A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Car Insurance

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Rob Infantino, Openbay's founder and CEO, has just begun a regular blog series for Credit.com, where he’ll address everything as it relates to cars — maintenance and repair, driving tips, ways to save, etc. His first piece, “A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Car Insurance,” has been picked up by Yahoo! Finance and CBS Moneywatch. And now we’re pasting it here for you to check out. Enjoy!

A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Car Insurance

Insurance is an anomaly among commodities; it’s one purchase that we hope we never have to use. But car insurance is a mandated purchase almost everywhere, and with good reason; if your vehicle were to be stolen, vandalized or in an accident, you could be at risk for huge financial burdens if faced with covering the costs on your own.

Shopping for car insurance isn’t rocket science, but getting the best rate possible requires you to understand some basic information. Your rate will be affected by the value of your vehicle as well as any requirements from your state and your lender. Here’s a look at some of the considerations you’ll face when insuring your ride.

What Is a Deductible?

The word “deductible” refers to the amount of money you’ll have to pay out of pocket, following an accident, before your insurance kicks in.

So why not always opt for the lowest deductible possible? The lower your deductible, the higher your monthly premium, or out-of-pocket expenses, will be. On the flipside, a higher deductible will lower your monthly payment. When settling on a deductible, pick one that works for your budget. A high deductible can save you money in the short term and might be the smartest choice if you have money saved to cover your deductible in the event of an accident or break-in. If you can afford it, a low-deductible plan will ensure that you won’t have to dig deep into your pockets to pay for auto body work or car repairs resulting from a wreck.

Where you Live Makes a Difference

City vehicles are typically subjected to more break-ins, theft and fender benders, and are therefore more expensive to insure than ones in rural areas. In addition, your state’s laws may require you to carry a certain amount of insurance coverage. For example, if you live in California you’re required to carry minimum liability insurance of $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage. But if you live in New Hampshire, you’re only required to have motor vehicle insurance if you’ve been convicted of certain violations, including DWI and leaving the scene of an accident. Your first step should be to research the insurance requirements in your state by checking with your local motor vehicle office.

How Much Insurance Do You Need?

The car you drive may translate into pricier coverage. According to a survey by Insure.com, late-model BMWs, Mercedes and Audis are some of the most expensive cars to insure because they cost more to repair. Looking for cars that that won’t require you to purchase more insurance? Consider a Jeep SUV or a Honda Minivan; they’re among the cheapest new cars to insure.

Finding a balance between good coverage and affordable coverage is important. On the one hand, you want to have enough to cover your losses in the event of an accident. On the other hand, the more insurance you opt for will make for a higher monthly premium. Think it over carefully. You may decide that your 15-year-old jalopy isn’t worth the cost of coverage. If you drive a brand new car and are still paying for it, your lender will likely dictate your coverage minimums on the car since it officially belongs to the bank.

The Different Kinds of Car Insurance

Your car insurance policy is comprised of a handful of different categories of coverage. Here’s a list of the most common types and what they mean.

  • Collision insurance covers damage to your car up to its current estimated value, also known as its Blue Book Value.
  • Liability insurance is the portion of your policy that pays for damages you’ve caused to others if you’re found to be at fault in an accident. This covers a wide range of damages, including bodily injury and property damage.
  • Uninsured or underinsured insurance covers your losses if you’re hit by someone with no insurance, or not enough insurance to cover the cost of damages.
  • Comprehensive insurance pays for damages that occur to your car that aren’t collision-related. According to the Insurance Information Institute, this includes theft, vandalism, fire and natural disasters.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP for short) covers your medical expenses if you’re injured and can sometimes even pay out for lost wages if your injuries prevent you from working.

Look for Discounts

Car insurance companies offer a variety of discounts based on a number of factors:

  • A clean driving record can net you some big savings – up to 45% according to Allstate, and 26% according to Geico – because it shows you’re less of a risk.
  • Safety and security features can also translate into savings. Front- and side-impact airbags reduce your risk of injury, and security alarms decrease the risk of your vehicle being stolen, therefore limiting the insurance company’s exposure.
  • If you have a homeowners’ insurance policy, booking car insurance with the same company may drive rates down even further.
  • State Farm says that car insurance premiums may fluctuate based on how much you drive, your age, sex and marital status, and your credit historyYou can see where your credit scores stand for free on Credit.com.

