Category Feature | Extra Mile

Home Related Articles

home

How to Handle a Roadside Breakdown

extramile

In 2014, AAA responded to more than 17 million roadside assistance calls. The majority of these calls were for vehicle breakdown. Given the frequency of breakdowns, it helps to prepare for and know how to handle one.

How to Prepare an Emergency Car Care Kit

Put together a kit containing the items you might need during a breakdown. When it comes to supplies, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your car care kit should consist of a canvas bag or plastic tote bin and contain the following:

  • First-aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or reflective warning triangles
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Blankets
  • Paper towels
  • Drinking water
  • Nonperishable snacks
  • Any medication that you or one of your regular passengers may need
  • If you live in an area that gets snow: a window scraper, small shovel and kitty litter.

You should also make alterations to your kit based on the season. In the wintertime, you may want to include extra garments, such as gloves and hats. Add extra water bottles, sunblock, instant cold packs and bug repellent in the summer.

What to Do if Your Vehicle Breaks Down on the Road

Your top priority when your vehicle breaks down is to get it to the safest position possible. From there, you can signal for help. If you’re capable of making repairs you can also do that.

Move your vehicle to a safe location. Vehicle breakdowns can be terrifying and dangerous. Without warning, your vehicle’s engine may stop. Power steering and anti-lock brakes may stop as well. If your vehicle breaks down, you should try to coast over to the right shoulder. Avoid using your brakes unless you’re going to hit an object. You will need as much momentum as you can get to stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. Follow the same rules of the road that you would if you were changing lanes. Use your turn signals and check your mirrors. Only move into the left shoulder as a last resort.

If possible, pull over on a straight part of the road or before a curve. Avoid stopping your car after a curve. This will make it more difficult for cars to see you, for you to see cars, and for service vehicles to stop and help you. Once your vehicles come to a complete stop, put your car in park and engage the e-brake. If you stop your vehicle on the shoulder, turn your steering wheel as far as possible away from traffic. Doing this can help prevent you from rolling into traffic if you’re hit from behind.

It’s okay to stay in your current lane if you’re not able to change lanes when your vehicle breaks down. Again, resist the urge to hit your brakes unless you’re going to collide with another vehicle. Allow yourself to coast until you have come to a stop. Then put your car in park and pull up on the e-brake.

Only make the repairs you feel comfortable making. Making repairs on your broken-down vehicle is a judgment call that only you can make. You shouldn’t make this call lightly. You need to assess the situation that you’re in to determine if you should get out of your vehicle. If your vehicle has broken down on the highway you may not want to get out of your vehicle. If your vehicle has broken down in a residential or low traffic area, it may be safe to get out. But only get out if there’s good reason.

You should also consider how comfortable you are with making repairs on your vehicle. If you’re not used to changing your tires in your garage then you shouldn’t change them on a busy highway. Also, don’t make repairs on the side of your vehicle that is exposed to traffic.

Busy roads and highways are the worst places to make vehicle repairs. Fortunately, though, they are the most traveled by tow trucks and emergency services. If your vehicle breaks down in a high-traffic road, it’s likely that a police officer will soon spot you. The officer should be able to help you or direct traffic around your vehicle while you make repairs.

Get assistance. It’s important that you let other drivers know that your vehicle has broken down. Doing this can help them avoid hitting your vehicle and also help you get assistance. If your cell phone is available, contact a roadside service such as AAA, or the police department. Also, be sure to hang a white cloth out a window that is facing traffic and turn your hazard lights on.

Customers of The Hartford with towing and labor coverage can call RESCUE 1-800® Emergency Road Service – offering access to a network of 40,000 towing services countrywide – so help is nearby any time of the day or night, 365 days a year.

Hold tight. You can run the heater in your car as long as you know the tailpipe is not obstructed. There’s a chance that accumulations could be blocking the tailpipe if you break down in heavy snow. In this situation, turning on your heater could result in carbon monoxide poisoning. If you can safely get out of your car, use the shovel in your emergency car care kit to clear the area behind the tailpipe. You should also bundle up immediately with as many layers as you can get. Do this even if it feels too warm because your car can quickly lose heat. It’s easier for you to warm up the layers if there is still heat in the car than it is if the cabin has become cold.

If your car breaks down in the summertime you can roll the windows up and turn on the air conditioning. This should help you and your passengers stay comfortable. If you do roll your windows down, use the sunblock and bug repellent from your emergency car care kit.

In both seasons, make sure that you leave enough gas in your tank to be able to drive once your vehicle is repaired. Also, never go to sleep in your car with the engine running.

Vehicle break downs can be scary because they’re often unexpected. But if you prepare for a breakdown, it’s no longer unexpected—it’s just inconvenient. By following these steps, you can help stay safe during a breakdown and get back on the road sooner.

KEEP READING: 6 Things You Need to Know About Rental Cars and Insurance

10 Apps That Can Help You Travel Smarter

extramile

Whether you’re traveling for work or heading to a dream vacation, the journey can sometimes be a hassle. From flight delays and crowded security checkpoints, to sunburns and foreign currency exchanges, there’s a lot to manage.

Make the trip easier for you, your family and companions with these 10 great travel apps.

My TSA 

Gone are the days where you could show up to the airport 20 minutes before your flight. Most travelers expect an hour of hold-up due to security checkpoints. Thankfully, My TSA app can help you navigate the delays. With this app you’ll be able to check wait times at any airport in real time. You can also access wait time history for any checkpoint. Check to see what the standard wait time is at any checkpoint, on any day, at any time. This can help you plan ahead and get to the airport with enough time to get through security and make your flight. You can also access the comprehensive list of items that are allowed by security. And get tips on how to more easily prepare for and get through checkpoints.

TripIt 

Traveling often requires booking flights, rental cars and hotel rooms. Orchestrating all of it, the dates, times, terminals, seat numbers and everything else organized can be tough. Throw in a flight delay and your vacation or work trip might become a bust. TripIt is arguably the most popular travel organizing app. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to TripIt’s planner email account. TripIt will then create a master itinerary for your trip. You can even use the app when you’re off-line. So if you’re traveling through a dead spot in the airport, you still know which terminal to get to or where to pick up your rental car. TripIt will even give you a year-end review with a neat map that shows all of the trips you took.

MediSafe

Staying on your medication schedule when traveling is tough. Throw in a time zone difference and it might seem impossible. And it’s not always yourself that you’re worrying about. Many people are caregivers for their aging parents and have to remind them daily when to take their medicine. MediSafe is a great solution for this problem. This app will push alerts on your phone to remind you when to take your medicine. MediSafe can even get your phone to use fun voices like Darth Vader or Austin Powers to remind you. You can also keep family members’ medication schedules in the app. This way, you can call your 93-year-old mother who lives in San Diego to remind her take her heart medication with breakfast while you enjoy your Primi course in Italy.

Smart Traveler 

Like most travel apps, Smart Traveler allows you to create personal itineraries, notes and other organizational documents for traveling. Unlike most apps, this one comes directly from the US Department of State. In the event there are any travel alerts or warnings, you will be given an immediate update on your smart phone. You can also see U.S.relations fact sheets for every country. You’ll also be given the location of every U.S. Embassy. This is a must-have for any modern-day traveler who will be venturing outside the United States.

Kindle/Nook  

Most travelers are familiar with the Kindle and Nook e-reader tablets. The Kindle and Nook apps are slightly less known. If you have an android or iOS operating device you can download the reader apps. From there, you can buy, borrow, lend and preview books just as you would on your Kindle or Nook tablet. Now you don’t have to lug bulky, hardcover bestsellers through the airport in your carry-on. Instead, you can have all your favorite reads on your tablet or smartphone. The only downside is reading on the tablet screen has a bit more glare than the Kindle Paperwhite or Nook GlowLight screens. If this is a problem, you can buy a glare reducing screen cover for under $10.

XE Currency 

Time zone differences and frequent flier miles may not be the only thing you need to calculate when traveling to another country. Currency exchange rates can be tricky to figure out, especially when considering currency values are always slightly fluctuating. XE Currency helps fix that problem. This app offers on-the-go currency conversions. Type in a currency and its quantity and see what its value is in other countries’ currency. You can even view currencies in a geographical map. This is helpful if you’ll be moving in and out of several countries over the course of only a few days. Another handy feature is that this app can be used off-line. It saves the most previous exchange rates. So you can still finagle with currencies even if you’re in a dead zone.

