Well, winter & those pesky cold months are upon us and, just like clockwork, old Mother Nature has decided its time for a nap. Now, if you live in a Northern state, like I do, or you're just concerned about cold weather, you may find yourself asking - is my car ready? Well, here is a short list of things you can (mostly) check yourself to see if you're good to go for a short drive or out for that long road trip to Thanksgiving dinner.

Just check these five things:

First: Check your oil level. Make sure you check the level with the engine both cold and warm. Look online or refer to your owner’s manual for additional assistance.

Second: Make sure your coolant (antifreeze) is the correct mixture, that the level is full and that the overflow area is filled to the line. You never want to open the filler cap when the engine is hot so make sure you check it when the engine is cold. Personally, I prefer to check with the engine running but you don't have to if you don't want to. If you do not have the correct tool to gauge the freezing or boiling point of your antifreeze, you can buy a tester for approx. $15 at any Walmart or an auto parts store. For convenience, most oil change shops or even a Tires Plus, offer this service.

Third: Make sure all four tires are filled with air to the correct point. Check to see that they all have good tread depth, that no cords (wires) are showing and that there are no bald spots. No one wants to blow a tire in the cold, worst of all change a tire on the side of the road in the cold. Good tread depth will help you keep control on cold surfaces in the rain, snow & slush.

Fourth: Make sure your battery is in good condition. This might mean the difference between a safe quick trip to your destination and standing alongside the road out in the cold, holding a pair of jumper cables.

Places like Batteries Plus can check your battery condition, free of charge.

Finally: Check your transmission fluid. Fill it up and make sure that the old fluid does not smell like a burnt pile of garbage. If it does, take it in for a flush and change. Remember that not all cars have a dipstick to check the transmission fluid so you may have to go to Jiffy Lube or Tires Plus. Keep in mind, some of these places charge for this service, so make sure to ask for a winter package or a group rate and you might get a discount.

And that's it! Five quick tips as the title promised. But, that means its time for me to sign off and get back to my day job.

Safe travels, and keep it on all four tires!

 

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Lee Wickenhauser is a guest contributor to GCN news. His views and opinions, if expressed, are his own. Lee is a full time ad man / part time motorist-mechanic-maniac!

 

Published in News & Information
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Solving the distracted driving epidemic

It happens almost everyday during my commute to work: someone fondling a phone and not looking at the road while driving. Today was no exception. It’s infuriating, and it’s dangerous.

Distracted driving deaths grew 8.8 percent between 2014 and 2015 -- growing faster than deaths due to unrestrained passengers, speeding or drunk driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In response, many states and even municipalities are enacting distracted driving laws. But it’s impossible for police to enforce every instance of distracted driving.

The City of Chicago made the mistake of allowing distracted driving citations to be enforced like all other traffic citations, forcing police officers to appear in court when drivers attempt to get out of the ticket. What’s resulted is a complete lack of enforcement of the law, with distracted driving ticketing falling 99.6 percent in the city from 2014 to 2016.

There’s never a reason to be fondling a phone while driving, but people do it. So what’s the solution? Well, if you have a newer car with hands-free technology, you already have a solution. But not all of us can afford to buy new cars this very minute. There’s a cheap solution for us, too.

For less than $20, you can equip your car with hands-free technology as long as you have a working 12-volt socket and radio in your car. These Bluetooth devices allow you to take calls with the push of a button, which is the equivalent of changing the radio station. You’ll never fumble around for your phone while driving again, and you can listen to your music library during your commute. I actually own one of these, and they are literal lifesavers.

If you’re one of these people who doesn’t know where they’re going and use your smartphone as a GPS while driving, spend a few bucks on a caddie for your smartphone and mount it to your dash. Even if you enter your destination before you start driving, if you don’t have a caddie for your smartphone, you’re looking down at your phone and not at the road. So put your smartphone in a place where you can still see the road. For less than $30 all told you could potentially save a life.

