the seat, or can be obtained directly from the manufacturer.

Additionally, your child’s age will also have play a role in whether you need a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents keep their young children in a rear-facing car safety seat until the age of two.

Tip #2: Research Before Buying

Car seats can be purchased in a variety of places, from Target to Toys R Us, and are available in a wide variety of price points, from your basic to designer. Probably the best place to start is by researching different child safety seat products online and reading reviews. Product review sites like Consumer Reports offer a great deal of information and ratings of car seats, as well as car seat crash test results. Good Housekeeping and Parents.com also offer up their own picks for parents.

Tip #3: Install The Car Seat Correctly

Now that you have the right car seat to keep your child safe in your used car, you need to know how to install it properly. In fact, seven out of 10 car seats are not installed properly, leaving children at risk if in an automobile accident. Always read your car seat’s manual for full installation instructions, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers car seat installation tips, as well as how-to videos. There are also inspection stations caregivers can visit to help ensure their child safety seat is installed correctly.

Tip #4: Know About LATCH

If your used car was made in September 1, 2002 or later, parents have the option of using the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system to install their child’s car seat, which installs the car seat by attaching its anchors and tethers to latches or hooks in the vehicle’s back seat rather than using the car’s seat belt. However, there are weight restrictions for using the LATCH system, and new law issued this year reflects that.

Tip #5 – Register It

Just liked your car, your child’s car seat should also be registered. This can easily be done on the NHTSA’s website, SaferCar.gov. Additionally, by registering your child safety seat, your information is not accessible to car seat manufacturers who can let you know if they are any recalls or safety notices issued.

The GPS Dilemma: In-Dash, Dedicated or Smartphone?

883625_24456317In today’s world, a GPS to help you navigate the streets of almost anywhere in the world is very nearly a given. As a directionally-challenged person (I can get lost even with GPS, believe it or not) I always felt like I had to stick to one, pre-determined route when going anywhere, because otherwise there was a very good chance I would end up somewhere else and have no idea where I was or how to get back on track. But with GPS, even when I do go off track, miss a turn or just get turned around, I get the “recalculating” message and I know everything will be fine.

But if you are the market for a new GPS system, there are now multiple choices, not just of brand, but of system types. Today, there are three GPS categories: in-dash systems, standalone GPS devices or modern smartphones running GPS apps. All three have their pros and cons, and choosing the best one for you is a matter of knowing what features you value the most.

In-Dash GPS Systems

In many modern car makes and models, in-dash systems are becoming more prevalent. They have expanded from only high-end, luxury vehicles to the sedans, SUVs and other vehicles that the average driver is likely to purchase. However, in almost all of those cases, the navigation system is not standard, coming as part of a technology, navigation or entertainment upgrade with costs that vary widely between manufacturers.

There are a few big pros to this type of system that may sway you toward the investment. First and foremost is the screen size. In GPS, size matters; in-dash systems give you a large, clear picture that allows for a greater variety of extra information and views on screen at the same time, while not detracting from the driving directions. These can include a detailed turn-by-turn list alongside the traditional GPS view of the road ahead pointing out turns, a detailed look ahead at the next upcoming turn, or time and mileage to destination. These screens are also usually placed in the dashboard itself, where it is easy to view them, and they don’t obstruct the windshield in any way.

Another big pro is the integration with your vehicle. In-dash systems are designed for that specific car, and they can move seamlessly between radio, accepting Bluetooth calls and using other voice commands, all without interrupting the navigation. You don’t have to worry about an incoming call shutting off the navigation, or having the radio turned up too loud and missing a command—the car adjusts all of that automatically because all those systems work together as one.

There are, however, some cons. An in-dash GPS system comes pre-loaded with maps, and depending on the age of your vehicle and the manufacturer in question, you might be limited to only the maps that come pre-loaded which, over time, could become outdated. Another big con is that the in-dash GPS can’t be taken with you—you can use it in your own vehicle, but if you are in a friend’s car, a rental, or buy a new vehicle, you lose your GPS, including not just functionality, but all of your saved addresses, points of interest or favorite routes.

Dedicated GPS vs GPS Phone Apps

A dedicated, handheld GP system was, for many years, the only choice for those who wanted navigation. They were the original option, first designed for the military, and then opened up for consumer use in the 1980s, and they were very expensive when they first came on the scene. The price has dropped considerably since then—you can find a decent unit for around $100-$150. The other alternative in the hand-held category is to use your smartphone, running a GPS app. There are GPS options that span the price range in all of the major platform app stores, so there is an option for everyone. The question is, which one is right for you?

The biggest pro for a dedicated or smartphone GPS system over in-dash is the portability. You can take either of them with you when you buy a new car, go with friends or have a rental on vacation, and always have a familiar system to guide you along. But that’s where they start to diverge.

A dedicated GPS is designed to do nothing except provide you with navigation, whereas a smartphone is juggling many other things at the same time. The dedicated system, in general, is going to have more features and options for personalization than the smartphone app. On the other hand, most people today already have a smartphone of some kind in their pockets right now, giving them access to basic navigation without needing to invest in any additional equipment. That also leads to another advantage that smartphones have over dedicated GPS devices: Your phone is likely already always with you, whereas you have to make an effort to remember to grab the GPS if you are using it anywhere other than your regular vehicle.

Another point of difference is battery life. Because a dedicated GPS is only doing one thing, and doesn’t need to connect to cell towers, look for WiFi, notify you of Facebook comments or do anything else other than tell you where the next turn is, it uses a great deal less power. Depending on the make and model of the GPS, a single charge could be enough to get you to your final destination with no issues. A smartphone, on the other hand, is often doing all of those things and more, and power is an expensive commodity. Again, depending on the model, using the phone as a GPS could drain the battery in a matter of hours.