Google Translate 

And while we’re on the topic of translating and converting currencies, what about translating languages? Even something as simple as asking for scrambled eggs in a Spanish-speaking country can go catastrophically wrong if you’re not familiar with the language. Google Translate helps remedy that problem. This app offers text translation in 103 languages. You can also use it off-line, although you won’t have access to all 103 languages. You’ll only have access to 59 languages offline – still not bad. What is most impressive about this app, though, is that you can take a picture of a sign and it will translate the text on the sign into almost any language. This can be handy when traveling, especially in airports, subways, and train stations. Or, when you are simply trying to read a menu or find a public restroom.

Uber 

Hailing a cab in an unfamiliar city can be scary and sometimes seem impossible – especially if there’s a language barrier. Uber makes it easy. Just download the app and you’ll be able to get a professional, freelance driver to pick you up and drive you to your destination. The driver will already know your location based on your smart phone’s GPS. You can also make payment with credit card, Apple Pay, PayPal and in select cities, cash. You’ll also see the driver’s picture and vehicle information. This way you don’t have to worry about getting in the wrong car. When the ride is over you can rate the driver and provide feedback to Uber. This encourages driver performance and professionalism. Likewise, the driver can rate you. Bad passengers may find it difficult to get rides in the future.

Wi-Fi Finder 

If you’re traveling on vacation, you’re going to need Wi-Fi. Otherwise, you’ll get clobbered with data charges. Wi-Fi Finder is a simple to use app that shows you Wi-Fi hotspots in your area. It can even access passwords in some cases.

Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App 

It happens all the time. Someone from the Midwest or Northeast travels to the Caribbean on vacation for the first time. They spritz a little SPF 15 on their shoulders their first day out. Then they spend the rest of the vacation in their hotel room covered in aloe vera. The Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference App can provide personalized information on how much the sun protection you need. Based on your skin type, location, time of day and SPF level you have on, this app calculates how much exposure to the sun you can get before you burn. The app automatically updates the results based on your location which is determined by your phone’s GPS. You can also see a UV forecast for your location, and UV level history. This also comes with features such as sunset and sunrise time, sun position and weather forecast.

Traveling might be a bit of a hassle. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but there’s a lot to manage on every trip. Thankfully, there are apps for almost every travel headache. By using just a few of the apps in this article, you may be able to cut down some of the stress and better enjoy your journey.

 The Hartford does not endorse or have any association with the products and/or services referenced.

Keep Reading: Traveling? Are You Covered by Insurance?

How to Safely Use Your Smartphone as a Digital Wallet

Eric Dollinger

The number of people making “mobile payments”—debit and credit card payments through a smartphone—is expected to increase exponentially in the next few years. However, if you’ve held back on trying mobile payments because you’re not sure how they work or worry they’re not completely safe, you’re not alone.

A survey by U.S. research firm Javelin found that more than half of consumers surveyed either wouldn’t use mobile payments or are neutral about them. The security of this new payment method was a major issue for 42% of Javelin’s respondents.

The good news is that paying with your smartphone may be much safer than you think. In addition, there are several things you can do to increase your smartphone and financial account security. Here’s what you need to know.

How Do Direct Mobile Payments Work?

At the most basic level, mobile payments involve downloading a payment app onto your smartphone. You then link your existing credit or debit card accounts to the payment app. (See “How to Get Started With Mobile Payments.”) You’re not opening a new card or bank account on your phone.

The technology that connects your smartphone to a physical cash register is Near Field Communication (NFC). This form of “contactless communication” allows two nearby electronic device to talk to each other without an internet connection.

The three main digital payment apps on the market right now are Apple Pay (for Apple phones), Samsung Pay (for the latest Samsung phones) and Android Pay (for most other Android phones). You can typically use mobile payments in person at payment terminals, within certain apps on your phone, and while you’re shopping online.

Some consumers may be more comfortable setting up mobile payments through their own banks, rather than a third party like Apple or Android, says Javelin. For this reason, Capital One and Barclays Bank, as well as other organizations, are also developing their own payment apps.

Why Use Mobile Payments?

Why would you bother putting financial information on your phone rather than just pulling out a credit card? Two main reasons: Convenience and added safety.

If you use multiple credit cards for different types of expenses or to earn different rewards, you may be carrying a handful of cards in your wallet. With digital payments, you can easily store all of your card information in your phone and leave most of your physical credit cards at home.

However, safety may be the bigger draw for many consumers. Generally, paying with your phone is actually safer than using a physical credit card. Digital wallet apps don’t store your debit or credit card information in your phone. Instead, they electronically link to your payment accounts.

Every time you use your digital wallet, your chosen payment app transmits a one-time-only code for that specific transaction—a security method known as tokenization. The three-digit CVC code (on the back of your physical card) also changes for each digital transaction. As a result, it’s virtually impossible for thieves to intercept your transactions and steal your payment information.

What if your phone gets lost or stolen? First, you need to unlock your phone in order to make any digital purchases. If you use a lock code or fingerprint ID to open your phone, it can help prevent thieves from accessing your phone. Second, you can use a computer to connect to your phone’s device manager and wipe your cards and other personal information from your phone.

How to Get Started With Mobile Payments

The setup is essentially the same for whichever smartphone payment app you choose.

Download or set up your payment app. Follow your particular device’s instructions. For instance, on an iPhone, go to Wallet and tap, “Add credit or debit card.” On a Samsung or other Android phone, download the Samsung Pay or Android Pay app from the Google Play Store and follow the instructions that appear on the screen.

Take pictures of your payment cards. Your payment app will use your smartphone’s camera to scan each credit or debit card you want to add. Don’t worry: Your phone won’t store an actual photo of your card. It simply uses the image to quickly gather your account information. You may need to manually enter each card’s CVC number. Typically, you can store multiple cards in your app, and choose one as your default card.

Verify your card. For your safety, the payment app will contact your bank. It will verify that your card can be used on the app, and that you’re the person making the request. Your bank (not the payment app) will text, email or call you with a verification code you’ll need to enter in your payment app.

How to Make Payments

In person. Unlock your phone and place it near the payment terminal. You may not even have to open your payment app (unless you want to choose from among several stored cards). Your phone should connect automatically with the cash register. A payment terminal that accepts digital payments will usually display payment app logos or the NFC logo—vertical wavy lines that look like radio waves.

Verification and payment. If you have an iPhone with fingerprint ID, Apple Pay will require you to authenticate the transaction with your finger. Other devices may require you to tap on a verification screen. On all devices, you can choose which stored card you’d like to use to pay, or select a default card that is used unless you specify otherwise.

Backup option. Since some retailers don’t yet accept digital payments —particularly some restaurants and gas pumps — you may still want to carry at least one physical payment card. That could also be helpful if your phone runs low on battery.

Sending Digital Payments to Others

The three major digital payment systems — Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay — work well at physical payment terminals and online retailers. However, if you’re looking for digital payment options that also let you pay private individuals and organizations that don’t usually take debit or credit cards, you have some options.

You might use one of these methods to quickly pay your rent or pay back a friend for your share of a restaurant check. In most cases, you can use these payment methods via your smartphone, tablet or computer. Which one you choose is really a matter of personal preference. Some of your options include:

PayPal. Link your bank account, credit or debit card to the PayPal app and use it to make electronic payments to people and businesses who also have PayPal accounts for a small fee.

Square Cash. Link your accounts and transfer money immediately to other people and companies at no cost. Other people don’t need the Cash app to accept your payment.

Venmo. If you’re transferring money to another person, they also need to have a Venmo account. The company charges a small fee for paying via your linked credit card, and there’s a social media element to the app that some people might not like.

AmazonPay. Use the credit or debit card payment options you’ve already set up within your Amazon account to make purchases at selected online sites and within apps.

Keep Your Financial Information Safe

If worries over someone stealing your phone or your financial information are stopping you from trying digital payments, learn more about how to prevent identity theft and fraud. The more you know, the less nervous you may be.