As always, it pays to comparison-shop before buying. Once you’ve identified the vehicles you’re considering, call several insurance companies, who will be happy to provide you with estimates. In most states, insurance is a mandatory, ongoing cost, so doing your homework could go a long way toward saving you money.

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Rob Infantino is founder and CEO of Openbay, an online marketplace to cross-shop, book and pay for vehicle repair. He has always worked on cars, including transmission replacements and engine rebuilds, and spent years working on a pit crew. Rob holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut. A noted authority on car repair, Rob’s interviews have appeared in BBC Autos, Boston Globe, The Economist and NY Daily News. More by Rob Infantino

4 Tips to Work Around Your Blind Spot

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“I can’t believe you’d loan me your car without telling me it had a blind spot. I could’ve been killed!” — Biff Tannen, Back to the Future

Perhaps the fact that all cars have blind spots is news to some, but it shouldn’t be to you. We all have blind spots due to an area on your retina that has no receptors, according to About.com. Give your blind spot a quick test (it only takes about five seconds) here.

Acknowledging that a blind spot exists doesn’t eliminate your risk of accidentally colliding with another car when changing lanes or reversing. To save yourself - and your insurance company - some major hassle, follow these steps to eliminate blind spots in your vehicle.

  1. Before you go anywhere, take some time to adjust your seat and then adjust your rearview mirror and side view mirrors for optimal visibility of the road around you. Most people have their side view mirrors set incorrectly, limiting their effectiveness and creating a potentially hazardous situation.

  2. Side view mirrors should be adjusted out 15 degrees so that you can’t see any part of your vehicle in the reflection (more on this below).

    To adjust your driver’s side mirror accurately, lean your head to the left so that it’s in line with the edge of your window. Keeping your head in this position, adjust the driver’s side mirror outward until the side of your car is no longer visible.

    To adjust the passenger’s side mirror, position your head at the center point of your car. This is usually indicated by the overhead dome light or the middle point of your rearview mirror. From this vantage point, adjust your passenger side view mirror out so that you can no longer see the side of your car.

  3. Every single time you turn, change lanes or reverse, turn your head in the direction you’re aiming, to spot-check for any potential hazards or obstacles. You don’t need to turn your head all the way around – that would be dangerous – just turn as far as your shoulder, which will help determine whether you’re merging into an open lane or a Honda Odyssey.

  4. In addition to being mindful of your own blind spot, know when you’re falling within others’ blind spots. When in a lane next to another car traveling at speed, either pass or let the other car pass you. If you’re traveling within another car’s blind spot, it’s an invitation for the other driver to inadvertently switch into your lane. Be decisive and either pass or let the other car move along.

Once these steps have been taken, you’ll be in a far better position to see all of the activity on the road behind you and to the side of your car. Just keep in mind that this is no foolproof method, and that sometimes the movement of your car could affect the proper positioning of your mirrors.

Even in today’s high-tech world of blind spot detection systems and aftermarket convex mirrors, there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned shoulder check and properly aligned side view mirrors. If you put into practice the above listed techniques, you’ll be that much safer on the road from invisible drivers.

Do you have any advice for other drivers on how best to eliminate blind spots? We’d love to hear it! Leave your comments in the box below.

Image Credit: Nimish Gogri, Flickr

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Dead Battery? 3 Tips on What to Do & How to Avoid It Next Time

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Car batteries always die at the wrong time. Not that there’s necessarily any good time for a battery to give up the ghost. But you usually only discover it’s dead when you’re in a rush to get somewhere and your engine won’t turn over.

What should you do? Before you freak out, read on. You just might find a quick solution that’ll get you back on the road in short time.