Both iPhone and Android devices allow for voice activated email and text messaging, too. You can activate “Hey, Siri” when the screen is locked in your iPhone settings, and there’s even a workaround for using “Hey, Siri” when you’re not connected to power. Before starting your car, just hold the home button for a second to enter the Siri screen and don’t say anything. You’ll remain in the Siri screen and will just have to say “Hey, Siri” to go hands-free. On Android devices, the lock screen is even easier to work around. All you have to do is turn on “Trusted Voice” in your Voice settings (unless you have a Nexus 6, Moto X, Galaxy Note 4 or Note Edge).

New drivers are the ones most at risk of being ticketed or lost to distracted driving, though. I hope there’s a focus on that in driver's education courses. Some school districts are just getting around to changing drivers ed curriculum now. Smartphones didn’t exist when I went through drivers ed, but cell phones were starting to become more prevalent. The videos we watched looked like they were created for the first drivers ed course in the 1950s, so I hope distracted driving education is taking place in those courses, because I know these drivers, and they are as dangerous as drunk drivers, or even more so.

If you’re a parent of one of these new drivers, buy them the products mentioned above. You could save their life, and the Bluetooth device makes a great gift, especially if your new driver’s car has nothing but a radio, or worse yet, a CD player. CDs were the distracted driving of my generation.

This isn’t rocket science, folks. It’s not even car science. If you’re still fondling a phone while behind the wheel of a car, just stop it. You’re going to end up killing someone -- maybe yourself. Just take these simple steps to not only avoid a distracted driving ticket, but save your fellow motorists from frustration and harm.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: Free Talk Live, Good Day Health, Health Hunters, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Auto World, Auto World AM

Published in News & Information

So you’ve built the all-American home, furnished it with American-made appliances and furniture, filled the fridge with food made in the U.S.A. and use American energy sources to run your appliances, lights and heat. But America is vast, and you want to see it all.

If you tried to travel 2,680 miles in any direction in almost any country, you’d end up in an ocean. But not in America. The U.S.A. is known for its diversity, both demographically and geographically. That geographic diversity wouldn’t be possible if America wasn’t the third largest nation. That vastness requires transportation solutions in order for Americans to see their nation.

American-made Shoes

When you’re not going far, you can walk in American-made shoes. I would recommend Keen for all-purpose shoes. I’ve been wearing a pair I got at an REI garage sale for about five years. Red Wing and Wolverine make the best boots money can buy. My dad has worn Red Wing boots to work for over 40 years and has a pair of Wolverine galoshes for wet days. Schnee’s in Bozeman, Montana, makes the best hiking boots I’ve seen. There aren’t many options for sneakers made in America, but SOM Footwear is one, and some of the previously mentioned companies have expanded their catalog to include a few pairs of everyday shoes. If you prefer to bear your feet and walk like Jesus, Okabashi makes 100-percent recyclable sandals and flip-flops right here in the U.S.A.

Bicycles Made in the U.S.A.

You really can bike from one edge of America to the other. People do it every summer for about $5,000. It’s understandable if that’s not your idea of fun, but I urge every American to bike to work or the store when they can. It will save you money, and it’s great for Americans and America, especially if you do it on an American-made bicycle.

I haven’t owned a bicycle made in the U.S.A. since I was a kid because Huffy has since moved its factories to China. Even great bikes like Surly have their components made in Taiwan and are only constructed in Minnesota. But since I can’t recommend an American-made bicycle, Inside Hook has provided a recent list of the top five bicycles made in America. Firefly is the only one on the list I recognize.

Public Transportation in America

I take public transportation as often as I can because it’s better for the environment and employs nearly 400,000 Americans, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Think about this: every person on a bus or train is generally one less car on the road. It’s the easiest way to decrease car traffic and emissions, so we can continue to breathe clean air.

Public transportation is also incredibly convenient. I have a bus stop just down the street from my house, and I can ride one bus all the way from the Mall of America to Target Field in less than an hour for less than $2. I can even load up my bike and ride to and from the bus. I even get to read while riding a bus or train, so I’m using that extra time more constructively. But 45 percent of people don’t have access to public transportation because it’s not available where they live, which is why we own so many automobiles. (If you’d like to remedy the lack of public transportation access in America, visit Voices for Public Transit.)