In addition, there are many simple things you can do to safeguard your personal information:

Use your smartphone’s lock screen. Your phone can only process digital payments when it’s unlocked. That means that if someone steals your phone, they can’t access your payment information without unlocking it. Use a strong passcode or your fingerprint to unlock your phone.

Set up remote access to your phone. You can probably access your smartphone from your computer, but you need to set up this access before your device is lost or stolen. If your phone ever goes missing, you can remotely delete all of your personal information — digital payment information, email, photos, and more.

Monitor your financial accounts. Regardless of whether you use digital payments, you should regularly check your bank and card accounts for purchases you don’t recognize. If you see payments or purchases you didn’t make, contact your bank or card issuer right away in case your card is being used fraudulently.

Keep your software up to date. Make sure you’re using the latest version of your smartphone’s, tablet’s and computer’s software by selecting auto-update options for your devices. Older software often contains accidental loopholes that make it easier for hackers to break into your devices and accounts. Developers often learn about these vulnerabilities and fix them in newer software.

Still have questions about mobile payments? A representative at your local bank/credit union (and, if you have one, a tech-savvy child or grandchild!) may be able to explain more. In addition, many banks and credit card issuers, as well as every payment company (from Android Pay to Venmo), offer mobile-payment explanations on their website.

For more information on digital safety, check out this article on how to manage your digital life.

Coping With Your Condo

Eric Dollinger

Condominiums can offer the benefits of home ownership without many of the headaches associated with owning a house. You’ll never have to worry about exterior maintenance like yard work, driveway repairs or cleaning gutters. However, condo ownership can come with its own set of challenges, such as rising association fees, dealing with a condo association and living in close proximity to other condo owners.

You can make the most of condo living by understanding your rights, managing your expectations, and knowing how to approach potential problems. Here are some rules to live by in your condo.

Understand Your Rights as a Condo Owner

When you purchase a condo you join the membership and consent to the rules of your condo association. Unlike owning your own home where you make your own rules, association rules can be limiting. For example, your association may restrict the number of pets you or the types of signs, flags, plantings or outdoor decorations you can have at your home. Here’s how to make sure you understand your rights.

Read your ownership agreement. Most condo owners’ rights are governed by state laws, which vary from state to state. But your particular condo association likely has its own specific rules that you must follow. Read them thoroughly so you know what is expected.

Right to protest. In most states, condo owners have the right to protest particularly onerous rules or apply to your condo board for relief from a particular rule.

Voting rights. As an owner, you have the right to vote on changes to your condo association’s rules and regulations, as well as to vote for new board members. If you think a particular rule is unfair or even illegal, you can try to have it changed, following the steps prescribed in your condo association agreement. For example, you may be required to gather signatures from a certain number of owners to bring the matter to a vote.

Deal Appropriately With Neighbors

Let’s face it: When many people live in close proximity, there are bound to be problems. If you have a condo neighbor who is too loud, smokes in common areas, or owns pets that are a nuisance, here are some steps that can help you successfully resolve issues like these.

Go to the neighbor first. Rather than talking behind your neighbor’s back or going straight to the condo board, start by talking to the neighbor in question. They may not even realize what’s bothering you, so try not to attack them straightaway. Instead, be informative and friendly. Most people want to live peacefully with their neighbors and hopefully you can work out a resolution together.

Overlook minor occurrences. If the problem lessens, or happens only on rare occasions—such as loud noise due to a holiday party—try your best to overlook it. Living happily with close neighbors requires some flexibility and forgiveness.

Give a second chance. If the problem persists even after your conversation with your neighbor, consider offering your neighbor one more chance to correct it before you take further action. Explain why the issue is a problem for you and how it violates condo association rules. Try to help the neighbor figure out a way to solve the problem if necessary.

Go to the board. If talking directly with your neighbor has not solved the problem, it is within your rights to file a formal complaint with the homeowner’s association board. Make sure you follow proper protocol and provide documentation if needed. Once you’ve made your complaint, allow the board time to follow up with it through their established protocol.

Deal With an Ineffective Condo Association

If your condo buildings and grounds aren’t being maintained properly or the association otherwise doesn’t seem to be doing its job, you have the right to take action in order to maintain your investment.

Talk to the manager. Many condo associations hire managers or management companies to handle everyday tasks. Talk to someone in management to find out whether the problem is a management issue or a board issue. If the managers are notified about the problem, they may correct it.

Follow up with the board. If management does not resolve the problem, file a complaint with the board of the association and give them time to respond.

File for an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). If you feel that the board is neglecting your request and its duties, you may want to pursue an ADR, which refers to a number of ways of resolving disputes without a trial, such as mediation or arbitration. Rather than going to court, you and the condo representative would sit down with a mediator, for instance, and work to come to an agreement. In most states, a condo owners’ association is required by law to provide an ADR hearing when requested by an owner.

Take legal action. If the issue remains unresolved, you may want to consult an attorney or someone who can advise you about next steps. If your condo association is not following state regulations, you may consider contacting governing authorities.

Be a Good Neighbor

If you want to limit problems with your neighbors and live peacefully in your condo community, do your best to be a good neighbor. For instance:

Consider how your behaviors affect others. Avoid playing loud music if it might disturb your neighbors, and keep the exterior of your home free of clutter, debris, and out-of-season holiday decorations. If you’re planning to have company or a party that may lead to extra noise or traffic, let your neighbors know in advance.

Keep a close eye on pets and children. Rather than allowing pets or small children to roam freely, watch them carefully—for their own safety and your neighbors’ comfort.

Be understanding of neighbors. Just as you hope for patience and understanding from your neighbors, try to be flexible and understanding when your neighbors have company.

Know When It’s Time to Sell

Although condo living can be perfect for some homeowners, it doesn’t work for everyone, or forever. Rather than growing discontented, look for the signs that it may be time to sell your condo:

You’re feeling cramped. One opportunity condo owners don’t have is the ability to add on to their homes. If your household simply needs more space, you may want to sell your condo and move to a traditional single-family home.

The community isn’t working for you. If you no longer want to live in close proximity to others, or if you just can’t get along with your neighbors, your condo may not be a positive living situation for you anymore. Maybe you just need to be closer to your job or your elderly parents. Whatever the reason, if your condo community is no longer a fit, it’s probably time to get out.

Remodeling isn’t worth the investment. Maybe you’re pining for a new kitchen or bathroom—but your current condo won’t offer a positive return on your remodeling investment. Before dropping more money into your condo, research the current value and recent sale prices of other units. If it looks like you won’t be able to earn back your remodeling investment by selling your condo, it’s probably a better idea to sell it now and buy a different home with the kitchen you want.

READ MORE:  How Moving Affects Your Auto and Home Insurance

Vehicle Maintenance: How to Stay Safe and Save Money

Eric Dollinger

It’s estimated that vehicle malfunctions cause 50,000 automobile accidents per year. These malfunctions include tire wear-and-tear, brake failure and faulty engines, steering, and transmissions. But routine vehicle maintenance and inspections can help keep you and others safe. Maintenance can also help you save money by preventing degradation of your vehicle.

This article explains:

  • The financial costs of not maintaining your vehicle
  • Important areas of your vehicle you should maintain
  • And the best ways to do so

The True Cost of Vehicle Maintenance

Routine maintenance can go a long way toward helping you save money and keeping your vehicle running. The following list is based from a report by automd.com. It covers the yearly cost of services needed to maintain your vehicle and how much it could cost you later you should you decide to skip them.

Regular oil changes.  Changing your oil every four months or 4,000 miles can help reduce engine friction and increase engine lifespan. Regular oil changes can cost around $120 a year, but if you skip out, you could end up paying around $4,000 to replace your engine.

Tire rotation. Tire rotation should cost around $50. Experts recommend that you do it every 7,500 miles. If you don’t, you may need to shell out at least $800 to replace all your tires sooner than necessary. Plus, you’ll be dealing with decreased gas mileage as a result of unbalanced tires.

Timing belt replacement. A timing belt replacement is typically the steepest of all the costs on this list, topping out at around $600. Replace the timing belt based on the manufacturer’s suggested time-frame. If you don’t, you’re looking at approximately $2,500 to repair your engine or about $4,000 to replace it.