Look around you. Depending on where you are and what time of day your battery’s decided to punch the proverbial ticket, your options could vary. The first thing you’re going to need are some jumper cables and a willing person to pull his or her car up alongside yours and give you a jump start. If you’ve never learned how to jumpstart a car before, and are asking yourself, “Positive to negative, or positive to positive?” here’s how. Try asking someone nearby if they’d be willing to give you a hand. Don’t be shy about asking – almost everyone’s been in this situation before and can probably identify with your dilemma. If there’s nobody around, move on to the next step below.

Phone a friend. Pull out your cell phone and start swiping through your list of contacts. Call your spouse, your best friend, or a family member to ask them if they have jumper cables and if they can get to you. If you have to be someplace and don’t have the time to deal with jump starting your car, they can at very least give you a ride to your destination.

Call for professional help. Roadside assistance is an optional car insurance addition that can sometimes swoop in for the big save during your hour of desperate need. If you’ve got roadside assistance, get on the horn and call in for help. Not sure if you do? Call your insurance company and find out. If the answer’s still no, seek out a nearby towing company. For a fee, most towing companies can come to you and jump start your car or tow you to a mechanic who can determine if your battery needs to be replaced, recharged, or simply jump started.

Typically, all a dead battery needs is a jump start to get it going again. Once it’s been brought back from the Great Beyond, driving your vehicle should be enough for it to recharge back to its normal, fully functional state. If your battery continues to die after it’s been jumped, this is a sign that you may need to have it replaced. Fortunately, battery replacement is fairly inexpensive.

Keeping Your Car Battery Alive

Here are some actions you can take to extend the life of your car’s battery.

  • Don’t leave your car stereo on when the vehicle’s not running.
  • Make sure your headlights and interior lights are off every time you exit your car. If you’ve got an option to leave the lights on an ‘automatic’ setting, use that one to avoid having to flip the switch.
  • Cold weather can test the limits of your battery and can sometimes be the very thing that does it in. Try to bundle your errands together in the winter, so you’re driving longer, as starting the engine is especially stressful on the battery when temps have dropped. Try to park it in the warmth of the sun, and if you live in one of America’s coldest places, consider insulating your battery. Read more here about how to keep your battery alive and kicking during the winter months.
  • Peek under the hood every so often to check the condition of your battery. Corrosion can often build up between around battery’s connectors, causing it not to operate properly. If you notice corrosion, use a wire brush to scrub away at it. Here are some additional tips for doing that.

Even though a battery replacement is a relatively inexpensive repair, it still pays to comparison shop. Openbay is an online marketplace that helps you to compare offers from multiple shops, and you may schedule and pay for your service all through Openbay. Give it a try today.

If you want to hear a wild story about a dead battery, as told by someone who was trying to help and got duped, take a listen to this hilarious piece from The Moth.

Have you ever had your car battery conk out on you at an inopportune moment? Have any advice for other car owners on how best to extend the life of a car battery? We’d love to hear your feedback.

Image Credit: Al Ibrahim, Flickr

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9 Tips to Protect Kids from Car Accidents

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Ever wonder why hospitals like to inspect an infant car seat before newborn babies leave for home? The facts below are compelling. (Sunglasses optional.)

We love cars. But surprisingly, motor vehicles are also far and away the top cause of unnatural death for those under 19-years old. Whether behind the wheel or riding as a passenger, following these nine guidelines (and noting the abundance of supporting evidence to confirm why you should) will go a long way toward ensuring your precious cargo’s safety.

  1. Buckle Up!
    According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),
    more than a third of kids killed in car accidents died as a result of not using seatbelts. This is a sobering reminder that far too many adults are failing to enforce a strict “buckle up” policy with their children. Unrestrained passengers are more likely to be ejected from the vehicle in the event of an accident, and that increases likelihood of serious injury. So while it may seem obvious, buckle your seatbelt, and don’t move the car unless all passengers do the same. Seatbelts matter. Every single trip.

    Drivers, like it or not, you’re a role model, says the NHTSA. Kids in cars whose drivers buckle up wear their seatbelts 95% of the time. When drivers are unrestrained, one third of kids follow suit and are left vulnerable.  