American Automobiles

The American automobile industry is a driving force of America. The automobile industry is the seventh largest in the world according to Forbes, and half of the Dow Jones Industrial Index companies rely on automobiles to create revenue. The automobile industry contributes nearly a trillion dollars to the American economy each year and is responsible for 7.25 million American jobs, according to AutoAlliance.org. But many Americans perceive American cars to be inferior to foreign cars. They’re wrong.

I’m not one to use personal experience to make an argument often, but if you don’t think General Motors makes a quality car, say that to my face when I’m behind the wheel of my 1957 Chevy 210. Toyota exported its first car, the Toyopet Crown, to America in 1957. A CNN Money slideshow informs that “Toyota soon recognized that the Toyopet really didn't warrant being taken seriously, whatever it was called. It was underpowered, uncomfortable, lacking in even basic amenities, and it cost more than better offerings from European competitors.”

From the Crown Wikipedia page: “As a publicity stunt to demonstrate the car's reliability, Toyota staged a campaign common to American automakers: a coast-to-coast endurance run from Los Angeles to New York. The Toyopet was barely able to limp into Las Vegas before the project had to be called off.”

It doesn’t matter what decade, American automakers have made higher quality cars than their foreign competition. This list of former Motor Trend Car of the Year award winners proves it, with American automakers taking down 55 awards to the rest of the world’s nine. General Motors led the pack with 26 awards, Chrysler and Ford each scored 14, AMC added two and Tesla picked up one. Leading the rest of the world was Volkswagen with a whopping three awards, Toyota and Nissan had two, Honda and the French car company Citroen had one each. That’s right: AMC has the same number Motor Trend Car of the Year awards as Toyota and Nissan, and twice as many as Honda.

Again, if you don’t think American automakers make quality cars, consider my 2004 Ford Taurus with over 202,000 miles, no body rust, no interior damage and no major issues. I’ve replaced the starter and AC pump. That’s it. Compare that to my dad’s 2007 Mazda with 120,000 miles and body pieces falling off due to cheap, plastic clips holding it together. Consider my father’s 2005 Ford F-150 with over 180,000 miles. He just put significant money into it for the first time, replacing the front end when his four-wheel drive went out during one of the snowiest winters Eastern Montana has seen in decades.

So now that your perceived quality of American automobiles is no longer misinformed, let’s explain why it’s so important for Americans to buy American automobiles. Too many Americans think buying American-made cars doesn’t matter for America because foreign automakers are hiring Americans to construct their cars in America, too. They’re wrong.

According to Roger Simmermaker’s How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism, “When you buy an American-made Chevy, you not only support more American workers, you also support American investors, owners, and stockholders. When you buy an American-made Toyota, you may help your Uncle Bob if he’s on Toyota’s payroll, but you’re hurting Uncle Sam since American companies pay about three times as many taxes to the U.S. Treasury as do foreign-owned companies.” That doesn’t even include the insane amount of tax breaks foreign automakers have gotten to open production facilities in the U.S.A.

From Forbes: “Alabama offered Mercedes-Benz more than $250 million worth of tax breaks, training and land, and South Carolina won BMW’s only U.S. plant with state incentives worth more than $130 million, according to a 2008 report by the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business. The gifts to Kia that helped win the plant for Georgia total more than $258 million.”

Most importantly, American automakers employ more Americans -- nearly three times more than foreign automakers as of 2012. The jobs putting the cars together aren’t the only ones that matter, though. Plenty of materials go into making a car, so the more materials used that are made in America, the more American jobs are created. Simmermaker cites a 2002 Business Week story that states “each auto-assembly created by an American company also creates 6.9 other American jobs, where each auto-assembly job created by a foreign company creates only 5.5 other American jobs.”

While there isn’t a car entirely made in America, the Tesla Model 3 is likely to become the most American car on the road, with 95 percent of its parts made in the U.S.A. You can find out how much of each 2013 car was made from materials made in the U.S.A. by visiting here. No surprise, General Motors tops the list, with Ford and Chrysler filling out the top 10. Toyota has the only foreign car in the top 10, and Chrysler is now Italian-owned.

So I hope the next time you’re buying a car, whether new or used, you buy American, because you’re supporting American jobs when you do.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, Auto World, Auto World AM

Published in News & Information