Brake inspection. Well-maintained breaks are essential for safe driving. They also help prevent wear on rotors and disks. Regular brake inspection and maintenance can cost between $150 and $375 a year. The cost of replacing rotors or discs is about $600. Plus, you’ll need to buy the new brakes!

Changing plugs and filters. Replacing spark plugs and filters can help ensure your vehicle passes inspection. The yearly cost for replacement is around $100. You may be looking at about $700 to get your car in compliance if you skip this.

How to Maintain Your Tires, Brakes and Lights

Tire failure is the leading cause of vehicle malfunction-related automobile accidents. It accounts for nearly 44% of accidents caused by vehicle malfunction. Brake failure or degradation is second and accounts for 25% of vehicle malfunction related accidents.

Also, 40% of all fatal car accidents occur at night, despite the fact that there is 60% less traffic on the roads. Well-maintained head and taillights help ensure that you can see hazards while driving. They also help ensure that others can see you. The following are simple tips to help you maintain your tires, brakes and headlights.

Tire Maintenance

Alignment. If your vehicle is pulling to the left or right. then it’s likely that the wheels are out of alignment. Your wheels can go out of alignment when you drive over a pothole or snag a curb when parallel parking. Unaligned wheels can increase tire wear, reduce fuel mileage and decrease handling. If you suspect that your wheels are out of alignment, take your vehicle to a garage to have them fixed.

Inflation. As a general rule, tire pressure drops about 1 pound per square inch for every 10° decrease in temperature. Tires inflated to the correct PSI handle better, brake better, improve fuel economy, last longer and are safer. Check the owner’s manual of your car to find the appropriate PSI for your tires. Use a pressure gauge to check your tire PSI every month. This can help spot slow leaks and changes in tire pressure caused by temperature change.

Rotation. Rotating your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help maximize their effectiveness and longevity. This will also help to ensure that they wear evenly over time. Rotating your tires every 6000 to 8000 miles will also alert you to any abnormal wear patterns. These abnormal wear patterns could be a sign of other issues with the car. Unless you are truly qualified to perform your own vehicle maintenance, don’t try to rotate your tires on your own. Schedule a visit with a garage and pay to have it done by a professional.

Tread. Your vehicle may not handle as well as it should if the tire treads are worn out. Adverse weather conditions in any season can make driving be more dangerous and even more dangerous if your tires don’t have enough tread. There’s an easy test to determine if your tires have enough tread. Place a penny, with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you, in the tread of the tire. If part of Lincoln’s head is not visible, your tire has enough tread. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head, it’s time for new tires.

Brake Maintenance

Your braking system is one of the most noticeable parts of your vehicle when they need attention. If your brakes are malfunctioning or in need of service, they will most likely make a noise, smell, or stain. This list can help you identify warning signs that your vehicle’s brakes need repairs.

  • Warning Light / Routine Problem
  • Squeaking or Squealing Noise / Brake Pad Issues
  • Grinding Noise / Worn-through Brake Pads or Rotor Issues
  • Fluid Stain Near Tires / Brake Fluid Leak
  • Burning Smell When Parked / Sticking Brake Pad
  • Vibration While Stopping, Feeling That Your Vehicle Is Pulling to One Side or a Harder Time Pressing the Brake Pedal / Malfunction With the Brake System

Head and Tail Light Maintenance

Test. It’s important to test the brightness of your head and tail lights. You can do this by parking your car on a level surface, about 5 feet away from a wall. If your home has a garage, it can be a great place to try this. Park your car so the headlights are facing the wall. Turn your headlights on and check to see if one or both of your headlights appears dim or yellow.

It’s common for headlights to move out of alignment when a car drives over a pothole. Make sure that the headlights are neither too high nor low and that they are both at the same level. Next, back your car into the parking space and check the rear lights. Make sure that both tail lights are lit evenly when you hit the brakes.

Clean. Oxidation can happen to the plastic shell covering a vehicle’s headlight bulb. This causes the plastic shell to become foggy or yellow. Fortunately, removing the oxidization is almost as easy as brushing your teeth. You will need toothpaste, a clean rag, rubber or vinyl gloves, a bucket of water and some masking tape.

1. Start by putting on rubber or vinyl gloves and washing the area with a sponge or cloth and soapy water.

2. Allow some time for the headlights to air dry.

3. Mask off the areas surrounding the plastic shell with masking tape.

4. Dab some toothpaste onto a clean cloth and scrub the surface of the headlight in small circles. Apply more toothpaste and add more water as needed. You may need to do this for several minutes per headlight.

5. When done, remove the masking tape, rinse the headlight with water and air dry.

Replace. You should never replace only one headlight or tail light on your car. Always replace the pair together or you’ll end up with headlights of uneven brightness. Check your owner’s manual or an online bulb finder to find the type of bulb your vehicle needs. Of course, an auto repair shop should be able to find the correct bulb and install it for you as well.

Saving Money and Staying Safe

Maintaining your vehicle can help you save money and stay safe. The lower costs to inspect, replace and repair parts of your automobile can help you avoid paying much larger sums of money in the future. These smaller repairs can also improve your vehicle’s handling, braking and responsiveness. Use this vehicle maintenance log to help keep your car in top shape.

NEXT: Don’t wait until it’s too late –  11 Tips for Finding a Trustworthy Auto Mechanic

15 Gadgets to Make Your Home Smarter

Tamara Franklin

In 2016, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide, a 64% increase from 2015, according to IHS Markit, while Gartner Research predicts that the typical home could contain more than 500 smart home devices by the year 2022.

These devices aim to improve our lives — enabling us to work smarter, not harder, and to let go of some of the mundane chores we’re all tasked with — while allowing us to focus on more important things. Moreover, for older adults or those living with physical challenges, smart home devices can make a huge difference in their quality of life.

Perhaps you just want the lights to come on as you approach your home. Maybe you want the air conditioning to come on so it’s not wasting electricity unnecessarily and yet it’s still cool when you come in the front door. Or maybe you simply want to be alerted immediately when there’s a safety issue going on when you’re not at home.

Here are 15 categories of devices that have the potential to make your home a little smarter and your life a little easier.

Safety and Security

1. Fire Detection Devices. Did you know that nearly two-thirds of home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Association?

While your standard old-school smoke detector is still a great tool in preventing injury and death, it will only alert you to problems if you’re at home. Today’s internet- connected smoke and fire detection devices can alert you anywhere — via your smartphone — facilitating a faster call to emergency services when you’re away, and potentially saving the lives of loved ones and preventing property damage.

Examples: Nest Protect; First Alert; Roost Smart Battery (to give any smoke detector the ability to remotely alert you about possible fire situations).

2. Water Detection Devices. Anyone who’s suffered through a burst pipe, water heater, or dishwasher disaster in their home knows how important early detection can be. A smart water sensor can alert you, via your smartphone, as soon as water is detected, prompting you to drop whatever you’re doing, get back home, and call the plumber to meet you there, potentially saving you time, money, and frustration.

Examples: D-Link Wi-Fi Water Sensor; FIBARO Flood Sensor; Aeon Labs Aeotec Water Sensor.

3. Doorbell Cameras. Imagine being able to answer the door from anywhere. Not only is this extremely convenient for those with limited mobility, but also it’s much safer when you have an unidentified stranger at your door. Smart doorbells can notify you in the case of a suspicious visitor, or when packages are left for you, which can prevent burglary and property loss, while also recording the identity of those involved.

Examples: Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell; SkyBell HD; Vivint Doorbell Camera.

4. Home Security Systems. The so-called Internet of Things has made it easy and relatively affordable to monitor your home from just about anywhere with a smart security system. Depending on your needs, you can go with a system that you monitor yourself, or pay a subscription fee to have your home surveilled 24/7 by professionals who will contact your local fire and police departments when alarms are triggered.

Examples: SimpliSafe; ADT Pulse; Vivint Smart Home.

5. Door Locks. Smart locks allow you to lock and unlock your door remotely — whether you’re at home or away — and even provide codes to friends, family, caregivers, house cleaners, dog walkers, and anyone else you frequently allow into your home.

Think of those times when your hands are full of shopping bags, your dog’s leash, or anything else that makes it difficult to dig around for your keys. Or when you’ve crawled into your warm bed at night only to wonder whether you remembered to lock the door; with a smart lock, you can simply check the status on your phone from wherever you are.