More About GPS Smartphone Apps

However, to make up for that, smartphone apps are going to offer the most up-to-date maps of any of the options, with the apps often connected to the cloud and updating every time you start the app. They also tend to have access to the widest range of points of interest such as restaurants or shops along your route, and rather than just give you an address, a smartphone will let you find the business’ Website, call them, read reviews, etc.

Also, in the past, a downside of using a smartphone GPS was that you had to remain connected to the Internet via WiFi or a cell tower, or you lost not only your signal, but your navigation as well. Today, many of the apps have addressed that problem with offline caching, but it is not available in all of them, and you have to remember to tell the app to save your route while you still have a signal—which can be a problem if you are going somewhere remote and want to use the smartphone GPS to get you home again later.

At the end of the day, all three options have a time and a place where they are either superior to the others, or alternatively are terrible in comparison. To choose the one that is right for you, take a long look at the types of driving and navigation you normally do. Do you keep a vehicle for long periods of time, and generally you are the primary driver? Then an in-dash system might be right for you. Do you often travel to places where cell phone towers and Internet access are limited? Then a dedicated GPS might be the way to go. And if you are the type of person who just uses navigation occasionally, and you never know where or when you might need it, just downloading an app on your smartphone is a good choice. And it might not be a single solution to fit all of your needs maybe you have an in-dash system for most uses, with a free smartphone app downloaded for backup or the rare occasions you need GPS outside of your own vehicle. Or perhaps you prefer to make your smartphone your primary GPS, but then have a dedicated unit in the glove box for those times when you go out of range of a signal.

Whatever your choice, GPS has come a long way in the 30 years it has been available, revolutionizing the way people navigate the world. And all three options will continue to evolve, offering new features and points of differentiation along the way.

 

 

The Best SUVs to Take to the Ski Slopes

With winter weather coming early to many parts of the country this year, it’s time to take a closer look at vehicles that shine when it comes to winter sports. These vehicles need to get you to your location of choice safely—which often involves many steep, curvy, icy roads—with your entire family and all of your gear. While you can make a case for a wide range of vehicle types, there is no denying that SUVs and crossovers make great choices, but what are the best options if you’re in the market for a new (or used) car? The vehicles we’ll look at below were chosen because of their price, fuel economy and how well they can tackle the unique challenges that winter sports aficionados throw at them

Subaru Outback

On nearly any list you find looking at great winter vehicles, the Subaru Outback is usually in the top five. As Edmunds.com points out in a faceoff with the Ford Flex, it is just a great all-around winter vehicle, with the right amount of power-to-fuel-consumption ratio, plenty of room and, in the more current models, features such as an adjustable roof rack that makes it a great choice for hauling gear on the weekends, but not sacrificing performance on the daily commute.

The price is right, too in my market they start used at around $19,000 for only a few model years old. Like all the cars on this list, the Outback is AWD, and it has higher ground clearance than almost anything else on the market, which makes it a great choice if you plan to do any offroad driving.

Shop for a Subaru Outback.

Toyota Highlander

cc_2013TOY007a_01_320_6T7The Highlander is a bit smaller and lighter than its 4Runner sibling, and gives up some ground clearance as a trade off, but it also features a lower price tag as well.

In my market, a decent used Highlander can be had for as low as $18,000, depending on the model year and options. The Highlander features AWD and fuel economy ranges from 17-20 city, depending on the conditions and year.

You can seat up to eight people in the Highlander, with a very smooth ride and flexible cargo configurations to allow you to adjust the space based on your current needs.

Shop for a Toyota Highlander.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Another classic that tends to show up on most lists looking at top winter vehicles is the Jeep Cherokee. It’s seen a few changes over the years, with many people taking sides as to which is better, but the fact remains that it is an all-around good winter vehicle.

Brand new, the inimitable Cherokee it starts at around $30,000 MSRP, while I can find it used in my area starting at around $20,000.

The newer models feature an EcoBoost engine with more power and better fuel economy, as well as options such as terrain selection allowing you to set things like suspension based on where you plan to be driving.

Shop for a Jeep Cherokee.

Land Rover Range Rover

cc_2013LAN003a_01_320_A20For those of you who want to arrive in style as much as you want good performance, the Land Rover is a classic option. While it does fall into more of the luxury end of the spectrum, it’s still not completely out of reach, with 2008 models going for around $25,000 in my area.

If you want to go for a brand new 2015, however, the low end is $84,000, and it only goes up from there. However, despite all the bells and whistles, it does also feature AWD, a 510 horsepower engine, 32 feet of luggage space and more than 11 inches of ground clearance, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice performance for luxury in this case.

Shop for a Range Rover.

Ford Explorer

cc_2012FRD007a_01_320_DXFinally, another old classic saw a redesign in recent years, making it smoother and more fun to drive, while retaining the power needed to keep it competitive in the winter sports category. You can find a decent used one in my area starting at around $25,000 if you go a few model years back, while a brand new 2015 has an MSRP starting at $30,000 for the basic package.

Shoppers have the option of two engines—and EcoBoost V6 or a turbo-charged V8 and like the Land Rover, newer models can be equipped with a terrain management system that adjusts the car to suit the drive, although ground clearance is only 7.6 inches. It seats up to seven people, with a generous amount of room for gear and cargo as well.

Shop for a Ford Explorer.