  2. Sit ‘Em in the Correct Spot
    The NHTSA recommends kids sit in the back seat until they reach age 13. Yes, this is a nuisance. But we bet you didn’t know that kids in the backseat are 38% less likely to be injured in a crash. That’s enough to scare us into keeping our kiddos in back.

    Guess who’s got the best seat in the house? The kid sitting in the middle of the back seat, who’ll be 25% safer than those with window seats, as long as it has a three-point seatbelt.

  3. Make Sure Kids Are Using the Correct Seat
    We appreciate the occasional desire, especially with very little ones, to pull a Britney Spears and pop the kids in your lap for quick trips. But car seats make a difference. Don’t believe us?

    - According to SafeKids.org, correctly used child safety seats can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers.

    - The CDC notes that 4-8-year olds who use booster seats decrease their risk of serious injury by 45% when compared with seat belt use alone.

  4. Never, Ever Leave a Child Alone in the Car
    Here’s a chilling fact about hot cars from SaferCar.gov: on a 60-degree day, your car’s interior can heat up to 110 degrees. A child dies when his temp hits 107. 

    Think you can just pop into the store for a minute? A car’s temp increases by 20 degrees in just ten minutes. If you see a child left alone in a car, don’t wait before intervening – your prompt help could save a life.

  5. Novice Drivers Must Beware of the Multiplier Effect
    Novice drivers carrying passengers are at a much greater risk, warns AOL Autos. Drivers aged 15-17 are eight times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash when they’re carrying passengers than drivers aged 18-24. Novice drivers’ liability could be blamed on everything from texting to an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. But the fact remains, so be mindful of who, and how many, are in your teen’s car.

  6. Walking? Face the Traffic.
    As a rule, parents should teach their children to always use the sidewalk when outdoors playing or walking to their friends’ homes. Unfortunately, not every neighborhood in the country is lined with sidewalks, putting children at risk of being struck by passing cars. In those situations, the safest course of action is to walk at the edge of the road while facing traffic. This enables your child to spot hazards ahead of time, and move to safety. This advice goes for adults just as it does for kids - but considering your younglings may not be as schooled in all areas of avoiding physical risk, it’s an imperative lesson to teach them. For more safe walking tips to share with your children, read this.

  7. Impart good bicycling skills.
    With hundreds of reported deaths per year among children, bicycling is one of the most dangerous “fun” activities. You don’t have to take your child’s bike away from them in order to assure their safety. Enforcing key rules that will serve to save their hides and teach them a few lessons about self-responsibility. Chief among these: always wear protective gear. Helmets with chin straps can greatly reduce the risk of head injury up 85%. Whenever possible, children should ride on bike paths or sidewalks. And it’s never OK to wear headphones or use a cell phone while riding.

  8. Look both ways before you cross.
    One of the greatest dangers children face while out and about comes from pedestrian accidents involving moving vehicles. And this isn’t just for young kids who are new to negotiating traffic – 40% of teens say they’ve been hit or nearly hit while walking. Kids should be taught never to cross through active traffic, to use crosswalks, and to walk, rather than run, across streets. This gives them the ability to better see vehicles headed their way and also makes them more visible to drivers.

  9. Ensure your own car is in good condition.
    Broken mirrors, airbag-warning lights, worn tires with bubbles, and faulty brakes are just a few signs that your vehicle may be unsafe for you, your passengers, and pedestrians. Be sure to follow your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, and use an app like Openbay that will remove the burden of comparison shopping for and booking vehicle repairs local.

Do you have any additional suggestions for keeping kids safe from traffic-related accidents? Have any stories to share or wisdom to impart? We’d love to hear it. Leave your comments in the box below, and we wish you and your younger passengers the safest journey!

Image credit: Bradley Gordon, Flickr

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Yoo-Hoo, Friends — Here’s a Deal for You!

Openbay has partnered up with Dash to give you (what we’d call in Boston) a wicked-good deal.

Sign up for Openbay with this special Dash code and get $15 toward car repairs. Need your car serviced? We’ll get you covered anywhere in the good old U.S. of A.

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