Examples: August Smart Lock; Goji Smart Lock; Schlage Sense.

Appliances and Lighting

6. Refrigerators. While smart refrigerators are far from a necessity, they can be quite convenient. Many will keep an inventory of your food, reducing the chance of your buying duplicate items, thereby saving you money. Some can also keep track of expiration dates and tell you when something has gone bad, just in case your sniffer isn’t quite sure.

Your grocery lists can be updated in real time and synced to your smartphone, letting you know exactly what you need while you’re still at the grocery store.

Examples: LG LTCS24223S; Whirlpool WRB322DMBB; Samsung RH25H5611SR.

7. Smart TVs. Smart TVs — which may also be referred to as connected TVs or hybrid TVs — enable you to stream TV and movies, browse the Web, access games and apps, do social media, and more. They give you access not only to top-tier services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, but also to the various digital TV catch-up services available. What sets them apart from each other though, is their operating platforms, which will determine your user experience.

Examples: Sony’s Android TV; Samsung’s Smart Hub; LG’s WebOS.

8. Lighting. There are a few different ways to make your lights smart. You can replace the switches, use smart plugs to switch the power on and off, or you can simply make the bulbs smart with no electrician, DIY, or coding skills required.

When connected to an appropriate app or home automation hub, smart bulbs have features that include changing the color of your lights from day to night (or to set the mood for a party), as well as the ability to automate when your lights turn off and on.

Examples: Philips Hue; LIFX; OSRAM.

9. Thermostats. Smart thermostats are not only convenient, but also can save you money by making your home more energy efficient. They can turn the heat or A/C off when no one’s home and turn it back on when you pull in the driveway or at any designated time. Some can even distinguish between users, turning it to a specific setting when certain members of the family enter a room.

Examples: Nest Smart Thermostat; ecobee4; Honeywell Lyric T5.

Household Chores

10. Automated Sprinklers. An internet connection can take your standard automated sprinkler system to the next level. For most people with an in-ground sprinkler system, a smart controller will save water and money compared to a basic timer. Some can respond to real-time weather conditions, offer customizable watering schedules, and give you control of your sprinkler system from anywhere in the world via an app on your smartphone.

Examples: Rachio; RainMachine Touch; Skydrop Smart Watering.

11. Robot Vacuums. Want a tidy home without spending time doing the work? Robot vacuums can help you dispose of dirt, dust, pet hair, and other debris on your bare or carpeted floors without lifting a finger or straining your back. You simply set them loose and forget about it. Many will find their way back to their charging station and recharge themselves, while others can be set to clean at a specific time each day.

Examples: iRobot Roomba 960; Eufy RoboVac 11; Neato Botvac Connected.

12. Window Blinds. There’s nothing like natural light to brighten up your home. Unfortunately, depending on how many windows you have, manually opening the shades each morning and drawing them back down each night may be a pain. That’s where smart shade solutions come in. Motorized shades can be commanded to go up or down to suit your fancy, without having to pull any strings.

Examples: Lutron Shades; Pella Smart Home; Somfy Systems.

13. Pet Feeders. Have you ever run out the door and then realized you forgot to feed your beloved pet? Now, Fido or your faithful felines won’t have to suffer until you get back home. Smart pet feeders can dish out the exact portion of food designated for your furry friend at the exact time you determine. With access to your home Wi-Fi connection, some smart feeders also provide built-in webcam and speaker functionality.

Examples: Petnet SmartFeeder; Hoison SmartFeeder; Feed and Go Smart Feeder.

Controllers

14. Hubs. The more smart home devices you have, the more likely you’ll need a centralized method to control them all. Smart home hubs can connect all your devices to the cloud and give you one app that acts as a universal remote.

Additionally, hubs can provide the ability to automate your devices. For example, when you unlock your door, the lights in your entryway will automatically turn on, and the thermostat in your home will be set to the temperature you like. Home sweet home, indeed.

Examples: Samsung SmartThings; Wink; Logitech Harmony.

15. Voice Assistants. When it comes to controlling your smart home devices, everything must be done through the use of an app or multiple apps on your smartphone. Unless you incorporate a voice assistant. These helpers allow you to go completely hands free, using only voice commands to make things happen in your home.

You can simply tell the voice assistant to turn on the lights, set your thermostat to a certain temperature, or change your smart TV to a specific channel, without moving from that comfy spot on your sofa.

Examples: Amazon’s Alexa; Google Home; Apple Home Kit.

Consider which of these many options could improve your home life. While the Starship Enterprise-like smart home dream — where everything just miraculously responds to your every command without your having to lift a finger — is still a far-off fantasy, we’re getting a little closer every day.

Many of these smart devices are extremely user-friendly, requiring no professional help for installation. Those who are fairly tech savvy can easily get them up and running, while those who aren’t can ask for a bit of help. Once your smart home features are installed, you may wonder how you ever functioned without them.

While smart home devices certainly can help to keep older adults safer, and perhaps allow them to remain independent longer, ultimately, these devices provide benefits to people of all ages and stages of life.

READ MORE: 5 Things Burglars Don’t Want You to Know

Money-Saving Time-Wasters (and What to Do Instead)

Eric Dollinger

Everyone wants a full wallet, but some money-saving tips and tricks require hours of effort and frustration, while others end up costing you money. The result? Both your wallet and your patience wear thin.

There are two questions that can help you determine whether a money-saving tactic is worthwhile, says Brian Davis, a real estate investor, cofounder of SparkRental.com, and a personal finance blogger for the investor site Bigger Pockets.

First, ask whether the activity will lead you to spend money you wouldn’t have shelled out otherwise. If the answer is yes, just say no.

Second, if the activity actually does save money, calculate the dollar amount saved and the amount of time required. Ask yourself whether you’d work a job for that hourly pay. If not, find a less time-consuming way to save.

If you don’t ask those questions, it’s easy to get sucked in by money-saving time wasters.

Here are five frugal activities that aren’t worth the effort, plus what you should do instead:

1. Couponing

Clipping coupons digitally or with scissors can makes sense if you come across one for an item you normally buy. However, serious couponing can cut your free time along with your costs. First, there’s all the time you have to spend finding and cutting coupons. Sites like The Krazy Coupon Lady describe methods of tracking down coupons that require scouring the internet, subscribing to your local paper to obtain coupon inserts (which, of course, costs you money) and even buying coupons. When it comes time to use those coupons, you’ll drive all over town to hit the various stores offering the best deals. Finally, many people who get into coupon cutting find they need to create space in their homes to hold the stockpiles of goods they get on sale but might not use up for years. And all this can backfire. A worst-case scenario: You spends months filling your freezer with meat purchased on sale, then the power goes out in an ice storm, spoiling your stash. “Many people find they spend hours sitting at the table clipping coupons, and at the end they have $10 worth of savings,” Davis observes. Do the math, he advises, and you’ll probably find couponing earns you “a fraction of minimum wage.”

The exception: If you have plenty of extra time and enjoy couponing as a hobby. As long as you’re not spending more than you save by paying for couponing classes, buying coupons, and filling up the gas tank to drive all over town, have fun.

2. Chasing freebies

You could spend hours perusing the internet for free money, where companies give you incentives to sign up for a free service, open a bank account, or complete a survey.

Hunting down these deals and jumping through the required hoops can take hours, and you might wait weeks or months to get your gift card in the mail. Also, there’s plenty of fine print that goes along with these offers, and some consumers fulfill their end of the bargain but fail to receive the promised reward. For example, some readers of the personal finance blog The Penny Hoarder complained they didn’t get the $20 they were promised for opening and using a prepaid card.

If you do get the reward, it might come in the form of a gift card, which can’t be saved in the bank anyway.

The exception: Some banks offer bonuses from $150 to $300 for opening a new account and fulfilling a few requirements. If you were thinking about switching banks anyway, these offers provide a nice incentive, according to Kathryn Hauer, a certified financial planner and the author of “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.” Just make sure there are no hidden fees or unreasonable rules about how much money you have to keep in the account, she warns.

3. Downloading money-saving apps

It’s easy to load up your smartphone with apps that might save you a few cents or dollars, but they may also encourage you to buy sale items you wouldn’t otherwise have purchased. Many retailers, like Target and Walmart, have their own apps that dangle deals to encourage you to buy, buy, buy.

Money-saving apps also can suck up your time if you experience technical glitches that require patience and many minutes to work around. Some deal apps may eat up so much storage space on your phone that they slow down your device. And although some personal finance experts swear by budgeting apps like Mint for preventing impulse spending, these tend to require a lot of time to set up and maintain, according to personal finance coach Avraham Byers. “Apps can be big time wasters,” he points out.

The exception: Some apps are easy, don’t nudge you to buy items you’re not specifically shopping for and offer a simple set-it-and-forget-it interface. For example, Byers loves the browser extension Honey because when you go to shop for an item online it scans the internet for coupon codes. “You don’t have to do anything and you automatically save money,” he says.

4. Being penny wise

Buying cheap appliances, clothing, tires, and other products, such as insurance, can lead to spending more in the long run than if you had invested in a quality item or service from the start. Cheap goods may break or fail to work as expected. In that scenario, you’re out more money than if you had invested in a quality item from the start. You’ve also wasted a lot of time with the hassle of dealing with and replacing a broken or malfunctioning product. For example, it pays to buy quality homeowners insurance and car insurance to so you can count on your insurer to come through for you if you have to file a claim. Buying cheap insurance can backfire if you’re forced to deal with slow claims, poor service and skimpy coverage. Another example that many people don’t think about is shoes. Cheap shoes can cause foot problems, and result in a trip to the podiatrist, hundreds of dollars in medical bills and the need to spring for the quality pair you should have purchased initially. “Buying cheap shoes to save money may have worked when you were 25,” Hauer points out. “It doesn’t work when you’re 55.” The exception: you plan to use an item rarely, or only once. If you live in Arizona and need a rain poncho for a one-time trip to Seattle with the grandkids, it’s probably smart to buy a cheapie.

5. Extreme frugality

If you ever watched the TLC show “Extreme Cheapskates,” you can see how far a person can go to pinch a penny. Cheapskates featured on the show reuse dental floss, work out for free at sporting goods stores and fry up roadkill for dinner. “I read a frugality blog that seriously asked people to consider dumpster diving,” Hauer says. “That’s unsanitary and unsafe. And if you get some disease or cut yourself, the savings you might have gotten from nabbing a fresh dozen donuts will be far outstripped by the hospital bill.” And less extreme actions like separating two-ply toilet paper into single-ply sheets and reusing ziplock bags might save you pennies, but tend not to be worth the effort.

The exception: Some little actions like cutting off the end of a tube of toothpaste to squeeze out the last dollop can stretch your money a little and prevent waste are fine, in Hauer’s opinion. But beware of those that take a lot of time and risk breaking a law, angering a store manager, or jeopardizing your health.

Money saving tactics that offer big payoff

Instead of frittering away your time and cash on money-saving time wasters, try these easy, proven strategies instead:

Research prices on key purchases. Put your time and effort into saving money on consumer items you buy regularly, and also one-time purchases with high price tags. This offers bigger payoff for your money-saving time investment . For example, you could spend 10 minutes tracking down the retailer that offers the lowest everyday price on the brand of dog food you buy, and your savings could add up to hundreds of dollars over time, a much better bet than spending the same amount of time procuring a coupon that will save you 25 cents once. That’s because regular purchases (and savings) add up over time and comparison shopping on expensive items offers a chance to save $10, $20, $100 or more. For example, Hauer found that one grocery store in her town sells her husband’s favorite hot chocolate for a dollar cheaper than other stores. If she buys it once a week, that’s almost $50 in savings a year.

Treat your savings as a regular bill. Handle saving money the same way you deal with paying your cell phone or electric bill. Pick a reasonable amount and automate the savings through your online banking so that sum goes right into your savings account every week or month. Many experts recommend keeping your savings in an online bank that pays a slightly higher interest rate than many brick-and-mortar banks. If you want to use that money, you’ll need to make a transfer to your main bank, which can take a few days. This cooling-off period can prevent you from spending your savings without a good reason.

Figure out how much you have to spend. Instead of spending hours on budgeting apps, Byers recommends a simple system he calls Your Magic Number. “It only requires 10 minutes a day,” he notes. After you pay your fixed expenses, including funding your savings account, you calculate how much is left for the month and divide it by the number of days in that month. This is your “magic number,” and you can’t spend more than this on any given day. If you have money left over, you roll it forward to the next day. For example, if your magic number is $50 and you spend nothing on the first day of the month, your magic number on the second day is $100. If you spend $95 that day, your magic number on the third day is $55.Using this system forces you to live within your means, save money and make smart spending choices. It also prevents a common situation in which you do your daily spending on a credit card, accidentally spend too much, then use the money in your savings to bail yourself out at the end of the month, according to Byers.

Turn saving into a challenging game. Hold a no-spend day, week or month where you challenge yourself, or you and your spouse challenge each other, not to spend money at all. If you’re trying to go a week or a month, you might have to modify the rules to allow spending on items that are absolutely necessary, like gas for your work commute, personal finance blogger Kristin Larsen advises on her site Believe in a Budget. Stash your savings from that day or week in a special account for that new TV you’re hoping to purchase or that beach vacation you’ve been dreaming about. If you’ve never done this before, start with the smallest goal of just one day.

Any time you spend trying to save money takes away from time you could be spending on other life experiences, in Byers’ opinion. That’s why it’s smart to find a balance between effort expended and money saved. “It really is a trade-off,” he says.

READ MORE: 3 Financial Lessons We Learned From the Great Recession

What Goes Into a Car Repair?

Eric Dollinger

It’s a situation that every car owner dreads. Your car goes into the shop, and the bill for repairs costs more than your mortgage. You’re left scrambling to pay the bill, and wondering why on earth it costs so much to fix your vehicle.

It’s a fact of life that car repairs tend to be very expensive. But despite the cliché of shady mechanics inflating their prices, most car repairs are not pricey for nefarious reasons. There can be quite a lot that goes into a specific repair, and even seemingly simple issues can cost a lot.

Here’s what you need to know about why car repairs cost as much as they do, and some ways for you may be able to mitigate these costs next time your vehicle needs work:

Three Main Pricing Criteria

Every mechanic shop has three criteria on which repair pricing is based: labor, parts, and overhead. To understand how your car repair adds up, you need to understand the specific issues behind each of these pricing criteria.

1. Labor

Labor is the per-hour cost of having a mechanic work on your car. The shop will have a per-hour labor rate, which will vary widely depending on a number of factors, including location, shop specialization, and the skill level of the mechanics. The per-hour labor rate can range from as low as $47 to as high as $215, according to a January 2017 report from AAA on the mechanical repair shops in their network. This per-hour rate would be calculated by the shop to cover things like the mechanic’s salary (which is likely much less than the per-hour rate), the cost of tools, training and equipment, as well as some profit for the shop.

Anyone who has been driving for several decades might reasonably wonder why labor costs seem to have gone up in the past few years. The reason for this is the increased complexity of modern automobiles. According to automotive journalist Steven Lang, “working on cars is no longer a wrench job. You need much more specialized tools.”

That’s because unlike the relatively simple internal combustion engines inside the cars your parents and grandparents may have driven, modern cars are a little bit more like rolling computers. For instance, the Mercedes Benz S-Class requires over 20 million lines of code for the dozens of microprocessor-based electronic control units (ECUs) that form a network throughout the body of the car. Robert N. Charette, writing for the engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum, states that “most new cars are executing tens of millions of lines of software code, controlling everything from your brakes to the volume of your radio.”

All of this software complexity means that your mechanic needs to have specialized diagnostic software that communicate with your car’s computers. Lang explains that there is a trade-off to this computerization of your vehicle: “We’ve gone from a simple diagnostic program from 20 years ago that could give a general diagnosis for every vehicle, to specialized software and programs for specific vehicles. These help make the diagnosis of your car trouble more accurate, but you do pay more for that accuracy.”

Where a car repair might have once simply included a mechanic, a good set of wrenches and a lift, digging through your engine to figure out what was wrong, it now involves a computer diagnosing the problem and a skilled mechanic repairing it with laser-like focus.

SEE ALSO: Why Complex Cars Cost More to Repair

The continual improvements in automotive technology and software also mean that mechanics must receive additional training on technology updates on a regular basis, which another factor is increasing the labor costs you pay.

2. Parts

The cost of the parts that you may need for your car repairs can depend on a number of factors, including how specialized or high-end your car is and what type of parts your mechanic will be using. Specifically, you may have a choice of:

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts are parts made by your vehicle’s manufacturer. For instance, if you drive a Honda Accord and need new brake pads, Honda offers OEM brake pads that are specifically designed for the make, model, and year of your Accord. Generally, the benefit of using an OEM part is you can feel confident that the quality of the new part matches the one you are replacing, and it is compatible with your vehicle and should work correctly. In addition, most OEM parts come with some sort of warranty. However, OEM parts are most often more expensive than aftermarket and used or refurbished parts.

Aftermarket parts are any parts that do not come directly from the car’s manufacturer. In many cases, these parts are designed to function exactly the same as the OEM version, and in some cases the aftermarket part may even work better than the original. That said, there tends to be varying degrees of quality among different aftermarket manufacturers’ parts, and if you use an aftermarket part that is not considered an acceptable replacement part according to your car’s warranty, using it could void the warranty. If you do decide to use aftermarket parts, make sure your mechanic is using high-quality ones that are considered appropriate replacements under your warranty. Aftermarket parts tend to be less expensive than OEM parts.

Used and/or refurbished parts are parts that have been gleaned from other cars. Depending on the condition of the used or refurbished part, it can render an effective repair. However, buyers beware. For the average consumer it may be difficult to determine if a part is in good working condition. Without the expertise of knowing what to look for, choosing used and refurbished parts may be a risk that’s not worth taking. Used and/or refurbished parts tend to be the least expensive parts. However, their prices do vary depending on wear and tear and demand for the part.

Since your mechanic does need to make a profit, realize that he is marking up the price of your parts. The markup is typically about 30%. In addition to helping the shop’s bottom line, the markup may also allow the shop room to offer a warranty on their repairs, which is a benefit you can reasonably expect from a reputable mechanic.

3. Overhead

Auto repair shops have overhead costs that can affect the prices you pay for labor and parts. Some of the overhead costs are obvious: rent, electricity, heat, and other utilities are all typical for brick-and-mortar businesses.

But auto repair shops must also factor in more specific costs that are particular to their industry, including specialized tools and equipment necessary to work on your vehicle, as well as the appropriate training to keep their mechanics up-to-date on the latest technology. Many shops also carry their own parts inventory, which can include a broad spectrum of parts. The capital required to purchase these parts and retain the space to store them can be costly.

Auto shops’ overhead costs can also increase if they specialize in any types of vehicles that need unusual care. For instance, aluminum-bodied cars, like the Ford F-150s built since 2015, need to be worked on in closed-off areas because aluminum dust can ignite and explode if cross-contaminated with steel dust. The additional need for specialized repair tools and equipment for aluminum-bodied vehicles also adds to the shop’s overhead—which will likely be reflected in your bill.

Keeping Your Repair Costs Manageable

Considering all of the factors that go into a car repair bill, you might conclude that it’s difficult to do anything to lower your bill. However, it is possible to keep your car in tip-top condition without spending a fortune every time it needs work. Here are some steps drivers can take, even if they lack mechanical ability:

Stay on top of regular maintenance. A well-maintained car is a car that needs fewer repairs. Following the regular maintenance schedule recommended in your owner’s manual can do a great deal to keep your repair costs low.

Create and keep a car repair spreadsheet. Blogger Michael Allen Smith of the blog Critical MAS recommends keeping a detailed spreadsheet of every maintenance and repair made to your vehicle, so when you do have a problem with your car, you can quickly tell your mechanic everything that has already been done. Smith realized he needed to create such a spreadsheet after the same part was replaced three times on his Volkswagen Golf TDI. Until Smith was able to provide all of the car’s maintenance history to his mechanic, nobody realized there was an underlying issue that was making that part wear out too quickly.

Invest in a Haynes repair manual for your car. Haynes publishes repair manuals on nearly every make and model of car on the road. While having a copy of this manual on your shelf will hardly turn you into a mechanical genius, it does offer you two incredible benefits. First, a customer coming into an auto shop carrying her Haynes manual will automatically set themselves apart from the majority of customers. Your mechanic may recognize that you do your homework and can talk intelligently about car care—which many professionals very much appreciate from their customers. Second, having this manual can help give you some context for any diagnoses made by your mechanic. When your mechanic gives you the diagnosis, you can look it up in the manual. A little extra background knowledge can help you formulate better and more intelligent follow-up questions and decisions.

Finding a Mechanic You Trust

In addition to the steps above, it’s a good idea to find a reputable mechanic before you actually need one. There are several ways to seek out a mechanic who is likely to be both well-qualified and trustworthy:

Check with your auto insurance company. Your car insurer is likely to have a network of approved repair shops, which you can feel confident have been well-vetted.

Find an online forum for your specific vehicle. A quick Google search of the make and model of your vehicle, plus the word forum, will lead you to a number of forums where you can ask for recommendations for local mechanics.

Pay attention to the appearance of the shop and turnover of vehicles. The car blog Jalopnik suggests that you can tell a lot about a repair shop based on how it looks. The interior should be a clean and neatly organized working environment, and the parking lot should have a number of cars in healthy condition that change regularly. Half-repaired cars that linger in the lot are a red flag.

Ask for recommendations. Ask people you trust for their recommendations. When you know that your friend or colleague has been treated well by a business, you can feel more confident going to it, too.

Once you’ve found a mechanic you’d like to try, start by scheduling a small job with them. Having your new repair shop handle an oil change or inspection can give you a good idea of how they will treat you with a bigger problem.

The Cost of Car Repair Doesn’t Have to Be Painful

Although the elements of a car repair are mostly out of the hands of the average driver, there are things you can do to help minimize the high costs of having your car in the shop. Researching mechanics before you need one, understanding more about your own vehicle, and taking excellent regular care of your car can help you avoid many of those higher cost repairs.

READ MORE: Auto Glass Claims & Assignment of Benefits Abuse

Young Entrepreneurs Take on Aging

Laura Benware

Young entrepreneurs are finding tremendous opportunities launching businesses that cater to the baby boomer and senior markets. Technology that allows older adults to live independently is a $2 billion industry alone and is expected to reach $25 billion by 2025. Many creators of innovative products designed for caregivers and their aging relatives and friends – things like smartphone apps, clothing, home sensors and more – are in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s.

Some young entrepreneurs have ventured into the boomer and senior space after a personal experience with a parent or grandparent. They realized there was a need for product or service that either didn’t exist or that could be greatly improved upon. Other entrepreneurs look at 50+ demographics and recognize a huge market that is only getting bigger.

Consider this:

Young Entrepreneurs Live in Senior Communities

Some entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s have a business idea. But, since many have had little interaction with older adults, they need to find out if there’s an actual market for their idea. How better to understand the needs of this demographic, and if there’s a need for or interest in their product, than living among their target consumers?

Brookdale Senior Living, a company with long term care communities nationwide (supporting independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care), launched its Entrepreneurs in Residence program in 2015. So far, young engineers, researchers and developers from 12 start-up companies have moved into a Brookdale community for a week or more. They live, eat, and interact with residents, gaining insight into their needs and feedback on their products.

Last year, Sameer Dhar, 24, the founder of Sensassure, lived in three different senior care communities with four colleagues ages 22-26. Sensassure is a sensor that attaches to an adult diaper (called a “brief”) that lets staff know when it detects moisture so residents can be changed quickly.

Dhar gained more than product ideas. “I had great relationships with many residents. We would go out to dinner and I would participate in activities,” he says. “They became real friendships versus them just being subjects of my study.”

Two years ago, when Reed Hayes and Dennis Lally, both 25, were business school graduate students in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s entrepreneurship program, they also lived in a senior housing community for a week. “It was amazing.” says Lally. Residents’ feedback led them to found a company called Rendever while still in school. The company offers virtual reality programs for older adults. Seniors may not be able to travel to the Grand Canyon, Paris, a grandchild’s graduation, family wedding or go white water rafting—or even leave their wheelchair – however, through virtual reality they can experience trips and events as if they were there. Rendever is already being used in more than 30 long-term care communities.  At the time of the article, there was so much demand that the company expected to be in hundreds more by the end of 2017.

Ideas Come from Real Life

Twenty-five year olds Jake Reisch and Matt Reiners came up with their idea for Eversound two years ago after noticing both of their relatives in assisted living had hearing loss. Reisch’s aunt and Reiners’s grandmother weren’t able to fully engage in movies, meetings, exercise classes, lectures or other group events due to hearing deficiencies. How could they help? They wondered.

Reisch and Reiners developed the first wireless listening system with special headphones for senior living communities to help residents hear better. (The device fits over a hearing aid.) A small, wireless transmitter broadcasts an audio signal to all headphones. So far, Eversound is in 18 states and more than 100 communities, including seven large long-term care facilities.

In 2011, at age 32, Sherwin Sheik, a former investment banker, started CareLinx, an online company like Match.com that connects families with paid caregivers. He had watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, struggle to find good, affordable help and his uncle, with ALS, get caregivers to show up through home care agencies. There had to be a better way, he thought.

Sheik’s company eliminates agency fees, saving families money (as much as $10,000-$15,000 a year) and allowing caregivers to earn more. The company vets and background checks caregiver applicants, assigns an advisor to help families through the hiring process as well as after and manages payroll and taxes. More than 175,000 professional caregivers are now on the company site.

Aging2.0, a San Francisco-based international business launched in 2011 by Katy Fike, and Stephen Johnston, then 32 and 38 respectively, advises and connects start-ups that focus on aging. The majority of the founders are under age 40, says Johnston. It makes perfect sense, he believes.

“Innovating aging is a perfect way for young entrepreneurs to explore a fast-emerging and overlooked business area,” says Johnston. “But more importantly, in a world of instant gratification, it can satisfy the hunger that many younger entrepreneurs have to work on something bigger than themselves.”

Young entrepreneurs will have plenty more opportunities to create life-changing products and services for their grandparents’ generation, and soon, for their parents’ as well.  The nearly 76 million baby boomers, now ages 52-70, will create an even greater demand for technology and services to help them stay socially engaged and independent longer.

Likewise, the generation of baby boomer caregivers will also seek solutions that help their aging relatives and friends.  And if a particular solution doesn’t exist?  You can bet the generations’ young entrepreneurs will find a way to meet the need.

READ MORE: 6 Ways Gen X Shaped Our World Today

7 Wood Stove and Fireplace Maintenance and Safety Tips

Sarita Harbour

Many homeowners love the warmth and atmosphere a wood-burning appliance brings to a home. Yet when it comes to safety and maintenance, in-home wood stoves and fireplaces require a little more attention than typical oil or gas furnaces.

While installing and maintaining working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are important in homes that enjoy a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace, there are several other things homeowners should know about their safety and maintenance.

1. Correct Installation Is Critical

If you’re considering installing a wood stove in your home, it’s important to get familiar with your local and regional regulations regarding wood-burning appliance installation. Make sure your stove complies with all local fire and building codes, such as proper clearance around the stove and acceptable venting. Also ensure your stove pipe dimensions and flue/damper specifications meet the necessary requirements.

Whether you heat your home with a wood-burning fireplace or a wood stove, it’s critical to make sure there’s enough ventilation to direct smoke and carbon monoxide out of your home. Inadequate ventilation could lead to the buildup of carbon monoxide, a silent, odorless, yet deadly, gas inside your home.

Also take a look at what’s surrounding your chimney on your home’s exterior. Remove tree branches that are within 15 feet way from the top of your chimney. Ensure there’s a chimney cap installed on top of your chimney to prevent debris and small animals (like squirrels) from falling in and blocking the smoke flow from your wood stove or fireplace.

2. Maintain Your Wood-Burning Appliances

As with all areas of your home, proper maintenance of your wood-burning appliance helps prevent potential problems like overheating, which could lead to fires, and leaks that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep an eye on your wood stove doors’ seals to ensure they aren’t crumbling. Also monitor your chimney for wear and tear on pipe, stone, mortar, or chimney bricks that could pose a fire hazard.

Schedule annual inspections and cleanings of your chimney by a qualified chimney services technician. Keeping your chimney clear of soot and debris can help prevent both fires from starting in the chimney and potential carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition to a thorough cleaning, a professional will look for and remove any other chimney blockage that could pose a chimney fire hazard, like birds’ nests.

A professional can also help you determine if you’ve already had a chimney fire, which often goes undetected, yet can damage a chimney, endangering your home and family. Signs you may have had a chimney fire include:

  • “Puffy” or “honey combed” creosote
  • Warped metal damper or chimney/stove pipe
  • Cracked or damaged flue tiles with missing pieces
  • Damage to the exterior roof or nearby metal TV antennae
  • Damaged and/or discolored chimney cap

Add monthly smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector checks to your schedule and test them to ensure they’re working. Install new batteries in each annually.

3. Create a Safe Environment

Developing good safety habits around your wood stove and fireplace is a wise idea for everyone in your family to help prevent injury and unwanted fires.

While you want to keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach of your stove or fireplace, don’t store matches, lighters, or lighter fluid close by — they could quickly catch fire and/or explode if they get too hot. Also pay careful attention to where you store your wood for burning — don’t put it within three feet of your wood stove or fireplace or you could risk a random spark starting your indoor wood supply on fire.

Your fireplace or wood stove area also should be clear of anything flammable on the interior of your home, such as drapes, carpets, furniture, or newspaper, to avoid potential fires. And though you may love the idea of curling up by the fire with a hot drink and a favorite book, try to keep chairs and other furniture at least three feet from the fire. In addition, choose fire-resistant furniture when it’s time to redecorate.

Consider the type of wood you burn in your stove or fireplace. Green or young wood has a high moisture content that results in not just a lot of smoke, but also a buildup of creosote. Instead, choose wood that’s been seasoned or dried for at least six months to produce an even, safe fire. And, wherever possible, choose hardwood over softwood, as it produces less creosote.

4. Safety Accessories for Wood-Burning Appliances

Invest in a few key accessories to improve safety around your wood-burning stove or fireplace. If you’re enjoying a brand new stove, keep the safety manual handy (but not close enough to catch fire), as well as a fire extinguisher. And when you’re adding wood to your wood stove, protect your hands with non-flammable gloves.

Consider purchasing a fire screen. This not only helps prevent sparks from flying out of a fireplace, but also it’s useful for keeping small children and pets from getting too close and getting burned. A portable fire screen is a stand-alone, foldable screen with two or more sections.

5. Always Correctly Dispose of Ashes

Don’t let the ashes from previous fires build up in the bottom of your fireplace or your wood stove. Anything more than one inch of ash could lead to smokier fires, as it becomes more difficult for oxygen to find its way to the wood.

Shovel the ash out, once your fire is out and the ash is completely cool. Use a shovel to scoop it out into a metal container with a lid. Don’t throw your ashes into your indoor (or outdoor) trash bin as it could lead to a fire. Instead, store your fireplace or wood stove ash outside and away from your home in the metal container with lid. This reduces the chance of unexpected fires.

6. Insuring Properties with Wood-Burning Appliances

While most insurers do provide homeowners insurance for properties that have wood stoves or fireplaces, expect to answer questions about your wood-burning appliances. Your insurer will expect the wood stove or fireplace to be installed and/or built to current fire codes. You are also expected to maintain and operate it safely.

7. Additional Resources for Maintenance and Safe Operation of Wood Stoves and Fireplaces

There are several excellent online resources that address the maintenance and safe operation of wood stoves and fireplaces in the home. Visit these sites for more information:

When enjoyed responsibly, a fireplace or wood stove can be a welcoming and relaxing center of your home that provides warmth and comfort on chilly days. However, if you don’t maintain it properly, it could also be a danger to you, your loved ones, and your property.

By taking the time to learn about the proper operation, cleaning, and safe use of your wood stove and fireplace, you can help avoid damaging and potentially fatal house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning — and enjoy your wood-burning appliances for years to come.

READ MORE: Don’t Get Caught Without a Fire Extinguisher